Four Lessons from Rebranding West Allis

Posted on November 27, 2018

Jenny Kosek, Communications Strategist for the City of West Allis, WI is taking over the Morning Buzz today to share her stories of rebranding.

My city, West Allis, WI, just went through a rebranding process that was a long time in the making. In 2017, our Common Council adopted a Five Year Strategic Plan with a very specific Goal #1: “Brand/Image/Destination.”

Having grown up 30 minutes south of West Allis and having bought a home here in 2011, I knew the challenges the community faced and the reputation it had.

west allisIf you’re from Wisconsin, you’ve heard of us: Dirty ‘Stallis, Westallica, Trashy ‘Stallis, and worse. Arguably, we might be the most misunderstood community in the state. We have a reputation for being dirty, run down, high-crime, full of abandoned factories and brownfields. But after living here, I can tell you that’s bunk. My street is tree-lined and quiet, and my neighbors kind. We have a killer restaurant scene and the region’s best farmers market. Crime is down, and development is up. A lot of our residents and business owners are very excited about where the community is going. Our challenge is touting our strengths over the cacophony of our critics.

We selected a Milwaukee-based agency, Savage Solutions, to lead our rebranding process. Nine months of research and development led us to our new brand, which launched Oct. 13, 2018.

We’re a few weeks past the launch and the initial thrill hasn’t faded. Seeing our new logo come to life on everything from city stationary to billboards reinforces the message that we’re modern, we’re energetic, and we’re not giving in to the naysayers. Feedback from the public has been positive, with many residents sharing the same sentiment: “I am proud of the new look and proud to live here!” That’s the best we could’ve hoped for.

Was it an easy process to get through those nine months? NOPE! Here are four things to be ready for if your city takes on a massive rebranding like we did:

  1. Pick the internal right team. You cannot complete a rebranding project with a committee of 20 people. Pick a small team of passionate stakeholders – the people who understand the impact a brand can make, and who can put their own interests aside to support this project for the entire community. You’ll include others in the process, but decisions have to come down to a small group; aim for no more than 6 people (we had 4).
  2. Build trust. Trust is key to a rebranding. You have to select a partner you trust to lead you, and they have to trust that your team is committed to the project. Likewise, your internal team needs to be 100% behind your agency partner and the work they do, or your project will fail.
  3. Think big picture. A rebranding is not just a logo. A rebranding must include a well-thought out logo supported by a comprehensive, multi-year, multi-media marketing plan. Think about how your new look will hold up in 3, 5, or 10 years. Make sure it has a good lifespan. More importantly, make sure you have a plan to leverage your new brand to support your city’s success. A logo does not make a city successful! Cohesive messaging, strategic campaigns, and well-executed marketing do.
  4. Stay committed. Nike’s® co-founder “didn’t love” the Nike “swoosh” the first time he saw the concept. They went with it anyway. Worked out, huh? At various points in the rebranding, it will feel like everyone hates what your team is doing. If you trust your project team and agency partner, you’re on the right track. Stick to it, and keep going. Don’t change course in response to a small chorus of vocal opponents; you’ll never please everyone. Listen to the people who are excited about what you’re doing and work to please them. You might have a “swoosh” on your hands!
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