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The CivicBrand team arrived in Waupaca, WI to kick off trip number one of the community branding initiative. The goal of the trip was to gain firsthand experience of the area and see what summer in Waupaca is all about, as well as to meet with a wide range of community stakeholders to discuss goals, challenges and opportunities.
We had a very warm welcome as we were invited to dinner at the home of Terri Schulz, President of the Waupaca Area Chamber of Commerce, where we enjoyed great conversation about Waupaca, as well as Old Fashioneds and the pre-season Green Bay Packers game.
The next morning we held four different hour long roundtable meetings with stakeholder groups within the community. We met with a group of retail owners, individuals from the arts community, employees from the surrounding townships and lastly with large employers. With all groups, we discussed what draws people to the area from a tourism, business and resident perspective. We also discussed goals and challenges for their individual businesses, organizations and the community as a whole.
During these initial meetings we began to see common storylines that would continue throughout our trip. These were stories of living in Waupaca or visiting the area as a child, and then later in life deciding to return to Waupaca. Residents and visitors alike are attracted to the diversity of activities the area offers and the nostalgic, friendly and comfortable pace.
That afternoon we took a tour of the Waupaca Foundry, the largest employer in the area. We were impressed with the innovation and technology being utilized, as well as the stat that they melt more pounds of iron every day than in the Eiffel Tower. Throughout the trip we witnessed the sense of pride and respect community holds for the The Foundry and the role this global leader plays in the community.
Over the next couple days we were really able to see downtown Waupaca in full event mode, as it was hosting the Waupaca Area Triathlon and Arts on the Square. Both of the events were extremely well organized and brought a wonderful vibe to the town. We watched as locals and visitors from around the country competed and cheered each other on in the Triathlon, and mingled with artists and visitors—many of which told us they love coming to Waupaca because of the family-friendly atmosphere. The sidewalk chalk and Wautopia added an extra special buzz to the packed downtown.
While in Waupaca, the CivicBrand team participated in a number of fun outdoor activities including playing a round of mini-golf at Tom Thumb, kayaking and hiking. We took a guided tour of Hartman Creek State Park and learned about the history of the park as well as the many different year round activities it provides, and we went kayaking down the Crystal River with our guide Tim Lencki from Adventure Outfitters.
We were in no shortage of good food, as we ate at a wide variety of restaurants, including Little Fat Gretchen’s, Sulten Belly, Culver’s and T-Dubs. Our team explored the shops around Main Street, like Antiques on Main and Lucky Tree, and walked through the downtown farmers market. We even headed out to Turner’s Market one morning, and did some shopping in King, stopping at places like Freckled Frogg, Anne’s Hearts Desire, and Cinnamon House.
We spent the afternoon listening to live music at the Clearwater Harbor Bar. Watching people enjoy food and drink and listen to live music while boaters pulled up to the dock and had their food brought out to them was a quite an experience. We took a tour on the Chief Waupaca paddle boat, which was a beautiful way to see the Chain O’Lakes and learn about the history of many of the homes on the lake.
We learned about two facilities that provide amazing services to the senior community in Waupaca, an essential part of the Waupaca area population and a segment that the community really seems to value.
We took a tour of the Veterans Home, a place we heard referenced multiple times throughout the trip. We spoke with residents and learned about the history and services the facility provides. We also visited Bethany of Waupaca, and learned how their facility is a major asset to the community and not just your average assisted and independent living facility.
One of our favorite activities was an evening around a bonfire on the lake. We ate smores, listened to stories about Waupaca, shared what we had learned about the community, and watched kids catch frogs and play games in the lawn. With this we caught a glimpse of the true Waupaca experience of families creating memories around a fire at the lake on nice summer evening.
With the steering committee, we examined competing towns and their branding and how they communicate to tourists, residents and businesses. We went through a branding deck exercise that helps the group identify who Waupaca is and who Waupaca is not. This was a really valuable exercise that spurred great conversation.
Our last night in town, we hosted a public meeting at the high school. We discussed what branding is and, even more importantly, what branding is not (hint: it’s not just a logo or tagline). We went over the concept of a brand platform and how it can support many different initiatives including tourism, business and residents.
We then had the group play an interactive game. The game required players to be in the shoes of different groups of people—including a young family visiting the area, a young professional looking to relocate, and senior citizens—and followed them on their journey of Awareness > Consideration > Experience and ultimately becoming an Ambassador for Waupaca. As part of the game, everyone answered questions at each stage that spurred great conversation and gave us valuable insight into what the area has to offer for different groups of people, as well as how individuals all look at things differently. One fun part of the game was that each player had to create their own game piece that represented Waupaca. Some of the different game pieces created were the Dane’s Home, a brake drum, a kayak, a deer and music note and the lakes.
During the next phase of the project we will begin engaging with past visitors to the area by conducting a survey to get their perspective on many different aspects of the community. We will then be taking everything we learned and developing brand principles that will serve as a guiding light for the brand. We will also be seeking your input again very soon through online surveys so be sure to sign up for notifications and encourage your friends and neighbors to visit this project site and signup as well.