The $95,400 Question No One Asked

At Monday’s special Village Council Workshop staff rolled out a $95,400 plan to hire North Star Destination Strategies of Nashville TN for an “integrated branding and marketing initiative” for Downers Grove.

Last fall, there was $100,000 put into the 2008 budget for a consultant study (I’ll update that when I find it) about branding DG.

Did someone tell the Downtown Management Corp., The Downers Grove Area Chamber Of Commerce And Industry, and the Economic Development Corporation about this? They’ve been working along those very lines for a while now, and might have valuable input on the process. Just saying.

Branding is a tricky thing, and usually fails if the goals are not clearly defined: what do we want, and why aren’t we already doing it?

Potential pitfalls:

  • It’s a village, not a brand. Most marketing companies seem to think toothpaste, cities, and 4H Clubs, since they are all things, can all be branded, and then that brand can be marketed. And since they can be marketed they can be charged for being told what some resident or business probably already knows, but we just haven’t bothered to ask them if they might chirp in.
  • No coordination with other group’s efforts as equals. The Downtown Management group voted to tax themselves to make improvements downtown, making it a more desirable place for business and Transit Oriented Development. The Downers Grove Area Chamber Of Commerce And Industry is a an organization dedicated to making Downers Grove a better place for business, and has invested in time, money, and people to push forward. The Economic Development Corporation’s mission is to market Downers Grove to the outside world, and they have made continuing efforts to do just that, with mailers, a website touting the advantages of DG, multi-marketing efforts that have succeeded in bringing companies such as Sara Lee to our village.
  • Not knowing what the heck it means. Doug Kozlowski may know what staff wants to accomplish, and Ron Sandack and Martin Tully may have a destination of some sort in mind (someplace we are not currently at), but no one else had a clear idea of what was being talked about.

I have survived the branding experience at a couple companies. It is a humorous experience listening to the deepest of BS lingo being slung around, watching external consultants puke from rote the benefits of a dynamic forward looking branding effort process.

We were inundated by very smart people explaining that the “core values” of the company were being revised – or in some cases ash-canned or completely changed – but this must have meant that the original “core values” were not “core” at all. In the DG Strategic Plan that has happened in a couple places, as “bright shiny new civic center” has become a core value in just a two year period.

Phrases we hate the most from branding consultants:

  • Looking at the market from 30,000 feet. Somehow we are supposed to think that means seeing the big picture, the whole enchilada. Ever looked out of an airplane from 30,000 feet? You are going somewhere other than where you are, you do not give a hoot about what you are looking at, and you can not really see a damn thing anyway. And that jerk in front of you keeps pushing his seat back into your knees.
  • Drilling into the granularity of it. What the hell does that mean? Were we not just at 30,000 feet? Are we now looking closely at the specifics of a proposal? Doctors and lawyers make up their own words, now consultants want in on the action too I guess. This phrase alone spiked the drill-as-murder-weapon murder rate of senior consulting executives.
  • Using all the tools in the toolbox. Some BS catch phrases stay classics for decades and this one leads the way. Has rolled more eyes than all bad puns ever told.
  • Lettuce and tomatoes. This granddaddy of them all is the Model T of consultantspeak. Twenty five years later I still have no clue.
  • Moving from good to great to world class. This was usually followed by, “moving to a new job when this company implodes”.
  • Thinking outside the box. Wait, we just put all our tools in the tool box. Now we are outside the box? How are we accessing the tools? This later spawned the phrase “going postal”.
  • Fulfilling the promise of a quality experience. Is that like a back rub with a happy ending?
  • Optimizing the interface of the stakeholder experience. Not content with calling us what we really are-residents, business owners, taxpayers, dumb-as-rocks-wallet-lightened-shortly-with-an-expensive-pre-written-report, whatever we are, we are absolutely not stakeholders. Unless I am camping and putting up a tent, and I have some tent stakes in my hand. Then I am a stakeholder.
  • Leveraging our assets. Kind of like buying on margin. More bang for the buck, but it assumes we know what and where our assets are, and if we could find them with both hands if they were on backwards.
  • Focusing on both the quantitative and the qualitative. Not just how long we are going to be screwed up, but how thoroughly we are going to be as well.
  • Win-Win scenario. Sorry, for every winner, there is a loser. If not, it would be a tie. Ask Memphis.

To sum up; having first verified that the stakeholders take ownership of goals, a robust process and a careful examination of total quality management (TQM) grows best-of-class opportunity for hands-on proactive innovation moving forward.

We do not know what we are getting into. Or maybe we do. Branding and marketing goes all through an entity. Here is a check list from brand ensemble.

Tells of bad branding efforts (TOIBE’s):

  • Acronyms used to distract an audience by abbreviating meaningless phrases into real words
  • Investing in the future, meaning spending hundreds of thousands now for some unguaranteed gain later.
  • Secret proprietary tools and methods. Sign on the dotted line first, but we have them, and you need them.
  • Process, process, process. Good process is more important than good results. Really.
  • Press releases that show your company is “dedicating the resources necessary to leverage multiple channels simultaneously and effectively for future growth”.
  • A staff with less experience than you have. If people can figure it out for themselves, just make sure you are there to facilitate.
  • Endless bullet listings.

North Star Destination Strategies. “Branding More Communities In More States Than Any Other Company” Wow, if that is the best they can do for themselves

So the $95,400, anyway you want to slice it, may be the tip of the iceberg for how much taxpayers get soaked pay. Or NSDS will slap us into their custom boilerplate and hit the bricks when the check clears. Anyone want to bet there will be more we can do after the $95,400?

