On Mindful Media

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This week, in continuation of our series, we’re discussing how to use social media while keeping community development in mind. Sometimes it feels easier to collect friends on Facebook than form real-life relationships in our own communities. So, how do we use social media to form authentic relationships and bring a positive impact to our hometowns? We have a few thoughts.

What is the role of social media? Besides capturing moments and memories, keeping up to date on news and pop culture and practicing your photo editing skills, of course. Social media in its best form gives power and voice to everyone and anyone, and especially to those that don’t feel like they otherwise have a voice because of their position, status, social class, race, gender or sexuality. So how can you use that voice while being mindful of healthy community development? Show off your home! If you like taking pictures in your hometown, post them on social media and tag your location, use hashtags, geotags and tag businesses. This not only promotes your community and shows off things you love to your followers, but it also allows people who don’t know about your community to see it from a new perspective. There’s no better way to see a place than through the eyes of a local. Maybe they’ll even decide to come visit!

Social media also helps us stay connected to the people in our community. Social media platforms can be used to provide information to the community. A great way to stay informed, and to inform others, on community events like festivals, fundraisers, town hall meetings and parades is to post about them on social media. Make a Twitter page or a Facebook event with all the event details and invite everyone you know. Get people excited about the events before they even arrive. A bigger turn out will make the events more fun and give the community an opportunity to meet new faces and connect with their neighbors face-to-face.

For local business owners, social media is a great way to promote your business and to make community members feel like an important part of it. You can accomplish both of these things by re-posting pictures that customers take at your business or using your products. This is free promotional content and promotes customer loyalty! You can also use social media to promote events for yourself, and as an easy way to get community members involved in promoting these events by sharing your pictures on their Instagram stories or reposting event information or sales promotions on Twitter and Facebook. If you’re the customer, a great way to promote your favorite business, restaurant or store is to post about them on social media. Share their posts about upcoming events or post a picture with your friends and tag them. This is a fun and easy way to brag about your town while supporting local businesses.

Local government can also utilize social media in incredibly productive and innovative ways. If you want to get the community involved in city council meetings or promote local events and fundraisers, use social media! If you want to promote tourism and growth in your town, use social media! Nothing attracts young professionals to an area like a well-curated and edited Instagram account. It is a great way to tell the story of your community through visuals and is an easy way to reach a large number of community members without having to spend money on tangible promotional content like flyers and signs. Social media also allows community members who may not have the ability to be physically present at events or city meetings to still feel connected to the community and to be able to share their opinions and engage in these discussions.

Don’t let social media keep you from being present, let it be a tool to be even more engaged in your community! Connect with your neighbors, promote local businesses, and get to know the voices of the people that call your place home. Maybe, as a result, some of those familiar Instagram faces will become genuine, face-to-face relationships. 

On Being a Mindful Neighbor

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This week, in continuation of our series, we’re discussing how to be a mindful neighbor. The biggest part of what makes up a place are the people that call it home. The culture of a place is just as tangible as its physical assets, and as a local there are things you can do to foster healthy community engagement and enhance the culture of the place you call home. Here are a few tips on how to be a mindful neighbor: 

  1. Meet your neighbors. This one is a no brainer when it comes to building community, yet it’s still something that needs to be said. This takes setting aside time. It takes effort to walk the extra 50 feet to say hello and introduce yourself. And yet, when you know the people who surround you, your place becomes sweeter, richer, more secure. 

  2. Walk places or ride your bike. Something super attractive about communities is their walkability. If your place has this asset, utilize it! Walking to dinner or to your local coffee shop or just strolling downtown is a great way to get outside and experience parts of your town that you wouldn’t be able to from your car. You might come across stores and restaurants you’ve never noticed before, and find a new favorite place. You will also likely run into people you know and start to be familiar with faces you don’t, which will make you feel far more connected to other members of your community. Biking is a great way to save gas, while getting you around town fast. When you get out of your car, you can wave at the people you pass, make more friends, make eye contact, and acknowledge the people that you share a place with! 

