Kennebunk is resuming its work on the branding process after a hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic. The project includes a survey. Tammy Wells photo

KENNEBUNK – What is Kennebunk’s municipal brand? What should it be? Should the town focus on the beaches, the quality of life, proximity to larger communities?

People will soon have an opportunity to weigh in with their ideas of what that brand should be.

While some have expressed reluctance to brand Kennebunk for fear it will bring more crowds and traffic snarls, others say if the town and its residents don’t create a cohesive brand, someone else will do it for them and the results might not be palatable.

It is an exercise that many municipalities have tackled. Two relatively recent brandings are Saco’s “Friendly by Nature,” and Sanford’s “Your Future is Here.”

A survey of residents is planned for the resumption of a town branding project in Kennebunk. The process toward branding began in 2019 through a task force of the Economic Development Committee. Dan King photo

Nancy Marshall, CEO of Marshall Communications, writing in the February issue of Maine Town and City, outlined 10 tips for creating a municipal brand.

“If you are involved in your local town or city government, now is the time to start a conversation about your municipal brand,” Marshall wrote, in part, noting that Maine is a favored location for those moving to escape crowded regions.

Eric Conrad, of the Maine Municipal Association, said two historic branding efforts experts cite as “home run” successes are “I Love New York” and “Virginia is for Lovers.”

Kennebunk Select Board Chair Blake Baldwin said he recently had a conversation with someone who told him they loved the town just the way it is.

“Change will come whether we like it or not,” said Baldwin. “It’s not a question of if you have a brand or not, but if it is one you choose or others imply. It will happen regardless; the best example the Zumba scandal … we were branded by that scandal for over a year.”

So far, Kennebunk has $30,000 in tax increment financing revenue set aside to help in the branding process and another $30,000 is proposed in this year’s budget, also earmarked to some from TIFs.

The process toward branding began in 2019 through a task force of the Economic Development Committee.

“We discussed past branding work, researched potential place branding consultants, and through December 2019, looked at focus groups,” said committee member Maureen Flaherty.

At the beginning of 2020, the committee began revisiting focus groups and talked about next steps – and then came the pandemic, which put the project on hiatus until last fall. Surveys are expected to be sent out to residents as the process picks up.

Flaherty, who is a marketing director for a local bank, said consultant Tina Radel, who has a background in communications, had been engaged to develop a full project plan. Flaherty told the select board at a recent meeting that branding isn’t just the logo or tagline, but the research that goes into it.

“What you see is the manifestation of all the research,” she said.

Board member Shiloh Schulte said when he thinks of Salem, Massachusetts, the witch trials of the late 1600s come to mind, – and noted Salem is embracing the brand.

“I’d rather define and promote what Kennebunk is than someone who doesn’t live here,” Schulte said.

Board member Ed Karytko said the board hasn’t had a conversation about branding. And he said he isn’t interested in more traffic through town.

“I understand branding,” said Karytko, adding that he has trouble spending money if he doesn’t know what the purpose of doing so is.

Flaherty pointed out restaurant and inn owners would like people to come to town “and the empty storefronts on Main Street probably ought to be filled,” and said the community would be enriched by (new residents) who bring new talents and make this a better place to live … it is up to us to decide what specifically we want to get out of it.”

Karytko said Kennebunk is a residential community and that he knows restaurant and inn owners would like more business, “but why is that the taxpayer responsibility?”

“One aspect of branding is to present an image of who we are in a very concise manner,” said board member William Ward.

“This is not trying to make Kennebunk what it is not,” said Flaherty. “Most of it is holding up a mirror to the community and conveying a sense of where we want to go together.”

“How you brand yourself is critically important,” said board member Frank Paul.

Karytko said the strategic plan should come first. And he predicted a majority of people will say they like Kennebunk just the way it is.

“The point isn’t to make the town what it isn’t, or something we don’t want, but to figure out what we do want, and make sure we support that,” said Flaherty.

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