Personally, I thought they should hire Robert Brandt & Associates of Burr Ridge IL, a local company. His bid was $48,750 for the first phase, plus a to be negotiated fee for second phase of deliverables. After the first load of crap deliverables, we could just move on and save some bucks that can be used better elsewhere.

You too can brand!

Write down what the primary benefits would be for the village’s inhabitants. How would businesses benefit from the village being re-branded? We need a brand that shows people how leverageable and magnetic we are.

  • Vegas = Gambling, fun, sin-city
  • New York = Big Apple
  • Los Angeles = City of Entertainment
  • Paris = Eiffel Tower, Louvre
  • San Antonio = Good food, great music, the Alamo
  • Downers Grove = Flooding, trashed streets, sirens

We need a tag line, preferably shorter than the one North Star uses, one that gets across the message that we’re better than anyone else. One word: “Three. Word. Taglines.”

  • “Investing in People”
  • “Working for Communities”
  • “I Love NY”
  • “City of Light”
  • “The Lilac Village”
  • “Discover Danville Today”
  • “Come Home”

Mine for DG: “Really. Really. Better.”

In the end, what our branding exercise really needs to accomplish is get some new gateway signs up; and that actually has some importance. Lisle is kicking our ass with their gateway sign. The Arboretum Village”? That rocks; they must have paid millions for that branding, paying consultants mega bucks for a solid solid process, and stakeholders, and all that stuff.

We need a sign right there that says “Downers Grove: Really. Really. Better.”, to put them in their place. Lombard too. And Woodridge, Darien, Westmont, show them we are “Really. Really. Better.”

A good sign needs four things to properly brand Downers Grove and make it an unforgettable experience for stakeholders and outsiders alike:

  • It needs to name the Village correctly. Downers Grove. Okay, but we need that folksy feel, so let’s use a type face that looks handwritten.
  • Gotta have that swoosh logo. Everyone has them; they are hot. That shows we’re on the move!
  • Need that instantly identifiable hook that keeps peoples eyeballs on the DG prize. Something or someone famous. Trees are boring, off they go, everyone likes tree, and Lisle already kicks tree butt with that Arboretum hook. We need an attractive, dynamic, visual that says “Hey world, look at me, I’m Downers Grove!” Check.
  • And that Three. Word. Tagline.

Yeah, solid process to create a new DG paradigm. Deal with it. I give to you, our new branding:

Trees? Bah. Lilacs? Don’t make me laugh. Think of the business this branding attracts from surrounding communities.

“Honey, we need some milk.”

“No problem dear, let me drive over to Downers Grove. The milk there is better.”


“Really. Better.”

These signs would be the ultimate surrounding community ass kickers. I mean, let’s face it, Denise Richards looks better than Darien.

The bill is in the mail.


12 Responses to “The $95,400 Question No One Asked”

  1. Martin Tully Says:


    I have to confess that I was starting to get more than a little put-off by what initially appeared to be a rather pre-judgmental, myopic, close-minded and very snarky rant until I read through your entire post and had stop myself from rolling on the floor with laughter. A great use of satire to make your point, I must say.

    So, when can we begin contract negotiations with Thoman Branded Media Strategies© to acquire rights to the new brand identity you have designed for the Village? The heavy lifting is already done, I’m sure you work a lot cheaper than North Star, and with that logo on the water towers and gateway signs, who needs restaurants, hotels, or shopping malls to attract visitors? (I somehow suspect that more than a few might not agree, however.)

    Facetiously and most unofficially yours,

    — Martin

  2. Senior Grover Says:

    I’m tempted to point out that a comely lass is a sexist trapping. Nevermind.

  3. sideline observer Says:


    It’s funny but you repeat yourself.

    It’s long but you repeat yourself.

    And you repeat yourself.

  4. markthoman Says:

    The serious part is about current efforts by dedicated people who need to be in the-gad, dare I say-process. The EDC, DGACOCAI, and DGDMC are already working to bring business and commerce to DG, and having some success. As a resident, I would like to see each of those groups at the table.

    And Tully, you may think cheap; I prefer thrifty.

  5. Anonymous Says:


  6. Martin Tully Says:

    Mark wrote:

    The EDC, DGACOCAI, and DGDMC are already working to bring business and commerce to DG, and having some success. As a resident, I would like to see each of those groups at the table.

    Yes, of course, absolutely. I expect there is every intention of doing so. Goes without saying, in my mind, but since you are not the only one to make that observation, I guess it need be said. Okay, I’ll say it: If you are going to ask someone to help market a brand, it only makes perfect sense to have them involved in developing that brand.

  7. Marge Says:

    Another thing that every other town has, so we must need one too.

    So I submit…

    DOWNERS GROVE, Your Happy Ending

    Denise will be perfect!

    Brilliant Mark!

  8. Lucy Lloyd Says:

    Please, don’t hold back. Tell us what you really (really) think.

    I’d write a cogent, coherent, relevant comment, but I’m still in process.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Your Happy Ending is fantastic. We could put big banners up on Ogden Avenue.

    Mark, I agree with the others. ROTFLMAO.

  10. Ted Says:

    A friend recommended your blog and DGreport. I worked at a telecom over on Naperville Road (won’t say their name,initials are AT&T), & went through that same “branding” bullshit every couple years, and had consultants all over all the time telling us what to do and how to excel.

    You really hit that one on the head.

    Success in branding is ephemeral, and luck is a large component.

  11. DGDood Says:



    Correct pricing can make up for a lot of negative factors. Sellers have to realize that in todays market price is key. It also helps to have a nice property but even then it has to be priced right or will it will not sell.

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