Editorial: So what should we call ourselves?

Editorial Board • Apr 16, 2019 at 3:35 PM

When we hear the name of a person, place or thing we instantly form an initial judgment that is refined as more is learned. But that first impression is critical because it can create an emotional connection, an expectation of an experience, without which there may be little desire to know more.

And so, the name given to a region — place branding — is what drives initial interest in attracting visitors, residents and businesses. Think The Big Easy for New Orleans, the Emerald Coast for Florida, the Magnolia Midlands of Georgia or the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

But what if you’re from Scott, Lee or Wise County in Virginia, or Sullivan, Washington and Hawkins County in Tennessee? Where do you say you’re from? Those six counties and several adjacent counties such as Carter, Johnson, Greene and Hancock in Tennessee and Dickenson, Russell and Washington counties in Virginia form a distinct economic and social region — without a name or brand that can be promoted to help grow that area.

In early 2018, Jerry Caldwell, Bob Feathers and Andy Dietrich, then chairmen of the Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City chambers of commerce respectively, saw the need for a regional identity to enhance marketing efforts and promote unity among the region. In pursuit of that goal, the chambers released a promotional video that labeled the region as the “Appalachian Highlands.”

But while Dietrich said the video and name received plenty of positive comments, some in the region expressed concern about “Appalachian” having a negative connotation.

That’s why there is an effort to brand the region through a Nashville-based company, North Star Destination Strategies. The cost is $48,000, a lot of money to simply come up with a name. But there’s a lot more involved than just tossing prospective names in a hat and picking one.

North Star proposes spending eight weeks of research, audits, interviews, studies and surveys. The process would involve an aerial tour to scope out the geology of the region; a review of the region’s history, goals, existing marketing materials, brands, logos, messaging and recent press; and intensive oneon-one interviews with approximately 20 elected officials, staff, stakeholders and private-sector groups.

Phone interviews with experts in various fields significant to defining the region would be followed by a consumer perception and attitude study of people in markets outside and within the regional footprint, and testing of a short list of possible names among market professionals nationwide.

But perhaps you already have an idea for what this extended region should call itself. After all, who knows better how this region’s identity should be expressed than the folks who have lived here for generations?

Got an idea? Then please let us know what it is, and why, at letters@timesnews.net.