100 Years of Advancing Destinations

Community Embraced Destination Branding

Author: Guest Kelly McGrail, CTA, Director of Marketing, Experience Grand Rapids
Posted: December 03, 2015
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In 2012, Grand Rapids, Michigan tied with Ashville, North Carolina for the title of Beer City USA. In 2013, after some heavy promotion and partnership with the local breweries, Grand Rapids came out on top. It’s no coincidence that GR came out on top in 2013, thanks to some strategic partnerships Experience Grand Rapids made with the local brewing community between 2012 and 2013.  

When Grand Rapids tied in 2012, the CVB took the opportunity to take the title further than just an online poll. Breaking most marketers rule of trademarking and owning identities, Experience Grand Rapids created an identity (including a logo) for Beer City USA, and gave it away for all to use. Brewers rallied around this new Beer City identity by creating a Beer City Pale Ale program. Each brewer brewed their own version of a pale ale and named it named “Beer City Pale Ale”. The logo started popping up all over town; local shops created t-shirts, local businesses started priding themselves on being “located in Beer City, USA”, and local talent recruiters started using it as a recruitment tactic.  

The excitement of Beer City, USA still hasn’t died down, and its been incredible to see how places in the community have embraced it. Here are just a few examples:

  • Our local Downtown Market started including cooking classes that focused on cooking with beer.
  • The Grand Rapids Public Museum had an entire exhibit dedicated toward beer called “Thank You Beer!” that showed how Grand Rapids has always been a beer city.
  • The Brewers started a collaboration beer called Tree Beer where a $1 from each pint sold went to a fund to purchase trees for a local park. The brewers and friends would then go plant these trees at a later date.
  • The JW Marriott and Amway Grand Hotel added a spa service called Brew and Renew that incorporated beer into spa treatments.
  • Annual spring beer fest is now called “Beer City Springfest”
  • GR Running Tours has a beer running tour based on Beer City
  • A local publisher produced a Beer City Cookbook
  • A handful of brewers created “Team Beer City” to help further marketing efforts to promote Grand Rapids as Beer City, USA.
  • A local glass company named themselves Beer City Glass and now provide the glass growlers and howlers for many local breweries.
  • Dozens of walks, golf outings, runs, and other events have used Beer City in the event names.

So do the effects of these various programs and events wrapped around beer get quantified? We partnered with a local university to help us with this question. In collaboration with Grand Valley State University, we found that 40,000 people traveled to Grand Rapids in 2014 JUST for beer. This doesn’t include people stopping at a brewery while they are in town visiting friends or going to a wedding. These are people who came to Grand Rapids solely to drink the beer.

With all of this momentum about beer, ExGR asked ourselves, “how do make this beer experience even better for visitors?” Our answer to that was to launch a Beer Passport. On October 19, the Beer City Passport was released to the public. In just one month we have had over 200 that completed the quest to become official “Brewsaders”.  

My challenge to you is to think about what’s unique about your destination that you as the DMO can capitalize on and really lead the charge in the community to promote it.