Sarnia-Lambton’s blue water was one of the things visitors were startled by when they visited the area.
Petrolia and Central Lambton politicians are taking a wait and see attitude after hearing the first piece of the plan to brand Sarnia-Lambton.
The community effort to come up with a brand and marketing strategy for the community started last spring. North Star Destination Strategies from Tennessee was hired to conduct extensive research on what people think of the area.
Ed Barlow, vice president of North Star, took an hour and a half to plough through mountains of research based on interviews with local residents, leaders and visitors to the community. Perhaps the most surprising finding, the nickname which community leaders fear the most is rarely spoken outside the area.
“The majority of the people we talked to had no idea on (Sarnia-Lambton’s) nick-name,” Barlow. “They never said Chemical Valley…When they think of Sarnia they do think of chemicals but the nickname is not coming from outside.”
Visitors from Michigan pegged Sarnia-Lambton pegged as a border town and the vast majority of people interviewed mention Lambton’s rich agricultural lands first.
Barlow says business appreciates the area for the low cost of infrastructure, and visitors are startled by the beaches once they get off the highway and visit.
But if they don’t take one of the Sarnia-Lambton exits, Barlow says, they hardly notice the community – especially Lambton County. “Of the 60 percent (of visitors) who had been on the 402, a quarter of them still didn’t know they had been there (in Lambton.)”
North Star came up with branding statement for the marketing company Yfactor to work with.
“For those who appreciate the value of industry and the beauty of nature, Sarnia and Lambton County is border region in southwest Ontario home to scenic farmland blue waters and energy pioneers that creates the right chemistry for discoveries that matter, so you can make a difference.”
Plympton-Wyoming Mayor Lonny Napper says the data was interesting, but he’s waiting to see what the marketing people come up with. “I think this is really based for tourism,” he told The Independent. Napper says there was little about the area being a retirement community and although agriculture was mentioned, it is not clear how that could be incorporated into a marketing plan.
“I’m just going to wait to see where they’re going with it,” says Napper.
Petrolia Mayor John McCharles agrees. “The guys information was good, but to tell the truth I don’t know if it’s going anywhere.
“A lot of information we knew and we don’t want to admit,” he adds.
McCharles say even with the great natural venues, marketing the area to visitors is not going to be easy. “I don’t think that Sarnia-Lambton is on top of their venue…they’ve never really thought of. When people think of going someplace they think of Niagara Falls, Grand Bend, London, Toronto. If I’m living in Exeter I’m not thinking of going to Sarnia.”
Enniskillen Mayor Kevin Marriot agrees. “If we’re trying to attract tourism to Sarnia-Lambton, we need to spend big bucks,” says Marriott. “I don’t think…that people will come to sit on the beaches if there is nothing else to do. We have to offer a lot more to attract people here and we would need to invest a lot of money in an attraction…It’s a lot bigger problem than just giving it a nice marketing spin.”