Branding Georgetown

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:

  1. Bring performance parking
  2. Bring the streetcar
  3. Bring Metro
If those things happen, Georgetown will continue thriving well into the 21st century. If not, well, we’ll see.
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16 Comments

Filed under Around Town

16 responses to “Branding Georgetown

  1. Jonathan

    Surprised to see no photo of the Riggs gold dome.

  2. RNM

    The task of re-branding always smells of failure and a bit of desperation. Some companies spend large sums of money and time trying to re-arrange the deck chairs to look better as opposed to dealing with systemic problems. Personally, I don’t get the need to re-brand…Georgetown is doing just fine as it is. Plus, who the hell really gets information from the BID? Seriously, I am on the mailing list, but I live here. I have never heard of anyone who doesn’t live in the area checking out the BID site…likewise I have never looked at the BID sites for other areas of town that have them. The BID does some great work, but fluff marketing is way down the list.

    Additionally, if getting here is the issue and GM has his three suggestions…how would dramatically increasing the price of parking in the area help other than to create a community for the wealthy only? Sorry, performance parking is just another class warfare tool. We all pay taxes that pave those streets (keeping in mind that even out of town visitors pay federal taxes that are sent to the states and DC for roads) so why should access to them be held only for those rich enough to pay?

    Metro, not happening. Next. Seriously, the Metro system was developed to spur development. Stations opened in fields that later found large and dense communities open around them. Georgetown was at 100% build out and is under such repressive building codes that no significant development was going to happen. Add in the cost and difficulty of building a station so deep, under bedrock and in an delicate area of powerful NIMBY folks. Those issues have not changed one iota since the 1970s. Additionally, if the Dulles extension can be seen as an example there just isn’t the push for funding to put in a station. Take a bus and get over the metro.

    I am iffy on streetcars. Why have streetcars and take on all the infrastructure spending to put in lines when a bus route does the exact same thing? The only reason is people look down on buses but think metro and possibly streetcars are a better form of transit. So again, like the performance parking, it comes down to catering to rich people and snobs who are too good to hop an even number 30 bus. Additionally, the implementation would be a mess as roads are re ripped up, didn’t we just go through that a decade ago, and lanes would be taken away only exacerbating traffic issues. All with the expense of hundreds of millions of dollars the city and WAMATA sure don’t have (they can’t even keep the ACs in the metro cars working, not to mention escalators, and short hours of service).

    Rnoelm

  3. GM

    Rnoelm,
    Thank you for your comments. A few things:

    On performance parking:
    Your primary objections to this concept seem to be, (1) I paid for this through my taxes so the city shouldn’t charge me again, and (2) this hurts poor people.
    The first objection is all well and good, but you lost it a long time ago. Cities in the 30s didn’t install parking meters simply to screw over taxpayers, they did it to more efficiently use public land. If we just give the space away for free, users will keep their cars there as long as possible. Low turnover of on street parking hurts everybody: residents, visitors, and shopkeepers. And besides, your argument seems based in the idea that since “everyone” pays taxes, “everyone” ought to be able to park their car wherever. Obviously not everyone pays taxes, and certainly visitors pay a much smaller amount of the taxes that ultimately end up maintaining DC streets, but moreover not “everybody” has or uses a car. I don’t have a horse, but if I did, wouldn’t your logic say that I ought to be able to keep it in Montrose Park? I mean, I pay taxes, and I need a place to keep my horse, and private barns are expensive.

    Like the park, there are other uses for the street space besides giving cheap storage to car owners. Which leads me to the second point:

    This hurts poor people:
    We are already in a class war, but it’s the rich people that are winning. Cheap on street parking hugely benefits well-off people. Cars cost a lot of money to have and keep. Poor people own and drive cars at a much lower rate than wealthier people. Less wealthy people tend to get around by transit. Performance parking is designed to improve transit by cutting down on traffic (e.g. studies found that 30% of downtown LA traffic was simply from people driving around looking for parking). By shifting more parking to garages, we could remove parking on M and Wisconsin and introduce transit lanes. Moreover, a portion of the increased parking meter fees would be directed towards transit.

    Performance parking doesn’t hurt poor people, it simply reduces a subsidy (i.e. cheap storage for your car) that overwhelmingly goes towards perfectly well-off people like you and me.

    On streetcars:

    You’re right that more people tend to use streetcars than buses. But those people also include poor people, and I could be wrong, but I’m fairly certain DDOT will still let poor people ride the streetcar. Streetcars are more efficient than buses; they carry more people, and provide a better experience. The same concept is at play with the Circulator. People just like it better, and it’s been a huge success as a result.

    And again, even if the streetcar simply brings more well-off people into transit, that still benefits the poor people already on transit since it would reduce traffic.

