Case Study by Jon Allison RGD
The County of Frontenac was looking to develop a region-wide brand and positioning strategy to unify the four municipalities under one umbrella and provide clarity around the entity that is Frontenac, including the geography and characteristics. As creative director and designer for this project, I continue to work directly with Frontenac in the direction and implementation of their brand.
The initial project was won through RFP while I was the creative director at a branding agency. In 2016, that agency restructured and moved out west while I remained in Kingston to start my own design studio, Jon Allison Design.
Frontenac is a diverse, rugged region made up of lakes, forest and trails scattered across the Canadian shield. The northern half of Frontenac offers a peaceful wilderness while the southern half borders Lake Ontario along the gateway to the Thousand Islands. Frontenac is home to farmers, artists, tradespeople, entrepreneurs, professionals, cottagers and retirees who all contribute to the vibrant community.
The primary goal of this project was to provide clarity around the perception and understanding of “Frontenac” and resolve the overwhelming confusion surrounding the region's identity and its geographic boundaries. The brand also needed to unify the four municipalities to enable them to work together in the promotion of one region, combining efforts in the support and promotion of one brand.
Three key themes were identified by the client:
- Trip & Trails
- Local Food & Beverage
- Recreational Lifestyle
The primary audience for the brand is those who live and work in the region (business owners, residents, cottagers). As the brand develops, additional audiences include:
- Adventure Seekers and Explorers
- Potential Investors and Business Owners
- Potential Residents – Permanent and Cottagers
The main elements of this rebranding project were research, strategy, positioning and identity. The project was completed over the course of four months.
Phase 1: Brand Research
I worked with a brand strategist (Avenue Strategy) who conducted a series of one-on-one interviews with business owners, cottagers and key stakeholders within the County of Frontenac. We made sure to include a balance of stakeholders from the four townships within Frontenac. Given the large size of Frontenac plus the limited timeline and budget, we utilized qualitative research to provide directional input to overall marketing intelligence. The research identified that there was lot of confusion around the brand and boundaries of Frontenac. Even those who lived within the region did not have a strong sense of the brand.
Phase 2: Brand Strategy
It was critical that the campaign created a sense of place and provided clarity around the entity that is Frontenac including the geography and characteristics. The diversity, ruggedness and expansive nature of the region were distinguishing characteristics and provided the opportunity for a region-wide campaign that unified the four townships under one brand.
We made the recommendation to launch the brand to the people who live and work in the region before focusing on tourism. These people were integral to the success of this brand; they had to believe in the brand promise and become ambassadors. For them to support the brand, the business owners in particular had to feel supported. We needed to take their love for the area and rural lifestyle and equip them with the clear understanding of how we would define the region, so they could communicate a unified message about Frontenac.
We established the following key descriptive themes:
- Geographically diverse
- Demographically diverse
- Beautiful, rugged landscape
- Pristine lakes, lots of lakes
- Lots of trees, forests
- The Canadian Shield
- Wonderful, friendly, polite people
- Rural Canada
And the following positioning statement:
In Frontenac, the experiences are endless. From the northern most tip down to the Islands, this vast landscape offers music, art, fishing, hiking, canoeing, ATVing, camping, sailing, beaches, snowmobiling, artisan food, festivals…and so much more.
Imagine blue skies and calm clear waters. It takes your breath away and also lets you breathe. The moment you arrive, you feel it and all your senses are awakened.
Those who live here know it is special and they nurture, protect and preserve it. Side-by-side, people from all walks of life, learn, love and laugh. They work the soil, grace the waters, admire the skies, and feel thankful. And they love to share this thankfulness with their neighbours, friends and visitors.
It's adventure. It's community. It's more than just a place, it's Frontenac.
Key brand attributes included:
The positioning also involved outlining how to refer to Frontenac from two different perspectives: the region and the corporation. This is an important distinction for staff and council.
Phase 3: Identity Design
Based on the creative brief and the approved positioning, I proceeded to design the new identity that was based on a robust system to accommodate a variety of applications.
