Thursday, October 27, 2016

Hillcrest - The Logo, The Brand & the Brand Promise and time for a B.I.D.

I really enjoyed the recent Hillcrest Harvestfest. I’ve been many times but this was the best one in years. There were more vendors than ever, the streets were overflowing with people & vendors (businesses) lined the street. Who knew there were so many t-shirt vendors with an Arkansas focus?

Walking around Harvestfest one thing in particular struck me, one thing stood out – the logo of this wonderful neighborhood is mostly a lie. We're promoting Hillcrest via this beautiful historic streetlight, but these lights barely exists in Hillcrest. Once you notice this, it's striking and it's strangely ironic. Take a look:

There’s a difference between a brand, a logo and a brand promise.

A brand, simply put, is what people think when they hear your brand/organization’s name.

A logo is “a symbol or design adopted by an organization to identify its products…”. To use a timely example, the Olympic rings are the organizations icon(s) used on flags, merchandise & of late, tattooed on numerous athletes.

A brand promise is the expectations communicated by the brand itself. It’s an extension of the organization’s positioning. It can be spelled out or displayed more subtly in the brand experience. For example, if you see the Olympic rings, the item it’s placed upon or projected on should be related to the competition or in these modern times, ‘an official partner’ of the event itself.
Promises must be kept in order to maintain credibility. To extend my example, if a product isn’t an actual official partner of the Olympics or it turns out partnership doesn’t involve the expected underwriting or contribution to athletes or the games, then there is a failure and likely repercussions to the organization(s) involved.*

Here in our neighborhood of Hillcrest we use an image of a historic streetlight as the logo of both the neighborhood as well as a variety of organizations that represent our neighborhood (Hillcrest Residents Association, Hillcrest Merchant’s Association, etc.)

When you see a historic streetlight used as a logo, it’s not unreasonable to expect to see historic street lights aplenty when you visit said neighborhood for which said street light is used as a logo. Further, as embedded in that brand promise, you are likely to expect to see historic buildings, homes with character and a traditional neighborhood.

Here in Hillcrest there are just 18 historic or replica streetlights. Ten along Allsop Park, four in front of the Ice House Revival and four apparent replicas of the other 14 lights in front of Simmons Bank. These four lights are similar in design but shorter than the other 14 lights.

I don't have the patience to count the number of power poles along Kavanaugh Boulevard but I’d guess there’s well over 100.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at this pulled from Google Streetview
 The promise of the logo is undermined by the fact that the major concentration of historic streetlights that are covered up by excess foliage except during the latter part of the fall & winter when the leaves have fallen.  Essentially there are a good eight months when there is basically four-to-six lamps visible to the passerby.

What I’ve taken 300 words to tell you is – a historic streetlight as a logo for Hillcrest fails to deliver on a brand promise. Given it’s percentage in the mix between traditional cobra-headed lights hung on utility poles (once called ‘liberty trees’ during the time of rural electrification) we’re sending a largely false message to the visitor.

There is a certain irony in hanging a banner picturing a historic street light from a utility pole.
I can’t say for certain but I don’t think there’s a single historic streetlight on a neighborhood street in the area traditionally defined as Hillcrest. So, take that 100 number of the guessstimated amount of ‘liberty trees’** and give it an exponent.

If that’s the case (and I think it is) then we’re using what is likely providing less than 1% of our neighborhood lighting as our logo and our brand promise. That’s both a bit crazy and a lot dishonest, don’t you think?

On the positive side, it does speak to what we value, what we find beauty in and what we should strive for.

Now you may think this is just a castigation of our lovely neighborhood. That’s not how it’s meant. This blog entry is meant to call out an opportunity. It’s time to bury the power lines and replace the ‘liberty trees’ with replica streetlights. This aids the neighborhood in times of ice and other storms, helping prevent power outages. Burying the power lines enhances the beauty of the neighborhood as well as making room for larger trees and a variety of other benefits.

Obviously, there's a healthy expense involved. That would surely take a Business Improvement District (B.I.D.) or similar be introduced. That's overdue. Harvestfest and its success reminds me that the commercial area of Hillcrest should be so much more. It takes money, management a plan & leadership to truly bring commercial districts to fruition. Waiting for the market to make it happen means we'll continue to wait. The Downtown Partnership, SOMA, etc. these groups exist for a reason. They have an urban focus. I appreciate the work of the Hillcrest Merchants Association & the Residents' Association but that's not enough. We need more. A B.I.D. in its finest form could provide a revenue stream to at least start making these things happen. 

Development on the Helmich property, for example, is going to happen. Good things are happening for the old Afterthought. Just these two things could start a ball rolling for good things to keep happening. As neighbors, as citizens, as advocates, let's not let these things happen by chance and randomness. Let's have a plan or at a minimum let's start having the conversation.

*I’ll leave the debating of the minutia of the definitions to practitioners but I think you get my drift.
**It wasn’t until 1950 when 67% of Arkansas’s farms were electrified. That’s not so long ago.