How the LYH Loves You brand shaped our city’s story
One year after launching its new brand “LYH Loves You,” the Lynchburg Office of Economic Development and Tourism (OEDT) looks at the impact the messaging has had on the city’s residents, visitors, and those looking to move here.
The campaign is designed to create awareness about the city and all it offers, instill pride, and help people feel like they belong, all while leveraging the state’s iconic “Virginia is for Lovers” messaging.
During the pandemic, the department looked to stakeholders to find out what the business community needed most. The key takeaways from those conversations were that businesses wanted better communication from the city.
In 2021, OEDT worked with a steering committee, held workshops and focus groups, sent out stakeholder surveys and chose the brand campaign.
Emelyn Gwynn, Communications Manager for the Office of Economic Development and Tourism, said coming out of the pandemic, OEDT realized it needed a stronger DMO (Destination Marketing Organization) brand and the Office of Economic Development and Tourism is the destination marketing organization for the city of Lynchburg.
“We wanted to create a really strong brand because we didn’t have one before,” she said. “We had kind of done various logos with ‘LYH’ but then Economic Development was a little bit separate with ‘Opportunity Lynchburg’ and, since it’s the same department and we do a lot of the same things and tourism is economic development, we wanted to combine that into one big brand.”
She said the branding was an opportunity to put something out into the city that people could grab onto and resonate with.
The main target audience includes residents, visitors, talent—people coming here for jobs—and the business community.
Anna Bentson, Assistant Director of Economic Development and Tourism, said it’s important for the community to have a positive identity and that every member can see themselves in a different way.
“We want our residents, businesses, visitors, and talent, whether they’re coming here for work or for play, to have a similar experience,” Bentson said. “And I think good, solid branding that has multiple audiences is more cohesive. People can see themselves in it. It’s not just a message. This campaign was specifically designed to hit these different audiences in different ways.”
OEDT launched the ‘LYH Loves You’ brand in the fall of 2021 with the aim to build community pride among residents, to drive spending, increase support for local businesses and attractions, attract talent and visitors to the city, create and deliver consumable and engaging content, and position the city as a resource for economic development for both local businesses and decision-makers.
Especially with college students, Gwynn said the city has a real opportunity to help them get involved and connected with the area over the four years they’re here.
“We want them to stay and give back in some way,” she said.
Bentson said there are other ways the department is deploying the brand and it’s not just in advertising. For example, every newly accepted freshman at University of Lynchburg is getting a letter from the mayor and a ‘LYH Loves You’ sticker and all local Little League fields have ‘LYH Loves You’ banners on the fences. It’s also working with local colleges and businesses to give them promotional items as recruitment tools.
“City-permitted events are now under our department, so we’ve been trying to do brand deployment at those events,” Gwynn furthered.
Bentson said she sees it as a brand that needs to be deployed from the inside out so the community embraces, understands it, and lives it.
“So we’ve worked hard in the first year to make it visible in the community,” she said.
Instead of just using imagery to share the story of Lynchburg and who its residents and businesses are, OEDT decided to try something different. It uses “ambassadors” like Danny Givens, owner of Givens Books and Little Dickens; Carroll Moon, owner of CloudFit; and Stephanie Fees, owner of Scratch Pasta, to help further the brand message.
“We have really tried to work with people in the community who represent businesses, or business owners, or our local colleges and universities, or our arts and culture scene to help tell the story about what they are doing in Lynchburg and how they are helping to shape the community,” Gwynn said. “So that’s a lot of what the advertising is and what you’ll see. It’s people-focused because that’s really the story there.”
Gwynn said the best form of marketing is word of mouth, so if the community feels like “LYH Loves You” and can put that back into the city, visitors will feel that way also. She said people can move anywhere but the key is making sure they feel like a part of the community in which they’ve moved.
“It kind of starts this homegrown identity first and those people are able to put it out there,” Gwynn explained. “We can do advertising, we can print all of the stickers in the world, or we can put billboards up, but if somebody travels into the area and they get here and see ‘LYH Loves You’ on an ad but don’t really feel that in the community or see it represented, then this wasn’t successful. So, I think we have really invested a lot in making people feel it here locally first.”
Since the launch, Lynchburg has been featured in Southern Living magazine, Travel & Leisure, increased its blog traffic by 90 percent, ran advertising campaigns that generated 16,000 website sessions through pay-per-click ads, and 6,000 sessions through websites such as Virginia.org. Not to mention, social engagements increased by two times on Facebook and increased by 18 percent on Instagram.
In fiscal year 2022, Lynchburg received 4,481 visitors. Tourism jobs comprised 3,245 of local employment positions and contributed $18.9 million in state and local tax revenues.
“Visitation has increased in the city and we’re above pre-pandemic levels,” she said.