Minnesota's Effort to be Branded as The North

By Michael Sasorith | March 2018

One of our designers, Michael, discusses branding and the efforts to establish Minnesota as the "North." He explores brand architecture and the troubles the state has for a strong brand. Blog Post Image

For a few years now there has been a movement to rebrand Minnesota as the “North,” as opposed to just a part of the Midwest. The strategy is to distinguish the state by proudly taking ownership of our cold winters, clean nature-loving environment, and friendly attitude.

Without any need for internal marketing, the brand loyalty has already been strongly established. Minnesotans proudly embrace anything related to their beloved state. Go to any craft show in Minnesota and the majority of the vendors will have at least one product with the shape of the state on it.

But, because the love is so strong it leaves many blind spots, which many Minnesotans fail to acknowledge. Whether it is because of pure ignorance or a severe unwillingness to recognize uncomfortable problems, too many Minnesotans boast and promote an imagery of greatness while many others experience the state differently. This makes Minnesota’s brand architecture unstable, and elevates a sense of shame rather than pride.


Brand Architecture Pyramid
This is a recreation of Capsule's Brand Architecture Pyramid from their book Design Matters // Logos 01: An Essential Primer for Today's Competitive Market


Capsule, a branding and design agency in Minneapolis, has a published book called Design Matters // Logos 01: An Essential Primer for Today’s Competitive Market. In the “Planning” section of this book, Capsule discusses brand architecture and the importance of studying the different building blocks to help define a strong brand. Based on Capsule’s descriptions of each block, the basic framework of Minnesota’s brand architecture (comprising of features, benefits, emotional rewards, and archetypes) is why the “North” brand is complicated and has a difficult time connecting to many Minnesotans.

In opposition to the view that the state and its “urban” Twin Cities are miraculous and especially different from the rest of the country, Minnesota is actually among the worst states for racial equity — ranking in between Wisconsin’s first and South Dakota’s third. From a branding standpoint, it is easy to infer why Minnesota’s promoted benefits and emotional rewards only communicates to a certain group of people.

The latest example of this branding effort and the opposing view of Minnesota Nice was seen when Super Bowl LII was hosted in Minneapolis. The Super Bowl Host Committee came up with the slogan and brand of the Bold North to coincide with the celebration that Minneapolis was hosting one of the biggest entertainment events of the year. Visitors and the nation were able to experience Minnesota and take notice of “the diverse and innovative culture of our state.” But, symbolically reflecting the opposition of this idyllic version of Minnesota, what didn’t get much attention was the protest happening outside of the U.S Bank Stadium.


Photo Credit: Louie Tran


Sponsored and supported by many organizations: Afscme Local 2822, AFSCME 3800, American Indian Movement, Anti-War Committee, Asamblea de Derechos Civiles, Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB), Filipinx for Immigrant rights and Racial justice in Minnesota - FIRM, Freedom Road Socialist Organization - Twin Cities, @LatinoAltROCK, MIRAC - Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee, Minnesota Neighbors for Justice, Women's March Minnesota, Native Lives Matter, The New North, Rise Up Times, Students for a Democratic Society at the University of Minnesota, SURJ MN: Showing Up for Racial Justice - Minnesota, Take A Knee Nation, Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar, Women Against Military Madness (WAMM); hundreds of people gathered together to protest a variety of issues that deeply affect Minnesota — including racism, police brutality, immigration, and corporate greed. 

The second block from the top of establishing brand architecture is figuring out the unmet need that the brand fulfills. Aside from distinguishing itself from the East and West Coast, the effort to brand the “North” is to contrast itself from the South — alluding to the historical insistence that the North is more free and fairer. It it clear that many people choose to hold on to this mindset, but it is important to be reminded that the North is not immune to the issues that occur across the nation.

While the South has the removal of confederate monuments, here in Minneapolis we have had the name change of Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska and the public pushback it received. We are also harbourers of three high-profile cases of police brutality: Jamar Clark, Philando Castile, and Justine Damond. Combined with being one of the worst states with large racial disparities, our communities are also heavily segregated (see map below).

 Racial Dot Map of the Twin Cities, Minnesota
This Racial Dot Map shows how people of color are concentrated in certain areas of the Twin Cities. (Source: University of Virginia — Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service)


Establishing a perfect brand — for a state nonetheless — is impossible, but we should always strive for truthful representation instead of “sweeping things under the rug.” All of this is not to say that having pride in our state is wrong and the North brand is abominable. It is more of call to have honest conversations about where we are as a state and where we want to be. We must collectively acknowledge the faults this state has and make efforts to fix them. In doing these actions Minnesota can truly be labelled the Bold North.


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Topics: Digital, Design and Technology