Branding Minnesota


Telling A New Narrative:

By Kara Larson:

Here’s the thing: I’m not from Minnesota. I wasn’t born into weekend lake escapes and enduring heritage brands and urban diversity right alongside rural farmland. However, I grew to appreciate it all from the place next door (South Dakota) and peeked over the fence until, at last, I was able to move to magical Minnesota.

I share this detail because, as an outsider who has recently made Minnesota home, attending "Midwest? The Past, Present, and Future of Minnesota’s Identity" was an intriguing experience. An event held at the Walker Art Center on November 19th, 2014, this forum consisted of an incredible conversation between the brightest design, marketing, and branding minds in Minnesota. Moderated by Poppy Harlow, CNN correspondent and Minnesota native, the panel also consisted of Bruce Bildsten, CMO of Faribault Woolen Mills; Andrew Blauvelt, Senior Curator of Architecture and Design at Walker Art Center; Thomas Fisher, Dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota; and Christine Fruechte, CEO of Colle + McVoy.

This qualified group spouted a stream of ideas on Minnesota’s brand and identity, how to attract talent and innovation, and where we go from here. Panelist Andrew Blauvelt shares, "This idea of branding a place is a new kind of development … you see branding happen anytime you have a surplus of something and you need to create differentiation in the marketplace. So, what does that mean? Well, for tourism, I could visit any 50 states or I could go abroad. So, you’re in competition with other states and other locales—other geographies."

Beyond tourism, the right brand can draw in long-term Minnesotans. Blauvelt adds that this competition with other locales is also about strengthening our workforce. The goal is to attract a certain kind of talent—a skilled labor force for the state.

With these goals in mind, for me, this conversation of branding Minnesota is best boiled down to three main aspects: geography, identity, and experience. As the building blocks of branding, these were heavily discussed and shaped my understanding of what it means to be Minnesotan.

I. Geographical honesty. What defines us?

Geographically, where is Minnesota? For this panel, the Minnesota of today doesn’t call for the safety and shelter of the Midwest umbrella. One of most popular ideas for Minnesota’s new home was "The North," and panelist Thomas Fisher believes this is an apt title for our blissfully brisk country—he even calls the coldness an advantage. Fisher offers, "We’re innovative in part because we’re in a place where there is a lot of adversity. I mean, it’s tough living here." Instead of minimalizing the bitter winter to outsiders, perhaps embracing the cold and even romanticizing it might just be our ticket to geographic honesty.

Another component of the geographical aspect of branding comes through the choice of city versus regional branding. Blauvelt sees city branding as the direction to go. "I think you should be positioning cities because this is the global trend. Cities propel a certain level of influence… but this idea of regionalism within the state is another core component… How do you think about Rochester of the southern part of Minnesota? How do you think about the Twin Cities? How do you think about the northern part? They each have different attributes, right?"

Whether you feel that branding regional identities or our metropolitan areas would be most effective, it is clear that our geography plays a big role in our cultural identity. Which brings us to the second aspect of branding Minnesota—the ones who make up the culture—the people.


II. Diverse identities. Who are we?

Minnesotans are urban Minneapolis clothing designers and Southern rural dairy farmers and North Shore nature nuts, and above all, part of a beautiful and diverse community.

For the panel, this diversity and range is huge in attracting a forward-thinking individual. Fisher has a vision for the potential of Minnesota. He reveals, "We should be the mecca for talented, creative, innovative people. We’ve got the culture, the history to do this, the climate—it’s cold here; you have to work. We’ve got all this infrastructure, but we haven’t done a good job telling a new kind of narrative about ourselves."

So, this is the issue, right? If innovative and creative and altruistic Millennials don’t know our story, we miss out on their talent and they miss out on an incredible quality of life. And this brings us to our third point—the depth of experience Minnesota has to offer.


III. The beauty of experience. What do we have to offer?

Minnesota has the ability to tie people together with collective experience. With access to nature, nationally recognized restaurants, cultural diversity, an excellent salary to housing cost ratio, and an all-encompassing climate, the potential for contentment here is boundless.

The vast possibilities for different experiences rely not only on the geographical range, but also the wonderful range of people who fill it. As more visionaries are drawn to this state, more authentic innovation can be born. Our past innovators have built businesses like 3M, Target, UnitedHealth Group, Land O’ Lakes, Red Wing Shoes, and Faribault Woolen Mills. As these examples reveal, through the prism of Minnesota a creative endeavor is made genuine, honest, and real.

This idea of something genuine is a big part of why I chose Minnesota as my home. I came here with bright eyes and a budding love for this great state, and after this forum, I felt more at home than ever. A new narrative for our Northern state deserves an honest share so that everyone can witness the warmth of authenticity, the depth of perseverance, and the allure of the Minnesota life.