Wisconsin’s Tradition Meets a New Brand… In 3 Words

Written by Nick O’Brien

10/16/17 UPDATE: Please note that this article was published when Nick O’Brien served in the role of Community Engagement Specialist for MCDEVCO, Inc.

I relocated to Wisconsin nearly 5 years ago, and I can remember what I thought I was getting myself into when I made that choice. Just as the title of this article suggests, I could sum up what I thought I knew about Wisconsin in three words.

Yup, you guessed ’em…


But it didn’t take long for me to see that the Badger State is SO MUCH MORE than what most non-Wisconsinites initially think.


While I could sense that there was something different about Wisconsin, I couldn’t really define it — and lifelong residents couldn’t seem to put it into words, either.

Having worked in marketing and economic development, I realized how difficult promoting Wisconsin must be without having a concise message to represent just what living and working in Wisconsin is all about.

It wasn’t until more than 2 years of living here, when the Wausau area positively influenced me to make a career change, that I was able to identify exactly what I feel sets Wisconsin apart from most other states…

Our traditions

When promoting Wisconsin to others outside our state borders, a well-traveled friend of mine always says to folks:

“Your trends are our traditions.”

From craft beer and artisan cheese to plaid shirts and big beards, you can’t go anywhere in the country right now without seeing something socially relevant that’s been a part of the Wisconsin culture for generations.

Now, I’m not suggesting that being “home of the hipster trends” is what we should promote to recruit new residents and businesses to Wisconsin. (Although those “trends” are actually more impactful in recruiting than you might think!) It’s actually another storied Wisconsin tradition that’s now being used to promote our state:

The tradition of INNOVATION

Many forget that Wisconsin is the birthplace of numerous products and services that changed societal norms. For instance, Wisconsinites are responsible for bringing us:

The point is that Wisconsin has a longstanding tradition of innovative thinkers and doers.

As such, our state leaders have recently implemented a new, three-word branding campaign to portray that tradition to the rest of the world as a strategy to attract and retain residents and businesses.

So, if the three words aren’t beer, cheese, and Packers — the way everyone knows Wisconsin right now — what are they?


As a connection to our state’s tradition of innovation, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) is leading the way with the new messaging. More than 100 billboards have been put up around the state of Wisconsin encouraging passersby to “think bigger, make your mark, and be poised for great things to happen.” The brand aims to tell the story of Wisconsin’s culture and traditions, which fuel discovery and create opportunities for personal and professional fulfillment.


While the official messaging is only about 6 months old, it’s already made a splash with a certain highly sought-after demographic in Wisconsin — young professionals.

(You might notice a few familiar scenes or faces in the YPWeek video below!)

In fact, our local community has been recognized by WEDC as one where residents are successfully practicing Think-Make-Happen — whether we knew we were or not.

During YPWeek Wisconsin, WEDC sent a camera crew to the Wausau area to see if they could capture a piece of the social and cultural momentum our community is currently experiencing. What they found was a host of organizations and individuals — such as Yauo Yang (featured in the YPWeek video above) — who are local, living proof of the new state brand, using an initiative like SOUP as a platform to Think-Make-Happen in the Wausau area.


In 2016, Yang founded The Cross, a non-denominational church for all ethnicities, which won $1,300 at SOUPthree to kickstart a community kitchen project aiming to feed the homeless in our community.

Yang’s efforts are just one social innovation model of many local Think-Make-Happen examples.

From community organizers and businesses to artists and musicians, Marathon County is home to a ton of creativity and innovation.

And thanks to our state’s economic leaders, we now have a short, yet powerful, message to help strengthen and share the tradition of what it means to live and work in Marathon County, Wisconsin:



In order to further educate our community on Think-Make-Happen and why we should engage in using the new branding message, I asked WEDC a few questions I thought our readers might have about the campaign. Below are some answers I received from Tricia Braun, WEDC Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer.

Q. With exception to the Wausau metropolitan area, most of Marathon County is rural. What does Think-Make-Happen mean to rural Wisconsin?

Think-Make-Happen is a statewide initiative that has the potential to benefit every region of Wisconsin, which includes rural communities in central, northern, and western Wisconsin. Over the past year, I have traveled extensively throughout the state and I have heard firsthand from business and community leaders in rural Wisconsin about the unique challenges they face in attracting and retaining talented workers because of their location. I believe Think-Make-Happen will help them address some of those challenges by providing strategies and marketing materials aimed at highlighting the assets of each region and the state as a whole.

WEDC is working with its regional economic development partners to build out a website that will serve as resource for prospective residents or employees to learn about the quality of life aspects and career opportunities in those regions. Companies and communities already have talked to us about utilizing the website and our marketing assets to complement their own recruitment efforts.

 Q. What does success for this campaign look like?

The success of Think-Make-Happen will depend upon how well it is accepted by our partners, businesses and communities — and the early results have been very promising. Now that word is spreading, WEDC is being contacted by organizations, communities, schools, business, and others who are anxious to talk to us about how they can incorporate this shared message into their own unique initiatives — and that’s really what Think-Make-Happen is all about.

For example, we’re working with Waunakee High School to create a video that leverages the Think-Make-Happen platform to promote the school’s youth apprenticeship program. This model can be replicated statewide. Think-Make-Happen also was the theme of YPWeek 2017, with 25 Young Professional groups collaborating with WEDC on a communication strategy to retain, excite, and grow the state’s millennial talent pool.

Q. What are the next steps for the campaign?

While continuing to build our statewide network of ambassadors for the Think-Make-Happen message, we also need to use the platform to promote Wisconsin outside our borders. Our state’s continued economic strength will depend not only on retaining a talented workforce, but also on attracting new people who can make a positive contribution to our communities and the businesses they support. We will do this through a comprehensive marketing strategy that leverages social media, advertising, and a powerful website that celebrates all that Wisconsin has to offer.

More information on Wisconsin’s new Think-Make-Happen branding can be found at www.ThinkMakeHappen.com

Nick O'Brien - Community Engagement Specialist - MCDEVCO

Nick O’Brien

Community Engagement Specialist  |  MCDEVCO, Inc.

Nick O’Brien began his duties with MCDEVCO, Inc., in 2016. His primary role as Community Engagement Specialist is to connect people, places, and purposes in the community to each other. After his move to Marathon County from Illinois in 2012, he worked with WAOW-TV 9 as a sports anchor/reporter, followed by more than a year managing a young professionals initiative for the Wausau Region Chamber of Commerce. When he’s not promoting community resources, people, and organizations, Nick loves traveling, seeing live music concerts, and playing sports.

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