    On Metro:
    You’re right that it’s a long shot, but you’re wrong to simply say it won’t happen. Metro itself has repeatedly recognized the need for a new Potomac crossing and a split Blue line. They want to put a station (actually two stations) here. It’s a long off proposition (like 15-20 years), but it’s still a possibility. The more organizations like the BID and GU and others push for it consistently, the more likely it is that it will eventually come.

  4. I believe it is “cachet” and we’re not going to get there with just cupcakes and other tourist traps. I would love to see more arts-inspired projects – with decent funding – so that we can both enjoy performances and participate in classes for every ability and interest. Georgetown shouldn’t just be about shopping.

  5. Branding and marketing will only do so much to increase business. When those “new” shoppers do come to Georgetown, they are confronted by 1) panhandlers at every street corner (some very aggressive and offensive); 2) parking tickets on their windshields after dropping $100 for dinner at a restaurant; 3) increasing ‘wilding’ by gangs of youth (just the other day a mother pushing a baby carriage was punched in the face at Wisconsin and O; 4) an almost deserted Georgetown Park; 5) the continuing blight of the 1400 block of Wisconsin Ave.; 6) a continuing lack of promoting Georgetown’s history.

  6. jmw

    Agree w/ RNM re: rebranding campaign – gtown already has a ‘brand.’ Find me a DC tourist that hasn’t heard of gtown? Honestly what are the benefits of this ‘branding?’ Also agree metro not likely to happen at least for decades. Agree w/ GM re parking – it’s not about wealth redistribution & even it if was, on the margins free pkg benefits the wealthier. And what’s really needed is to get more visitors to use the many available pkg lot spaces, esp in the ‘mall.’ My suggestions: Stop putting good BID $$ after bad with wasteful ‘branding’ campaigns. Find a way to subsidize gtown park mall pkg for customers who purchase something there. Show Vornado/Lanier whoever takes the lead in redeveloping gtown park that the biz, residential community will support them in whatever way we can to build something more integrated, open etc to the rest of gtown – eg open the roof! open up the back to the canal ! I’m on a roll now and perhaps going beyond the practical but the canal in my view is nearly wasted in gtown – take a look at amsterdam or other european cities for examples of how the canal could be used, with businesses, restaurants open to it rather than closed off. If this isn’t going to happen, (for an outlandish proposal), build a road over it as an express route around gtown, and close off M St in that area to vehicles. Slightly more doable: widen the sidewalks! clean up Wisconsin b/tw Dumbarton & O streets! These things, the practical and less-so, is in my view where the BID’s efforts should be focused.

  7. EastGeorgetowner

    As for the entire graphic, Is it just me, or does this look like a Pellegrino water bottle label? It is, in any event, lame. It has no elegance, no cachet, no sophisticated style- all things that Georgetown has and is known for. It looks like it could be the logo for a mall in McLean.

    And the tag line, “Come out and Play”? Are they joking? Isn’t that what children ask if their friends can do? The tag line seems juvenile and immature, and encourages the “partying” crowds that detract so much from the neighborhood on weekends.

    Whoever got paid to do this really made out like a bandit.

  8. asuka

    “More people tend to use streetcars than buses.” Link to proof of that?

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  11. RNM

    GM:

    Your rebuttals on the Performance Parking model are somewhat off base. I agree that parking meters do put a price on parking spaces, but people are treated equally, allowed to pay the same price and park on a first come, first serve model. The fee serves the purpose you promote, which is to keep the spaces turning over so as to make them available to more people…and it also sets up a massive revenue generating machine in the form of parking fees and more notably tickets. Dramatically increasing rates may leave the several parking spaces empty and thus make it easier to find one…but that also makes the system less efficient because a resource is going unused. And again, the increase of the fees would in effect put a tax on coming to Georgetown, one that would disproportionately hurt lower income folks. I understand the desire not to look for a parking space be it on the streets of Georgetown (where I look for one most days and where it is so much easier to find thanks to the removal of the student RPP and the increase in spots created on streets like N in the 3300 block, really, if you think parking is rough now, you should have been here 20 year ago). I also understand the desire to not have to follow a shopper back to their car at Tysons during Christmas shopping season. However, with strong demand and a finite resource..well you end up with what you get. If you really wanted to ease parking in Georgetown, instead of upping prices, how about lowering them? Take the Bethesda model where public garages are free at night…which is a great plus when thinking about going out to restaurants and the like. If there were some way to make the many garages available free, then maybe people would use them. People don’t like to pay for parking, especially people coming in from a suburban world where parking is, get this, free. We have a valuable resource, but it goes under used because of competing business interests.

    Oh, and for the record, I think the idea of dedicated public transit lanes is terrible. Maybe if we had broad avenues, but we don’t. Putting in public transit lanes would just exacerbate traffic issues and correspondingly parking issues.

