Appleton Int'l Completes Re-Branding Process

Dan Vnuk
Published in: 

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet" is certainly a memorable line; but it's not exactly sound marketing advice. After all, Shakespeare was an Elizabethan playwright and poet, not a 21st century branding expert. 

With no disrespect to the famous bard, Outagamie County Regional Airport recently decided that its name does matter, and the time had come to change it. From August 21 on, flights now arrive at and depart from Appleton International Airport (ATW). The official name change coincided with a celebration of the airport's 50th anniversary. 

The airport's new name not only addresses marketing challenges at the northeastern Wisconsin facility, it also reflects the recent addition of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection user fee station, which allows the airport to accept air freight directly from overseas points of origin. ATW can also now accept international arrivals on general aviation aircraft with up to 20 passengers.

Project: Name Change
Location: Appleton (WI) Int'l Airport 
Previous Name: Outagamie County Regional Airport 
Primary Elements: Procuring new logo, signage, employee uniforms; redesigning airport website; updating social media outlets
Estimated Cost: $204,000
Signage: Creative Sign Co.
Strategy: Prepare newly branded elements in advance, but keep them under wraps until the official changeover.


Tanya Rabec, the Outagamie County supervisor who led the name change committee, says that the airport's new moniker will help attract travelers who didn't fully understand the facility or its amenities. Having Outagamie County in the name was a point of pride for locals, but it doesn't resonate with many passengers, she explains: "It's very long, it's hard to pronounce (out-a-GAME-me) and meant nothing to people outside our area."

In addition, committee members felt the words "county" and "regional" somehow implied lesser quality.

Adding "international" to the name not only reflects the airport's new ability to handle international passengers and cargo, it also adds a touch of prestige, Rabec asserts. "It's no longer the small, regional airport of yesterday."

The small airfield that opened in 1965 with a single, one-mile runway is now the Badger State's fourth-busiest airport, with two runways, a supporting taxiway and ramps. Currently, ATW offers non-stop service to eight destinations via three carriers: Delta Air Lines, Allegiant Air and United Airlines. Its 1,700-acre campus is home to a Gulfstream facility, FedEx air cargo distribution center, the Fox Valley Technical College Public Safety Training Center and Air Wisconsin, the largest privately held U.S. regional airline. Other tenants include a flight school and fixed-base operator. 

Without its new Customs capabilities, ATW's new name would have been "Appleton Airport," but the county and airport officials felt it was important to take the extra steps to add the federal station. 

Airport Director Abe Weber says that the Customs upgrade and re-branding projects both go to the heart of the airport's mission. "The airport belongs to the community, and we want to make sure we're taking it in a direction that supports the community," he explains.

Outagamie County Executive Thomas Nelson notes that the regional business community asked the airport to add Customs service. "I think it's great for our airport, but this is a clear-cut sign that the Fox Valley economy is on the rise," says Nelson. "We're not just a regional presence, but have an international footprint."

ATW's name change was also rooted in passenger data and economic development goals. Business travelers make up 70% of the airport's commercial traffic; and those flights generate more than half of its revenue. 

Technically, the airport is located in tiny Greenville, WI. But Appleton, just three miles east, has long been considered the economic hub of the Fox River Valley, which is home to numerous large paper mills and other industrial holdings. The county committee charged with studying the value of a name change felt using "Appleton" rather than "Greenville" would attract more customers booking flights to conduct business in the Fox Valley. "Those from outside the region often aren't familiar with Outagamie County; they're looking for Appleton," explains one committee member.

The Big Reveal

Pat Tracey, ATW's marketing manager, reports that the airport earmarked $225,000 for the re-branding initiative, but it was completed about 9% under budget. Expenses included a new logo, signage, media launch, staff uniforms, printing and new landscaping. 

Results of the self-funded project were largely revealed in one 24-hour period. 

"Two weeks before name-change day, it started to get crazy," Tracey recalls. "Every day, shipments of products with our new logo would arrive - uniforms, new airport flags, business cards, T-shirts, promo items like coffee mugs, pens, luggage tags - and we'd have to stop and look at everything. We had so many boxes stacked up that the hallway and marketing office were completely full, with just a tiny path to move about."

Months before the big changeover, Tracey and others working on the name-change initiative began meeting with a wide variety of airport personnel. "I would take daily walks around the airport, and talk to everyone: airline employees, TSA, our car rental vendors, restaurant and gift shop workers, and tell them what we were planning," Tracey explains.

Employees were issued new uniforms the week before the big event so everyone had one ready for name-change day. 

"The key for keeping the new logo a secret until name-change day was great relationships with our suppliers," says Tracey. "They all knew the logo was confidential, and there was not one photo of the new logo released until our name-change event, which is pretty remarkable when you think about it."

Team Effort

The name change also became a rally point of sorts. "The biggest part of pulling this off was teamwork by our staff," comments Tracey. "We divided the work among staff so each had responsibility, and we all worked together to get it done. It was really a fantastic team-building exercise." 

When the new logo was revealed, we handed out T-shirts to everyone who works at the airport, so they could take the new brand identity home with them that night.

Outagamie County Executive Thomas Nelson compares ATW's growth and success to that of the Green Bay Packers, the NFL football team located just 25 miles northeast. "The Packers' success story is not unlike our own," Nelson muses. "Both have come a long way. Both have built on solid fundamentals. Both have set a standard of excellence. Moreover, the success of each was the result of hard work, dedication and faith in a core mission. Half a century since 1965 (when the airport opened), we say, 'Mission accomplished.'"     

As airport director, Weber agrees that teamwork has been pivotal to the airport's accomplishments. "We didn't get here alone," he reflects. "Our ability to grow, thrive and achieve success required the support of many, from the Outagamie County executive to the Board of Supervisors."

Weber also emphasizes that tenants and community members who use the airport facilities have always felt secure about the administration's efforts to expand and build the infrastructure.

One of ATW's next growth waves will likely come from a 56-acre Aviation Business Park currently under development. With utilities and broadband service already in place, the airport is already marketing its shovel-ready sites.


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