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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Few Thoughts About Bike Town Alberta

Branding is an interesting topic.  Brands are full of research, study, and billions of dollars poured into them by countries, corporations, municipalities, politicians, and the list goes on.  A brand is a short cut for consumer decisions.  For example, a brand like Tim Horton's represents something in the mind of every Canadian from coast to coast to coast.  It represents a level of quality and consistency that can be expected. 

There are components of a brand that need to be considered.  For example, there is the core meaning, sometimes called the brand identity.  Then, of course, there is the brand image, which may be thought of as reputation.  After developing a brand, it is critical to protect the brand, this falls under the concept of preserving brand equity.  Brand purpose is also a paramount consideration.

Without dissecting the different aspects of what a brand is, or what branding means to a municipality, it seems logical that the different segments of branding would, in and of themselves, be cause for some amount of confusion.  Some have expressed concern that Devon will lose our roots due to the Bike Town brand.  To my knowledge, there has never been any attempt to suggest that the history of the oil and gas industry would somehow be discounted for any new brand.  We know our history and it is ours to keep.  Nobody can take history away from us.

But what about the future?  Even the Leduc #1 Energy Discovery Centre rebranded, striking the word "Petroleum" and "Canadian" from their brand, replacing those words with "Energy" and "Leduc #1" respectively.  Did they give up any part of what they are to do this?  I would argue the answer is no.  Did they do it because they don't like the oil and gas industry?  I'd argue that nothing could be further from the truth.  Instead, they decided to focus on energy.  This opened up the horizon to new customers, displays of renewable energy, and the potential to preserve the history of the oil and gas industry while expanding the mandate of Leduc #1.  Nobody batted an eye at the idea of rebranding to expand the potential of Leduc #1.

Let's now consider Devon.  In much the same way as Leduc #1, nothing is sacrificed by brand extension.  Devon doesn't change, the river valley is still here and so is our golf course, our campground, our boat launch, and all the walking trails.  Bike Town is not designed to be what we are nor who we are.  Instead, it is designed to represent an activity.  Due to fortunate circumstances and the hard work of many volunteers, Devon has already developed a brand throughout the bike racing community because of dedication, volunteerism, warmth, and the remarkable hospitality of our residents.  This reputation has been cast on a global stage, with professional bike racers who compete in the Tour de France commenting on Devon.

As this groundswell of interest grew, some people in the community recognized the potential.  One of the key components in a successful branding project is to appeal to consumers.  The idea is to leverage strengths to create a new brand that will appeal to people outside of our community.  After all, we don't need to be told who we are.  The idea is to appeal to people who might like to engage in some kind of activity in Devon, and thus, bring their dollars to Devon so our residents and businesses can prosper.

Sports tourism is a category and it's growing fast.  The Government of Alberta (GOA) tracks tourism closely because it is an important economic driver for the province.  So important, in fact, that the GOA has a Minister assigned to the portfolio of Tourism, Parks, and Recreation.  What we know from the data is that peak months for tourism, sports or otherwise, are from May to September.  The figures for the Winter months are obviously skewed by ski resort tourism.  Factor that out of the data and the rest of the year looks pretty slim compared to the May-September time frame.  Creating a brand around sports tourism, a sector largely tied to the May-September time frame, is designed to be a catalyst for our local and regional economy during the most opportune time.  This is about tourism dollars, healthy living, and business prosperity.

The data sets demonstrate similar patterns across air travel, room nights, highway traffic counts, national park attendance, historic sites, museums, direct overseas entries, and of course, employment statistics.  All of these line up to indicate the May-September time frame is the best time to capture tourism dollars, and the data sets go back to the year 2000.  All of it shows precisely the same pattern.  For Devon, this aligns perfectly with the Bike Town brand.

Let's talk more data... there are over a half a million bike enthusiasts in the capital region, and it's the second fastest growing activity in North America.  In Canada, it's the fastest growing segment of the tourism industry, tipping in at 2.4 billion per year which translates to a market size of just under 400 million dollars in Alberta annually.

Bike Town is quite unique because the investment is miniscule and the infrastructure is present.  This is about BMX, mountain bikes, road bikes, healthy living, and perhaps as important as anything, it's about creating business success and economic prosperity for the residents and business owners of Devon.

More business, more economic development... and no new taxes.  Few options have such realities attached to them.

I think it's safe to say that everybody in Devon is open to new and better ideas.  I love that about our people, we have a lot of smart folks here in Devon, so please feel free to advise of a plan that delivers more benefit to the community.

Keep in mind, however, there are a few constraints.  Don't raise taxes, leverage existing infrastructure, demonstrate health benefits, reduce carbon footprint, show statistics that support future growth, and provide verifiable & solid data points.

Not so easy...  is it?
Data Resources

1) Town of Devon - Branding Bike Town
2) Government of Alberta - Tourism Market Monitor Data Sets
3) Government of Canada - Canadian Tourism Industry

Follow the news on Twitter @BikeTownAB

Disclaimer:  The above article is my own opinion.  It does not reflect the official opinion of the Town of Devon, the Administration, the Council, or any entity or part thereof.

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