    I agree, we may be in a class warfare situation already…and yes the wealth folks (who by the way make up most of the residents in Georgetown) are winning. The transition of this neighborhood in my time here and as clearly evidenced by your excellent photo comparison series shows the rapid decline from a diverse liveable community with shopping needs for all levels to the now playground for the wealthy. Call it the extreme of gentrification…so that now to pick up most things that we need/use in our daily life it requires leaving Georgetown and for that matter leaving the District. Like it or not, Georgetown has become a brand…the BID and different entities have worked to create an unlivable community of high end retail that can afford the high price rents. Change happens. We aren’t the diverse community that we were in the past, and probably never will be again.

    On Metro, I saw two metro stations in Georgetown a couple of years ago…Bethesda software made a very popular video game about a post apocalyptic DC where the Metro system was featured…there were East and West Georgetown stations in the game. Personally, I think the apocalypse is more likely than the stations. There just isn’t the money or will to do it. Not now. Not in 20 years. They can barely keep their current trains running.

    On bus vs streetcar…your point about the popularity of the Circulator is very valid. Though last I checked that was a BUS! Point being, make a nice bus that the hoity toity are willing to lower themselves to ride and they will. Maybe people should just embrace the system that exists, or they could just throw a fresh coat of paint on it (which is all the Circulator did) and what all “rebranding” is about. We live in a a city, and in cities the various classes mix at times…it is part of the joy of living in a city and not a gated suburban compound.

    RNM

  12. asuka

    @RosRes

    Like all trollie proponents, you provide OPINIONS, not proof. 1. Trollies 2. ? 3. Profit!

  13. GM

    RNM:
    Let me get this straight:
    -You drive to work everyday (“where I look for [a parking space] most days”)
    -You think the six lane boulevard that is M st. isn’t broad enough to dedicate a lane to transit, which by the way would disproportionately benefit the less well off you claim to be worried about
    -You think there ought to be significantly more free parking
    -Yet you think I’m the one with a suburban mindset

    Suburbia is more than gated communities. It’s a legal and built environment structured around and perpetuating the assumption everybody drives everywhere. It’s a mindset that says we should have as few impediments to drivers as possible, even if the measures taken erect impedements to non-drivers (e.g. opposing transit lane because it would increase traffic for drivers). You call higher meter rates a “tax on visiting Georgetown” despite the fact that it only applies if you decide to drive. But since you assume everyone drives, then of course you think it’s a tax.

    Cities have tried to import the suburban norms on parking and road width which you want, and it has had a devastating effect. It ruins what is genuinely great about cities in an attempt to compete in a rigged game against the suburbs. If you want a history of this dynamic, read the High Cost of Free Parking, City on the Edge, or Carjacked.

    I also find it interesting that you praise the student RPP switch. According to your own logic, a change that makes parking more expensive (in this case, infinitely more) which results in more open spots is “inefficient” and “leaves a resource unused”. You seem to like this policy because it makes it easier for you to park near your home. The ability to easily park very near your home, I might add, is a very suburban trait.

  14. Paula Product

    @RNM
    ” If you really wanted to ease parking in Georgetown, instead of upping prices, how about lowering them? Take the Bethesda model where public garages are free at night…which is a great plus when thinking about going out to restaurants and the like.”

    These questions, and your proposed answers, really don’t make any sense? Why on earth would lower prices make parking *easier*? Yes, not having to pay for parking is “easier” in the sense that, if and when one can find a spot, it then costs less to stay in it. But lower pricing messes up the “if and when” part. The example you cite actually illustrates this quite well. Downtown Bethesda is a nightmare to drive to on weekends, because Bethesda foolishly gives away parking for “free” on weekends. Which leads many people to drive there instead of walking, biking, or taking Metro or a taxi, or getting dropped off. Because it’s “free.” But it’s only free in the sense of the city not charging a fee for it. People waste hour upon hour searching for parking in downtown Bethesda, and the city doesn’t get any benefit from it — just more circling traffic and gridlock. Charging even a tiny fee could reduce the parking demand enough to make it match the amount of available parking a bit better, and give the added benefit of (a) fewer circling cars spewing exhaust onto outdoor diners, and (b) money for the city. As it is, downtown Bethesda is less pleasant than it could be, harder to get to by car, and harder to park in. The policy is bad for the people who want to go there, and for the businesses located there who would like to serve them. Georgetown would be bonkers to go down that path, even if it had the room to do it.

  15. Kyle

    They may have used the Roan Group for the strategy, but I know from an inside source that all of the creative was done by a firm in Arkansas. Really!? I hope that’s not true. What the hell does Arkansas know about Georgetown? And shouldn’t that money have been spent locally?

    Frankly, the logo make me think of cupcakes. And I hate the cupcake shops in GT. Don’t even get me started on that stupid tagline.

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