Research results reveal using Tri-Cities and Appalachian Highlands ‘has the best chance of success’


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL)- A nearly 200-page report revealed using Appalachian Highlands and Tri-Cities in regional branding ‘has the best chance of success.”

That recommendation came from North Star Destination Strategies, a Nashville-based marketing company hired by local leaders in April to find out how to best promote Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia to outsiders.

The final page of the report said:

The local preference for Tri-Cities and the current implementation of the Appalachian Highlands name by the private sector present an effective, inclusive solution since no one name can tell your entire story or promise. This accomplishes the earlier questions of should a name tell you WHERE or WHAT the region is. This layered name, Tri-Cities and the Appalachian Highlands, accomplishes some of both.”

North Star Destination Strategies

North Star began the process by auditing past promotional materials. “Before we can determine where the new identity should go, we must understand where you have been,” the report said.

The company then gathered qualitative and quantitative data from a variety of stakeholders.

There were multiple pages in the report titled ‘Voices from the Research,’ featuring comments submitted through the website.

Those comments ranged from name suggestions like, “I am submitting the name Rustic Paradise” to comments about the whole process, such as, “Spend the money you’re wasting on something better for the community. Leave it the Tri-Cities.”

Some of the 30 regional brands submitted are listed below:

  • Front Porch
  • Overmountain Highlands
  • Southern Appalachia
  • New Franklin
  • First Frontier
  • Appalachian Highlands
  • Holston Highlands
  • Highlands of Roan
  • Overmountain
  • Mountain South
  • Mountain Empire

North Star created a community survey to understand the attitudes of locals. More than 34 hundred people completed it, according to the report.

When asked about the best name for our region, the report said more than 50 percent of respondents preferred the Tri-Cities. Only about one percent chose Appalachian Highlands.

“It’s ok, there are a lot of folks who don’t like change but, in this case, what we have to do is be honest with ourselves and figure out how we best position ourselves to the outside world,” said Bristol Motor Speedway General Manager Jerry Caldwell, an early supporter of Appalachian Highlands.

Survey respondents were also asked about the shortcomings of the existing name “Tri-Cities.” They said it was not distinctive and ignored other places in the region.

The community survey also asked, “Please provide three single-word adjectives to describe Appalachia.”

The following image shows the most common responses.

It was also revealed that most survey participants had a Johnson City zip code, followed by Kingsport and Bristol.

North Star also conducted a site visit from April 16-19.

From that visit, the company compiled a list of strengths and challenges to the recruitment of new businesses, tourists and residents.

“We’re not alone in facing those challenges across the country we have tremendous assets though that we’re able to sell,” Caldwell said.

The strengths and challenges listed above are a summary of North Star’s findings.

North Star later conducted and “Consumer Awareness and Perception Study,” taken by 315 people who live in Charlotte, Nashville and Atlanta.

Of those respondents, 44 percent said they preferred the name Appalachian Highlands and about 19 percent suggested keeping the name Tri-Cities.

Despite initial concerns from some local leaders about the stigma surrounding Appalachia, the study showed most outsiders felt the term was positive or neutral.

Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock, an early critic, said, “That’s why the study was so important for us to do because it helps people like me from the inside to see that people see us differently.”

Although outsiders seemed to like Appalachian Highlands, the study revealed the name could be associated with a number of states.

North Carolina, followed by Tennessee and Virginia, came to mind most often.

“There needs to something that kind of gives people an idea of where it is. It’s very broad, Appalachian Highlands go over 2 thousand miles,” said Brock.

The CAP study also asked, “What was the primary purpose or main reason you visited the highlighted area most recently?”

Here are the top answers:

The next part of the process included an advisory committee that tested four names among marketing professionals.

Those four names included:

  • Appalachian Highlands
  • The Southern mTNVAlley
  • Great Southern Valley
  • The Southern Uplands

The 135 marketing professionals who participated in the survey nationwide also favored Appalachian Highlands.

“Now that we’ve identified the names that work, Appalachian Highlands and Tri-Cities, the question becomes what do you do with it, how do we leverage this and what is the story we’re going to tell,” said Caldwell.

Brock said mayors from several localities will be meeting again in September to discuss how to best integrate this research into their existing branding.

You can read the entire 192-page report below.

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