Branding: More than a tagline and logo
Nike has its Swoosh. Wal-Mart has its asterisk. And then there’s Springfield, Vt., which has a hidden reference to the Simpsons TV show in its logo, a sly wink to the community’s being chosen as the site for the world premiere of The Simpsons animated movie.
Trip Muldrow, a principal in the South Carolina-based branding and community development firm of Arnett, Muldrow & Associates, has worked with more than a handful of Vermont towns seeking to shake up their image and boost downtown development. He said when his firm asked the Springfield community to reflect on the things that made the town unique, “Some people really wanted to latch onto the Simpsons.” Others — not so much.
The final logo produced by the firm features the words “Springfield Reinvented” with golden rays streaming out of the top of “Springfield” and blue and green swirls below.
“We chose all of the colors used in the logo to represent different aspects of the town,” said Muldrow. “The blue was sampled from a picture of the river. The main silver-gray color of the typeface represents machine tool colors. When it came time to reveal why we chose the color of the sun rays we just showed a picture of Homer Simpson. It’s the same yellow.”
Welcome to the world of municipal branding, which is just one of the tools increasingly used by Vermont downtowns in search of an understanding of how to move forward at a time when many city centers are just beginning to see a recovery from the moribund economy of the last six years.
Rutland, Springfield, Brattleboro and Waterbury are among the towns that have used the services of Arnett, Muldrow & Associates and in June the company will again return to Vermont. This time Muldrow will be one of the speakers at a state conference in Barre celebrating 15 years of the Downtown Program.
Muldrow and others will also meet with representatives from seven towns that were devastated by either the spring storm of 2011 or Tropical Storm Irene. As part of an ambitious program being run through the state’s Downtown Program, and funded through federal grant money received in the wake of the devastation, the communities of Barre, Waterbury, Warren, Waitsfield, Brandon, Brattleboro, and Wilmington will all have the opportunity to work with Muldrow and his colleagues, as well as architects and planners, all in the name of helping to boost their downtown recovery.
Leanne Tingay, coordinator of the Vermont Downtown Program, who will oversee the project, said not every town will necessarily do a branding exercise, Waterbury has just completed that process, but all of the towns included in the program will have the opportunity to avail themselves of the process.
“I don’t really want to say anything about what we’d like to see come out of this,” she said. “Each community needs to have its own needs and what they want to do respected. My hopes and dreams are that there may be some downtown master plans that will come out of this and focus on the four pillars of downtown revitalization.”
The Main Street Four-Point Approach embraces four ideas: organization, economic restructuring, design and promotion. Additionally communities seeking official downtown designation — which enables them to bring tax credits, grants and services to a community — towns must also be willing to embrace principles that include self-help, quality and a comprehensive approach.
When a community goes through a branding process as executed by Arnett and Muldrow, it is a three-day process of intensive meetings with everyone from town officials to longtime residents. The firm can give a town a new way of looking at itself, and if you add in additional market analysis and marketing strategies, the whole is a blueprint for potential downtown success.
Waterbury, which saw its downtown devastated by Irene, recently went through a branding and market analysis along with marketing recommendations facilitated by Arnett, Muldrow & Associates.
“Jeanne Kirby, who was our longtime director, had heard them speak and was impressed by the way they were so highly collaborative,” said Megan Rivera, interim director of Revitalizing Waterbury.
The Waterbury logo features the outline of the state, with rays either emanating out from Waterbury Center, or pointing toward Waterbury depending on how you look at it. The tagline: “Waterbury — Uncommonly Vermont.”
In describing the process of the branding, Rivera said the company met with everyone from retailers to longtime residents.
“What came out over and over was the food link,” said Rivera. “We have Ben & Jerry’s, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, The Alchemist Brewery ... Hen of the Wood restaurant. This is a very alive culture.”
Revitalizing Waterbury also learned from the market analysis that it’s a town where many people from New England and beyond pass through on their way to ski country. In fact, the old town slogan was “Waterbury — The Crossroads of Vermont.”
“The word crossroads implies that you’re going through a place,” said Rivera. “We want people to come to Waterbury and stay for dinner.”
Anyone who has driven through Barre in the past couple of years will not forget the experience, or the “We Dig Barre” banners that were affixed to poles throughout the city, all to keep up peoples’ spirits during the massive downtown renovation project that was just completed.
Now, said Dan Jones, director of the Barre Partnership, the city is ready to take the next step.
“The whole ‘We Dig Barre’ was huge,” said Jones. “I don’t think a lot of people realize what it took to pull this off for two years. This was a totally local endeavor and it was meant to be something for the construction.”
He added, “Our mascot Digger? We used him well, and while there are a few people who would like to see him stick around, I say let him retire and go to Florida. We were always saying when the construction process is done we would be ready for the next step. So we’re very excited.”
Rutland was the first community in the state to go through a branding process with Arnett, Muldrow & Associates. Mike Coppinger of the Downtown Rutland Partnership said the experience was an important opportunity for the community to view itself through the lens of those who came from a distance to do the work.
“This is an experience that is very rich,” said Coppinger. “When a community goes through this process it is looking at itself and you are looking at the good, bad and ugly. Certainly people like me want to promote the positive side of things, so having people run the process who weren’t from here really helped the process.”
Four years after the branding and marketing project began, Coppinger said Rutland is halfway through the list of applying the strategies developed in partnership with the branding and marketing mavens. He said the effect has been incredible.
“Rutland has a very rich history in relation to the railroad and once being a transportation link throughout the country,” he said. “But once the marble and rail industry dried up, the town went through a real malaise. Now we’re recognizing that we have world-class mountain biking and hiking. We’re connecting parks and we have a farmers market that is going 52 weeks a year. Since Rutland went through the process, downtown occupancy rates have risen from 75 percent to 90 percent.”
Coppinger also said local business owners are investing in their own properties. “We are getting a lot of ‘atta boys’ on the street.”
Montpelier has yet to go through any kind of community-branding exercise. The town fondly known as Montpeculiar has its own host of homegrown festivities that have sprung up organically and sometimes secretly.
The Valentine Phantom, who annually plasters the city with red hearts in February, operates in complete anonymity. Poem City, co-sponsored by the Kellogg-Hubbard Library, brought dozens of poets to the city in March and put hundreds of poems in downtown windows. This year Montpelier Alive launched the Montpolar Frostival, a mid-winter outdoor event that featured a road race and lots of outdoor winter activities.
Still, said Phayvanh Luekhamhan, director of Montpelier Alive, a community-branding exercise might come into play with the establishment of the new downtown improvement district. “We haven’t talked about it internally.”
Luekhamhan added that she’d heard good things about the Waterbury branding process. For the time being, she said, Montpelier would be “happy to be known as a small, quirky place where interesting things were always happening.”
Carol Whitehall of Springfield on the Move echoed the sentiment that going through branding and a market analysis won’t guarantee success.
“I think that sometimes people want to believe that, if you do this one thing, it is going to answer all your needs,” she said. “As much as we want to believe that downtown revitalization is anything but hard work, it is hard work. But going through a process like this lights the path and keeps us thinking. We’re always asking ourselves now, ‘What can we do next?’”
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