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Your Unique Downtown Brand, Logo and Messaging

When people in your community take a look at the place branding that has been developed for their downtown or mainstreet – often under the umbrella of economic development marketing – what they see mostly are “things”:  logos, banners, flowers, events – all sorts of “things”.  But what should really matter to the economic development officer are not so much the “things” but, instead, the processes and the people. Let’s take a closer look at this.

Logos for Downtowns or Mainstreets

Consider the mainstreet logo.  What a struggle it can be to develop!  People regard this thing, so visible and prominent, as the brand – but it’s not.

Most economic development professionals understand that a brand is a process, not a thing. In many cases, however, you can’t sell that idea to the downtown stakeholders whose future you are trying to bolster. They will focus on the thing – the logo. And they won’t agree on what it should be.

With that in mind, what should be the primary role of the economic development office or the consultant leading the effort to develop a mainstreet logo?  We suggest that it is to get the stakeholders to agree on what criteria should be used to evaluate the logo by.

Those criteria should align with the brand strategy and be supported by research that shows what differentiates the community and its downtown; its clusters of creative people, its cultural map, and those characteristics and values that are permanent fixtures in people’s minds.

When one or more draft logos are created, they can be evaluated according to the criteria developed by the stakeholders.  Normally six or eight criteria are sufficient.

Differentiating Your Downtown or Mainstreet Brand

Many mainstreets look the same all over North America.  Some are prettier than others but it is often very challenging to devise a brand that differentiates a mainstreet on the basis of the function and character of its buildings and surroundings.

But if you change your perspective and look at the people instead, you realize that there are things they do downtown that are different in each place.

A visit to downtown Lexington, KY., can be entertaining as well as instructive.  All summer, a team of engaging Downtown Ambassadors amuses visitors with songs and skits, in addition to disseminating information about downtown dining, shopping and special events.  (Our thanks to Martin Bohl for pointing this out.)  Observing these high school students with their colorful t-shirts sporting a “definitely downtown” logo, we are inspired to ask, “What differentiating or value-added experiences can people find on your mainstreet?”

Creating a unique downtown brand strategy can be easier when you realize that the attractions offered downtown – festivals, shows, themed restaurants, street-corner entertainers – attract people as connectivity points.

Remember what question young people are always answering on their mobile devices – “What are you doing now?”  If there’s a more interesting answer to that question to be found downtown, that’s where they will go.  They want to see themselves, and be seen as desirable to be connected to.  Asking the same question of your mainstreet stakeholders can jump-start their thinking about how to differentiate your downtown brand.

Downtown Messaging and Communications

We return to the themes of balance and connectivity from our previous article (please see “Place Branding Your Downtown,” published April 24, 2012).

Just as there should be a balance between meeting the needs of mainstreet and the rest of the community, there should be a balance between efforts made by the economic development office and the mainstream stakeholders. The economic developer cannot act alone in disseminating the branding messages. The community must be involved or it will become divorced from the branding process and disinterested – they will think of it as someone else’s job.

In his book Destination Branding for Small Cities, Bill Baker of Total Destination Marketing gives numerous examples of branding communications programs that succeed because economic developers have made connections with stakeholder groups and enterprises.  An example is the Washington County Visitors Association in Oregon.

Baker quotes Brian Harney, marketing director for the association, as saying, “To ensure that we can consistently deliver the high quality wine, sport and nature tourism experiences that are promised by our brand, we have established product development partnerships.”

“These groups are designed to be self-sustaining networks so that product providers, many of whom are non-profit entities, can collaborate in enhancing their products and marketing through the unifying themes of our core brand experiences.  This is far more advantageous than for each entity to try to go it alone in their product development initiatives and marketing.”

The same principle applies to mainstreet place branding and communications.  These, like collaborating with tourism product providers, are processes, which depend for success on understanding people and finding out how they make their community special.  From those people and those processes, good things can be made.

Learn more about Yfactor and how we can help your community grow at Yfactor.com.

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One Response to “Your Unique Downtown Brand, Logo and Messaging”

  1. May 18th, 2012 at 9:36 pm

    Carol slaughter says:

    Stop! I’ve been an EDO, a BIA manager and a Chamber of Commerce Manager successfully and I will share a secret with you. Drink the coffee,understand the influences externally that was bringing customers into the businesses, and always consider what options exist to bring in new business to your downtown.
    If for example a large plant is about to close, the men’s store that supplied suits to the management staff will be impacted. The coffee shop that supplies shift work staff their regular breakfast will be impacted with the shift cancellation impacts the take out pizza orders.
    Needless to say, look internally at what spinoffs exist and if branding, look at nodal options. A call center a few blocks away may be looking to expand. The local college might need space, and students coming to your downtown might not spend money now but given the welcoming feeling may look at this area to start their business in the future.Ever consider a college/university option? What about a call center for the space that’s vacant?
    I’m not saying branding doesn’t work, I’m suggesting look internally and figure out what exists and build on it. It takes time, planning and visioning.
    Get comfortable with the vibe that is there and have fun. You will see the results if you are able to build on the creative that is there.

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