Posted: July 6, 2015
By VIC BRADSHAW
HARRISONBURG — The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District has taken steps to make the area’s Civil War history more accessible to modern travelers.
As part of that effort, the district recently unveiled a fresh look.
The organization launched an updated, mobile-friendly website at shenandoahatwar.org and introduced a new logo. The changes were rolled out at its final Sesquicentennial Conference, held in Staunton late last month.
The rebranding comes at a time when how Americans access information continues to shift to mobile platforms and just after the end of the commemoration of the war’s 150th anniversary. The timing of the shifts isn’t coincidence.
“I know we discussed website changes off and on throughout the sesquicentennial,” said Keven Walker, CEO of the historic district. “Nobody wanted to change horses midstream.
“The end of the sesquicentennial allowed us to take a breath and make a concerted effort and thoughtful process and have a time when a launch of that nature would not get lost in everything else that was going out to the public.”
Historic district staff members worked with WHITE, a marketing and advertising agency based in Herndon, on both facets of the rebranding effort.
Rob Aitcheson, the historic district’s director of policy and communications, said Luray Caverns officials recommended the firm. WHITE made some price concessions so the nonprofit could save as much money as possible to pursue its mission of preserving battlefield sites.
Walker said the website update was the most important change for the historic district because improving access for mobile-device users is vital, especially for reaching young adults and youth.
“One of the things that’s important to us is keeping a relevant connection between our historic sites and the upcoming generation,” he said. “That’s on their smartphones, and that’s where we wanted to be.”
The average website lifespan is three to five years, Aitcheson said, and shenandoahatwar.org hadn’t been updated in nearly five years. The redesigned website is easier for people to use as they visit local war attractions.
“For people to be able to use it on the battlefields,” he said, “that was a big thing for us.”
The new site is more streamlined and interactive, is designed for visitors to use finger swipes to move between screens instead of hyperlink clicks, and has been built so navigation is easier for younger users, said Walker. To keep from losing visitors with shorter attention spans, less information is included on pages but those interested in the content can access more information.
“It’s designed to allow you to drill down farther if you have the desire to,” he said, “but not flood you with information analytics is telling us bores people before they start reading.”
The new logo features an image of Thomas Garland Jefferson, one of the 10 Virginia Military Institute cadets killed in action at the Battle of New Market on May 15, 1864, or died afterward as a result of battle wounds. He also was the great-great-nephew of President Thomas Jefferson.
Aitcheson said he, Walker and Terry Heder, the historic district’s director of interpretation, education and history, had a conference with WHITE to discuss ideas for the image. The firm produced six logos for their consideration.
“The one that featured an actual soldier overlooking the Shenandoah Valley really spoke to us,” he said, “not only as employees of the NHD but as civil war buffs, loving history.”
The shape of the mountains was changed a bit to better reflect Massanutten Mountain, and the historic district’s board of trustees gave the revised image its stamp of approval to replace the logo in use since 2011.
The goal of the rebranding is to highlight the need for preservation efforts to continue, Aitcheson said, and the logo is designed to reflect that need.
“I think [the board] agreed with the staff consensus that we needed to rebrand ourselves for the post-sesquicentennial era,” he said. “We wanted to capture the emotion and the heartache of and after the war as we need to continue to preserve Civil War battlefields.”