By Martin Kidston

David Placek stood before a full house on the University of Montana campus on Monday and played a series of successful advertisements, including former President Ronald Reagan's 1983 reelection ad and a snippet from Corona beer.

While the later scores marginally on blind taste tests, it enjoys strong sales among dreamers who might connect the beverage with warm, sandy beaches. As for the former – he won his bid for reelection.

Whether “It's morning again in America” or “Find your beach,” both ads are not only memorable, they dare viewers to imagine the future.

“Focus on creating anticipation less than logic,” said Placek. “Logic doesn't move people. It just brings people to conclusions.”

That was just one of the messages delivered Monday at the Market Montana symposium in Missoula, where hundreds of business owners gathered to explore new ways of capitalizing off the state's strong brand.

Meg O'Leary, director of the Montana Department of Commerce, said branding emerged as one of the top issues that arose during the fact-finding stage of the Main Street Montana Project, launched by Gov. Steve Bullock in 2013.

While the state does well branding itself as a tourism destination with images of glaciated mountain tops, wildlife and open spaces, there's room for improvement when it comes to branding the state's goods and services to outside markets.

“One of the things we heard when we crossed the state was that we did a really good job with our tourism brand – our Destination Montana brand,” said O'Leary. “But businesses run into barriers when going out to sell their product or service.”

To bridge that challenge, the state brought in several top marketing experts Monday to help businesses hone their brand, including Placek with Lexicon Branding – a firm that has worked with the likes of Toyota, Pentium and, as he noted Monday, Swiffer mops.

They also included Erin Francis-Cummings with Destination Analysts, which applies research to help various states brand their image.

According to Francis-Cummings, a recent survey of 6,000 leisure travelers in the U.S. and Canada equate Montana with several key words including open, energizing, relaxing, happy and comfortable. It would be smart of Montana businesses to be aware of such research when marketing their goods.

“To be a great marketer, you need to see the world through your customers' eyes,” she said. “Look at those emotional statements when people think of Montana. This is the value Montana is bringing to potential consumers about their brand.”

An elevate train bearing the Montana brand in Chicago. (Photo courtesy of Montana Office of Tourism)

From local coffee roasters to the cattle producers, most state businesses are looking to push their product into larger markets to capitalize of additional sales.

Brigitta Miranda-Freer, executive director of the Montana World Trade Center, said many state businesses turn to the organization for help, much of it related to exports.

“What we principally do is assist Montana businesses with their international trade endeavors, and on a granular level, with their exporting strategy,” said Miranda-Freer. “You can't put together a comprehensive export strategy without thinking about your brand and how it translates globally.”

Miranda-Freer agreed with other speakers in that Montana does a good job with Destination Montana and marketing the state to tourists. How to translate that message to international audiences takes work, especially outside the realm of tourism.

“Montana's brand as a state is really known for things like spectacular and unspoiled landscapes and vibrant small towns,” she said. “What we're trying to figure out here is how to leverage that positive and emotional brand for industries that may not have anything to do with tourism.”

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