The BrandingWire challenge for this month is an exercise in “place branding” – in this case, the town of Estes Park, Colorado. We are operating from a 2-page branding brief prepared by one of the BrandingWire posse (thanks, Martin!) with some additions by the Estes Park Communications manager.
There are many questions that I would ask in the process of trying to re-brand this destination, with a heavy emphasis on the unique “draw” (or “draws”) of Estes Park, and the most desirable demographic(s) on which the town would like to concentrate. However, for the purposes of this post I’m going to concentrate my thoughts on some existing visual and branding elements – namely, logo, tagline, and web presence.
First, the logo needs a total replacement. The “EP” letters are without meaning unless you already know that they are connected to Estes Park, and the stylized tree has no uniqueness – that tree could be anywhere. The logo itself needs to contain the town name, and there needs to be something in this primary identity piece that identifies the town as the point of entry to Rocky Mountain National Park.
Contrast this with the logo for one of the businesses in town (a brewery), which does a fabulous job of creating a “feel” for the uniqueness of Estes Park and its Rockies location – it includes the town name, a scenic vista, and a very important touch – the elevation. It’s a logo that creates desire – it gives me a sense that going to Estes Park means seeing a lot of beauty. That’s a crucial element in destination branding – why should I want to go? Show me!
As for the tagline, I’m not sure there is one which is used consistently. There should be. According to our branding brief, the town has been known for decades as the Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. A nice statement of fact, but it doesn’t contain an emotional draw. On one of the two primary Estes Park websites, there is the phrase, “Get into the Real Rockies.” That phrase, however, does not necessarily sell the town – I’d like to get into the Real Rockies, but perhaps I can do so without Estes Park. If it said something like “The Real Rockies Start Here,” that would be more pointed – hey, you have to start with Estes Park if you want to move forward into what the Rockies really have to offer.
As for the two primary websites, here there is a lot of potential for improvement that would help enhance the “draw” of Estes Park. One website is the responsibility of the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), and it is geared toward the potential vacationers and other visitors. The other is a more functional town website, mainly with information for residents.
The first thing I would recommend is an attractive opening page for the Town website that has a simple pick-one-of-two choice – a lovely mountain scene on one side of the screen, with words such as, Looking to visit the Real Rockies? Start Here! – and a click brings the web visitor to the CVB site. The other half of the screen might have a photo of an attractive town building, and words such as, Already a Resident? There’s more for you here!
The reason for this is that someone browsing the web might stumble first upon the Town site, and it’s pretty much just functional. Yes, it has a link to Visitor Info, which goes to the CVB site, but the goal should be for potential visitors to not end up at the town site – it’s not a turn-on to see links for Agendas & Minutes, RFPs, Wildfire info, Zoning, and the like. It’s good to have this info up on the web for residents, of course, but the casual web browser who wants to “feel” a reason to be attracted to Estes Park within a 10-second attention span should not have to even see this site.
From a graphic design point of view, the town site has some decent photos, but there are too many navigation schemes (top links, side links, mid-page tab links, sub-mid page graphical links) and the design needs to be simplified.
However, the real key, from a branding perspective, is the Visitor site. And my first comment here is that the home page of the existing site is far too busy. While it does contain a lovely photo showing the beauty of the Rockies – a key strength – the rest of the home page is a jumble of color blocks, with too many links, too many different categories, and too many fonts.
What is really needed here is a theme. A story. Something that stands out about Estes Park, and makes me say, “Hmmm…I think I want to find out more. Maybe I really need to visit this place.” It is one of the cardinal errors of web design to throw it all out there – give the web visitor an overwhelming number of choices – instead of leading him/her on a journey of exploration, with an immediate emotional hook. The town, and the site, needs an engaging narrative.
About half of those links could be eliminated from the home page, and be put into sub-pages. And that isn’t counting the unnecessary repeat links, which are contained both in the blue area, and the green area below it!
One element of the key emotional hook – the sheer physical beauty of the area – is easy to capture and display on the site. And I would continue that by immediately leading the web visitor into a photo gallery of beauty – in town and outside of town (in the Rockies). And, by the way, ditch the webcams. All they do is provide poor-quality static images anyway, that change far too infrequently to be engaging. Just show beautiful photos.
In fact, one idea might be to run a photo contest – let residents and visitors upload their favorite photos of the town/area (perhaps using Flickr as a repository), and periodically award someone with a “Best Of” to keep up the interest level.
Another way to try to get some user/community involvement on the site would be to have an essay contest for prior visitors – What I loved most about Estes Park. The best ones are published, and a quarterly winner gets a free return visit with accommodations for themselves and another family. Referrals are a key way to generate interest, and genuine expressions from “real” visitors will be a powerful draw.
I will note that once you get past the initial home page of the Visitor site, the information and navigation design is quite a bit easier to work with. There is a wealth of information available. One weakness of the entire site is that it is designed with a restriction for fitting onto very low-resolution computer screens, wasting valuable visual real estate. There is very little reason anymore to design any website for legacy computer resolutions.
There is a lot on the Visitor site. There are some good photos. But I’m not finding the “one unique thing.” I need to know why I should go to Estes Park, and not one of a dozen other sites in and around the Rockies. Is there some particularly unique set of events (horse shows, for instance?). Is there something particularly family-friendly about the place, that makes it a primary potential destination for bringing my kids for a week? Is it unique accessibility, positioned between front-range cities like Denver, and the Rocky Mountain National Park? Can we take the contents of this page, and weave a story overlaying it, about how whenever you come to Estes Park, we’re going to give you an incredible mixture of natural beauty and wholesome entertainment? Can the wonderful, airy photo of the inside of a restaurant shown here be adapted to tell a story about unique buildings that you simply must see here at Estes Park – and no-where else?
As with all branding, it comes down to a unique message. A differentiator. I strongly suspect that Estes Park has its differentiators – and that’s the most important thing! Now it’s just a matter of bringing it more evidently, and pro-actively, to the surface.
Get more high-voltage ideas at BrandingWire.com. Other members of the BrandingWire team include: Olivier Blanchard, Derrick Daye, Lewis Green, Ann Handley, Gavin Heaton, Martin Jelsema, Valeria Maltoni, Drew McLellan, Patrick Schaber, Kevin Dugan and Becky Carroll.