  3. Know the needs of your neighborhood. As a local, you are more invested and know your hometown better than anyone. So know what it’s lacking! Take notice of things you wish your town had or that you know your town needs, and start conversations about it. You can make more of a difference than you think just by expressing your own hopes and opinions about your place. Bring these concerns to elected officials, neighborhood groups, or town managers. Most of the time, people in leadership such as this are wanting to hear the voices and opinions of people just like you! I bet your neighbors feel the same way, and together you can bring necessary and desired change to your community! 

  4. Go to town meetings. Be an active member of your community! Going to town meetings is a great way to see what is going on behind the scenes in your town and hear what other community members are feeling and suggesting. Going to town meetings give you the opportunity to generate opinions on topics and to speak your voice. The purpose of these meetings is to better the community and determine what the community wants and needs. Do a quick search online for your town hall meetings. These are open to the public, and while you won't get a friendly text to specifically invite you, your presence and involvement is wanted! What better way to be involved in your town than to be there to share your insider perspective and cast your vote on important topics? 

  5. Read the local newspaper. Another great way to stay informed on what is going on in your town is read the local newspaper. This is a great way to stay up to date on local news and to hear about events that are going on in your town. If there are certain local issues you are deeply invested in, the local paper is a good way to find out when these topics are being discussed at town meetings so you can be there to contribute. You might also see a familiar face! 

  6. Promote your town. You are the best advocate and biggest fan of your place. Whenever you have the opportunity, tell people about it! Share your favorite spots on social media so other people will check them out. Give visitors suggestions. Be a spokesperson and a fan of your home town! The love that locals have fore their town can be a big factor in someone's decision to visit, or even move to, your town! 

What do you love most about your town that makes it home? I know for me, it’s the people. So invest in your community. Prioritize community engagement and involvement and let your ideas, hopes, and dreams for your place be heard! Won’t you be my mindful neighbor? 

On Mindful Eating

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Recently we’ve been thinking about how to foster healthy community development in our day-to-day lives. How can we live with intentionality through a community development lens?

This week were focusing on food. Here’s some tips on how to eat while being mindful of community development:

1. Get to know your farmers. Local farmers have been supplying us with food for centuries and are often long lasting family businesses. They tend to have a deep understanding of place, community and what it takes to grow connections, food and a life in the place they call home. Local farmers have a wealth of knowledge of what grows best and in what seasons. Knowing and supporting your local farmers can also play a part in ensuring they have the demand and availability to stay around for as many generations as possible!

2. Know your local food economy. Not all foods grow in all places at all times of year, despite what the produce section in the grocery store might try to convince you. Find out what types of produce are unique to your community! What are farmers and food sources in your hometown proud of making and growing? What types of produce grow best in your local soil? Try and create meals that utilize the things your local farmers and gardeners grow best and most often, and you will be an important part of the supply and demand that keeps local agriculture business afloat.

3. Visit the farmers market / food coops. While we know these alternatives to your typical grocery shopping can be more costly, we also think it’s worth it. Local produce is fresher, lasts longer and tastes better than grocery store produce, and it’s also not pumped full of chemicals that out of season produce needs to stay fresh on the journey to the grocery aisle. Farmers markets are also a great source of community engagement, bringing the community together and familiarizing you with other local businesses and food sources! And of course, shopping locally at farmers markets and food coops is a great way to boost your local economy.

4. Know your local brands. Who are your local food champions? Why did they choose to claim your town as their town? Nothing builds place-based pride quite like seeing beer from a local brewery, treats from a local bakery or jams from a local farm on the shelves of stores around you. Local brands typically have very unique stories as to how their company was built and why. These give us a sense of joy and attachment to the food we eat and the products we use, knowing and feeling the same love for a place that the makers behind the products feel.

5. Know your farm to table restaurants. Who supports your farmers already? Who takes the raw assets of your community and adds value to them by bringing them together? If you don’t know which of your local restaurants are farm to table, look up menus online before deciding where to go out to eat, or even call and ask! It’s awesome when local business owners work together to support each other. Local farmers know their community and take good care of the businesses they supply to and the people that share their home. Local food almost always tastes better and eating local putts dollars right back into your local economy. By eating at a farm to table restaurant, you are supporting your neighbor in the most delicious way!

There is such community ties and connections formed around food. Families are built and celebrated and mourned around the kitchen table. Friends comes together at a restaurant to toast to new life happenings. Food can be nourishing biologically and communally. So go, be conscious of the beautify in your local food economy, support those who make it happen and promote it in your circles. Have a story from your local food economy? We would love to hear it! 

On Mindful Travel

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Recently we’ve been thinking about how to foster healthy community development in our day-to-day lives. We’ve decided to start a series on living with intentionality through a community development lens. How to travel, shop, eat, read, drink, be a neighbor, and stay informed, all while fostering a sense of place and connection.

This week were focusing on travel. How can we travel while being mindful of community development? We travel because we want to expand ourselves, leave our bubbles, and learn more about the world around us. But how can you travel in a way that that has a positive impact not just on yourself, but on the communities you enter into? Here are a few tips and tricks to keep in mind on your next adventure. 

  1. Travel with intention. Maybe you have a long weekend and you decided to use it to explore. Maybe you’ve had a draining few months and you need to clear your mind. Whatever your reason for setting off to a travel destination, set an intention for yourself before you go. Make a personal goal to familiarize yourself with the space your entering into or to experience peace and freedom from your everyday life while being there. We find that traveling to a new place with the intention of seeking out what makes it feel like home to the locals is a great way to be fully immersed, and usually you leave feeling like you’ve experienced a little bit of home too.

  2. Shop locally. Who doesn’t love going shopping on a trip and bringing home a momento to remind you of the time you spend away from home? However, going to the mall or a Forever 21 aren’t exactly the best representation of the culture of the place you traveled to, and shopping at those kinds of stores won’t help boost the local economy either. Shopping locally will! Local shop owners know the locals because they are one. They know what the community they are in likes to do and what kind of clothes they wear, and shopping their stores feeds money back into the local economy! A great way to stay connected after you’ve left and to leave a small positive impact on local businesses.

  3. Eat locally. The local flavor of any place is super unique to that place and is a huge part of the local culture. No matter how nice the chain restaurant is, you won’t get the taste of the town or a sense of the local cuisine without eating locally. And again, it’s way better for the local economy.

  4. Ask a local. If you want to shop and eat locally and experience a place the way the locals do, an app can’t tell you where to go. Need suggestions? Ask a local! Go into a shop or stop a friendly face on the sidewalk and ask them where their favorite spots in town are. There’s no better way to get to know a place than by learning from the people that know it best and call it home. Maybe you’ll even make new friends and have a reason to come back for a visit!

  5. Think locally. Often when we think about travel, we picture far off destinations on other continents. That doesn’t have to be the case. Traveling to the other side of the country or even the other side of your own county can be an exciting new destination and culture to experience. Some of my favorite visits have been in my own state, just a few hours away, with local friends showing me around to all their favorite spots. There are so many small town gems and exciting new places just around the corner!

Get in your car and drive. Visit a new place and learn more about yourself in the process. But keep in mind that wherever you go is home to someone, and we always want to leave knowing we contributed to betterment, not the detriment, of the places we go.

On Hometown Appreciation

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My time as a marketing intern with Motley has taught me so many things. Besides the obvious marketing skills and industry knowledge I gained, Motley has taught me how to love where I live. On my first day, Chelsea and Blaine gifted me with Love Where You Live by Peter Kageyama. After reading it, I started noticing small initiatives in small towns not only in North Carolina, but in my hometown of Maryville, Tennessee.

