Chamber Executive Article Archive

Rebranding: Warsaw-Kosciusko County

By Mark Dobson

Spring/Summer 2013

Government Entity or Champion of Commerce?

The decision to rebrand the Warsaw-Kosciusko County (Ind.) Chamber of Commerce was fairly unanimous. Our board of directors was innovation-minded following development of our strategic plan, and staff wanted to address some nagging structural issues.

Our website had become stale and didn't offer member benefits that peer chamber websites offered. Our database had become a burden to manage and was not an effective tool for staff. Finally, 2011 was our 100th year, so we felt it was time to freshen our image, particularly our logo, which depicted the county courthouse. It suggested a government entity, not a champion of commerce.

After I was hired as president in 2010, we began development of a new strategic plan. We had been struggling to show members the value of joining the chamber and we needed to focus our mission. We re-designed or built programs around five key areas that impactful chambers offer:

  • Advocacy: "The Voice of Business"
  • Economic Development: "Growing Our Community"
  • Member Benefits: "Improving Members' Bottom Lines"
  • Networking: "Connections"
  • Business Counseling: "Business Assistance"

Bold enough?
Our board was excited about the new and focused vision, yet they challenged us to be even bolder. It was the right time to put away the old image and show our members the power of their newly rebuilt chamber.

Six months before our annual dinner, which would be the official close of our 100th year, we assembled a task force to consider a new logo and establish a rebranding timeline. The task force decided that a final product should be ready by the fall of 2011, with enough implementation time prior to our annual dinner in January.

We commissioned a local graphic artist to submit potential logos, and staff reviewed other chamber and economic development websites that best portrayed a progressive image. Our graphic artist developed 15 different ideas for our new look.

Since we would reveal the new brand at the annual dinner, we showed each task force member only a few of the proposed logos. We solicited their input separately until staff could agree on one logo that met the vision of the entire task force.

Staff also was challenged to update the website and database management system. We sought a user-friendly database that our members could help us manage. And we wanted a website that reflected our new vision. We chose ChamberMaster.

Hard work ahead
Once a logo was selected the hard work began. We had the lynchpin of the new image, but we still had a website to develop, data to migrate to the new database, and countless marketing materials to replace. It was the fall of 2011, just months from our annual dinner. There were some missteps. Our old database did not migrate seamlessly. The new website launched barely in time for the annual dinner. And some marketing materials were not ready.

We also suffered some rebranding fatigue. We still had a growing chamber to manage, businesses to visit, and events to plan. The rebrand was added work for all of us. And, it's something that evolves quickly and continuously, especially the website. Our website is vastly better than the old one, but we still improve it almost daily. Soon we'll add pages dedicated solely to advocacy. And we're always looking for opportunities to connect it to other key community sites to help portray unity of purpose in Kosciusko County.

We were able to accomplish a lot with very little capital. We spent $15,000 on the graphic artist, website, database, and associated materials. The portion attributed to our new image was only $2,500. Because of the simplicity of the new logo, we were able to produce many of the marketing materials in-house. The remaining investment in website and database was not paid for using general funds. We include an optional 10% technology fee in our member renewal invoices. Our technology fund paid the balance of the above investment. Finally, staff put nearly 100 hours of work into the entire process. We tracked time spent on the project so we could report soft costs to our board.

The payoff
Since the rebrand, website visits have grown by 50%, our email list has grown substantially and our email open rate has increased from 21% to 29%. We converted our paper-based newsletter to email. Costs associated with member management declined substantially as we implemented ChamberMaster's member management tools. Many of our members actually handle all chamber database management for their company.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels was our keynote speaker and helped unveil our new image at our 100th annual dinner celebration, and Gov. Mike Pence keynoted our 101st annual dinner just one day after being inaugurated as Indiana's 50th Governor.

A couple things would have made our branding transition smoother:

  • Hire interns or temps to implement the database conversion and website development.
  • Hold several meetings to train members on the new database. Faster implementation of ChamberMaster's tools would help smooth over the launch. An intern could visit members having difficulty with the new system.

Finally, an effective timeline is absolutely necessary. Gather all input at the beginning of the process. Target hard dates for implementation, then determine how much time each task will take. Once you have all the information in place, double the projected time for launch. All timelines are based on optimal processes being in place. There will be glitches, so plan for them.

Mark Dobson is president of the Warsaw-Kosciusko County Chamber of Commerce in Warsaw, Ind.

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