Today, the BID is rolling out its new branding strategy, a culmination of a year-long effort by the BID’s consultant, the Roan Group (and actually the roots of it go back even further). Get ready to start seeing the above image around everywhere.
The brand itself has a couple of elements. First of all, it obviously puts the neighborhood’s name front and center. When the name itself already has such cache, it just makes marketing sense to let it carry the bulk of the weight. What’s interesting about the typeset is that it is a fairly sleek, sans-serif font. GM attended a presentation by the BID of the new brand, and they explained that they considered more “historical” looking typesets, but found that they were hard to read from a distance.
Carrying the “historical” flag for the brand are the curlicues, which are meant to reflect an old calligrapher’s work. Also, in what is GM’s favorite element of the brand, a bright red star sits at the top. It is meant to represent the star bolts that you see around Georgetown, like this:
There’s actually a funny irony in choosing this symbol. These bolts were used to shore up old brick walls when they started to bulge out under their own weight. A bit like Georgetown straining under the weight of its reputation.
Finally, the tag line of the brand is “Come Out And Play”. GM’s sure there’s a whole science to branding, but it sounds like a pretty generic brand to him. And really, in GM’s opinion, the actual content of the brand is not really that important. Surely it weaves its mumbo jumbo on people to slightly alter their opinion about Georgetown, but GM doubts it will do that much.
But that is not to say this effort is a waste. Far from it. Having a consistent brand, regardless of the inherent quality of the brand itself, is important. Getting the brand out there and recognized makes people start to think about Georgetown in the whole as a single product. Want good dining? We got that. What a waterfront park with kayak rentals? Got that too. Want a day at the spa, followed by some cupcakes and cocktails? All that’s here, within brand Georgetown.
Beyond the actual branding, GM believes that the BID recognizes two big problems that it is addressing with this effort. The first is the quality of the website. GM argued a long, long time ago that the BID’s website was awful. It remained awful for two more years, but that is no more. Last night they rolled out the new website, and it comes well within spitting distance of Alexandria’s website, which GM held up as the model they ought to follow. (Although they may consider changing the photo in the banner, which prominently displays the recently closed Garrett’s).
More fundamentally, from the presentation GM could see that the BID recognizes the largest obstacle Georgetown faces to continue thriving as a retail destination: transportation, and more specifically the widely held belief that Georgetown is a pain in the ass to get to. In response, the BID’s presentation emphasized parking and so too does the website. GM is a card carrying urbanist, who would normally bristle at such automobile-centrism, but the BID’s approach actually is enlightened.
The thing is, a lot of people are going to drive to Georgetown. Until we can get a metro, we’ll need those drivers to sustain the retail district. But there is no need for the parking experience to be unpleasant since there is a TON of parking in Georgetown, it just isn’t free. The BID estimates that there are 3,800 parking lot/garage spaces in Georgetown. It wants people that are visiting Georgetown to come into the neighborhood and go straight to the garages. This is a principle straight out of performance parking; if you want to come and stay longer, you ought to use a garage and leave the street parking to residents and those looking to come and go fast.
The website emphasizes the parking lots and garages. And the BID Executive Director, Jim Bracco, says they are working on a real time feed for parking garage space availability. Yes, transit, walking, and biking still need to be emphasized, and the BID has done a lot to do that, but it still needs to address parking and GM is happy with its approach.
GM asked John Asadoorian, the head of the BID’s marketing effort, how the BID would measure success of the branding effort. He answered that it would be successful if Georgetown met its potential. GM still doesn’t know exactly what that means, or how that would even be measured. But he’s not a marketer, so what does he know. What he does know (and the BID probably agrees on) is that there are three things of increasing significance that would profoundly change how the area experiences Georgetown, and its not the type of font used. It’s: