How a ‘boomerang’ from New York City influenced northeast Indiana’s regional branding

After living among 8.6 million people, in the shadow of New York City’s skyscrapers, it was time for Eric Howell, along with his wife and their newborn son, to move. The busy, pricey, and cramped life in NYC was no longer working for them.

Howell decided to move his family back to his hometown of Fort Wayne in northeast Indiana. Soon after they arrived, they witnessed a colorful Indiana sunset, as if the sky had opened up to welcome them back home.

“That was one of the first things we noticed, the colorful Indiana sunsets,” Howell says. “The sky is so much bigger here. There are many of other benefits we talk about, like the ease of day-to-day living, less traffic, or the ability to get in and out of town quickly, but the colors are what first stood out to us.” 

Howell and his family landed in Fort Wayne nearly three years before the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership’s 11-county branding initiative began. However, his personal story about a local sunset and what it signified helped inspire the color palette and tone of Northeast Indiana’s new regional brand for talent attraction and retention—Make It Your Own.

Putting talent in the driver’s seat

Adorned with the blue and orange colors of an Indiana sunrise or sunset, “Make It Your Own” is Northeast Indiana’s new regional brand to attract target talent ages 21–45 to live and work in the 11-county region.

Unveiled by the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, it was developed through a six-month process guided by internal focus groups and national perception surveys. Now that the process is complete, Make It Your Own is designed for businesses to use in their talent recruitment efforts to tell Northeast Indiana’s compelling story through a logo, tagline, marketing materials, and authentic narrative.

Kate Virag, vice president of marketing and strategic communication, says Make It Your Own is an evolution of past campaigns like Made Here and Your Story Made Here, and it puts talent in the driver’s seat.

“We’re not talking at talent,” Virag says. “We’re showcasing opportunities in our region and encouraging potential new residents to participate. The new brand invites people to take ownership in their community, their careers and their lives.”

The brand inspires talent to Make it Your Own in northeast Indiana.

In many ways, the ideal scenario of the brand’s success is to attract people like Howell and his family to Northeast Indiana’s 11 counties to fulfill the region’s Road to One Million goal of attracting one million people to Northeast Indiana by 2030.

Rooted in research

The Regional Partnership worked with Development Counsellors International (DCI) to develop the brand strategy, conduct research, and identify key messages. Britton Marketing & Design Group (BMDG), a national firm headquartered in Northeast Indiana, partnered throughout the process and then brought the brand to life through narrative imagery and creative design. A brand task force of regional marketing leaders acted in an advisory role, providing guidance and perspective during the development of the Make It Your Own brand.

In 2017, DCI developed the study, “Talent Wars,” which reported survey data from national talent about relocation, job searches, and more. Economic developers use the study to inform talent attraction strategies and tactics.

Sarah Reinecke, account manager at DCI, says every community across the country is competing in the quest for the best and brightest talent, and Northeast Indiana’s brand cuts through the clutter and differentiates the region from other communities.

“The whole process is about so much more than just the brand—it’s about what you do with the brand, how you bring it to life and how you consistently ensure that Northeast Indiana is top of mind as a prime place for people to live and work,” Reinecke says. “The brand launch is only the beginning. The next step is working to advance Northeast Indiana’s story with positive national media coverage and producing printed and digital recruitment content for employers targeted to the talent they need to recruit.”

The Make It Your Own brand is guided by research and tested with the target audience to ensure the concept resonated with talent nationally.

“The fact that this brand was developed using insight from internal and external audiences is very compelling,” says Barry Rochford, Strategic Communication Officer for Dekko Foundation in Kendallville and brand task force member. “Make It Your Own is authentically rooted in our strong history of manufacturing and entrepreneurship. It’s also positive, inviting and forward-looking, speaking to people who are actively looking to make the next move and put their stamp on a community.”

Making the brand come to life

For BMDG lead designers Brian Walters and Molly Stronczek, the collaborative branding project is an opportunity to showcase what is visually unique about Northeast Indiana.

Jeff Britton, president and CEO of BMDG, says the logo’s four colors showcase the custom-designed, playful font embodies the tagline Make It Your Own.

“The core of any branding work is about demonstrating differences,” Britton says. “Branding is about how a place is different, not about how we fit in. This branding initiative demonstrates there is something going on here that is different than what talent nationally might think. Make It Your Own reminds us all that life is really up to each one of us to act, and, in this case, there is also an invitation to participate. Make It Your Own is a new home, a new business, a studio, a career. Simply, it’s your life, and you can own it in Northeast Indiana. We’re inviting people to make something out of whatever the 'it' is to them.”

Kristen Guthrie, vice president of marketing for Visit Fort Wayne and member of the brand task force, notes, “It’s powerful when we all have an authentic, consistent story to tell, whether from the perspective of tourism, economic development, businesses or individual residents."

Community members are invited to share their story of how to Make It Your Own in Northeast Indiana by connecting with the Regional Partnership on social media. Regional businesses are encouraged to use the brand tagline, logo, and key marketing messages to recruit talent nationally while advertising for open positions on job boards, career pages on business websites, and other recruitment communications.

Less than three years after their move, Howell and his family are living in a house near downtown Fort Wayne, making their life and career their own in Northeast Indiana while raising their young son in a family-friendly community.

They are making it their own. How do you Make It Your Own in northeast Indiana?

Learn more

To learn more about the branding effort or to access the brand resources, visit www.MakeItYourOwnNEI.com.

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