Experience Columbia SC, experiences evolution of the city’s brand

"The Real Southern Hot Spot."

Columbia introduced a new brand last week.

It’s still “Famously Hot,” but add to that: “The Real Southern Hot Spot.”

Graphics provided by Experience Columbia SC.

Andrea Mensink is communications director for Experience Columbia SC. It’s the group that was known before as the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports and Tourism.

She said more than a year of research and analysis went into the next step of forming Columbia’s brand, that has changed from the “The New Southern Hot Spot.” That was the description used for nine years. But the tag line is not all that’s different.

The new marketing approach includes a block “C” and a Columbia SC graphic that will be prominently displayed in marketing materials, from signs to printed ads. A new color pallet, adding navy blue and red is another component of the evolution.

Local scenes, intended to highlight Columbia’s laid-back nature, along with its attractions, are other pieces of the marketing initiative.

Mensink said the changes may be slight, but the process that precipitated was comprehensive, with lots of thought going into it. She also said the success of the previous branding strategy was taken into account.

“We have a lot of brand equity,” Mensink said. She said the best of what was working was extracted and blended with the new undertaking.

Mensink said the marketing campaign was put out to bid, and the companies that received the contracts were expected to see Columbia with the fresh eye of an outsider.

To come up with the changes, Destination Analysts, in San Francisco, deliberated over Columbia tourist data, and the effectiveness of its branding campaign over the last decade.

Mensink said 540 potential Columbia visitors were interviewed, along with 140 professionals in the meeting and sports event planning industry. The goal was to find out what draws people to Columbia.

“We had a stack of raw data,” Mensink said.

The details were turned over to Foxtrot, a company in Austin, Texas. Their job was to analyze the market research. From that the new brand for the city materialized.

The research and brand evolution was funded, to the tune of $150,000, by accommodations tax revenue, a S.C. Parks and Recreation grant and private contributions. The cost for the Destination Analysts work was $50,000, with the rest going to Foxtrot.