Opinion Columns & Blogs

WALKER: Branding is a great idea

To have a red-hot, sizzling brand, you can never stop stoking the fires of imagination or persistence. That’s the advice of my friend, Dink NeSmith, a very successful businessman and a great believer in branding. He thinks, and I tend to agree, that the state of Georgia, and even the University System of Georgia, needs to be “better branded.” That is, when you see the brand, you immediately think about Georgia’s or the University System’s great virtues.

Georgia has been known in the past (and not so much, today) as the “Empire State of the South.” Also, even today, as the “Peach State” (though, today, blueberries are a larger cash crop). Probably this motto hangs on only because we have the best peaches in the world. Go back even further and we were “The Cotton State.” Cotton is still important, but not like it used to be, and it wouldn’t be selected to be a brand or part of one for our increasingly sophisticated state.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution used to have as its motto: “Covers Dixie Like the Dew,” which it did, but no longer does, and, plus, it had in its motto that word “Dixie” which, to some, has become passé and not totally acceptable. Still, whoever came up with that motto branded that newspaper in a very positive way.

Coca-Cola probably has done the best branding of any commercial company in the history of our state and maybe even in the world. It’s so good that I used to tell Connell Stafford that “Coke is not in the beverage business, it’s in the marketing business,” and it was and is. When Robert W. Woodruff ran things at Coke, he certainly understood this.

Let’s think about what might be good branding for our state today -- that is, a motto or a symbol that the world will recognize and remember in a positive way.

Stone Mountain? As I was taught in school, “the largest exposed granite out–cropping in the world.” But despite its uniqueness and great familiarity, it’s kinda like “Dixie.” It just won’t make the cut. It has too much history that some don’t appreciate.

The Atlanta skyline. It’s impressive, but so is New York’s (more impressive), Chicago’s, etc. It’s not unique or “catchy” enough. Still, the Atlanta skyline with our capitol in the foreground is quite a sight.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Isn’t it the busiest airport in the world? Wow! That’s something. But how do you capture an airport with all of its facets and make it a brand? I guess if it were easy, the airport folks up there in Clayton County would have already done it. Still, it does have potential -- maybe a symbol and perhaps a slogan. Let’s see: “Hartsfield-Jackson: Bringing the World to Georgia.” I know, “not too good,” but it was the best I could do on short notice. Again, let me say that I think this world-class airport has potential as a branding symbol.

Now, unless you’ve already heard, this will surprise you. They tell me that Georgia has just become the second-largest producer of film (for the movies and television) in the country. We just passed New York and are behind only California. Take that, New York. You have the skyline, but we make the films. The “Hollywood South” crowd knows a good thing when they film it.

I mentioned branding the University System of Georgia. Well, let’s start with this: “They” (there’s that word again) tell me that Georgia is the only state in the country with two public colleges (the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech) in the top 20. And do you realize how many Fortune 500 companies are located and are locating around Georgia Tech because of the research that the Yellow Jacket engineers are doing?

Let’s see: Dixie, Stone Mountain, Atlanta skyline, Hartsfield-Jackson, Hollywood South, world recognized research and the film industry. And we haven’t even mentioned peanuts, the port at Savannah, barbecue or gnats. This branding is not as simple as it sounds, is it?

Larry Walker is a practicing attorney in Perry. He served 32 years in the Georgia General Assembly and presently serves on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. Email: lwalker@whgmlaw.com.