Cathedral City, California

Stepping out of the shadow of a better-known neighbor

Located in Southern California’s Coachella Valley, Cathedral City is one of a dozen small- to mid-size cities surrounding the iconic resort destination of Palm Springs. To some extent, Cathedral City benefits from the halo effect caused by its glamorous , high-profile neighbor—but not so much, because Cathedral City simply isn’t a tourism destination of note.

The New All-American City. Overcoming a history of failed brand-building and the skepticism that goes with it, we helped the desert community articulate a story geared to appeal to residents and business owners, not tourists. We focused on the high quality of life residents enjoy there, casting the city as a still-attainable slice of the American Dream at a time when escalating costs and fraying community fabric put that dream otherwise out of reach for wage earners. We also focused on the amenities and infrastructure that make Cathedral City the business capital of the Coachella Valley.

Building a brand an entire community can own. Shortly on entering into conversations with Cathedral City, we shifted the discussion from whether or not the city needed to update its brand to why it couldn’t afford not to do so. We helped city stakeholders see how a truly unified message— from City Hall to main street to police beats to community service providers—could help instill pride, give direction to community development efforts, and improve ROI on marketing spending. With city leaders on board, we set about bringing the community into the exchange.

We conducted work sessions with leaders from every facet of the city, including religious and ethnic community leaders, neighborhood representatives, business leaders and school officials. We sought to understand the values of the community, the reasons it appealed, and the source of locals’ pride and commitment. Along the way, we looked and listened for ways the new brand might be disseminated, finding new communications channels and influential supporters that could amplify the message.

Promotion gets practical. Stakeholders enthusiastically adopted the platform and immediately began incorporating it into their own promotional and outreach efforts. Applied Storytelling worked with the city’s marketing team to create a set of sample promotional campaigns, involving both traditional and social media, to demonstrate how the story could be brought to life for locals and out-of-town prospects alike. Our exploration focused on sharpening the brand’s presence in existing channels to diminish the need for additional spending and maximize an already-modest marketing budget.

Supported by widespread community buy-in, a new marketing campaign introducing the story began running in early 2013. At the grassroots level, individual residents have amplified the story through many smaller yet no less vital channels.

“Cities are just now waking up to the fact that brand-building is a process involving a real commitment of time, dollars and community—on an ongoing basis. Before brand-building can begin, we must often demonstrate the business case for what we’re proposing. We welcome that level of accountability.”