Before my internship, I had a basic appreciation for my small hometown, which isn’t actually that small comparatively. However, when I was growing up and in high school, I really didn’t like my hometown. I thought there was nothing to do and all the local stores closed so early that if you ever wanted to do anything fun or late at night, you had to drive 30 minutes to Knoxville. After reading Love Where You Live, I started looking back into my hometown and noticing small, mundane things that I had completely ignored before. For one, there are those Little Free Library Book Exchanges all over my town. There’s even one in my neighborhood! There’s also murals and public art everywhere that I really never appreciated before.

Unfortunately, one thing that Maryville always had up until a few years ago was the annual Fall Festival. It was always so much fun and drew a bigger crowd each year. Since the Fall Festival shut down, Maryville is doing other events that still draw huge crowds. For example, we have BBQ competitions, live music, movies in the park, and so much more that I barely even noticed. I now know that all these things are efforts made by the downtown to help its citizens identify more with Maryville.

Throughout my internship, I have been assigned to do external research on other small-town social media accounts. While doing that research, I discovered that Maryville has a downtown social media account that I didn’t even know about! I obviously followed it immediately and am going to start making an effort to support local businesses and organizations that hold events in downtown Maryville.

Before my internship with Motley, I claimed I lived in a small town, but I had no idea what that phrase can mean. It means you have a tight-knit community. It means you have access to local artisan food and products that most people don’t. It means that there are so many unique little things everywhere that aren’t being fully appreciated but should be. From now on, I’ll be looking at Maryville, TN as not only my hometown, but a great example of a small town helping its citizens love where they live.

- Katie


On the Big Impact of Small Town Marketing

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Even in a world where technology underpins virtually everything anyone does, many small towns have been slow to adopt the use of social media as a marketing tool. A motto of most small towns is that “Everybody knows everybody,” which leads to people believing there’s no need for social media marketing. Small businesses run on word-of-mouth recommendations and loyal, local customers. However, most people today will research a business on social media before even stepping foot in the store, even if they’ve gotten a recommendation from a trusted friend. This is one of the many reasons small towns need to be encouraging local businesses to use social media as a tool.

Social media is an incredible tool to reach a larger audience. Having the accounts open to the public makes it easy for people to leave amazing reviews that the business can then share. This is like word-of-mouth marketing on steroids! Social media will give the local, loyal fans a platform to share their love for the business and the surrounding community with so many more potential new customers. Having social media also allows the business to track the wants and needs of its customers so they can make changes almost immediately. It also gives the business a platform to spread the word about local events and promotions that they or their community may be hosting. This not only helps this business, but the surrounding businesses, and the community as a whole. Social media can help businesses create a brand identity, maintain customer relations, and make connections that were never before possible.

Social media isn’t just beneficial for local businesses. Towns can benefit greatly from having their own social media accounts as well. When a town has social media accounts with a recognizable brand and identity, it helps the citizens love where they live and want to spread the word about how great their small town is! Look at Blowing Rock, North Carolina’s Instagram account, for example. They’re getting tons of engagement through likes and comments on every post and have successfully created a recognizable brand using hashtags. They also are encouraging community members to share their own posts about the town that they love so much. I took a screenshot from their tagged photos to show just how engaged and willing their community members are to talk about a place they love.

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It can be intimidating to decide to take on a project that seems as vast as social media, but the ability to easily communicate with the citizens of the town and monitor their opinions should be reason enough to invest in it. It only takes a little time and creativity to get it up and running. Towns can post about community-wide events happening, promote local businesses, and even recognize some public service workers that rarely get recognized otherwise. This helps build character and give reliability to the city officials, which helps the citizens of the town feel comfortable enough to talk to them like they’re their neighbors - because they are. Social media is a tool in today’s world that should not seem daunting. The ease of access and communication the city can establish with the community members will help the city build a community that is not only good for them, but for the citizens as well.