The logo symbolizes rural pride, community and adventure with an image that showcases the landscape. The shape of a crest was chosen as a form that can be sewn on backpacks the same way many Canadian travellers sew the Canadian flag on their backpacks. These two aspects together form a sense of pride for both permanent and part-time residents.
The typography is bold, simple, yet unique. The "N's" and "R" have equitable points in their form that make the wordmark recognizable.
The logo was created with four main versions: stacked, horizontal, the crest and the wordmark. Each version included four variations: full-colour, reversed, greyscale and black. Special versions were also created for unique application such as embroidery, embossing and a reduced crest for lapel pins and favicons.
A robust brand guidelines manual was created to outline the new identity including colour schemes, typography, photography, application and usage guidelines. The usage outlines how the logo should be applied in various settings including uniform and image backgrounds along with applications to avoid. It also outlines a basic system for use in stationery, marketing material, advertising and merchandise.
"In Frontenac" was created as a tagline system. It was designed to aid in building recognition around the brand and the region as well as help define Frontenac and showcase the diversity within the region. The system allows for customization and the opportunity for people with a vested interest in Frontenac to make it their own. Meanwhile, the simplicity of "In Frontenac" allows for easy and effective application via social media by using #InFrontenac.
Phase 4: Implementation
The brand was launched with a variety of base marketing material and promotional items that included banners, vehicle wraps, stationery, social media graphics and fishing lures.
Brand communication has played a big role here. The brand ambassador program had over 100 local businesses sign up within the first year. This program has equipped business owners with resources and tools to grow their business under the Frontenac brand.
The identity speaks to potential residents by clearly communicating the rural lifestyle and reinforcing the opportunity for adventure. Adventure isn't always hiking. Starting a new business, moving to the country and renting or buying a cottage is an adventure of itself. Everything Frontenac does is rooted in some level of adventure.
Over the past two years, I have continued to help Frontenac implement their new brand through design and strategy, consulting for most new initiatives and executing the design as the brand continues to grow and evolve. Their ability to keep me involved in the implementation was possible due to funding they received. The client emphasized that "you cannot just budget for developing a brand, you must budget for proper implementation as well, or it just won't work." My role in the implementation of the design strategy is only possible because my client understands the importance of good design.
Serving the needs of four different municipalities with the same branding was arguably the toughest part of the project. The townships had been so used to marketing their own regions, it was tough to accept marketing an aspect that another township had that they did not. North Frontenac and Frontenac Islands are very different!
It became very apparent that the four townships were in a sense competing with small budgets for the same audience. That's why it made sense to create one brand with the combined resources of the townships to market one unified region. Although this decision was made early, it required constant reinforcement.
It was also difficult to create a single logo that represented the whole area. My focus was to create something that people from the farthest north and farthest south could be equally proud of. Everyone needed to be able to see this brand as their brand. The logo showcases the geography because it's the one thing that clearly unites all areas of Frontenac, a rural Canadian landscape. The logo also includes elements and colours from each of the four townships' logos.
"The new Frontenac brand has been a rallying cry for the community. It has brought an identity to our region that is helping to instil pride and a sense of place for residents and businesses. The brand is a true reflection of beauty and heritage that is Frontenac." Kelly Pender, CAO
"The brand identity and its implementation has become a platform for collaboration for us with Frontenac businesses and community partners. It has fostered connections that we previously not thought of, and I think we are just starting to see where this flexible, community owned approach can go." Richard Allen, Manager of Economic Development (Current)
"The development process was great, but I think for us, the real magic began after we launched the brand identity. Jon has been involved in almost every step of implementation, which means we keep getting it right every time. We've been able to do some really cool and funky things that push our brand forward, while staying true to our unique regional identity. We're a fantastic example of the importance and success of proper implementation." Alison Vandervelde, Community Development Officer
"I had the pleasure to work with Jon on the very first branding project for the County of Frontenac. The result was amazing! As a professional graphic designer one doesn't come across anyone better than Jon. His dedication and passion were evident in all aspects of his dealings with us and he kept me on track....a feat in itself! Highly recommended. We are so happy with the brand, the logo and of course #InFrontenac!" Anne Marie Young, Manager of Economic Development (at the time of the project)