‘KEY TO THE SOUTH’ VCVB unveils new branding, marketing

Published 11:29 am Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau borrowed from a phrase by Abraham Lincoln for its new $62,000 branding and marketing campaign, selling the city as “The Key to the South.”

The phrase is a variation of Lincoln’s description of Vicksburg’s strategic importance during the Civil War: “Vicksburg is the key. The war can never be brought to a close until the key is in our pocket.”

The slogan, introduced Monday, is a reworking of a phrase that the VCVB has previously used in advertising the city.

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It was recommended by Nashville-based North Star, which was hired by the VCVB in October 2010 for $62,000 to help the visitors bureau develop a new strategy to better market the city and its attractions.

The VCVB introduced the new program at a special presentation Monday.

“‘The Key to the South’ rebrand is a broad statement that is flexible,” VCVB executive director Bill Seratt said. “It’s an opportunity to integrate all the advantages of Vicksburg.

“We’re going to start rolling it out,” he said.

The new marketing campaign will feature four keys representing the Civil War, shopping, gaming and dining. The keys can be used together or separately in ads highlighting city attractions.

Seratt said the logos will be featured on the VCVB’s website, its Twitter site and the bureau’s electronic newsletter. The bureau will also update logos on 200 directions signs in the city and the drive markers, Seratt said.

North Star said using the key as a brand connects the city more with the hospitality of Southern culture and makes a stronger connection to Vicksburg and the river as locations for events that have affected America, such as the Civil War.

The marketing strategy was the result of a yearlong study by North Star that examined tourists’ and residents’ perceptions about Vicksburg. The company’s representatives spent several months in the city talking with business owners, residents, tourism officials and visitors about the city. They also collected visitor records from the VCVB centers and hotels and motels to get a better idea of from where visitors come and why.

Results showed the majority of Vicksburg’s visitors come from the South: Texas, Louisiana, other parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

It also provided information on where Vicksburg is well-known.

“We found out that we’re better known in the Dallas/Fort Worth area than in the Atlanta area,” Seratt said. “We were better known in the West than the East. It means we’ll have to do more work in the Eastern part of the country.”

Two of Vicksburg’s advantages, the study showed, were the Civil War and Mississippi River.

But the study, Seratt said, also showed that the Civil War was a liability, because “an overwhelming majority of people associate Vicksburg with Civil War at the expense of the city’s other wonderful attractions and experiences.”

To better market the city, the study said, tourism officials need to emphasize the connection between Vicksburg and the river.

“The two share in common the effect they have had, and continue to have, on the nation,” Seratt said. “No two things have shaped America as a country quite as much as the Mississippi River and the Civil War.

“By playing up the connections between the two, Vicksburg can begin to connect those dots for a visitor, ultimately offering a more layered, more intense experience,” he said. That connection is nearing completion with the restoration of the old Levee Street Depot for the Vicksburg Transportion Museum, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Lower Mississippi Interpretive Center and the MV Mississippi, which is expected to be completed in August.

“I’m extremely happy (with the strategy),” VCVB board chairman Annette Kirklin said.

“It’s thrilling going forward with a plan to show the different things that Vicksburg has to offer,” she said. “We also learned where our markets are, and where we have to improve our marketing efforts.”

The VCVB is the second organization in the city to get a rebranding this year. Vicksburg Main Street presented its new logo, banner, signs and travel guides in September.

Main Street hired Greenville, S.C.-based Arnett Muldrow and Associates for $11,600 to develop the new product and update Main Street’s 30-year image.