WisBusiness.com: Branding Wisconsin Idea Draws Backers

but Effort Could Take Years and Cost Millions

By WisBusiness.com Staff

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Being a Cheesehead ain’t all bad, but it’s probably not the best image to project to the rest of the world.

Like it or not, the cheesehead has become associated with Wisconsin. But Wisconsin should have a better story to tell to America and the rest of the world, panelists at a Branding Wisconsin luncheon told more than 60 people at Lambeau Field on Wednesday.

The panelists and business leaders came together at Curly’s Pub to talk about how to improve the state’s image and foster economic development through branding.

Kathi Seifert, a Kimberly-Clark executive, said the right brand could “take us out of the cheesehead mold into a whole another place.’’

Said Seifert: “We’re more than just a cheesehead type of place, more than just the Packers.’’

John Jones, the Packers’ No. 2 team executive, said the cheesehead image is important and well-recognized, but “we have a story …America and the rest of the world needs to know about.’’

Tom Farley, who runs the Chris Farley Foundation, recalled that “cheesehead’’ was initially a derogatory term but that Wisconsinites have come to accept it.

Mark Schmitz, head of Z-D Studios that led the visual imaging effort at the new Lambeau Field, said like it or not, “professional sports teams give states their brands’’ and warned it would take years and years of repetitive message-sending to project a different image.

Schmitz advised any state branding effort to “take the things we’re given and spin them to our benefit.’’

One way to get action on the branding Wisconsin idea, which has been kicked around for a number of years, is to pass legislation mandating a study and spurring discussion to make it happen. Rep. Steve Wieckert, R-Appleton, has a branding bill he said would be moving through committee soon. “We have to play to our strengths,’’ said Wieckert, urging Wisconsin to forge its “own identity’ and rally around the bill as a unifying force.

Jim Holerpin, tourism secretary in Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration, said legislation wasn’t really needed but endorsed the idea anyway. He said research was the key and that it was important to project the right image.

He told the story of a new Fox TV series based in Wisconsin, “A Minute With Stan Hooper,’’ whose pilot lead-in featured a mountainous backdrop. “This is no Seinfeld,’’ he joked. “We might not have to worry about it.’

Holperin used that as an example of why it’s important to project a positive image. “If we don’t do it … then somebody else will’’ project a negative image.

He warned however that a better state brand can’t be conjured up by committee and could cost up to $10 million annually over five or six years “to properly steward the brand.’’ He also cautioned that too much politics could hurt the effort because governments change and one governor may not like the brand marshaled in by a predecessor.

But he said it’s worth a try. If it doesn’t pan out, so be it.

But Seifert called the situation urgent and said, “We’ve got to get going. …I wouldn’t give up. We are who we are. That’s OK. I think we’ve got to be tenacious about this.’’

Farley and Schmitz stressed the need to exploit the feeling Wisconsinites and frequent visitors have about the state. Farley said he moved his family back from the East Coast because he liked living here.

“One unifying thing is that emotion about the state,’’ he said.

“It’s really all about emotion,’’ added Schmitz, saying if the brand evokes a positive feeling, it’s doing its job.

The branding Wisconsin event was organized by WisBusiness.com and sponsored by the Wisconsin Technology Council, Forward ‘Wisconsin, the UW System, Scott Tyre of the Foley & Lardner law firm, and the Small Business Times.