A city committee favors “A little Different” as the brand to change the perceptions of Decatur among residents and in neighboring cities while also attracting visitors.
That was one of three branding options that Mark Ervin, chief strategy officer and partner of Big Communications, presented during a City Council work session on Decatur’s $267,275 branding campaign.
Two council members, Chuck Ard and Billy Jackson, were absent, so Council President Paige Bibbee is working to schedule another presentation for them before the council votes on the proposed branding campaign.
Ervin, whose company is in Birmingham, promoted the “A little Different” option as a “potential differentiator” for the city of Decatur and its north Alabama neighbors.
“Not only is Decatur a unique community, but its size is its strength,” Ervin said. “This line plays on the idea that Decatur is small yet distinct. It’s the best of small-town Alabama with access to a major metropolitan job market.”
Ervin said he uses “little” because a survey showed the size of a city is an important difference.
“Saying Decatur is a small town is a potent value proposition,” Ervin said. “People who are drawn to living in small-town Alabama will like Decatur, but it’s also different with plenty of opportunity.”
Ervin said this campaign pushes that Decatur is a different alternative to the other north Alabama cities. The campaign would play up the city’s assets like the Tennessee River, Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts and the Alabama Jubilee.
“It says we are not like the communities around us. The idea is that what we have makes Decatur special,” he said.
Ervin said “River City” is used by too many cities, but Decatur does need to play up its river access.
He presented two other branding options.
Option 1 is “Decatur Dreams,” which Ervin said plays up the optimism of the future and tries to create some civic pride.
“It’s trying to paint a picture of opportunity, and there are things that we can look forward as we move forward,” he said.
Option 2 is “Better Not Bigger,” which he said distinguishes Decatur from its neighbors by saying bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better, but it’s simply a great place to live.
“We believe the distinction in size with cities like Huntsville and Madison is a really powerful selling point,” Ervin said.
“Decatur’s not the flashiest or the newest or the wealthiest, but it is unique. It has things about it that make Decatur far superior than other cities in the region,” he said.
Option 3's advocates
Councilwoman Kristi Hill, a member of the city’s branding committee, said option 3 was a unanimous selection of the committee. This group includes representatives from the city, the city school system, Decatur Utilities, Decatur-Morgan County Tourism, Decatur Downtown Redevelopment Authority and Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce.
“Option 1 and 2 are more like playing defense,” Hill said. “Option 3 is bold. It doesn’t say we’re better. It says we’re different.”
Bibbee said she likes that Option 3 separates Decatur without criticizing or pointing out the negatives of neighboring north Alabama cities.
“All of the cities have their unique attractions,” Bibbee said. “We talk about regionalism, but we focus only on Decatur.”
DU Public Relations Coordinator Joe Holmes served on the committee. He said he was looking for an branding that's unique and different. He said he likes Option 3 because "it's aggressive and it says we're not Athens, Florence or Madison."
However, Councilman Charles Kirby said he doesn’t like the chosen option because “different isn’t always good when you believe the other cities are better.” He particularly doesn’t like that the promotional materials, which Ervin emphasized were just rough examples, promote the Trinity-based United Launch Alliance.
“We’re promoting the rocket company as loving Decatur when clearly they don’t love Decatur enough to become part of the city,” Kirby said.
Kirby said Big representatives didn’t get a true picture of Decatur when forming their options.
“We never tell our consultants everything they need to know,” Kirby said. “We have a lot of downtown bureaucrats who are sugar-coating everything.”
Instead, Kirby likes the first option, “Decatur Dreams," because it emphasizes the city’s attributes and its future.
‘Positive but challenging’ survey
Jim Jager, of New South Research, interviewed 100 people each from Morgan, Madison, Limestone, Cullman and Lauderdale counties for a survey on their opinions about Decatur.
Jager said the overall perception of Decatur “is positive but it tends to be more challenged than other areas nearby" to evoke positive comments.
When respondents were asked to describe the best things about Decatur, 76% of comments mentioned activities such as shopping, food, and fishing. Opportunities (42%) such as convenience/location, jobs/industry, growth, atmosphere (29%), friendly people and small town were also mentioned.
Decatur is comparable to Cullman, Athens, and Florence, with just under half rating it as a place they are willing to consider living, he said.
When asked in the survey why they wouldn’t live in Decatur, Jager said their answers were, “crime, pollution, crowded neighborhoods, bad schools and not enough things to do here.”
Ervin said the Decatur residents were “not as inspired about their towns” as residents of other cities were. He said this shows “that we need to build the brand of Decatur from within and get residents to believing in the city again.”
The survey showed Decatur’s size is important “because Decatur is a small town. Decatur also has a lot to inspire the community about,” Ervin said.