BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Activate co-operation

Columnist Richard Rolke looks at branding for Vernon and Kelowna

It was last month when the City of Vernon revealed a new marketing brand with much fanfare and excitement.

Activate Life is a call to arms, letting residents and tourists know that Vernon is the place to be for recreation or culture.

“It can mean anything from bocce ball to spending time with the kids on the beach or skiing at Silver Star or Sovereign Lake,” said Glen Benischek, chairperson of the city’s economic development committee, at the time.

Activate Life will be found on all advertising, but the brand will also be amended for specific interests, such as possibly, “Activate your game” for sports, “Activate your menu” for culinary experiences and “Activate your imagination,” for culture.

“We wanted something that separates us from other communities,” said Benischek.

And while that may have been Vernon’s intent, that distinction didn’t last very long.

A week later, the City of Kelowna announced plans for a new Active By Nature campaign.

“This is how council believes we should be branding our community, as a great place for healthy and active living” said Mayor Colin Basran in the Kelowna Capital News.

Kelowna’s campaign will give residents and visitors information about its cycling and trail networks, paddling spots, swimming and running routes as well as its healthy city strategy and its strong neighbourhoods program.

“We have many beautiful natural assets,” said Basran.

“We’ve done a pretty good job of promoting them but this (program) just brings it to a whole new level.”

Basran’s comments weren’t dissimilar to those coming from Vernon.

“Vernon is a rare place, where it’s possible to go from mountain top to lakeside within 20 minutes — with world-class golf resorts, orchards, fine dining and unique shopping opportunities along the way,” said Benischek.

“We hope that Vernon will embrace this brand, which is a great reflection of our city and the infinite possibilities here.”

So now that both Vernon and Kelowna are bragging about themselves, it will be interesting to see how they handle the other’s similar marketing efforts.

The first choice would be to compete head-to-head and try and make the other look poor in comparison. However, that could put Vernon in the loser’s corner as the big city to the south has more of everything — shopping, restaurants, parks and, most importantly, advertising dollars. Of course the case could be made that Vernon is an ideal location for a slower pace of life, unique experiences like O’Keefe Ranch, abundant agriculture and the vast backcountry.

The bottom line is such an approach could just heighten the age-old rivalry between Vernon and Kelowna.

But beyond marketing fisticuffs, there is another potential solution, and that is for the cities to partner and jointly promote themselves as the most active place in Canada. It would be a perfect storm of what tourists and are looking for.

Basran told the Capital News that promoting outdoor recreation and healthy lifestyles is not only is good for the health of Kelowna residents, it will also help it attract people to live there as more people looking to relocate want active lifestyle options where they live.

Vernon is also singing from the same song book when it comes to economic development so it makes sense for both municipalities to expand the choir and take the show on the road.

Let’s activate co-operation.