Wider Scope

Brand New Wisconsin

department of tourism reimagines state image

Jon Gilbertson |

Cheese. Cheeseheads. People who wear the green and gold of the Packers from one end of the football season to the other. Beer – made, of course, in Milwaukee (if you know what’s good for you).

These are all part of the Wisconsin image, especially outside the state. They are also part of the state’s pride, but more than a few residents would like a broader definition, and that’s something that, lately, the Wisconsin Department of Tourism has been attempting to create.

“What we set out to do six months ago was to get to the soul of Wisconsin,” said Tourism Secretary Kelli Trumble.

Near the beginning of March at the annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Lake Geneva, Governor Jim Doyle didn’t have a new slogan for Wisconsin; instead, he presented what advertising agencies would call a “brand platform.” And Trumble explained it in advertising terms.

“You’ve heard Chevrolet’s slogans over the years, but their brand platform has never changed, and that’s being known as American-made and very dependable. That’s what differentiates them from their competitors.”

To find that, Trumble’s department organized a committee of volunteers from the Milk Marketing Board, various state arts museums, local Amerindian tribes, and so on. Then they conducted surveys and workshops, and took in focus groups from here, Illinois, and Minnesota. The main question was: What sets Wisconsin apart?

“The needle pointed to people,” Trumble said. “Very original in their thinking, it’s the passionate nature of our people to create fun, to express themselves, and to feel more comfortable doing it here than anywhere else.”



Citing famous Wisconsinites like guitar hero (and guitar engineer) Les Paul, progressive politician “Fighting Bob” LaFollette, and brewer Jacob Leinenkugel, Trumble added that this basic and broad platform would be expanded upon by several Wisconsin governmental departments, including Agriculture, Commerce, and the Department of Natural Resources. (She also acknowledged the contributions of State Representative Steve Wieckert, who for years pushed the stage government to explore branding.)

“This platform allows us to put innovation on a new pedestal,” she said. “This is a place where artisans flourish.”

Tourism has flourished here too: it brings in $19 billion in revenues annually, making it the state’s third-largest moneymaker after agriculture and manufacturing. Trumble hopes the platform, which will be developed further in the next year, will help a general strengthening of not just the state’s image, but also the state’s infrastructure.

“Strong brands drive a stronger economic impact,” she said. “As we create more loyal customers, we’re going to have higher repeat visitors. We can retain superstar employees and a more predictable revenue stream. We can have less pressure competing for lower taxes and prices and pre-empt other states for investment capital. This gives us tremendous efficiency.”

Perhaps it will also give Wisconsin a broader national identity.