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Students Develop New Brand to Help Iowa Town Attract Tourists
Iowa Ag Connection - 03/15/2017

The city of Maquoketa recently completed a $4 million renovation of its downtown, and city leaders want to show it off.

To help, they've turned to the University of Iowa's Marketing Institute, working with marketing students in the Tippie College of Business to develop a new brand and marketing strategy to attract more tourists.

The Marketing Institute is a three-semester program that gives 15 to 20 marketing majors in the Tippie College of Business an opportunity to work with clients to solve real-world challenges. The program teams up with businesses, nonprofit organizations, and municipal governments across Iowa on strategic messaging, branding, advertising, and economic development issues. Learn more... Ultimately, town leaders hope that people are so impressed they decide to move to Maquoketa and bring more residents to the picturesque Jackson County seat--population 6,062--located 90 miles northeast of Iowa City.

"We're looking to celebrate the history of Maquoketa with a theme that builds on how much progress the town has made in recent years," says Nic Hockenberry, assistant director of the Jackson County Economic Alliance, who is overseeing the project.

The UI students have been working on the program throughout the fall semester says Peggy Stover, director of the Marketing Institute. They researched the history of Maquoketa, compared it to other Midwest towns of similar size and character, and conducted a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis.

The city's tourism goal is to lure more day-trippers and weekenders by emphasizing the town's historic charm, natural beauty, abundant outdoor recreational opportunities, and cultural centers. Nearby is Maquoketa Caves State Park, which draws a half-million visitors a year, and town leaders hope the campaign will attract many park visitors to spend more time in town.

The students sent surveys in February to selected Iowans and residents of adjoining states to get an idea of what they're looking for in a getaway, asking about their perceptions of Iowa, how far they're willing to travel for a weekend or a day trip, and what sorts of amenities they're looking for.

Shelby Cain, a UI senior from Lone Tree, Colorado, says the group conducted secondary research as well.

"We researched travel habits, looked at the difference between what people expect from weekend trips versus vacations, and what other travel resources they use," she says.

Jessica Welser, a UI senior from Davenport, is a veteran Maquoketa visitor who attended a camp near the town when she was a child. She says the research has given even her a better understanding of the area.

"I've been going there my whole life and I'm learning things I never knew," she says.

The results will help the students focus messages to different groups they'll use in their branding.

Welser and Cain, along with team members Amy Mass from Ankeny, Iowa, and Jacinta Jargo from Clinton, Iowa, will meet with Maquoketa City Council members and other leaders on April 17. They'll share strategy proposals, logo and tagline recommendations, and redesign ideas for the city's website.

The Maquoketa project is the latest of the Marketing Institute's efforts to help Iowa communities formulate development strategies. Past clients include Muscatine, Washington, and Sioux City.

In Sioux City, UI students helped develop a marketing campaign to encourage more residents to participate in curbside recycling and helped develop an easier way for residents to acquire recycling containers. In Washington, students developed a new tagline, helped streamline the city's various tourism publications, and focused its campaign on its many summer art and musical festivals and restaurants.

Stover says this emphasis on municipal branding exposes students to a different type of marketing experience. Unlike businesses, where efforts focus on a small group of decision-makers, working with municipalities requires managing dozens of stakeholders, including elected officials, administrators, business leaders, and local residents--some of whom think the status quo is just fine.

She says the municipal work also tends to have an important sustainability angle.

Other projects the UI students are working on this year include a plan to recruit more drivers for the UI's Cambus system, re-branding an Iowa City fitness facility, and creating a marketing and communication plan for Toyota of Iowa City to attract more millennial car buyers.

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