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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Is Hartford's new branding effort really hitting the mark?

I attended the MetroHartford Alliance (of which our agency is a member) event today where they unveiled options for a new branding platform for Hartford. As a professional marketer, I went into the event sympathizing with the position the agency was in as it’s never easy to re-brand anything, certainly a city. You do open yourself up to criticisms and those with strong opinions on one side or the other and, of course, to the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” crowd that resists change no matter what.

It’s also not easy to present work that is not completed, though I would have recommended the executions be just a little more refined before showing to the public (certainly some storyboards for the TV concepts at least). I’m not the type of person who will criticize logos, colors and treatments if what is being shown delivers on the research and the strategy. To be fair, the concepts (download them here) mostly did deliver on what the research showed and who they said was their target audience.

But, therein is the problem for me. The research they showed indicated that people come to Hartford for things that are “live,” i.e. events, attractions, dining, nature, etc. The agency then outlined 4 target groups ranging from millenials to seasoned citizens and groups in the middle. The one constant characteristic in the target groups they identified as their focus is that they were all made up of people who already either live in or come to Hartford. In other words, they are choir audiences. They called it a “captive audience” during the presentation.

My first concern is that I would think Hartford wants people who aren’t as familiar with what the city offers to enjoy Hartford and spend money here versus other places. I understand this could be a challenge from a budget perspective, but Hartford competes with neighboring cities and towns and has to clearly differentiate. If I live in Middletown and want to go out, do I turn north on 1-91 to Hartford or south to New Haven, for example? What’s the compelling reason to go to Hartford? The differentiation can’t be as simple as Hartford offers “live” experiences as New Haven, in this example, can also say the same.

The second concern is that preaching to a choir audience doesn’t address the 800-pound gorilla that I believe Hartford’s image continues to struggle with: that it’s a dead city on nights and weekends. The comment was made during the presentation that once people realize what Hartford has to offer they were really “surprised.” So, why keep that hidden from those that have no idea what Hartford offers or worse have a false image of what Hartford has to offer, and spread that image? One gentleman from Manchester during the Q&A said that he has no idea what to do in Hartford when his friends from throughout the country come to visit. Simply put, he should. I don’t believe the solution is to reinforce this negative in marketing by saying so overtly that “yes, we are alive after 5,” but it is a real issue that needs to be addressed and doesn’t seem to be with the concepts and executions shown today.

The third concern is that the campaign is focused on a very small and, frankly, Caucasian audience. If the strategy is to focus on choir audiences in Hartford – which I don’t agree with – then the campaign simply misses the boat and will be a short-term campaign by ignoring multi-cultural audiences since the 2010 Census showed was the only growth in the state. Especially the Hispanic population that makes up 45% of the capital city (and keep in mind the average age in Connecticut is 40 but only 27 for Hispanics) and accounted for the majority of the population increase from 2000-2010. Add to that the African American, West Indian and a host of other ethnic populations, Hartford is a minority-majority city. It has been for some time and even has a Hispanic mayor. The solution, however, isn’t as simple as changing the creative by substituting a Black face for a White one or changing the copy from English to Spanish. Hartford can’t just talk about the vast cultures in Hartford as an attraction of the city, it has to speak in a culturally-relevant manner to minorities in Hartford so that they attend more events, go see more shows, visit the Science Center and the Mark Twain House and the Children’s Theater and the Wadsworth Antheneum, etc. Right now, that simply isn’t happening at a level that it should.

I’m just afraid the horse has left the barn on this one and we are at a point where addressing these concerns may be a foregone conclusion as we have entered a period of public comments to try to reduce the 3 concepts down to 1.

I do wish Hartford luck. As a company with a major office in Hartford, we need the city to succeed for us to succeed. This is a great city with so much to offer, I just hope it’s not a small select group of people who get to know about it.

5 Comments:

  • At 1:20 PM , Anonymous Brian said...

    Great comments, especially your third point about recognizing the rich cultural heritage of Hartford's minorities. It's vital that, when Hartford improves, it improves for everyone.

     
  • At 1:35 PM , Blogger river b said...

    great post. i really think you hit on some key things here, and it's similar to what i put in my survey responses. i think any marketing of hartford has to come with a serious dose of reality. and not that it has to be down on itself, but some fantasy about what it *should* be, or too narrow a focus on what appeals to the "desirable" visitors, will fall flat in the long run. these concepts really lack a sense of who and what hartford is, i think. also, the visual design looks like throwaway concepts to me. really disappointing work from a serious agency. i would not be a happy client.

     
  • At 3:05 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I wonder why Hartford's new image campaign is being presented by a creative company in CANADA? I am pretty confident that there are very competant -- maybe even excellent -- agencies in Hartford, or elsewhere in Connecticut. Gosh -- even Boston or New York would be a stronger vote of confidence than one from another country. And I'm always amused that organizations think they can just "rebrand", get a new logo or look and "fix" the problem. Yeah -- good luck Hartford. You'll need it.

     
  • At 9:43 PM , Blogger Roseann said...

    Great comments and I definitely agree with you that the branding company is missing the boat by not focusing on the many ethnicities in Hartford. I like the history angle but I think a stronger slogan would have been "Born in Hartford." Hartford is the birthplace of genius and many people don't know that great comedians/comedy writers like Charles Nelson Reilly, Totie Fields, and Norman Lear.

     
  • At 3:20 AM , Blogger AmyElements said...

    As always, very insightful thoughts, Wilson. I sadly agree that the horse has left the barn on this one. Very disappointing. Will they ever get it right?

     

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