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The State of Minnesota Marketing: Insights from 6 Minnesota Brands

State Minnesota Marketing

Minnesota is home to numerous nationally and internationally known brands, ranging from household consumer names like Target and Best Buy to giants like Cargill and United Healthcare. Given their broad focus, their home state isn’t a singular marketing focus for these big companies. But what about brands where the state brand plays a part of the company brand? What impact does that have on marketing?

That was the topic of a brand panel at the recent Minnesota Marketing Summit in Minneapolis.

Moderated by Nicole Shannon, Executive Director, Advertising for Star Tribune, the session opened up to a standing room only crowd. Panelists were on-hand from Minnesota brands including Explore Minnesota, Minnesota State, Sunrise Banks, Sun Country, Children’s Minnesota and the Minneapolis Downtown Council to discuss: What is the Minnesota brand and how does it relate to marketers and brands of companies operating here?

Takeaways from the panel about the relationship between “the Minnesota brand” and Minnesota brands included everything from customer targeting to  balancing in-state and out of state advertising. Of course, there was also an emphasis on Minnesota pride. Here are six nuggets of “Minnewisdom” that could be useful for you whether you’re marketing in the “Bold North” or in your local state.

#1 – Sometimes harder is better.

Leann Kispert, Director of Brand Marketing for Explore Minnesota Tourism, said that 70% of Explore Minnesota paid media has to go outside of the state of Minnesota. With that advertising, they have to deal with outside perceptions of Minnesota and it can be harder to convert visitors. But they spend more money and often become brand advocates.

#2 – Creativity + Unified Message = Win.

Noelle Hawton, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for Minnesota State, shared that the vast majority of Minnesota audience or prospective students didn’t know what MnSCU was, the 37 state colleges and universities in Minnesota now named Minnesota State. To reach potential students, an illustrated poster map of the state of Minnesota highlighting features has resonated well by sharing information in an info-taining way. Also, by promoting a unified message on behalf of the individual schools, while also encouraging the schools to use that unified message in their own marketing, has helped create a more effective message.

#3 – Building Minnesota pride builds business.

Kelsey Dodson-Smith, Vice President of Marketing for Sun Country Airlines, declared that advertising is focused locally since that is where customers are. They also emphasized inclusive home state pride by commissioning a local artist, Mark Herman, to create custom illustrations for each plane that was named after Minnesota lakes as part of the #hometownlakesproject.

#4 – Build a great brand by doing good.

Becca Morris Hoeft, Chief Brand Officer for Sunrise Banks, talked about what it means as a business with B-Corp status to truly serve its customers. “As the urban core has changed, our brand has become more of a belief system, an opportunity to be more than a bank.”

#5 – Focusing on the why rather than the what.

Katie Sowieja, Director of Brand Strategy for Children’s Minnesota, offered a compelling explanation of Children’s focus on building connections based on beliefs and “the why” at the values level, rather than focusing on what the hospital does and how they do it. The “why” for Children’s are the kids they serve. This is why the name was changed from Children’s Hospital of Minnesota to Children’s Minnesota, which has also reinforced their mission to reimagine healthcare for “the most amazing people on earth.”

#6 – Help customers own their brand experience.

Leah Wong, Vice President of External Relations for the Minneapolis Downtown Council, talked about how their 60th anniversary served as an opportunity to evaluate the brand and value proposition. This resulted in a rebranded approach: “Your Downtown” as a place to participate in and also contribute to. The focus was to help people own their experiences downtown, helping the brand stay relevant and to help people feel empowered.

Minnesota Marketing Summit Audience

As I hinted to earlier, there was also a lot of Minnesota pride in this discussion, with observations like, “Minnesota is happiest state in the United States,” and the often cited claim that there are more theater seats in Minneapolis per capita than any U.S. city outside New York.

“Flyover country” is a challenging perception to get over and the Minnesota marketers recommended that we should be proud of the distinctions. Also, with the greater diversity of people living in Minnesota, brands are making more efforts to help people see themselves in the marketing Minnesota brands do.

And if you’re not one to embrace the cold of Minnesota, Kelsey Dodson-Smith had some advice: “If you don’t feel like embracing winter, Sun Country.”


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