May 11, 2017

In Search of Our Brand Identity (It’s More Than Just a Logo)

Our ongoing emphasis on improving the physical appearance of the City coincides nicely with a whirlwind of exciting projects rife with opportunities.  In just the past few weeks alone we’ve cut the ribbon at Evelyn’s Park, unveiled major renovations at the Nature Discovery Center in Russ Pitman Park, and kicked off the construction of new municipal facilities at Bellaire Town Square.  And that’s just in our public spaces.  We’ve also got a lot of new—and long overdue—redevelopment activity that’s refreshing the appearance of our commercial areas, with even more on the horizon.  Good things are happening, with great potential to transform our cityscape and community image in very positive ways.

Yet, as we seek to build upon these developments through coordinated design standards for other things like streets, utility infrastructure, landscaping, wayfinding signage and gateway entrances, it’s becoming increasingly evident that there’s something missing.  We’ve never really pinned down the “look and feel” we’re going for.  That missing look and feel is not just about visual appeal; it encompasses our very identity as a city.

This has prompted us to initiate a branding exercise, to better understand how we see ourselves and how we present ourselves outwardly, and how we should.  The first step now underway is a brand audit to take stock of the current situation across the broad spectrum of our printed and online communications, existing physical structures and improvements, and adopted planning documents.  Interactive focus groups with various stakeholders will help in defining our identity and in gathering input on how to capture it with our brand.  Ultimately this effort will lead to the development of tangible standards and a consistent style toolkit to guide future decisions.

Understandably, discussions about branding almost immediately turn to the City’s logo, but it’s about so much more than that.

Our new branding strategy will help fill our “look and feel” gap, streamlining the design process for upcoming and future projects.  The outcomes of those projects will be better, too, with a distinctively Bellaire character based on our brand identity platform.  While this has been on our to-do list for some time, the start of construction at Bellaire Town Square only highlights the need and timing for it.  We’ll be incorporating the result into the new buildings, and indeed the new buildings themselves just might be a part of the result.  Other near-term projects will clearly benefit as well, such as our decorative street lighting pilot project, ongoing Beautification initiatives, and park signage and gateway entrance improvements.  In the longer-term, an established brand identity might inform future design standards for commercial developments.

Additionally, how we currently present ourselves—such as in printed materials and on the web, even on our water towers—is disjointed and ill-defined, somewhat of a hodgepodge.  Any one of those presentations standing alone is probably fine, but taken as a whole they’re not all that cohesive.  A deliberate approach to branding will elevate the professionalism of the image we project, with both external and, less obvious, internal benefits.  It will support our stated priority to position Bellaire as a premier employer, influencing how city employees perceive their roles and mission.  A refinement of our self-image can help foster and enhance our civic pride and sense of place and community.

I emphasize that this branding exercise isn’t about changing the essence of who we are as a city.  It’s about identifying, celebrating and reinforcing our identity, which we know already exists and which we’re proud of, even though we’ve struggled to articulate exactly what it is.  The process calls for an open mind and does not presume any particular outcome, nor is there any intent to overwrite our history.  To the contrary, the idea is to both honor our history and draw inspiration from it in anticipation of our future.