- Katie

On One Year

Happy 1st birthday to Motley! We can hardly believe that our baby business has been around for a full trip around the sun. We wanted to share with you a bit of “A Year in Review” but more than just a recap of projects we’ve worked on, we wanted to share about how and why this whole thing got started, and how we’ve allowed it to change us along the way.

Blaine’s Reflections:

I didn’t want to start this business.

I used to think that saying that made all of this less valid, but now I know that isn’t true. A year and change ago, I would have told you that right now I’d be working a 9-5 tech job, perfectly using my new college degree in a city I really like.

A year ago, I was wrapping up a job in Atlanta. I was working in marketing for a social entrepreneurship resourcing non-profit where I was surrounded by entrepreneurs and innovators, but I never thought I could be one of them. I didn’t have a good enough idea, I didn’t have the capital to start something, I didn’t know enough cool people to get it off the ground, and I didn’t know enough about business. 

But I knew I cared deeply about placemaking and communities. I knew how much the places I loved had affected me personally. I knew that when I started to look for jobs, nothing seemed right. And, I knew that when we started dreaming of exactly what Motely is today, I couldn’t let it go. 

We spent the summer planning this business from 353 miles apart, and on August 2, 2018, I headed back to North Carolina for good and we received our LLC paperwork that Motley was the real deal. 

A couple weeks later, after a quick backpacking trip through Oregon, I started my senior year of college, freshly self-employed. I was a full-time student, working part-time at a coffee shop, and launching Motley. So when people said the first year of business was the toughest, I knew they weren’t kidding.

Since then, we’ve gotten the opportunity to work on exciting projects and come alongside some pretty amazing communities. Our company has stretched and changed in ways I didn’t think were possible and I’m proud of what we’ve made and how we’ve grown into as a business.

I’ve learned that we’re in the business of people more than anything else. As a work-driven, goal-oriented person, Motley doesn’t allow me to hide behind my output. I’ve learned that this work needs my heart and a full embrace of the grey areas, and it’s pretty uninterested in my to-do lists.

I’ve learned more in the past year than I thought possible: about myself, this field, and other people. I’ve learned about the pendulum of it all. This work is so fun, healing, fascinating, and redemptive. It feels like the most natural thing I’ve ever done, the very thing I was meant to do. But sometimes it’s frustrating and heartbreaking, and every move feels stumbly, unnatural, or like I’m 18 steps behind. 

A quote that has stuck with me over the past 365 days is this: “The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he’s always doing both.” — James A. Michener

I didn’t want to start this business. Now I couldn’t disconnect it from the rest of my life if I tried. Here’s to another year of doing both.

Chelsea’s Reflections:

It’s been a year. It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long since we submitted our documents, approved the logo and made this whole thing real. I love what I do. This year has been a learning experience filled with fun client work, challenging projects and beautiful, community led successes. 

This is more than work to me. And we feel like we try to communicate this every chance we get, but I wanted to spell it out again as I reflect on this past year. 

I’ve taken a few career paths since I finished school. My first job out of college was working in refugee resettlement. I was assisting newly resettled refugees in finding work and equipping them to navigate their new home. This work was so rewarding, but incredibly difficult. Every day, I was working with people who had built entire lives in other places and then had to be uprooted for their safety, working to rebuild in their new home where nothing truly felt like theirs. Everything was new, most of the time in a really big way. What created an environment for them to be able to claim their new space and create ownership, was having a way to provide for their family, to be able to navigate their neighborhood, have healthy relationships with their community and a way to express themselves and be heard. Twenty-one year old Chelsea had no idea how much this work would inform the work I do now. 

From refugee resettlement I went and worked at the Sustainable Business Network in Philadelphia. I loved the people and politics that surrounded, challenged and supported the work we did at SBN. I went on to open a retail store and loved every minute of the downtown revitalization efforts I was able to have my hands in (however, the retail side of things wasn’t for me). From there I worked in a non-profit doing community development in a centralized downtown. Here is where I fell in love with murals, business recruitment, community summits and placebased marketing as a way to love and amplify communities. 

