Case Study: Franklin, MI

Brand Positioning: Experience it!


In the mid-1970’s, the historic business district in Franklin, MI was one of the top shopping destinations in the greater Detroit area. Its unique Village Center with its turn-of-the-century buildings, towering century old trees, and New England look was home almost exclusively to all independently-owned retails shops. 

But as shopping malls were developed and neighboring towns focused on staying competitive by revitalizing their business districts, Franklin slid into obscurity. By 2010, only 32 percent of the businesses in the district remained retail, the buildings were unkempt, and the previously robust district was no longer top-of-mind for destination seekers. 

While the challenges related to lost Brand Value were significant, the challenge of bringing together the divergent and somewhat contentious group of stakeholders was even greater. This was a community of 3,000 residents and 32 community organizations. They prided themselves on realizing personal agendas, rather than a common vision. In fact, key community members stated more than once that it would not be possible to gain consensus in the community on anything as definitive as a Brand Identity. 

By utilizing our well-moderated and proven InsideγOut process, 19 representatives from the many stakeholder groups eventually unearthed the Historic District’s Unique Attributes, and to the surprise of many, consensus was reached. 

The positioning, “Historic Franklin, Experience It” and visual identity were subsequently developed and enthusiastically embraced by all — a first for this community. 

Brand Discovery

We facilitated a Brand Discovery session with this large group of stakeholders and after an intensive six-hour session distilled over 100 facts down to the following four Unique Brand Attributes with the evidence to back them up:

1) Destination Experience    

  • Sense of place “There”
  • Customers treated like family/friends 
  • People come from miles around
  • No-traditional, charming, quaint
  • Slower pace, relaxing, comfortable
  • Rural atmosphere, beautiful, natural setting
  • Oasis in metropolitan area

2) Vibrant business community (Aspirational)

Bustling downtown

  • No chains — Independent businesses
  • Pro-business leadership — “Main Street”
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Downtown designed for success

3) Historic integrity preserved

  • Founded in 1825
  • Deep roots spanning generations
  • Unique, historic architecture/resources & barns
  • Historic character/unique surprise
  • Preservation ethic
  • First historic designation in Michigan listed on the National Register

4) One-of-a-kind businesses 

  • No chains, all independent businesses
  • Niche businesses

=  An abundant discovery

Resulting Brand Essence Statement

Historic Franklin is a destination and shopping experience like no other. You’ll find charming and quaint stores housed in century-old buildings surrounded by soaring trees and verdant landscaping. You’ll also meet a close-knit community of shopkeepers and townspeople who pride themselves on treating every visitor like family and friends.

Franklin was founded in 1825 and is a painstakingly preserved historic, architectural gem. The village center is a vibrant hub of commerce made up entirely of independent merchants.

Marketing Strategy 

With all Brand Identity campaigns, consistency is key.  A claim of distinction was made and Franklin needed to become that claim.  The Marketing Strategy would start putting in place the tactics and programs that would eventually make the Historic Franklin Brand Positioning a matter of fact.   

It was important that all tactical applications would communicate Historic Franklin’s distinction. Nothing should be designed to be advertising hype, but rather to convey a clear description of Franklin’s essential difference: the Experience!