There were mixed reactions to a proposed branding package for Williams Lake at council’s committee of the whole meeting Tuesday.
The brand includes a logo that resembles a belt buckle in shape. Its main colour is blue to reflect Williams Lake, with western style yellow lettering, and an accompanying slogan “Republic of Life.”
Words traditionally used to reflect cowboy life are juxtaposed with mountain biking, fishing and snowmobiling.
Mayor Kerry Cook said it would take her some time to warm up to the “Republic of Life” slogan, however, she likes everything else and thinks it will build on the strengths of the community.
“It will personally take me some time to percolate around the republic of life,” Cook said.
Coun. Danica Hughes said many aspects of life in Williams Lake are captured but wanted to see honouring of First Nations in any branding.
“They are our past and our future and we have a great working relationship with our neighbouring communities and for people who might move here, it’s important for them to understand that.”
Responding to Hughes’ comment, Taiji Brand Group’s Carol Taiji said one of the ideas they visualized was First Nations as historians of the area.
“We can work those concepts in,” she said.
Coun. Surinderpal Rathor applauded the “excellent” work done on developing the brand, but also insisted the region’s forestry, mining, agriculture and fishing industries be reflected.
“Those three things are missing,” he said. “If you can add those and First Nations, you’ve got my support.”
Initially Coun. Sue Zacharias tried inserting other words for “republic” but in the end said she decided none of the words worked.
“I love it,” she said. “I think it’s unique, catchy and adventurous. My stodgy brain was thinking we should stay with what’s tried and true but now I think we need to break out with something that’s fun.”
Coun. Geoff Bourdon participated on the branding advisory committee and said he liked the brand’s “balance of the two sides of the community.”
“We know from everything we go to we distinctively see opposing sides. To me the brand balances the best of both and leaves the worst of both.”
Coun. Laurie Walters also participated in the branding process, and agreed republic is a “tricky word.”
“But having gone through the process, I can say I have faith in the process. We came back and said we needed to get other opinions and the input from other people was good. Change is not an easy thing to go through and there will be resistance moving forward.”
Taiji was not surprised by council’s reaction, and some of the negative reaction to the branding voiced by some of the community so far.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing that people want to discuss it and have an opinion,” she told council. “You don’t brand what is, you brand a goal. It’s about being futuristic and creating a shift in perception.”
During her 10 years of branding experience, Taiji has realized the true target of a place brand isn’t the community itself, but at the same time the community has to embrace it and “feel” like it’s their brand.
“We tried to make it as inclusive as we could,” she said.
A lofty goal was set out at the beginning to help position “Williams Lake as one of Western Canada’s most desirable small cities to live and raise a family.”
Through interviews Taiji Group determined that resiliency of the community comes from people who are living here by choice.
Part of the process involved creating a fictitious family the brand could target. A family wanting to relocate because they could afford to buy a home, be close to the outdoors, add more adventure to their lives, remain close enough to family living in the lower mainland, live a lifestyle that allows for family life being most important, or even explore their “inner cowboy.”
“It’s interesting how the cowboy heritage is polarizing. When we surveyed people there were no vague opinions,” Taiji said.
Cowboy spirit is a definable thing, so it made complete sense to carry on that heritage, morph it into something more contemporary and make it relevant, she added.
“Legendary and ancient, but completely relevant in modern day, the cowboy spirit is appealing to people who are packed in a subdivision in the city, spending half their life in a car.”
Explaining the “Republic of Life” slogan, she said when it comes to competing with other communities, the friendly community, access to outdoors, and amenities are in all other communities too.
“You can offer through the lens of the cowboy spirit a laid back living way of life. It’s not going to make a ton of sense to people that have lived here for a long time, but it’s not a literal concept.”
The slogan is intended to be a fun-spirited way of talking about a lifestyle that is unique as opposed to saying, “come live here with the cowboy spirit.”
It’s meant to be a way to engage people, to tell the story of what it means to live in Williams Lake, she added.
Literally a republic is a “body of people freely engaged in the pursuit of a common passion.”
The real idea behind the brand is that unique lifestyle that you can interest people in, the republic is packaging the idea.
The city has never had an official brand in place, manager of economic development Alan Madrigga said, adding a brand can’t be everything to everybody.
“A brand needs to be unique with local buy in and in doing that we wanted something that was unique, something that was going to stay in people’s heads.”