February 6, 2018

New Look? Same Great City!

I took the opportunity in my State of the City Address last night to unveil and encourage public input on the rebranding proposal currently under consideration by the City Council.  The primary driver of its development, and timing, is our municipal facilities project currently under construction.  We’ve got some design decisions to make in the very near future concerning signage and interior finishes for the new buildings, which is what prompted the inquiry.  So we’re not just talking about rebranding for the sake of rebranding.

That said, we’re now presented with an opportunity that has the potential to mean so much more.  While the search for our brand identity started long before Harvey, in the storm’s aftermath it has come to symbolize the recovery itself.  The exercise evoked a narrative about Bellaire, and by Bellaire in our own words, that it turns out could not be more timely.

The product is a visual representation of how we see ourselves, and how we want to see ourselves, what we aspire to be.  It’s a reflection of all that is good about Bellaire, in celebration of where we’ve been and where we’re going.  A fresh new look is something we can all rally around as we take pride and inspiration in the rebirth and renewal of our city.

We began this process of self-examination with the recognition that we’ve never really had an identifiable brand.  Our existing visual presentation is a rather jumbled hodgepodge, not at all cohesive and a missed opportunity to project outwardly the positive image that we inwardly have of ourselves.  (See the brand audit linked below.)  The reason this matters is that it has held us back in trying to advance a number of important projects.

For all our talk of citywide beautification, commercial redevelopment and support for local business, parks and streetscape improvements—we don’t have, and have never had, coordinated design standards.  And it’s not just in the physical realm; consider the image we project in our printed materials and, increasingly, our online presence.  We’ve never had coordinated design standards because we’ve never developed a distinctively Bellaire “look and feel.”  That’s our missing brand identity, and without it, our appearance and outward presentation will remain haphazard and disjointed.  The rebranding proposal currently under consideration would represent the first visual manifestation of our new “look and feel,” and serve as a platform and catalyst for future design decisions.

We’ve been guided through the process by professionals who know what they’re doing.  They began with an extensive brand audit consisting of interviews with a multitude of Bellaire stakeholders, a deep dive into current and historical materials, and on-site tours.  Several themes consistently emerged, and those were assimilated into verbal and visual representations intended to capture the essence of Bellaire, “the messaging framework that articulates who we are, what we stand for and how we come across.”  The verbal identity they came up with is replete with historical sentiments.  It evokes thoughts of old times, but also timelessness.

To test and verify the results of the audit, these verbal and visual identities were presented to a carefully-constructed, but randomly-selected focus group panel made up of Bellaire residents from all segments of the community, and from there the work product was further refined.  When the focus group participants were asked whether they thought it was worth going through this exercise in the aftermath of the storm, to a person—both flooded and not—their answer was an enthusiastic “yes.”  Now is a great time to reflect and build upon our city identity.  In many ways, this exercise has proven therapeutic as we rebuild, and has helped us remember and articulate what makes Bellaire so special.

The audit revealed a growing sense among many in our community that while we know all of those things, we’re not promoting them well to others.  As a result, we’re lagging behind and not developing as we should be.  The feeling expressed is that Bellaire is losing its competitive advantage, that we’re being “passed up” and “outclassed.”  One remark that resonated is that we’re “a small town that’s struggling to grow up.”

That small town character intended to be reflected in our existing branding holds more attraction than the actual branding itself.  When participants were asked to really think about our existing logo specifically, they found it quite dated.  Beyond that, they described it as cluttered, generic and uninspiring.  While they responded well to its small town themes, they observed that the existing logo is too literal and uninspired.  Most interesting perhaps, were the significant number who commented that it’s not at all representative of Bellaire’s changing demographic.

The proposed logo is simple, clean and modern, easily recognizable and reproducible.  Informed by targeted stakeholder input and confirmed by focus group feedback, it’s both a respectful nod to our past and an updated, more inclusive reflection of what our community looks like today.  As a platform for coordinated design standards, it’ll take us to the next level in improving the physical appearance of the City through a host of ongoing and anticipated redevelopment projects.  It has staying power for—and with its upward-oriented leaf is indeed a symbol of—our continued growth into the future.

It offers the flexibility to be scaled appropriately for different applications, the more formal calling for a detailed City Seal, and the more casual a simplified icon that derives from it.

Beyond a unifying color and logo, the recommended brand identity system also provides the fonts and font families that would tie together our visual presentation in printed materials and signage, bringing that much-needed sense of cohesiveness we’ve not previously had.

Be assured that no one is suggesting going out and buying a whole bunch of new stuff and eliminating the old logo everywhere it presently exists.  Not at all.  Instead, our new branding would be gradually phased in as items are purchased in the ordinary course.  So branded items like your recycling bin, city employee uniforms and event materials, would be replaced only when they would have been replaced anyway, but using the new logo.

A lot of thought went into the proposal, and we hope you’ll give it some thought before reacting to it.  We’ve set up a dedicated page on the City website where you can view the package in its entirety, along with the initial presentation and existing brand audit.  We encourage you to read through these materials as you form your opinion.  Change can be hard, but it can also be rewarding.  Chew on it awhile, and then let us know what you think at the e-mail address provided on that page.

Sample Brand Demonstrations