Up until now I didn’t know how my resume worked together. Now, I get it. I have a business background, I have experience working with refugees and how to represent underrepresented people groups, I have experience working on a main street and a town that I love dearly. All of these things, as disjointed as they felt, brought me here. And now here we are, one whole year into Motley. I’m beyond excited and humbled for the work that we have had the opportunity to do and the work still to come. 

This work is people work. It’s redemptive. It’s bringing people a home that don’t feel comfortable. It gives voice to newcomers and highlights beautiful histories. This work gives a voice to those who need to be validated as community members. This work gives a paint brush to a kid growing up needing a creative outlet. This work brings businesses and community members together to strengthen the health and wellbeing of their community. 

These are the parts I hold at the core of what we do: caring for people, creating spaces of justice, art and peace, integrating beauty, sustainability, and redemption in the building of places and people in ways that show goodness and light in this world. 

Thank you to those who have worked alongside us. Thank you to those of you who have supported us in our work, our growth and our shortcomings. We very literally would not be here without you.

So, cheers to year one. We will be over here celebrating with our cute cake and margaritas. Y’all stop by! :)

On Trust

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We met with someone this week that gave us their opinion on why community development isn’t happening in our neighborhood. He told us of his experience with division, and how he felt that either side of our main street was disconnected from each other based on going east or west. He felt community development couldn’t begin until we come together and formed a line through the center of the main street, and residents, business owners, and community members from either side of town walked down the middle to shake hands and look each other in the eye, maybe even smile about it if we’re lucky. He explained that he felt, in our southern town, that a black man and a white man need to be able to look each other in the eyes when the cross on the sidewalk. He said it doesn’t happen now. 

This is big, and we often don’t take the time to think about this side of community development. We like to think up mural concepts. We like to plan the community gardens. We like to plan big events for our downtowns. 

But, truthfully, none of that matters. None of it has legs without this first.

We need to trust each other.

We need to see each other. Actually see each other.

Our urge to see people as people needs to outweigh our urge to look down at the sidewalk when we walk by. Our desire to interact with our neighbors needs to be stronger than our desire to check our phones instead.

Our work includes graphic design and branding projects, public art projects and placemaking initiatives. These things feel soft to many, and even to us at times. It’s easier to gravitate towards the harder side of our work: fill the buildings, write the reports, finish the deliverables, check the boxes. But at the end of the day, it’s even softer than we realize because people and communities, their living, breathing pieces and parts, are soft. It’s about the business owners and the young newly weds that walk their dog downtown. It’s about the high school kids that like to hang out in the park. We do the work that we do for the people, to feel safe and be able to thrive.

The products and the deliverables don’t need us.

“Many cities, these days, seem to have people living on the surface of life but hardly in its soil, diluting the deepest questions of life in television monologues and reality shows, amusing ourselves to death, as Neil Postman would say. But this city feels different. It feels like these people have come up with different answers to the why questions.

Houston makes you feel that life is about the panic and the resolution of panic, and nothing more. Nobody stops to question whether they actually need the house and the car and the better job. We can’t see the stars in Houston anymore. We can’t to the beach without stepping on a Coke bottle, we can’t hike in the woods, because there aren’t any more woods.

We can only panic about the clothes we wear, panic about the car we drive, sit stuck in traffic and panic about whether or not the guy who cut us off respects us. We want to kill him, for crying out loud, and all the while we feel a need for new furniture and a new television and a bigger house in the right neighborhood. We drive around in a trance, salivating for Starbucks while that great heaven sits above us, and that beautiful sunrise is happening in the desert, and all those mountains out West are collecting snow on the limbs of their pines, and all those leaves are changing colors out East.” -- Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts

On Branding

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We don’t normally write project-specific blog posts, but we wanted to share a bit of news, and also a bit of our hearts, on an exciting launch that happened this past weekend.

