Eastern Kentucky PRIDE

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Regional Branding Initiative: Natural beauty and outdoor recreation are tops in Southern and Eastern Kentucky

The Southern and Eastern Kentucky Branding Initiative is targeting these 41 counties.

Natural beauty and outdoor recreation are the top tourism assets of Southern and Eastern Kentucky, based on research recently completed through a regional branding initiative by PRIDE in partnership with the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky through a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission.

“This research confirms that our natural resources are critical to the economy of Southern and Eastern Kentucky, which has been a core belief at PRIDE since we set out in 1997 to improve the region’s environment,” said PRIDE’s Tammie Wilson.

“Clearly, being good stewards of these natural attractions is important, and PRIDE is committed to continuing to help the region’s communities do just that,” Wilson said. “Now, we also are working with communities to showcase these natural assets to tourists.”

“Ultimately, our goal is to grow our economy and enhance our quality of life,” Wilson explained. “The purpose of this current initiative is to develop a strategic branding direction for growing the economy through tourism in the 41-county region of Southern and Eastern Kentucky.”

Research was the first phase of the initiative, and it was conducted by destination branding company Chandlerthinks of Franklin, Tennessee. Chandlerthinks LLC, is an agent-based place marketing firm that provides solutions for cities and communities looking to create a strong identity and purposeful direction. The company has developed plans and marketing direction for over 40 communities, including branding projects in Kentucky for Danville, Bowling Green, Henderson and Marshall County.

Chandlerthinks representatives presented the research findings for the Southern and Eastern Kentucky branding initiative during public meetings in London on May 2 and Prestonsburg on May 3.

“Community branding is about creating a unified story we can all share that positively affects our reputation,” Steve Chandler said. “It allows us to market Southern and Eastern Kentucky outwardly so we are leveraging what makes us unique and attractive.”

“I think this is a big opportunity,” Chandler said. “In our research, we found we have lots of similar tourism assets already, which we can package together. We also need to create a new narrative for Eastern Kentucky. We can’t wait for others to speak for us. We need to be relentless about putting out our own story.”

“Our research revealed several undeniable truths that affect how we will proceed with this project,” Chandler explained. “We call these ‘brand truths.”

“First, the residents of our regions do not see themselves as one cultural region,” he said. “Instead, we see ourselves as two distinct regions: Southern Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky.”

“Next, the Eastern Kentucky image is filled with the natural and cultural beauty of Appalachia,” he said.

“Finally, what unites everyone in the region is the delivery of outstanding promotable natural assets,” he concluded.

Based on these brand truths, Chandler recommended two strategies for branding. First, embrace, celebrate and elevate our outstanding outdoor experiences and unspoiled natural beauty. Second, be relentless at creating a constant new narrative for Eastern Kentucky that reflects its beauty and progress in all areas.

“The next step in this project will be deciding whether to create one brand that can serve as an umbrella over the entire 41-county region or individual brands for Southern Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky,” Chandler said.

From there, the Chandlerthinks team will continue to the third phase of the project, creating the brand story and related brand identity elements.

Chandler explained that the research phase included:

  • Six town hall meetings across the region where local stakeholders — such as elected officials, tourism professionals, businesses and concerned citizens — identified the region’s assets and discussed strategies to showcase them.
  • A community survey, which was completed by 645 residents of the region.
  • An attitude, awareness and perception survey of a sample of general consumers in Lexington, Louisville, Bowling Green, Cincinnati and parts of West Virginia.
  • A survey of Kentucky tourism industry professionals inside and outside of the region.
  • A review of Southern and Eastern Kentucky’s digital footprint.

At the town hall meetings, 255 participants described Southern and Eastern Kentucky in positive terms overall, using such terms as beauty, scenic, gorgeous, mountains, outdoor, adventure, lake and recreation. Participants believed that natural resources deliver the best tourism experience in Southern and Eastern Kentucky, with the region divided into two distinct regions: mountains and lakes.

In the community survey, the region’s residents echoed the views from the town hall meetings. For example, the surveys found that Southern and Eastern Kentucky deliver natural beauty extremely well, and the region is most attractive to nature/outdoor enthusiasts. Water recreation — such as lakes and waterfalls — was seen as the best opportunity to generate overnight guests. Residents of the region associated Southern Kentucky with mountains and water resources, and they thought Eastern Kentucky is best represented by mountains and the coal industry and heritage.

People who do not live here see natural beauty and outdoor recreation as the region’s top assets, and they believe the region is best suited for the nature/outdoor enthusiast, according to the Chandlerthinks survey of 677 consumers who live outside the region. That survey also found that Lake Cumberland, Red River Gorge and other water recreation offer the best potential for overnight guests.

Among the state’s tourism experts, many of the region’s tourism assets are “best in class,” according to a survey of Kentucky tourism industry professionals conducted by Chandlerthinks. Southern Kentucky is associated with water resources and Eastern Kentucky with mountains, based on those survey results.

For more information about this project, please contact Eastern Kentucky PRIDE at 888-577-4339 (toll free) or PRIDE@centertech.com.

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