Choose Santa Cruz

Dual Economic Development Priorities

Choose SC Cover

The Challenge

A few years ago we created the Choose Santa Cruz site for the local Economic Development Department. Known for their business outreach, they realized that the additional services they offered needed to be highlighted as well.

In addition, at the outset of the Covid 19 pandemic, they foresaw the need for local businesses to get up-to-date and reliable information from City government, and reached out to us for help building out additional functionality on the existing site.

We worked with them to quickly meet their immediate needs. As we wrapped up the initial work, we began revamping their site to focus on the four pillars of economic activity that they support. This included an update to their messaging and developing a series of awareness campaigns to highlight each pillar.

The Outcome

The Choose Santa Cruz site is a critical component in the City’s Covid 19 response, helping businesses access resources and providing program information and support that aids business owners in keeping their doors open.
The updated site is a major expansion that elevates the services provided to each of the economic pillars while retaining the original aesthetic.


  • Strategic Brand Building
  • Digital Infrastructure
  • Content & Campaign Consulting

Focus Areas

  • Public Service & Government
  • Health & Human Services
  • Arts & Culture

Doing Our Research

We interviewed a group of people who had worked closely with Choose Santa Cruz. We wanted to understand how the department is perceived, what led the interviewees to connect with them, and what communications channels are best to reach different constituencies.

Choose SC Beach

Developing a Theory of Change

It might seem odd for a city government department to develop a Theory of Change. In our previous work with Santa Cruz Economic Development, we came to realize that they act a lot like a community foundation, serving as a community hub and resource. They set short, medium, and long-term goals to help make the city a better place to work, live, and visit.

Choose SC TOC
Presenting our recommendations

Developing a Theory of Change helped them look at what’s worked in the past, set achievable goals, and outline steps to achieve a desired economic state. The desired results were developed for the Covid 19 aspect of the project at the same time.

Framing the goals of the website update under a Theory of Change led to grouping the work that Choose Santa Cruz does into four interconnected pillars of the local economy.

Choose SC Pillars
The Four Pillars
Choose SC Brand Hierarchy Presentation
Theory of Change presentation

This approach also created the messaging and language direction for the revised site.

Choose SC Theory of Change
Encapsulating the Theory of Change

Defining Brand Relationships

The economic pillars serve to help people understand what Choose Santa Cruz does and to guide people to find the info they seek.

We designated an icon and a color for each pillar, and codified the brand hierarchy between Santa Cruz Economic Development, their programs, and the City of Santa Cruz.

Choose SC Brand Hierarchy 2
Visualizing and describing interconnectedness

We encouraged the use of the Choose Santa Cruz brand over Santa Cruz Economic Development except when communicating with other City departments.

Choose SC Brand Hierarchy Defining
Clarifying the brand hierarchy

The Zendesk Strategy

A new behind-the-scenes feature of the site is the use of Zendesk. The integration of the helpdesk platform is geared toward adding capacity to the team by providing site visitors with the ability to self serve and get answers to common questions and find resources on their own. This gives the Choose Santa Cruz team the ability to see what questions come in, know that they are being answered, and to free up time so they can better serve the community.

Choose SC Zen Desk
Designing for Zendesk integration
Choose SC Covid Page
The pillar colors extend into the illustrations across the site
Choose SC Case Study Newsletters
The visual identity is incorporated into their awareness campaigns Email templates

Designing Efficiently

The design system from the previous site continues in the expansion. To minimize new elements, we used the previous About and Resource pages to design a cohesive set of Pillar pages & Pillar Resources pages using design elements and sections from the existing site.

Each Pillar page includes an About banner that anchors each page and reinforces the idea of the interconnected system of the four pillars.

The Contact forms on the site now create tickets in Zendesk, allowing them to be tracked and easily sent to the right person. Tickets also help the Choose Santa Cruz team take note of frequently asked questions and add them to the Knowledge Base.

Choose SC Pillars Pages

Looking Forward

Our Brand Style Guide makes it easy for new content creators to maintain brand consistency and gives them clear direction on brand usage, hierarchy, colors, typography, messaging, and more.

Choose SC Brand Guide
Choose Santa Cruz Brand Guide

Picturing the Pillars

Icons represent each pillar and different elements of the Theory of Change. These single lineweight illustrations are an extension of the existing icons that depict Santa Cruz in a fun and professional way.

Choose SC Icons

Connecting to the Community

A major goal of the project is to connect the community to the services and resources available via Choose Santa Cruz.

