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Community Branding Takes More Than Script.


Like many of you, the topic of community branding has been topic over a few cups of coffee the past few weeks at Adventure. For those who don't know,  Arnett Muldrow & Associates, a small business and design firm from Greenville, South Carolina was recently hired by the City of Claremore to research and develop a new marketing and strategy direction. On March 6th, Ben Muldrow unveiled the proposed new branding and marketing plan for Claremore in front of a small crowd of local town leaders, business owners, and a handful of entrepreneurs, and university staff. You can see their branding presentation here.

I have been scrolling through several threads and comments on social media sites this week, and feel there is something missing in the conversation. Also, I note that some of the conversation seems to be stemmed out of a misunderstanding of what actually took place in the weeks leading up to the unveiling. From a design process standpoint I actually found myself admiring the approach Ben and the guys at Arnett Muldrow have developed to brand small to medium sized municipalities. The amount of effort and background they choose to pour into a project, encompasses much more than two days. In fact, I wish more projects came across my desk with that kind of commitment and backend work.

To briefly sum their process, they place great value in being able to offer communities an objective mirror. They are passionate and unapologetic in telling the governing organizations what they see portrayed currently, as well as what they're own citizens are saying. Frankly, this is something no one in the community can offer.  Ben Muldrow, who let much of the forums/events, was very clear in their objective from the start. To offer a proposed direction of focus, and a forward minded branding image. They conduct a series of visits to the community spanning over weeks/months, walk the shops on main, take in the tourist opportunities, evaluate demographics and economic opportunity, getting to know the community. They spend an entire day of forums having candid conversation from citizens from the standpoints of government/leadership, business owners/leaders, marketplace owners, entrepreneurs, and university students. All who also represent families, and "voting dollars" for our local economy. They use this market research, and the objectives of the city government to present a strategy and branding image for the City of Claremore in moving forward with those objectives.

Proposed Branding/Logo

Proposed Branding/Logo

Being a part of the local design community, Mike and I attended 3 of the scheduled events, and talked with other participants from other forum groups as well. One comment that was referenced repeatedly was the absence of key entrepreneurs, innovators, organizers, designers, business owners. I couldn't help but wonder what kind of rebuttal to progress might come out of misunderstanding due to the lack of voices represented. 

That being said, and your feathers being ruffled...let me be fair. Are you entitled to your graphic design opinion, expert or not? Sure. Do I have one? Sure. However, let me say this. If I could have one wish granted from a design standpoint, it would be to have a "branding lesson" demonstrated to key leaders, and business owners in an environment with their guard down. To be able to point to a branding strategy that says, your public "Come Visit Us" face, is different than your "You Owe Us $$" face. That each logo can play well together in a carefully planned branding package and marketing strategy. What better role model for their own endeavors, than their own community. While sitting in the unveiling, I found myself wondering how many have actually given thought to color scheme, typeface, secondary typeface, logo usage, and implementation, and why they are used in certain manners. 

what good is branding a community, if all we are interested in is the critique of a logo?

I also find myself wondering, what good is branding a community, if all we are interested in is the critique of a logo? Community branding is not the embodiment of your view of Claremore in a set of lines and nodes. It is based in the realization, that people make community, and we're proud of this town.  It is a call to action, to be able to tell others "Come check out Claremore," and to actually represent the values we stand for.  When we decide that community is more than whether or not we agree with a script, we will begin to build and attract others to the destination we all dream it can be; clearly more.

We would love to continue this conversation too. We're always in for a good design and marketing convo. Feel free to leave a comment, or stop by the shop for a cup of fine coffee.