This is the second article in a series about neighborhood branding. In the first article we explored outsiders’ perceptions of your neighborhood and began to think about how we can change misperceptions. We will now continue to dig deeper into the process of changing the perception of your neighborhood.
Potentially dubbed the "Independent Republic of St. Johns" or the "Best Little Town in Portland," the St. Johns Main Street Coalition is currently working to brand its community.
“Branding is more than a logo,” the coalition states. “It’s a long-term journey of discovery that unleashes who your community is, what your community does, and how it communicates to potential consumers.”
But branding is not simply about communicating to customers. It’s also about creating a shared identity in your community between neighborhood associations and business districts. Your brand is something the whole neighborhood can stand behind and share with outsiders saying: “This is what it means to live, work and play in St. Johns.”
Why Would It Be In Your Best Interest To Rebrand Your Neighborhood?
“Some neighborhoods in the city are not as well known as others, [some] have kind of gotten lost over the years, [some] are victims of sometimes negative reputations or are simply not clearly defined,” explains Jeff Fisher of LogoMotives. “Branding one’s neighborhood offers an opportunity to create a verbal and visual identity, reintroduce a community, instill pride in the residents, and make the place known to others in the city.”
“Such branding does increase the public awareness and positive perceptions of specific neighborhoods and business districts throughout the City of Portland,” Fisher continues. “Many individuals have never even heard of some neighborhoods in which residents have enormous personal pride. Logos, banners, bumper stickers, T-shirts, signage, neighborhood business or walking maps, and other graphic elements may be very effective in introducing and informing the public about the location, history and attributes of a neighborhood. At the same time, resident pride in their own neighborhood may be enhanced.”
But don’t think you can simply put banners on your light poles and logo decals in storefront windows to make people view your neighborhood differently. Branding is a huge undertaking that requires the input of your neighbors, the local business community, and even outsiders.
Where To Start? Beginning The Process of Changing Your Neighborhood’s Perceptions
Coming to a consensus on the perceptions that your community wants to change may be obvious based on your assessments of reality, but how to change, and what, may be a bit more difficult with so many voices.
“The actual development of a brand can be a wonderful opportunity for community engagement and activity, bringing together to strategize who we are, what's important to us, and setting a roadmap for how we're going to get there,” says LeAnn Locher of LeAnn Locher and Associates, a strategic planning agency. “It can be the tangible outcome of hard work. However, without the hard work in community building to get there, it can fall shallow and be inauthentic. Do the hard work: It's worth it.”
The hard work will be “getting a community consensus as to the definition of a neighborhood, the perception that needs to be altered, the persona to be conveyed, and the goals of such an activity in first place,” Fisher says. Continuing Locher’s thought, Fisher adds, “Just slapping a new logo on a neighborhood is not going to successfully alter any issues. That said, a new identity is often a great way of jump-starting a new community perception.”
Know Your Community
Community input and involvement is necessary. Engage your neighborhood and business district by conducting a survey, discussing the topic at neighborhood association meetings, and interviewing people at community events.
Josh Guerra, the design chair for the St. Johns Main Street Coalition, says his association's process began with a community visioning session that “helped to establish what the community wanted to see in five to 10 years for downtown St. Johns.” This original session has been followed by monthly meetings that are open to the public, which Guerra encourages “anyone with an interest to attend.”
The coalition also seeks feedback from its community members on Facebook where an active discussion is taking place in the comments section of posts like this neighbor-generated poll.
“Individuals make a huge impact in and on the community and St. Johns residents care a lot about their neighborhood,” Jeff Bissonnette, the board president of St. Johns Main Street, says.
Much like Lents, “there is a perception that St. Johns has a lot of crime or is remote from the rest of the city,” Bissonnette continues. But a team of experts from the national Main Street program found that the independent spirit of St. Johns stood out as a defining character trait, Bissonnette explains. A discovery like this in your neighborhood will help guide your branding efforts, exemplified by St. Johns new christening.
“It has a rich and long history that I think most folks appreciate,” Guerra says of St. Johns. “That history is written in bricks and mortar all along our main street, and in the steel of our bridge, and I think our community is proud of that.”
Whether you’re a neighborhood or business district, “Ask what you can do better,” Locher says. “Engage your audience,” and find out if it’s changed. “We're seeing big changes in the demographics of neighborhoods,” Locher says. “I live in one of the highest LGBT and women-led household neighborhoods, according to the last census. What businesses in my neighborhood know this and are using this information as a way to increase business?”
“What audience do you have close by and captive but aren't even marketing to?” Locher asks. “There's a lot of gold out there in knowing the data of the makeup of your neighborhoods.”
Work Together With Your Business District
“It is important for the business and residential communities in any neighborhood to join forces in creating the image to be conveyed to the audience at large,” Fisher says. “The goals of businesses and residents need to be discussed, fine-tuned and conveyed jointly for a truly successful branding or rebranding effort.”
Business districts may desire added pedestrian and automobile traffic while that “might have a negative influence on what residents see as the livability of their neighborhood,” Fisher explains. He points to the Alberta Arts District that “welcomed the new businesses and events such as Last Thursday. Neighborhood improvements, and a sense of community, came with the growth and success. After awhile I began to hear residents discuss the fact that too much success was impacting their neighborhood in a negative manner—especially with the growth of the Last Thursday event. In areas where there is both a neighborhood association and a business district, the two need to work closely in establishing desires, goals and hoped outcomes.”
Fisher also points out that sometimes “businesses in the area may be the best outward identity of a neighborhood. In his personal experience, “few people knew the location of the neighborhood or Arbor Lodge Park,” where Fisher has resided for 16 years.
“It took the opening of the Arbor Lodge New Seasons Market to establish a real public definition of the neighborhood for most people,” he says. “Recently, that persona has been increased with the opening of The Arbor Lodge coffeehouse.”
The same is true for districts across town—it’s often the stores, restaurants and bars that define a location to visitors, not the schools and community organizations.
Know Your Audience
Do you want to communicate first and foremost with community or tackle your perception citywide? As discussed, speaking to the insiders of your community can help establish an identity and foster pride while presenting a unified message to the city at large. But, determining where to start involves setting realistic, measurable goals followed by the creation of a message or brand, which we will cover as this series continues.
“The image projected to outsiders should be one of creating attractiveness and an invitation to visit or participate,” Fisher says. And he goes so far to say that well-designed images “could convince outsiders to become insiders.”
Does your neighborhood or business district currently have a brand? If not, would you like to see one developed? And if you already have one, do you feel like it reflects your community?
Correction 5/21/2012: The article initially stated that the St. Johns Main Street Coalition had dubbed its community the "Independent Republic of St. Johns." This concept was simply a part of the process, and SJMSC hopes to roll out the complete branding strategy later this year.