“Welcome to Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” Garrison Keillor opened with this line on every episode of ‘News From Lake Wobegon’. For years I followed the ‘News From Lake Wobegon’ on public radio along with some of Keillor’s other work. I held a special fondness for his work called ‘A Lutheran’s Guide to the Orchestra’. For those unfamiliar with Garrison Keillor or his work, Keillor was not a comedian but was a humorist. Along the lines of Samuel Clemons writing under his pen name of Mark Twain, Keillor’s special method of storytelling was funny but centered on a general theme. The laughs are not generated by short one liners or quick shots, but are a result of a protracted story that not only provides humor but builds upon itself. Using this structure, Keillor was able to generate a weekly show that regularly revisited familiar places and people.

“Welcome to Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” Garrison Keillor opened with this line on every episode of ‘News From Lake Wobegon’. For years I followed the ‘News From Lake Wobegon’ on public radio along with some of Keillor’s other work. I held a special fondness for his work called ‘A Lutheran’s Guide to the Orchestra’. For those unfamiliar with Garrison Keillor or his work, Keillor was not a comedian but was a humorist. Along the lines of Samuel Clemons writing under his pen name of Mark Twain, Keillor’s special method of storytelling was funny but centered on a general theme. The laughs are not generated by short one liners or quick shots, but are a result of a protracted story that not only provides humor but builds upon itself. Using this structure, Keillor was able to generate a weekly show that regularly revisited familiar places and people.

However, Lake Wobegon was a place of fiction. Presenting “all the women as strong, all the men as good-looking and all the children as above average” can lead to complications when reality doesn’t meet the imposed expectations. But that was radio and the Lake Wobegon experience was controlled by the imagination of Keillor and the limits of the story.

Presenting our fair city has many similarities to the comedian versus humorist scenario. The plan is to “brand” Neosho. Branding has the attributes of the humorist. It plays to the long game, building upon an ever evolving story, revisiting people, places and events. Marketing is more concentrated, the one-liner, a method of getting quick results. Marketing can yield a temporary up-spike in economic indicators and revenues. Branding is a continual presence where the response is to immediately associate the identifier, whether it is visual, audible, or some other sensory type, with the intended place or product. Destination branding has begun to rise in use, providing the results that have long been sought in marketing alone.

As I pointed out, branding is a long game component. The traditionally utilized marketing methods will still need to be employed as a subset of the long term strategic plan. But it is the branding that will motivate people to return to the scene of the crime. The implementation of branding must come with an understanding that it may take consistent work over a few years to get it fully seated in the psychic of the consumer. Once the brand is established the results can be a steady increase for years to come.

Here in the real world, we want to give visitors and residents the Neosho Experience. If we over promise, everyone has the opportunity to compare the claims against the reality of Neosho and that can be fatal. As I pondered the work of Garrison Keillor and Lake Wobegon, I considered the opening line used for each episode and how it branded Lake Wobegon. While this seemed harmless enough, it works for a fictional town but not in reality. It wouldn’t take long to debunk the claims made in such a statement. The Neosho Experience is best served by a real, honest and true presentation. That presentation must be the product of a long term strategic plan that moves along a steady progression of improvement and honest evaluation.

There is nothing static in this world, you are either moving forward, backward or dying. So with that in mind and a desire to move forward let’s take a quick picking of the low hanging fruit: First impressions count. We don’t have to be perfect unless that is the way that we have branded and presented ourselves. Consistency counts. It is critical to continue with the plan as presented. A willingness to be involved counts. Government cannot do everything. Community participation, contributions and the understanding that ‘everyone that lives here is Neosho’ will be seen in the simplest of acts. When you see a bit of trash and you pick it up, it counts. When you trim not only your property, but the grass along the curb and in the sidewalk, it counts. Your ownership stake in the community counts. While it is important for citizens to acknowledge their ownership stake in the community, it is also important for them to turn loose of individual priorities. Understanding the priorities of the greater good can be of higher value than one single focus point.

This is a complex and long-winded issue, with a lot of broad areas to consider. Due to that fact, we are dealing with developing both the branding and marketing on a daily basis. However, we are always open to input or willing to assist in educating others about the long term strategic plan and the goals to make Neosho a “go to place”. So, “live long and prosper”, “that’s the news from Lake Wobegon”, “And that’s the way it is”, “Good Night, Chet.”

 

Paul Richardson is the public relations director and events coordinator for the city of Neosho. He also writes a column for the Neosho Daily News.