A talisman is a physical object conveying the message that its holder has been initiated into the mysteries of some sacred, magical and powerful spiritual rite. It contains within it and conveys to its bearer some of those mysterious powers. Part of that power is the talisman’s ability to readily identify members of a community and thereby define the community. Sharing a talisman is a quick way of knowing that you share lots of other stuff with someone else without having to explain it fully all the time.

Probably the most readily understood examples of a talisman in this part of the world is the Flying Elvis Patriots logo adorning the bumpers and rear windows of so many vehicles in New England and the No. 12 Brady jerseys worn by so many young (and not so young) aspiring (or reminiscing) athletes across our region. They proclaim both membership in a community — Patriot Nation — and belief that displaying them helps, in some mysterious way, bring desired results. Displaying Flying Elvis helps the Pats win, and donning the No. 12 jersey transmits some of Brady’s superpowers to the player wearing it.

When designed, developed and distributed for purely commercial purposes, the quasi-religious concept of “talisman” becomes the marketing idol of “brand.” But the function remains the same — to create a community, define membership, provide an initiation rite and sell products that confer membership and the requisite magical powers.

One doesn’t simply buy an iPad, one becomes hip, an anti-nerd, someone demonstrably “in the know.” Owning an iPhone doesn’t simply enable you to speak with someone else, it enables you — with quasi-mystical swipes of your finger — to speak, show, share, find, focus, fix, link, like, learn and on and on in an apparently endless array of possibilities.

These concepts of “talisman” and “brand” are often applied to place. In Maine, our brand is, or has been, “Vacationland.” And our talismans have been the moose and an old salt with a corncob pipe and a yellow slicker. Unfortunately, this brand refers to a Maine to which fewer and fewer of us feel connected, and its talismans convey magical powers — solitary wilderness and quaint, romantic history — to which fewer and fewer of those around us aspire.

If, as I believe is true, Maine’s greatest need is for a growing number of energetic, ambitious, creative young people, then Maine needs a new brand and a new talisman. And it needs those changes to reflect more than mere style, more than Pat the Patriot becoming Flying Elvis. We don’t need to abandon wilderness and quaint. But we need to pry those qualities free from gray-haired tourists taking vacation pictures to send back to the grandchildren. We need to add energy, vitality and creativity to the qualities the world thinks of when someone says, “Maine.” And we need to associate those qualities not just with coming to visit, but with living and working here. Like the Patriots, we need to get younger. And, also like the Patriots, the best way to realize that goal is to make our community a place to which the young and talented want to come.

And that means redefining our sense of community, our membership rituals and our iconic products. It means creating a new talisman, a new object that embodies the place and the community we hope to become and to which the energetic, ambitious, creative youth of the world will be drawn. Maine needs an object to which those in our community, those “in the know,” both here and across the globe, can look for hope, inspiration and power.

Charles Lawton is senior economist for Planning Decisions, a public policy research firm. He can be reached at:

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