One key component of those efforts is a postcard that introduces the four pillars, and also steers people to COVID-19 and economic downturn recovery services and resources.

Several tactics influenced the design of the postcard. The 5” x 7” format is larger than a standard postcard, helping it stand out among other mailers. The full-bleed photo and the use of lavender brand color creates a consistent experience from mailer to website. The postcard feels more like a lifestyle brand distinguishing it from political and sales oriented mailers.

Choose SC Postcard
Finished postcard

Telling the Story

Already known as business advocates, the Choose Santa Cruz brand story now includes the three other pillars under their purview as well as their role in disaster mitigation and recovery.

Establishing Core Messaging

Specific messaging targets each of their four audiences: Santa Cruz Business & Civic Leaders and Nonprofits; the City Council, City Manager and Adjacent Staff; the General Community; and Housing Funders & Partners.

Topline messaging for each audience gives content creators established language to use when addressing their audience and retains brand consistency over time.

Describing a Vision

The Santa Cruz The City Council sets policy and guides the City's vision. Santa Cruz Economic Development Department works to fulfill the policy directions set by the City Council.

Taking this relationship with other City departments to heart, each Pillar now has a vision statement along with an overall vision statement for the Choose Santa Cruz program.

Choose SC Homepage
Inclusive vision statements

Determining Functionality

In-depth discussions about the goals of the site update led us to create wireframes to explore functionality, information presentation, and the best use of existing design elements.

The wireframes act as a roadmap for all of the changes and additions to the site, including navigation and how new sections on existing pages integrate with the visitor experience.

The main navigation is now configured to match the pillars. The footer includes the addition of the Pillar and associated Resources pages.

Putting it Together

The wireframes and designed pages gave our developer clear guidance for building new pages and updating existing ones.

The seamless Zendesk integration into the Contact forms enables the Choose Santa Cruz team to capture inquiries and surface information in a clean and engaging way on the user side. At the same time, the backend allows content creators to add and organize new resources.

Choose SC Case Study Wireframe
Wireframes identify global elements

Building a Communications Foundation

Our content strategy is to have all of the Pillars on equal footing and provide the internal team with a framework that includes foundational copy examples. This gives them everything they need to communicate the vast array of services under the Choose Santa Cruz umbrella.

It also gives them a starting place for the creation of targeted awareness campaigns.

Demonstrating Value

Another outcome of having this central messaging nailed down is the production of a Benefits and Community Values document. This addition to their communication arsenal allows them to create a handout for new internal employees, employees from other City departments, the general community, and new City Council members.

Through this handout, these critical audiences can quickly understand the expansive role that Choose Santa Cruz plays in supporting the economic vitality of Santa Cruz.

Choose SC Case Study Values
Benefits & Community Values document

Expanding Awareness

The primary goal of revamping the site is to create greater awareness of the services and resources available through Choose Santa Cruz.

But an expanded site is just the first step. We also built out a series of email, social media, paid media, and traditional mail awareness campaigns designed to enhance the brand and grow the audience.

Utilizing Email

The awareness campaign leans strongly on email marketing strategies. As a City department, Choose Santa Cruz has access to an extensive list of contacts that can benefit from their services. Four branded email campaigns — one for each Pillar — were written and designed by our team and curated by the Choose Santa Cruz leadership.

Choosing Media Strategies

Another powerful communication channel we targeted for the awareness campaign is social media. Ads and posts created for LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram serve as templates for campaigns outlined in their editorial calendar.

Different campaign elements include paid media at different points during each campaign. For example; the Arts & Culture Development campaign includes Suggested Social Media for developing an event and Required Paid Media for event promotion to the community.

Choose SC Case Study Social Media
Scheduling Social Media

Creating Cohesion

Similar to a nonprofit, Choose Santa Cruz has limited capacity. The collateral we designed aligns with an editorial calendar we produced that provides step-by-step guidance for running five integrated campaigns, for three months, paced to work with existing resources.

The editorial calendar also serves as a blueprint for future campaigns as well as a year-long campaign that leads to a Juneteenth event.

Scope of Work

  • Strategic Brand Building

    • Interviews & Focus Groups
    • Brand Identity & Design Systems
    • Brand Messaging
    • Content & Messaging Strategy
  • Digital Infrastructure

    • Modern Bespoke Website Design & Development
    • Digital Blueprints
    • Branded Website Content & Copywriting
  • Content & Campaign Consulting

    • Awareness & Growth Campaigns
  • Other

    Related Work

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