PALMETTO -- "Real. Authentic. Florida."
Manatee County tourism officials hope those three words resonate with area visitors like the famous "what happens here, stays here" slogan instantly draws brand recognition to Las Vegas.
The tag line was part of a complete rebranding by the area tourism bureau that also includes a new logo, updated website and TV commercial segments.
The marketing plan was unveiled before the community Wednesday morning during a special event to also showcase $6.5 million in renovations to the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto.
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"This brand is our promise, and it's the most important component to market our destination so we have to get it right," said Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor's Bureau. "These decisions were all based on research."
The new branding comes in response to recent marketing enhancements from the area's top two destination competitors -- St. Petersburg and Sarasota, which rely on visitors from many of the same markets and during the same seasons as Bradenton.
So the agency hired a consultant, interviewed more than 60 tourism stakeholders and solicited feedback from visitors in the area's top feeder markets.
The end result was a reoccurring focus on Manatee's unique small town charm, and the "Real. Authentic. Florida." tag line was born.
That phrase will sit below a curved ocean-blue rectangle that describes the destination as Bradenton-Anna Maria Island-Longboat Key in the new-look logo, which also emphasizes the area as Florida's West Coast.
Tourism officials now plan to push their message through a bolstered Internet, social media and advertising campaign complete with TV commercials and radio bits.
The brand unveiling drew a standing ovation from dozens of elected officials, business operators and community leaders during the presentation Wednesday.
"At the end of the day, it's about allowing us to standout in a crowded marketplace," said Dave Di Maggio, president of Aqua, a St. Petersburg firm hired to help shape the brand. "People don't want 'chain.' They
don't want big city. They want authentic."
Tours also were given Wednesday of the convention center, fresh off a $6.5 million face lift that updated everything from the floors to doors and lighting.
The 18-month project, funded through tourist development taxes, is the first major renovation to the building since its 1985 opening.
Officials hope to soon announce plans for an adjacent hotel.
Area business operators praised both the marketing and convention center changes Wednesday for maintaining the integrity of the area.
"This brand sells who we are," Manatee restaurateur Ed Chiles said.
"We're not like everybody else. (Our low-rise character) makes us special, and we need to promote it and protect it because that brings the right people here, who may also want to live here or bring their business here."
Josh Salman, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @JoshSalman.