We are Hampton Roads, Coastal Virginia, Tidewater and Southeastern Virginia. We are Norfolk, York County, Virginia Beach, Poquoson, Chesapeake, Smithfield and Portsmouth, to name a few. We are proud of our military, we cherish our prominent place in our nation’s history, we are blessed with more than 3,000 miles of tranquil coastline, and we are undeniably united under the regional brand of the 757.
After nine months and more than 2,000 hours of work; 3,000 survey responses from tourists, residents, business leaders and site-locators; research comparisons of other markets that have undergone rebranding initiatives; and dozens of community stakeholder meetings across the region, the Envision2020 Regional Branding Initiative got it right.
From the start, Envision2020 was not a “naming” initiative; it was a “branding” initiative. Many of our media outlets have reported that the project task force recommended we adopt 757 as our region’s “name.” Not only is that incorrect, it misses the point entirely.
Focusing on the “name” misses several key takeaways from the research. Hampton Roads doesn’t have a naming issue, we have a marketing issue. As a place, we are simply not known outside of the region. Our own residents are confused about what localities make up the region and many are frustrated with our lack of regional pride and cooperation. We cannot successfully market ourselves to the world if we are not united within.
Rapidly changing demographics mean that companies are in a fierce competition for workforce talent, so we must excel at place-making and place-marketing. Branding ourselves under the 757 is the cornerstone of a much-needed regional pride building initiative that will help everyone better understand what cities and counties define our region, from Williamsburg to Virginia Beach.
It will help us collectively celebrate what makes our region unique from all other places. The research revealed an even-split between Hampton Roads and Coastal Virginia as our regional name. Adopting one of these alternatives would have served to divide, rather than unite, our region. It would have pitted residents against the business community, the southside against the Peninsula, and it would have been perceived as a top-down mandate perpetuating even further debate for decades.
The 757 transcends being just an area code. It’s more than a name. It’s what we already call ourselves online and it’s how we express ourselves in arts and culture. It’s a nod to our propensity for producing top-tier professional athletes. It celebrates our diversity and our region’s next generation. The 757 is the only way we refer to ourselves that has broad regional consensus and it represents the totality of this special place we call home.
We can still promote ourselves as a resort destination by using Coastal Virginia and we can honor our rich history and our military by using Tidewater or Hampton Roads. All of those names can coexist within a larger 757 brand which, importantly, includes the Southside and the Peninsula. Our proximity to water, our military presence and our history are some of the things that define our regional fabric, but we’re also overwhelmingly proud of our diversity.
Despite that pride in diversity, there are segments of our community that feel excluded. If our aim is to attract more talent and economic investment, we won’t be able to do so without promoting our region as an inclusive, big-tent community, that is open for business for all. We do so by turning towards the people who have been traditionally underrepresented — young people and those from diverse backgrounds. Diversity and youth are hidden strategic assets that we can market to promote a regional sense of pride.
As the youngest members of the project task force, we were honored and enlightened by our privilege to serve. Our participation was welcomed, valued and embraced. We applaud our business leaders for boldly leaning into a brand, not a name, that elevates and recognizes the power of youth and culture when it comes to telling our regional story.
Please visit envisioning2020.com and review the project report, our region’s core positioning statements and project documents. Upon doing so, you will come to the same, inescapable conclusion that we did: We are the 757.
Joash Schulman, Alisa Crider and Jeremy Taylor are members of the Envision 2020 Regional Branding Initiative task force.