Monday, June 18, 2012

goals + guidance for creating your neighborhood brand

This is the third article in a series about neighborhood branding. After exploring the perceptions of your neighborhood and determining what to change, we will now provide tips on how to create your neighborhood’s brand.

What image comes to mind when you think of your neighborhood?

If you live in St. Johns, it's likely the verdant green rivets lining the contours two distinctive Gothic, cathedral-like towers, which jut skyward flanked by lush hills on either side and flowing water below.

The most easily recognizable and instantly understandable aspect of a brand is often a visual identity. But as discussed before, you can’t simply slap branded stickers on windows or hang logo banners from light poles and expect people to change their perception of your neighborhood. In fact, if you did, you’d likely have a lot of displeased neighbors.

But once you’ve collected feedback from your community, what does it actually take to create a brand?

To bring your neighborhood’s identity to life, begin by defining realistic, measurable goals.

What Are Your Goals?

“Creating and documenting measurable goals, in regards to branding or rebranding, may not be the easiest task for neighborhoods or business districts, in part due to the fact that the impact may not be immediate,” says graphic designer Jeff Fisher of LogoMotives. “It takes time to initiate the branding effort, go through the research and design phase, determine how to introduce the new identity, and then measure actual results.”

Setting goals and documenting them is nevertheless important. Common goals for a neighborhood or business district often include instilling a sense of pride in the area while “project[ing] a polished and professional public image,” Fisher explains.

But in an areas with “a rich and long history” like St. Johns, one of the main goals is preservation, according to Josh Guerra, the design chair for St. Johns Main Street Coalition (SJMSC).

“The fine line we have to walk is somewhere between respecting and preserving the architectural character of the district, but also encourage responsible development,” Guerra says. “The design committee in particular is working on creating [a] cohesive vision for how community members want the district to ‘look’ based on our vision session, which took place in January 2011.”

For Dee Heffernan of Sol Identity, a brand strategist and designer who is currently leading the St. Johns branding effort, this vision must address, "How are we going to attract people from outside of St. Johns to live in and to invest in our community?"

In order for St. Johns to get on the map, "there needs to be some kind of demand," she continues. She believes St. Johns is deserving of the “special trek” it takes to get there, but part of the branding goal is to show others why.

Citing historic landmarks and natural areas like the bridge, Cathedral Park, and access to the river, Heffernan says there are plenty of “untapped properties” that deserve to be highlighted. The main challenge is defining the intangible quality of community for a diverse and changing community.

But Heffernan believes the kind of community St. Johns has is unique. “It's a little bit simpler out here,” she says. But, in terms of branding, "How do we communicate that sense of community—old school community?” she asks. How does a brand convey a concept like acquaintanceship—everyone knows their neighbors in St. Johns?

The people have "a lot of pride" and "are protective of it [St. Johns]," Heffernan says, and the appropriate brand can rejuvenate and unite the community.

While Heffernan says she, SJMSC and the community are still determining the exact goals they’d like to achieve, it’s important to "start with values. What I want to try to get to are a set of core values that the community can basically agree upon." By listening to her neighbors, she’s documenting early trends such as: "‘I want to know who my neighbors are.’ That's a real value—feeling connected to the people that live next door to you."

For more guidelines on how to create your brand, read the rest on Neighborhood Notes.

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