When the Greater Kansas City Chamber neared its 125th anniversary in 2012, a review of past accomplishments led to thinking about rebranding.
"It had been 15 years since the launch of our old brand, which featured the words 'THE CHAMBER' in large type above the words 'Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce' in small type," said Jim Heeter, KC Chamber president and CEO. "A lot had been going on as we approached our 125th, so it was time to take a long, hard look at ourselves."
The previous several years saw the KC Chamber becoming more member-centric as it reviewed and re-aligned all of its programs and services, Heeter said. In 2010, the chamber began collecting data and grassroots input for its "Big 5" ideas campaign, which was launched in 2011. The idea was to leverage regional assets and resources to accomplish five major initiatives, including revitalization of urban neighborhoods, growing the city's medical research infrastructure, and becoming "America's Most Entrepreneurial City."
Also in 2010, the chamber moved its offices into new space in historic Union Station. The chamber had supported the station's original construction 100 years ago. Opening in 1914, Union Station had 900 rooms, including restaurants, barbershops, its own jail, and offices for 12 different railroads. The KC Chamber led the drive for renovation of the massive structure in the 1990s.
We set a timeline of six to nine months for a set of deliverables including design, color palette, and key messaging. We invited proposals from 60 KC Chamber members whose services included brand design and management, and 12 companies responded. We interviewed seven and finally chose Kansas City-based Willoughby Design to guide the process.
Willoughby led a series of workshops with chamber leaders and staff to validate the core vision and mission, and define and visualize our future goals in the form of a new brand identity and communications platform. Supporting our revised mission are seven pillars describing the roles the organization plays in achieving its mission: to lead, advance, advocate, collaborate, connect, champion, and empower.
"Although our values haven't changed, we have big dreams," said Melea McRae, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of the KC Chamber. "We're dynamic and we lead. So we chose red, a bold and powerful color. And there's the symbolism within the chevron which indicates forward movement, which signifies the goals the KC Chamber has set out for the next five to 10 years."
We held a series of roundtables with various audiences and stakeholders to review the new brand, and the response was a universal thumbs-up. The new brand was formally unveiled to the membership and the community as part of the 125th Annual Dinner celebration in November 2012.
A pleasant surprise was that the transition from "Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce" to "KC Chamber" was not an issue. The Kansas City metro area is divided by a state line, and there is a history of enmity between Kansas and Missouri that traces back to pre-Civil War days. Though the cross-border guerrilla fighting is long over, that rivalry manifests itself today in college sports, tax policy, and poaching of businesses from one side of the state line to the other. The use of "KC" as an acronym for the entire metro area has become both acceptable and mainstream.
"We're very excited about the KC Chamber's new look," said McRae. "We used to talk about helping our members become smarter, more visible and better connected. We've pared that down to three simple words. 'Know' and 'Grow' incorporate the old message, and we've added a new element with the word 'Go,' bringing that sense of forward motion, that KC is on the move. Which we are!"
Pam Whiting is vice president of communications and media relations at the KC Chamber.
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