Stone Mantel tapped to help give city a brand

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Stone Mantel Founder and Principal Dave Norton (left) and Lead Strategist Bryan Searing are working on giving the city a brand.

Name game: Stone Mantel Founder and Principal Dave Norton (left) and Lead Strategist Bryan Searing are working on giving the city a brand.

Stone Mantel brand and strategy firm has done work for the Smithsonian, wrote the signature motto for Anchorage, Alaska, and helped brand dozens of corporations and cities across the country.

The firm’s principal and lead strategist, Dave Norton, has lectured at Harvard on the power of the brand and launched a popular seminar series on branding strategies at Boston’s Design Management Institute.

And now Stone Mantel is playing for the home crowd.

The six-member team at Stone Mantel is taking on the challenge of helping develop the long-awaited and talked-about brand for Colorado Springs.

This month, Stone Mantel was awarded an $80,000 contract from the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau as part of the Colorado Springs Mayor’s Branding Task Force.

Its mission is to formulate a branding platform that could be used for marketing and advertising campaigns that both define and hype the city.

“Ultimately, we have three audiences we are trying to address: residents, visitors and businesses that we are trying to keep or attract,” Norton said. “We want to create an impression in their mind about what Colorado Springs is all about.”

The end result could be a city or regional slogan like Anchorage, Alaska’s “Big Wild Life” or it could be a series of strategies that describes Colorado Springs as a city on the economic rebound — or both.

No doubt the discourse surrounding the creation of a brand will get heated, Norton said. People are passionate about their city. Already the message boards are picking up criticism on the cost of the contract and whether a firm could come up with a brand that encompasses the very diverse Colorado Springs.

“That’s what makes it so interesting,” Norton said.

Norton founded Stone Mantel in 2005 using a virtual business model — there is no office, although the business is headquartered in Colorado Springs where Norton lives. The Stone Mantel team talks every Monday morning by conference call and meets regularly in coffee and sandwich shops around the city.

“Our clients are all over the country — most on the East Coast,” Norton said. “We go where they are. So, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have a physical space — we’re spending a lot of time on airplanes.”

Norton declined to say how many or with which other clients the firm is currently working. But, the business of branding is booming. Historically, economic downturns have produced the best branding strategies, Norton said.

“Most of the cities in the U.S. had to change their focus from 2008 on, they just had to,” Norton said. “Colorado Springs is no different in the sense that there were bigger fish to fry once the recession hit.”

Norton, who studied persuasion in college and has a doctorate in rhetoric, said his team’s specialty is research and co-creation. They will meet with historians, city leaders and conduct man-on-the-street interviews to find out what people think about Colorado Springs.

“We will be doing a lot of interviews, talking to people and asking them to share their stories,” Norton said.

The idea, he said, is for the community to work together on its brand.

Cities have been branding themselves since the colonies broke from England, researchers said.

Kara Whitney, Stone Mantel’s marketing director, put it this way: “Whether or not Colorado Springs goes through this process, there is a brand. It’s just a matter of how the brand gets defined and how it relates to the city’s goals and objectives.”

Stone Mantel was one of two firms hired in 2007 to come up with a branding platform for Anchorage, Alaska. The team, working with city leaders and citizens, came up with the slogan: “Big Wild Life” and while the new motto was met initially with mixed reviews, the slogan has now driven the city’s campaign for tourism, business recruitment and self identity. From countrywide advertising campaigns to T-shirts and souvenirs, Big Wild Life is the city’s brand.

Last month, the Anchorage Visitor’s and Convention Bureau announced “Big Wild Life coffee blend,” to tout that Anchorage has more coffee shops per capita than any other city. It’s one way to build the Big Wild Life brand locally and worldwide, said Jack Bonney, ACVB public relations manager.

“Rebranding has been a great way to start a conversation about what Anchorage has to offer,” Bonney said.

It is difficult to quantify what the brand has meant to Anchorage in terms of dollars, he said. But, he said the key “is to make sure that all the community players — a wide swath — are on board with the slogan, motto or brand.”

Colorado Springs already has done research and work toward developing a brand, Norton said. Stone Mantel will host community forums and brainstorming sessions to get people thinking about Colorado Springs’ identity.

“Colorado Springs is in a place to capitalize on what’s going to happen in terms of shifts and how people perceive brands,” Norton said. “I don’t know if there is an identity crisis or not, I think it’s a great moment in time to be doing this.”

Norton knows there will be disagreement. He knows that if he asks 1,000 people in Colorado Springs how they define their city, he will get 1,000 different answers.

“We’re proud of the fact that we’ve been given this opportunity and it’s a thrill to be working with our hometown,” he said. “We recognize that it’s a real responsibility, we do.”