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Tuesday, March 21, 2006 - Page updated at 09:42 AM


What's in a motto? It's a city's "brand"

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

The challenge is ages old: how best to sum up a place's selling points in a phrase even briefer than haiku poetry?

Renton chose "Ahead of the Curve." There's Kenmore, "By The Lake." Issaquah calls itself "A Special Place, Where People Care." And at the dawn of our new century, Tacoma proclaimed itself "America's No. 1 Wired City" to go along with its motto since the 1880s, "City of Destiny."

They may sound simple, but crafting a city slogan has become anything but. Nowadays, city leaders say, a community's motto is part of its overall "brand" — the face it shows outsiders, a tool to lure businesses and tourists, a chance to reinforce a good reputation or combat a bad one.

They want to get it right — or at least avoid a flood of second-guessing like that generated by the state's new tourism slogan, "SayWA." The replacement for "Experience Washington" took 18 months to develop, with extensive market research and input from a 32-member "brand development task force."

And then there is Bothell, which for decades has beckoned visitors with the slogan "For a Day or a Lifetime" emblazoned on wooden signs at the town's entrances along Highway 522. City leaders say it's time for the mostly residential community that straddles King and Snohomish counties to craft a fresh, new motto that encapsulates its 21st-century essence.

The sticking point? How to update something that's been around forever without alienating anyone, especially those who think the old slogan captures Bothell's essence just fine.

"We want to do it right, and we want the community to be involved, and it's definitely one of those things you want the citizens to embrace," said Joyce Goedeke, the city's spokeswoman.

For years, communities held naming contests, looked to geography or local industry for inspiration, or had the local chamber of commerce cook something up.

That's how Kirkland came to be the "Gateway to Seattle" in 1926, though residents in a citywide vote overwhelmingly supported "Kirkland, The Glad Town." (Another favorite: "Kirkland, That Bright Spot In Your Memory.") Two decades later, Seattle adopted the motto "City of Flowers" and encouraged Seattlites to cultivate more blooms to beautify the city.

The slogan quest

These days, cities big and small tend to hire marketing firms that specialize in crafting slogans that promote a locale or enticements or that pique curiosity. Think Las Vegas (What Happens Here Stays Here) and Ellensburg (Have You Been to Ellen's Lately?).

Newcastle and Snoqualmie are working with professionals to develop slogans as part of an overall "branding" effort. Newcastle hopes to capitalize on its mining history and proximity to Renton, Bellevue and Seattle, while Snoqualmie wants to persuade visitors who come for its primary attraction — Snoqualmie Falls — to add a lunch and shopping visit to downtown as well.

The slogan quest can be costly. The city of Renton and a coalition of local businesses, the school district and other institutions shelled out $100,000 to hire a consultant, hold community brainstorming sessions and come up with the "Ahead of the Curve" slogan and marketing campaign. The slogan plays on the city's proximity to Interstate 405 and its S-shaped curves that form a frequent traffic bottleneck.

The coalition launched a three-year marketing campaign in 1998 to promote the city as the home of an educated workforce, a good hospital and scores of hotel rooms, and it continues to spend about $150,000 annually on advertising and sponsoring events.

But the investment has paid off, said Alex Pietsch, administrator of the city's Department of Economic Development, Neighborhoods & Strategic Planning. Since the campaign began, the Federal Reserve Bank relocated to Renton from Seattle. The Puget Sound Educational Service District moved there from Burien. Local companies like furniture giant IKEA, and Wizards of the Coast all are growing.

"I think Renton is a completely different place than it was 10 years ago. We've had a tremendous economic boom since then. It's hard to give the marketing campaign credit for all of it, but it's definitely been a factor in opening people's eyes," Pietsch said.

Bellevue parks director Patrick Foran says he isn't sure of the genesis of the city's unofficial motto, "City in a Park," which appears on the city's Internet home page, but he has heard plenty of Realtors and Chamber of Commerce members use it to lure clients to Bellevue, with its 2,000 acres of parks and 60 miles of trails.

Name that city slogan!

Here are the answers to the quiz above. (Click on the image to get a larger version.)

1. Algona: City of the Great Blue Heron

2. Auburn: More Than You Imagined

3. Ilwaco: By Land or By Sea

4. Benton City: Bent-on Progress

5. Cosmopolis: City of the World

6. Kelso: City of Friendly People

7. Wenatchee: The Apple Capital of the World

8. Bellingham: Let Us Surprise You

9. Enumclaw: The Gateway to Mount Rainier

10. Redmond: Bicycle Capital of the Northwest

11. Sumner: Rhubarb Pie Capital of the USA

12. Colville: Washington's Most Livable Community

Sources: cities' Web sites, chambers of commerce, state tourism Web site

"It's understood, and it speaks volumes about what you can expect here," he said.

Living up to a motto

A slogan alone isn't enough to woo new businesses, residents and tourists, warns Stefan McIntosh, strategic director of Luminous, an Everett-based brand-communications firm. It works only if it's honest and matches people's actual experiences, he said.

"If you're not really living it out, and you don't have a long-term strategy to support what you're saying, then it's just sort of empty words," McIntosh said.

Issaquah's slogan, "A Special Place, Where People Care," works for Lori Duke. Duke moved from Spokane ("Near Nature, Near Perfect") into the Snoqualmie Ridge development near Issaquah a few months ago. She works in town, shops in town, put her son Tucker in day care there, and says Issaquah so lives up to its motto that she's thinking of moving there.

"I love Issaquah," said Duke. "I've actually found Issaquah to be friendlier than a lot of other areas."

While Bothell figures out how to tackle its city motto, it has been busy coming up with other slogans for more specific city goals. "Buy Bothell" stickers are stuck to shop doors up and down Main Street. Last year, the city's tourism task force came up with "Bothell: Closer Than You Think, Better Than You Know."

But longtime businessman Les VanderVeen waves his hand dismissively at the whole slogan effort.

Bothell is friendly, has great restaurants and is thriving in its own way, he said, standing in the doorway of Main Street Hair, the barber shop he owned for years.

His idea? Stick with the basics.

"I just think flat-out 'Welcome to Bothell.' "

Karen Gaudette: 206-515-5618 or

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company




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