Creating an Icon: NEI – A Thought Leadership Piece by Jonathan Sackett

Marketing speak, like technological speak, can be unoriginal and alienate consumers. In my over 18 years creating and leading marketing campaigns for major corporations and brands, I’ve had one credo for communicating: do not let marketing inhibit your product.

To have a successful brand that resonates with the masses, the sight, sound and soul of the brand need to be ignited. These elements are crucial to successful brand development. The audience needs to see, hear, and feel what the brand is about – all within a millisecond. We need to give brands purpose, harness the passion of the people, and pay it forward.

Over the years, my teams have ignited brands that defined industry standards and broke molds. We have created thought-provoking advertisements and told stories so compelling that they have become ingrained within social vernacular. Throughout these experiences, I have learned that there are many mistakes that agencies and corporations make when creating or pivoting a brand. One must understand the marketing landscape by utilizing competitive “keywords,” social scouring, and other tactics that allow the brand to play offense and defense simultaneously against competition. Our digital footprint now provides utility, triggering, and tracking – fueling our repositioning with ongoing, real-time data. We all know how advertising can backfire – just ask Target, Coke, or Walmart. One needs to anticipate brand challenges and see around corners to anticipate adversity.

My team’s answer was to shorten our former name, “NEIRP,” to “NEI,” create a brighter color palette and launch the platform: “Pioneer Starts Here.” These were our first steps in reinventing not only our organization, but the region as a whole. The Pioneer platform reflects the best of everything Hoosiers do in Northeast Indiana, and most importantly in their own words.

Pioneering is not new to Northeast Indiana. The people of this region have a long history of breaking new ground – physically and figuratively. But those stories were not being shared with the world. Our goal was to develop a movement for the region that would be much bigger than a campaign. NEI would be the stage and the megaphone for Hoosiers to narrate their own stories. NEI would create a flywheel of content to promote the value of the region and serve as a model for other regions.

I moved to Northeast Indiana with a vision to transform a region and work with NEI to generate a renaissance of opportunity. Using my background in marketing, we began to sell the region as if it were the best product on the market. Because it is. We threw out B2B and B2C methodologies and created Re2P: Region to People. What we did was not just a rebrand, but a reinvention. By utilizing a graphic language with better imagery, AI-based utility and back-office software, we created a more dynamic environment. Combining operational efficiency with strong imagery and dynamic content enabled us to bring it to life. Most importantly, with the launch of “Pioneer Starts Here,” we developed a platform to elevate the stories of the people in the region with the rest of the state, country, and world.

The stories of our region are the stories of our people. Other communities will see these stories shared through all of NEI’s assets, including our eNewsletters, email campaigns, two websites ( &, our new podcast studio, our social outlets, and collateral materials, which highlight the stories of Pioneers who dared to dream and made them real.

I have dedicated my life to telling important stories. So why am I in Indiana? I believed Pioneer Starts Here was the positioning that this community needed to share the truth and tell a story. I am here to help magnify our identity and brand platform and spotlight the people and companies who have done it. I’ve transferred my corporate marketing agency strategies to a geographic region. At NEI, the product is the people, and I want to sell and amplify their stories however I can.

So far, it’s working. Last year, we issued a total of 40 projects, and as of August of this year, we have issued nearly 60. I am excited for what the future holds for NEI and the region as we embark on this new voyage – on an entirely new platform.


– Jonathan Sackett

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