Santa Cruz Tech Beat

Santa Cruz Tech Ecosystem

Zach Friend: Can Innovation be Santa Cruz’s Brand?

by Zach Friend
Santa Cruz County Supervisor

Successful communities often engender a positive narrative – an emotional connection that visitors and residents relate to that makes them want to be a part of that community. Some would say these narratives happen naturally – but I would submit they are fostered and become the basis for a lasting community brand.

When we think of brands we often think of a product like Bargetto Wines, or a symbol such as NHS’s red dot logo. But a brand truly is the user’s beliefs about this product, service or community. As community leaders work to build rail-trails, expand broadband access, provide microlending or angel financing, volunteer for environmental non-profits and more what they are really doing are creating the Santa Cruz brand.

Since successful brands connect emotionally they need to find a way to put the audience at the center (and humanize) the brand experience. Over the last year one such branding idea that has repeatedly come up, encouraged by local tech entrepreneur Bud Colligan, Santa Cruz Tech Beat, and others is one of innovation. Be it world-class co-working locations at NextSpace and Cruzio, innovative technological improvements to public safety like PredPol and Yardarm, or premier food innovations from Lakeside Organics and Driscolls to the Verve Coffee and The Penny Ice Creamery.

All of these local success stories have a common element: innovation. But can innovation be a local branding starting point? Let’s see if it has two key elements for successful branding:

  1. Emotional connection
  2. Humanized/audience-centric experience

Does innovation allow for emotional connection? Let’s look at one of the stories of local innovation. The Commercial Kitchen Incubator Program (CKIP) in Watsonville provides a fully equipped, shared commercial kitchen facility. It was created, they note, because of the “growing need among aspiring local entrepreneurs wanting to build upon the strong food and farming traditions in our region.” There are dozens of stories of people starting, and growing, small food-based businesses because of this incubator. Families found new incomes and opportunities because of this one innovation. For those involved, this innovation has a strong emotional connection.

Does this innovation have a humanized or audience-centric experience? By definition these stories of individuals, who individually would have struggled to raise the needed resources, that worked collectively to succeed through pooled resources are very audience-centric. Many hearing these stories can relate – therefore making it a powerful brand.

Innovation is one potential branding idea – be it in local technology, agriculture or marine science. The emotionally-compelling stories are there and our community just needs to keep telling them – what will organically result will be our brand.

Zach Friend is a Santa Cruz County Supervisor and author of On Message: How a Compelling Narrative will make your Organization Succeed.


Sara Isenberg curates and publishes Santa Cruz Tech Beat for the benefit of the extended business and technology community. When she is not volunteering her time for the tech scene, Sara makes her living by managing software projects, web strategy planning, and providing development team services (including account management, vendor management, strategic partner management, beta project management, referrals to qualified technical team members, and more). Please visit her website: Sara Isenberg Web Consulting & Project Management, or contact Sara by email if you have any project management, account management, or Development Team leadership or service needs.

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