ST. CLOUD – A new marketing effort aims to show central Minnesota that downtown St. Cloud is safe, fun and thriving.

Visit Downtown St. Cloud, launched in partnership with the St. Cloud Downtown Council is a digital marketing campaign focused on the business and arts/culture communities in the downtown area.

Brand Marketing Consultant Mandi Moon says she and several others, hired by the Downtown Council, have been working on the campaign since July, brainstorming ways to boost the visibility of downtown St. Cloud and tell a different, more positive story.

“With COVID, there’s so much uncertainty,” Moon said. “But, one thing we knew we could do was bring some energy to downtown St. Cloud and figure out a way to show downtown St. Cloud the same way downtown business owners feel about St. Cloud.”

Moon says it’s not uncommon for people unfamiliar with downtown St. Cloud to repeat negative, and often untrue, information.

“We kind of pinpointed that people who don’t work downtown or hang out downtown generally tell stories in three categories,” Moon explained. “First, fear. There’s so much fear around (downtown St. Cloud) being unsafe. Also, that there’s nothing to do - downtown or in St. Cloud in general – is the other story that’s told. And also, that there’s nowhere to park.”

“These are the stories that get repeated, but all of this is really not true,” she added. “It’s completely safe, and there’s so much to do – but no one is really telling that story of what there is to do.”

Moon says they wanted to take the burden of marketing downtown St. Cloud away from the small business community, already stretched thin amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They either don’t have the know-how or the marketing dollars to be able to tell the story of (downtown) on their own,” Moon explained.

It won’t be difficult to gauge the campaign’s success, according to Moon.

“We were like, okay, the goal is to have a successful brand campaign,” she said. “And we’ll know it’s been successful when people start to repeat the stories that downtown business owners tell about downtown. They’ll tell stories about the fun things to do, and that there’s art and culture downtown, and that it’s a completely safe to hang out.”

Visit Downtown St. Cloud includes a website, Facebook and Instagram pages, and a hashtag: #imDOWNtown. Moon says videos, photos and local, often prominent voices are essential parts of the campaign.

“I hate the word ‘influencers,’ but that’s what we call them,” Moon said. “So, people within the community who have influence and who already love downtown St. Cloud. So, business owners or people who have some sort of vested interest in being seen. So, we included them in videos and photography, along with a short commercial.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated the effort, Moon says she and her teammates are operating with a “best-case scenario” mindset.

“It was tough, because in the moment we were trying to launch, things were still closed,” Moon said. “And who knows what the future will bring. So, we had to do a lot with marketing with and without masks. And, we didn’t know what would be open – would bars and restaurants stay closed? So, we decided early on that we just take our cues as rules changed and things were being lifted, and it ended up working out just great.”

Moon says the Downtown Council is launching a capital campaign to raise enough funds to keep the project active for at least the next three years to provide ongoing marketing and event planning support for the downtown business community.

To learn more, check out Visit Downtown St. Cloud's website, or follow on Facebook and Instagram.

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