Branding Georgetown

Yesterday, Housing Complex writer Lydia DePillis published a thoughtful piece on the ongoing effort of the BID to “rebrand” Georgetown. What she’s talking about is that earlier this year, the BID hired the Roan Group, a professional brand consultant, to advise the BID on the state of brand Georgetown.

While a lot goes into how people throughout the area (and nation) think about Georgetown, there’s only so much that the BID can control. They can’t change the type of stores we have here, for instance, but they can change how those stores are presented, and, more importantly, how they’re perceived.

DePillis essentially comes to much of the same conclusions that GM has arrived at. Namely that Georgetowners have long had a knack for being overly pessimistic about the state of their neighborhood. DePillis notes that although Georgetown no longer attracts “hip” restaurants, it could be because there’s no vacancies for them to move into. In other words, the reports of Georgetown’s death are greatly exaggerated. (Although she also correctly notes that the significant exception to that is the Georgetown Park mall, which is really a separate issue onto itself).

At the heart of the rebranding study was a series of interviews with Georgetown residents. GM was one of those that the consultant interviewed. As reported by people like DePillis and Carol Joynt, part of the interview included odd questions like “what colors do you associate with Georgetown?” (GM said green and blue, for some reason) But the bulk of the interview focused on bread and butter issues of why or why not people choose to visit Georgetown. Honestly, it was quite a pleasure to sit and chat about Georgetown for two hours. Getting a gift certificate for Baked and Wired was just gravy to GM.

Presumably the consultant is still working on recommendations, but here’s some of what GM would do if it were up to him:

  • Get a website as beautiful and informative as Alexandria’s.
  • Parking reform: encourage visitors who arrive by car to go straight to a garage. The garages south of M St. are very underused. By implementing performance parking, we will eliminate the financial incentive to troll the neighborhood for parking. Once people realize that it’s just simpler to go straight to a garage, the perception that parking is an impediment to visiting should decrease.
  • Transit: Do a much better job demonstrating how easy it is to get to Georgetown with transit. The new Circulator should raise the profile of the bus option, but more marketing is needed.
  • People know there are chains here already. The BID needs to do more to highlight the incredible diversity of stores we have here that you can’t find in a mall. Events like the French Market are great, but they’re by nature fleeting. A sustained advertising campaign is necessary.

Anything else?

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Branding Georgetown

  1. Sounds to me like the consulting group trying to “brand” Georgetown, and BID as well, forgets why, or puts on the back burner, Georgetown has cache. It is because of the HISTORY of the community, not because of the shops. The commercial sector is important, yes. But people move to Georgetown, live in Georgetown, swear by Georgetown because of the residential sector………the people, the parks, the canal, the waterfront, the homes, the social significance of the community, and the history. And the community does not need to be “branded,” an offensive word if ever there was one.

  2. Kate Whitmore

    I so agree with Dave. Far too little is done to promote the historical aspect. If anything needs “branding” it is exactly this. The Old Stone House, Barge and Park Ranger tours (all Federally funded and run, by the way) are a mere drop in the bucket. Even GU could do more to celebrate its role dating back to the early 18th century. The most recent book on Georgetown’s history is decades old. So much has happened (and been discovered) since then!

  3. Could not agree with more with Dave’s and Kate’s comments. The term “branding” is apparently in vogue among in PR/marketing circles. I find it silly. What we have here in Georgetown is something no marketing gurus can create…. history, reality, authenticity. “Branding” evokes a Disney theme park. I recall that CAG is working on a series of interviews with long-time Georgetown residents. Perhaps that will be turned into a book?

  4. Ken Archer

    IMHO, the reason our businesses feel the need to brand Georgetown is that today’s visitor and shopper doesn’t interact with the history and authenticity of the neighborhood. Georgetown isn’t a village anymore. Branding fills the void to create a contrived sense of authenticity.

    A better solution is to bring back the Georgetown village. Where did it go? Georgetowners stopped acting like villagers

    Most Georgetowners drive out of the neighborhood for most of their needs, and M and Wisconsin function no longer as civic space for Georgetowners, but as throughways for commuters. We’ve traded our market for Dean & Deluca, our police station and 3 schools for residential developments without a fight.

    So let’s start acting like villagers if we want our village back. Let’s take back M and Wisconsin with traffic calming measures like monthly pedestrian malls on M and raised crosswalks at every intersection. Let’s start shopping at the multiple Farmers Markets instead of the Safeway. Let’s send our kids to local schools like Hyde, Hardy and Holy Trinity. Let’s stop leaving Georgetown for needs that can be met here. When we start acting like villagers, the Georgetown village will return and no one will think Georgetown needs to be branded.

  5. asuka

    Georgetown hasn’t been a village since the early 20th century. It is in the middle of a major metropolitan city, is a global tourist attraction, and serves as a vital transportation artery for hundreds of thousands of the region’s residents, not just the few who are privileged enough to live here. Its absolutely preposterous (and incredibly elitist) to believe that it should be cordoned off from the rest of the greater Washington area. If you’re looking for a village vibe, may I suggest the Hill, Shaw, Logan, or one of the other recently gentrified parts of the city?

    As for branding, its probably not a bad idea. The Wisconsin/M street corridor has a lot of untapped potential, and a unified plan might help leverage it more efficiently and effectively. Part of the reason there is such a high rate of failure among business in Georgetown is because this part of the city lacks a clear, marketable identity.

  6. Randy Roffman

    If BID wants to spend money so badly, they certainly could do better than hiring an outside PR firm to “brand” Georgetown. Why not put up historic street signs at every corner with the original name of the streets as they were known before the ‘letter’ system. Wisconsin Avenue used to be know as “High Street”, M Street was “Bridge Street”, etc. These ‘Historic’ street name signs could be done in another, more fitting design than the current street signage. And they should be placed above the current signs. This would begin to give the neighborhood the ‘feel’ of history. Start by focusing on the historicity of the area and leave the commercial district to reap the benefits therefrom. Georgetown should focus on its inherent strengths and plan more local events for which visitors/shoppers would come. Right now, it’s the commercial property owners who are most interested in the higher rents which are then passed on to the tenants of their properties. I know, I know, that’s business as usual and that is the problem. We need more local businesses serving Georgetown and not another “Brand-Name” store which can be found elsewhere, and everywhere. Stress the community and the history. All the rest will follow.

  7. asdf

    and GEORGETOWNERS remember…they can take your life…but they can’t take your FREEEEEDDOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMM!!!

    **we all know what happened to that guy****

  8. Pingback: Branding Georgetown | The Georgetown Metropolitan

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