The perils of Northern branding
By Eva Holland
We’ve all seen them around town, from Inuvik to Iqaluit: businesses advertised as Arctic This, Northern Lights That, Midnight Sun Something-or-other. In the Yukon, it’s Klondike So-and-So; in Yellowknife, Diamond What’s-its-name. It’s nice to know that we’re surrounded by locally grounded, true-North operations. But does tapping into iconic regional themes, words and images actually benefit your Northern business?
To find out, I called John Miziolek of Toronto’s Reset Branding, a brand development firm that’s worked with big names like NeoCitran, Oh Henry! and Wonder Bread. According to Miziolek, a little regional loyalty is a good thing. “There’s never anything wrong with being proud of where you’re from,” he says.
But there are pitfalls, too – especially for Northern businesses with nationwide or worldwide ambitions. The North, Miziolek points out, isn’t as familiar to most people as big cities like Vancouver or Montreal, and businesses adopting local names would do well to keep that lack of knowledge in mind. “If you have international or global aspirations,” says Miziolek, “you need to talk and act as if you have global aspirations.”
Even for businesses with a local focus, there are pros and cons to adopting a popular regional name. Choosing a name that’s similar to a dozen (or more) others in town “doesn’t do anything to distinguish you as a company or as a business,” he says. “Everything about your business and your brand should be unique and distinctive.”
So what’s the solution? For Northern businesses looking to make it on the world stage, it depends on the nature of the product. If your business is inherently linked to the North, then throwing an “Arctic” or “Polar” into your brand could make good sense. But if your business just happens to be located North of Sixty, and your product isn’t relevant to your location, then it could be better to opt for a more globalized branding strategy.
As for businesses aimed at a regional market, the answer may be to come up with more unusual names that still scream “North.” That way, you’re staking your claim as a local business worthy of local support, without getting buried in a busy section of the phonebook.