Shenandoah Valley of Virginia
The tourism offices in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia have always worked well together on regional projects. For the first time in 2016, they decided to take that spirit of cooperation a step further and begin marketing the entire Shenandoah Valley as a single destination.
While the Shenandoah Valley enjoys great name recognition — it has been celebrated in music, literature and history — it had never been branded for travel and tourism before. The first step in the branding process was to determine how to differentiate the Shenandoah Valley from its competitors in Virginia and surrounding states.
At first glance, it may seem that the Shenandoah Valley offers many of the same opportunities as other parts of the Commonwealth and even nearby regions like The Poconos. All have nice mountain scenery, quaint towns and varying amounts of history. The Mikula-Harris team relied heavily on input from actual visitors who participated in our surveys, as well as other research and observations from our extensive in-person visits all across the region.
Careful analysis of the research showed us what was most important to visitors. We then focused on ways to turn amenities — that on the surface may seem similar to other regions — into differentiators. Having excellent data from visitors and an in-depth understanding of the region’s assets allowed us to establish a brand strategy based on three key pillars:
- The largest city in the Shenandoah Valley has just under 50,000 residents. Even the cities seem like small towns compared to the feeder markets whose residents are likely to be visiting the Shenandoah Valley. Some of the cities in the valley have award-winning downtowns, busy main streets, unique shops and very impressive culinary options. Other communities are nostalgic small towns with little more than an old-fashioned town square and a general store. Combined, there are dozens of great communities, each with its own personality. The sheer number of places to explore on a scenic road trip through the Shenandoah Valley is a key pillar in the strategy.
- Of the eight counties that comprise the Shenandoah Valley, four are among the top 10 in Virginia for agricultural output. The presence of family farms — including recent growth in wineries — is obvious to anyone who drives through the Shenandoah Valley. The abundance of fresh products and quality ingredients allows local chefs to embrace the farm-to-table philosophy. By connecting the already exciting culinary scene to the region’s agricultural bounty, the Shenandoah Valley is set to offer visitors the finest farm-to-table dining experience in Virginia.
- Not surprisingly, the top thing that people associate with the Shenandoah Valley according to the research is the scenic beauty and mountain views. The mountains, the rolling hills throughout the valley, the many rivers and, of course, a well-known national park offer extensive opportunities for outdoor recreation. The valley is home to two resorts that offer skiing, snowboarding and tubing, which allows the Shenandoah Valley to position itself as a major outdoor recreation destination in all four seasons.
Not only do the three pillars of the brand strategy provide some differentiation from competitors, they challenge the perceptions that some who have not visited recently may have about the Shenandoah Valley. For example, some may not be aware of the caliber of the arts, dining and nightlife in some of the cities. Some may not think of the Shenandoah Valley as a winter sports destination. For those and any other outdated notions that exist, we routinely refer to the destination as Today’s Shenandoah Valley. While it is not integrated into the branding, it is used frequently, including as a website URL and hashtag.
The creative work to launch the brand included a logo, a website and an ad campaign. Our team was keenly focused on the three pillars of the strategy while developing the visual style and consumer messaging incorporated in the website and campaign.
The ad campaign simply and honestly describes the region. Each ad in the series begins with Formed by Mountains followed by a truthful statement about life in the Shenandoah Valley, such as Fueled by Adrenaline, Fed by Family Farms or Fun for Families. The ads depict a destination with a variety of experiences while showcasing beautiful images of the mountain scenery. Of course, that’s the truth about Today’s Shenandoah Valley.
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