Motley has been working with Gibsonville, North Carolina to complete a marketing analysis study and some other behind the scenes work, but one of our favorite initiatives with them is  their new messaging campaign. We were commissioned by the Town of Gibsonville to create a community brand that would unify businesses, residents, community organizations, tourism efforts and everything in between. Gibsonville is home to an award-winning tattoo artist, renowned instrument repair, incredible antiques, a chocolatier, French cuisine, and so many other amazing businesses, and we were up for the challenge of creating something that found them all some common ground. 

Motley met with community members, business owners and town staff to field ideas for a tagline and visual designs that they felt most embodied Gibsonville’s history, present, and future. After several rounds of feedback, we landed on a brand that represents the town now and for years to come.

Something fun about this project is that the brand follows an open source model. This means that anyone can download the logo in a variety of file formats for themselves from gibsonvillenc.com and print their own t-shirts, make koozies, paint a mural, make a yard sign - anything goes. This tool is created by the community and for the community to help form place attachment and build town pride.

So what?

Towns and cities are ultimately looking for ways to drive economic development. Maybe their budgets don’t allow for fancy incentives, maybe they’re looking to create a snowball effect as opposed to a one-time investment or maybe they’re just looking to try something new. We think that community branding makes this all a reality by defining what makes an area unique and attracting a community of residents and businesses that shares that same vision.

So it isn’t even really about creating the trendiest image or stringing the right words together.

It’s about discovering what truly makes an area unique, even if it’s currently lying dormant, and then building a platform and strategy around it that nurtures and attracts others who share those identified values and vision.

“Despite this highly competitive, Amazon-courting world we live in, cities and districts can actually benefit by going in the opposite direction. Do this by engaging with the public and, together, clearly defining who they are and who they want to be. Then, invest in the brand, and tell that story in a way that attracts others who share the same vision. This is what will save small towns and what's redefining the most successful districts and communities across the country.” — Ryan Short, Forbes Councils

On Storytelling

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I just finished reading the book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott and it has me thinking a lot about storytelling. It’s a phrase I (and a lot of creatives) throw around a lot, but my job is far from reading bedtime stories.

Every culture has its own stories or narratives, which can be shared as a means of entertainment, education or cultural preservation. Great storytelling is the practice of making the people reading or hearing these stories care about your characters, the choices they make, and what happens to them. 

What if we looked at life as a story? What if we broke down our day-to-day into characters, settings, plot, conflict, climax and resolution? 

You’re the protagonist in the story of your life, of course, but what about everything else? Place carries the weight of it all -- the plot, conflict, climax and resolution -- it has to take place somewhere. Geography plays a role in our lives, and often our experiences are tied to a spot on the map.

That one beach in Florida where your family vacationed.

The Corner Mart where you used to get ice cream every summer. 

The dive bar where you had your first drink.

The little park bench where you met your best friend.

The parking lot where you found your family dog.

We love the memories associated with these seemingly little nowhere spots, but what if we loved the places too, just for being there to let it all unfold? Places are more than where we buy groceries or grab a coffee; they’re where we build a business, start a family, celebrate success, and feel utter loss.

We know that places have history, but when we untangle it a little, make it less of a textbook and more of a folktale, it invites us to pay attention to the intricacies that make it unique.

In Bird by Bird, Lamott writes, “One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore. Another is that writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches by and tramps around.”

If you could tell the story of a place, the one you call home, how would you tell it? Asking this question could awaken a whole series of questions that can bring out the possibilities of a place. This practice can assist in helping us see new things in a place that may not feel new at all.

Another question that is important to ask is, who needs to hear this story? Our moms, aunts and co-workers hear our stories just by being a part of our lives. However, if you had an adventurous childhood and feel that it made you a better person, don’t you think the parents of this generation would want to hear about it? If you opened a business and were overwhelmed with the support from the city, community and customers, wouldn’t you want the other potential entrepreneurs to know that it’s possible?

Know your story, know the value that place holds and know that there is power in telling that story.