The public perception of Winchester, Virginia, usually falls into one of four categories:
- Never heard of it
- Host of the annual Apple Blossom Festival
- Childhood home of Patsy Cline
- Location of Shenandoah University
It turns out that there is much more to this northern Shenandoah Valley town and surrounding Frederick County. As our discovery phase progressed, with each new conversation and each visit to the county, we learned another new and fascinating story of Winchester. George Washington spent approximately 10 years of his life there. The town changed hands roughly 70 times during the American Civil War, during which Confederate General Stonewall Jackson maintained an office there in a home owned by Mary Tyler Moore’s great grandfather. Revolutionary War General Daniel Morgan and Arctic explorer Admiral Byrd were born there. And, we can’t forget that country music legend Patsy Cline grew up in Winchester as the daughter of a hard-working single mother.
In addition to the incredible historical assets, there are scenic mountain landscapes, a heritage of family farming and a thriving downtown district known as “Old Town Winchester.” Without a doubt, there are many awesome attractions to support tourism in Winchester and Frederick County. The fact that they vary so widely isn’t surprising considering the region’s long history. It does, however, provide a branding challenge.
This project is an excellent example of how important it is to utilize all of the research options. Stakeholder input, visitor surveys and our first-hand, in-person understanding of the city and county all contributed to the brand strategy.
At first glance, the farm markets, scenic drives and Old Town Winchester represent Today. After all, Old Town is filled with unique shops, diverse dining options and hip nightlife. Yet, the research showed overwhelmingly how important the history is to the current brand perception. A whopping 50% of visitor survey respondents said they chose to visit specifically because they were interested in American history. Visit a Historic Site was the number one response to “What activities did you participate in?” It was ahead of Explore Old Town Winchester. Visitors are not hitting the historic highlights just because there are so many of them to see. The survey also asked “What was your favorite part about visiting Winchester?” Historic Sites beat out Old Town Winchester by 2-to-1 and topped Mountain Views by 3-to-1.
It’s clear that history — the sites, the vibe and the fascinating stories — is and always will be a key component of Winchester’s brand. The region’s history, which includes being an early frontier town, surveyed by George Washington, scene of major Civil War battles and more, actually makes modern Winchester the charming and thriving place that it is today. The brand strategy strikes the ideal balance between the region’s historic status and the charm of modern Winchester.
Our team recommended branding the region under the more memorable name Discover Winchester from the original and lengthy Winchester-Frederick County Convention & Visitor Bureau. The new name and logo are now being used.
A new ad campaign demonstrates how the region’s current residents — like chefs, entrepreneurs, artists and farmers — continue the tradition of making Winchester a great and interesting place to live and visit.
How can your brand benefit from the talent and experience of the Mikula-Harris team? Let’s start a conversation. Make the call today.