Rebranding consultant presents Rowan’s research results

Published 12:05 am Friday, March 25, 2016

By Josh Bergeron and Elizabeth Cook

SPENCER — The research is in, and it turns out Rowan County is a good place to live after all.

In a presentation to a large group gathered at Spencer’s N.C. Transportation Museum, Rowan County’s rebranding consultant Steve Chandler discussed results of an extensive research process that’s taken multiple months. Chandler and his Tennessee-based firm have interviewed 41 “community stakeholders,” held 10 focus groups and received results of more than 1,600 total surveys. A portion of the research has involved people from communities outside of Rowan.

The focus of Chandler’s presentation was several “brand truths” — attitudes and perceptions found to be true about Rowan. The first focused on self image.

One of the slides in his presentation stated in large letters: “Stop beating yourself up.” He said most communities criticize themselves to some degree, but this was more pronounced in Rowan.

During research, local people said they thought others would describe Rowan as rural, backward, crime, historic, poor, country quaint, small town, friendly and paradoxically racists. They also thought outsiders looked upon local government negatively.

Rowan’s No. 1 challenge is to improve it’s self image, “because outsiders see you as pretty positive.”

“Stop beating yourselves up,” he said.

The second “brand truth” was that rural, country settings and agricultural lifestyles are strong associations with Rowan County. His research showed local residents value the second brand truth highly.

Natural beauty was the highest-ranked attribute ranked by Rowan residents. Internal studies also found Dan Nicholas Park, other parks and Patterson Farms to be among the most important assets.

Chandler’s third “brand truth” presented a notable contract between two opposite attributes. Rowan County is located in the middle of the Piedmont, along I-85 and relatively close to multiple metro areas.

“And conveniently away from it all too,” Chandler’s presentation stated.

As shown in survey results, the urban sprawl stops before it gets to Rowan. Survey respondents listed Rowan’s convenient location and rural setting among the things they appreciate most.

The fourth “brand truth” was that communities in Rowan County provide rural culture and heritage. Almost every small town and community was described by outsiders as friendly, quiet and rural. The Fourth of July came up a lot in association with Faith, but so did a troubling word: racism.

Outsiders had positive words for East Spencer — friendly and quiet — but crime also come up. Rowan residents associated East Spencer with the words crime, poverty, struggling and depressed.

“We need to go right at this,” Chandler said. “This is part of Rowan County, folks. It’s one of our own brothers and sisters.”

The fifth brand truth was that Salisbury is the cultural center of Rowan County. It has the responsibility of providing the county’s social, education and historic values, according to Chandler’s survey. Salisbury was also listed among survey respondents at the most important to the identity and success of Rowan. Downtown Salisbury was listed first and most frequently as the place Rowan residents would take visitors to leave a positive impression.

If Salisbury disappeared from Rowan, respondents said the county would lose part of its history, arts and culture, shopping, crime, Fibrant, night life, high taxes, old money and a sense of place.

Kannapolis was second most important. Spencer was third. China Grove was fourth and Faith was fifth.

The sixth “brand truth” was that heritage and a sense of history “works its way throughout Rowan County.”History was most-mentioned when the survey asked what distinguishes Rowan.

Near the end of his presentation, Chandler presented Rowan’s brand strategy, which he said will be key in developing items such as a logo and slogan.

In bold letters, his presentation said the brand strategy would be to “position Rowan County as both culturally cool and small town rural (a relief from larger metros).”

After the presentation, Chandler said his firm — Chandler Thinks — will now begin working on things such as a logo and slogan for Rowan County.

“Now we’ll start on the fun stuff that everybody like to gravitate toward,” Chandler said.

He said a larger-than-normal number of people responded to a community branding survey that was used in the research presented Thursday. Chandler said he’s confident in the research.

Rowan residents, he said, will likely first see the county’s new logo, slogans and other material for the first time when businesses start implementing the brand. There won’t be a major unveiling, Chandler said.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.