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Nadworny: Innovation State

Back when I worked at an advertising agency in Burlington, we used to dream of rebranding Vermont to make it more modern and more representative of the cool people who live here.

So when I recently read that a number of State Legislators have introduced bill H.83 to develop a long-term marketing and branding strategy called “Vermont: Innovative by Nature,” I imagined total jubilation in marketing and advertising firms all over the state.

Now, I no longer work in advertising, but I do collaborate with people in the state on innovation work. And when I look at this bill it seems to me that the bill’s sponsors think it’s more important to promote the idea of innovation rather than making state government itself more innovative.

There are some concrete ways the state could make that a priority – like making a commitment to adopt an innovative approach to using technology to better serve citizens and businesses. Or being innovative about how the state encourages and allows citizens to invest in local companies. There’d be a lot of opportunity to be a leader here – if there’s enough political will to go with it.

One of the best examples of marketing Vermont that I’ve ever seen came out of the launch of Paul Budnitz’ social media network Ello. It received coverage all over the world and Budnitz was purposeful in his inclusion of Vermont in the coverage. It would be pretty hard for any state “branding effort” to match that.

Surely, Vermont businesses with their marketing departments could do a better job of following the Ello example without handing the bill to the taxpayer. This type of message always resonates best when it’s coming from the source, not through some state campaign. Considering that Vermont businesses usually complain of high taxes and state overreach I find it puzzling that suddenly they think the state can do a better job of marketing than they can.

The sponsors of bill H.83 claim it will increase occupancy rates and grow business, but I’ve found that these efforts typically make legislators and state business people feel very, very good while having little impact on much else. The economists in the state who I’ve talked with would tend to agree.

One of my favorite design principles is “Show Don’t Tell.” Bill H.83 seems to do the opposite. Given the choice between spending money to make Vermont state government more innovative or spending it to talk about how innovative our state is, I’d choose actual innovation every time.

Rich Nadworny is a designer who resides in Burlington and Stockholm.
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