A brand is just a brand. Really, then what’s a Menifee?
November 29, 2013
I was driving down the freeway in Southern California, a couple of weeks ago when I came upon an off ramp sign. It reminded that a brand is not just about who it is and what it does differently, but it is also about what it is capable of becoming.
The sign read: Menifee next exit.
In 1988 The John Lusk Company, a large local developer and homebuilder, came to our agency and asked if we would like to help them market a new master planned community in Paris, California – about fifty miles Southeast of Los Angeles. We said sure.
Upon investigation we found out that Paris, unlike its sister city in France, was a lower income and beleaguered town with a population of equal parts senior citizen and bikers. There was plenty of graffiti, fifties era houses, many dilapidated with unattended landscaping. The area is very arid and warm in the summers. And many of the people we spoke to said, they did not venture outside in Paris after dark.
Our first step after the initial intelligence gathering was to facilitate our brand discovery (Turning the Telescope) session.
During discovery we learned that the property, as planned, was located in an area once referred to as Menifee and would cover more than 2,200 acres. New homes would be built ranging from entry level (first time buyers) to move up homes to large acre estates, even an active adult community. As well, there would be K – 12 schools, church sites, a sports park, a 125 acre recreational lake, 36 holes of golf, retail stores, lots of palm trees and lush landscaping, and bike and pedestrian trails throughout. Wow, we thought, this is like a city within a city. While many of the participants were engineers, planners, architects and designers, including Mr. Lusk himself, we got a lot more than just the facts from this session. We started asking: what makes up a town, versus a planned community?
By the time we were distilling possible unique selling points down to unique selling points, we realized that we were only two amenities away from being our own city. And both were doable – a post office and a college. (The college was optional but we thought we could overcome the perception of a low-income area if we were a college town.)
Soon, “Menifee California, The Town of a Lifetime” was born. (Menifee was the name of an old time pioneer in the area – we found an abandoned railroad spur with his name still on it.)
By offering the postal service a small piece of land, they could build a sub-station and Menifee would have its own zip code. A large industrial plot of land was offered to Mt. San Jacinto Community College and they jumped at the opportunity to build a Western Campus.
Menifee California opened to hundreds of prospective homebuyers camping out overnight to be early in line. We had a big grand opening celebration with Dixieland Bands, catered hot dogs, burgers and root beer floats, ten homebuilders displaying their model homes, a lake christening, golf course tours, we even, very ceremoniously, buried a time capsule to be dug up in 2040.
Over the next ten years, with all homebuilders advertising their communities with names like “The Homestead at Menifee California,” and “Lakeside at Menifee California,” Menifee sold all the homes as they were built and the community took on a life of it own. The sign on the road was changed to read, “Menifee/Paris Chamber of commerce welcomes you.” And today, with a population of over 60,000 and including the communities of Sun City, Quail Valley, and Paloma Valley, the Paris part has been dropped.
So, did we just get lucky and have a good brainstorming session? Would the old style of research based brand development have led to “The Town of a Lifetime?” Would a post office have come from interviewing all constituencies? Would the idea of a college town come from a consumer perception map? No, how could it?
True brand development does not come from simply meeting the wants and needs of prospective consumers. Distinction must be attached to meeting those wants and needs so that the buyer of a brand can connect with the brand. And when the brand development process and ultimately the brand, comes from the inside out, versus the outside in, anything is possible. Brand development done this more contemporary and holistic way, means a brand is not limited to just being a brand. The outcome is, more importantly, what a brand is really capable of becoming.
Menifee, the master planned community was capable of becoming “The Town of a Lifetime.”