In 2017, Erik Greenfield, Communications Manager for the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, conducted a survey that found that a staggering 70% of respondents had no brand awareness of Madison whatsoever.

While positive awareness was their goal, they viewed this finding of limited awareness as their opportunity to start fresh on a blank canvas.

And start fresh they did. In the several years since that survey was given, Erik and his team have worked hard to study their target audience. They’ve found what makes these demographics tick, what their ideal location attributes are, and over time, developed strategies that demonstrate Madison’s authentic ability to fulfill these desires.

Fast-forward to 2024, and Madison is enjoying:

  • A low unemployment rate
  • High workforce participation
  • Accelerated population growth
  • Madison is #15 in the top 15 largest cities in the Midwest
  • Madison is #1 for gen Z hires
  • Madison’s growth in the past 10 years alone is responsible for 1/3 of Wisconsin’s growth

While a multitude of factors contribute to results like this, there’s no doubt that Erik and his team’s efforts had a major impact. At AMA Madison’s final Craft Marketing event on April 30, Erik gave attendees a “tour” of the research, initiatives, and lessons he and his team have learned in their time recruiting the next generation to the Great Madison area and amplifying Madison’s story.

Read on to dive into three key lessons Erik detailed in his presentation. You might even get inspired to apply them to your own branding initiatives.

Lesson 1: Reach Your Audience with Authenticity

Erik emphasized the significance of authenticity in brand campaigns since any successful campaign needs to be authentic to resonate with the target audience. For Madison, authenticity lies in showcasing the city’s unique offerings and cultural identity, but in alignment with what its target audience desires. To pinpoint what those desires were, Erik and his team conducted extensive research to understand the perceptions of Madison among different demographics, identifying key attributes that resonated with potential residents.

To execute this strategy, Erik’s team used data from a brand perception study they conducted with BrainJuicer (now System1 Group), focusing on absolute and relative appeal, emotional responses, and brand archetypes. They found that while concepts like “nice place to live” appealed to a broad audience, they didn’t necessarily resonate with younger demographics and people of color. Instead, they were more taken by concepts like a thirst for knowledge, trailblazing spirit, and experiences over possessions.

Erik and his team knew that Madison has many features that suit these concepts, they just had to find a way to demonstrate that authentically. Thus, the plan forward became finding ways to align brand messaging with these concepts, showcasing genuine experiences, and highlighting what set Madison apart from competitors.

Lesson 2: Immersive Experiences Drive Engagement and Bring Your Offering to Life

The research didn’t end there, either, as Erik and his team spoke with local employers to get more insights. Soon, a common sentiment emerged: If the employer can convince a recruit to visit Madison, they’re sold. Once they’re physically there, features that are less captivating on paper become far more desirable. The only trick is getting them there to experience it in the first place.

Since a trip to Madison isn’t always going to be feasible, Erik’s challenge was to find a way to recreate this immersive experience so people could engage with it on a deeper level than simply viewing photos, no matter where they lived. He ultimately settled on using virtual reality (VR) technology, beginning with VR headsets and today, even offering VR experiences through an interactive website (want to experience it for yourself? View it here!)

Through these VR experiences, users were able to virtually tour iconic landmarks, see the skyline from the top of a high-rise, watch a lakeside sunset, participate in outdoor activities, and experience a college football game, all to get a glimpse of daily life in Madison. Erik and his team also created a promotional video that brought Madison to life in an entirely different way. As technology continues to evolve, it’s worth our time as marketers to find creative ways to use it to evoke emotional connections and spark curiosity. That’s how we can truly set our brands apart, as Erik and his team have.

Lesson 3: Cultivate a Sense of Belonging Among Your Audience

Belonging is another central theme of Erik and his team’s journey in marketing Madison. Erik explained that it isn’t the same as welcoming or inclusion. It’s an intrinsic feeling rooted in ownership and authenticity, and it can have a truly powerful impact on community engagement and retention.

To foster a sense of belonging and connection, Greenfield’s team launched the “Be Madison” initiative, aimed at empowering residents and businesses to represent the city authentically. And to make it as authentic as possible, they went straight to the source by spotlighting community members. They achieved this by ensuring the initiative included crowd-sourced content creation, showcasing diverse voices and experiences that reflect the vibrant community of Madison.

Erik explained that by creating platforms for authentic storytelling, celebrating diversity, and actively engaging with the community, brands can cultivate loyal followers who feel a deep connection to the brand and its values.

From Belong to Be Madison

In a few short years, the Greater Madison area has transformed from a region with limited brand awareness to a thriving community with remarkable achievements. Erik Greenfield and his team’s dedication to authenticity, immersive experiences, and cultivating belonging have been instrumental. Their innovative strategies have not only attracted talent but also fostered a deep sense of connection, allowing Greater Madison to grow and thrive.

Farewell, Craft Marketing, Hello, New Programming!

Lastly, it can’t be omitted that this event was Craft Marketing’s final hurrah. Bittersweet as it was, we got to reminisce about the series’ legacy. Although the pandemic took Craft Marketing online for a time and the series has been no stranger to the fact that in-person events’ popularity still hasn’t fully recovered, there has been no shortage of good times through the challenges. From the dozens of marketing pros who have shared their wisdom as presenters to the connections that have been made and the community that’s been built, it’s been a remarkable run.

As Craft Marketing’s founder, Greg Mischio of Winbound, said in a recent LinkedIn post, “Craft Marketing was all about people making connections, discovering opportunities, and building friendships. That was its charm, and I hope events of this sort will continue to thrive. We need them, folks. We need each other.”

There’s even more good times ahead, though. Craft Marketing-style events may be no more, but we’re already planning exciting new programming for our next season of events beginning in September. And before that, we have a workshop we’d love to see you at:

Strategic Marketing Mastery Workshop

Join us for an in-person workshop located at MY ARTS in Madison on May 15 from 8:30-11:00 AM. You’ll learn how to elevate your marketing with wimming strategies, effective agency collaboration, and streamlined project management. You can hear from one of our presenters, McKenna Erickson of S/B Strategic Marketing, on this Q&A blog. And you can learn more about the event and register here.

Thanks to our sponsors:

About the Author

Kara Martin, Content Writer at Naviant, specializes in written B2B content, from case studies to blogs and beyond. She transforms complex technical information into compelling, data-driven content that helps organizations turn their digital transformation goals into a reality.

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