Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Neighborhood marketing: Is the time right for an ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ game?

By Pam Bailey, NeighborWorks America blogger

This is the second post in a three-part series exploring neighborhood marketing as a strategy for helping communities brand and generate attention for their unique strengths. Read the first installment.

A critical question that must be asked before embarking on a neighborhood marketing campaign is whether the community is ready for “prime time,” or needs to focus internally first.

Neighborhood marketing enlists residents in promotion
of their community
“You need some early wins to bring about a mind shift among existing residents and stakeholders before you can market externally,” explains Paul Singh, senior manager for community stabilization at NeighborWorks America. “A neighborhood brand is a statement about who lives and works there and why. In order for the brand to be believable, residents must perceive that they made a good investment and have confidence in the future.”

Marcia Nedland, a neighborhood branding expert who Singh’s team assigns as support to some of its program participants, agrees.

“Usually, there is a gap between what organizations would like the world to think and their ability to deliver, and there is typically a lot of work required to close that gap,” Nedland says.

NeighborWorks Pocatello in Idaho is among the 17 network members accepted into the marketing program this month. The organization’s participation in NeighborWorks America’s new Community Impact Measurement project allowed it to demonstrate that it is indeed ready for the “outside game.”

“The survey that was part of the project surprised even us,” says Mark Dahlquist, executive director. “It showed that 85 percent of residents living in the Old Town area are satisfied with living there.  Elsewhere in the city, Old Town is looked at as a less-desirable place, but now we have the data to tell a different story.”

"Revive at 5" festival in Old Town, Pocatello
Old Town Pocatello has a lot of assets residents love: It’s centrally located, is characterized by architecturally interesting homes with front porches that encourage engagement, and residents regularly connect with each other through a farmers market and “Revive at 5” concerts.

Historically, however, crime was a problem in Old Town, and that reputation has persisted. “We need to reach out to the media and to others and show them Old Town today,” says Dahlquist.

Resident Buy-In and Ownership

Another lesson learned from the first round of participants in the Neighborhood Marketing Program is how critical it is to obtain strong engagement by residents and other stakeholders – before the campaign launch and throughout implementation.

“Residents and businesses must ultimately own the brand; organizations can only be early drivers,” explains Singh. “We recommend that each participant form a branding and marketing team that includes businesses, residents and local institutions. The team can help shape the brand, educate other community members on ways to promote positive messages and assist in implementing specific marketing tactics.”

John Groene, neighborhood director of the West Humboldt Park office of Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, says his organization talked to local residents about what the community was like in the 1960s and ‘70s. He heard about the diversity of walkable stores – from bakeries to flower shops – and the friendliness of goods displayed on the sidewalk, inviting conversation. “It helped us create a shared vision of what the neighborhood could be again,” he says.

Dahlquist’s organization in Pocatello faces a special challenge. “The Old Town area is really five different neighborhoods, each with different dynamics,” he explains, adding that Neighborhood Pocatello will likely subdivide it into five sections, with one brand but different grassroots teams. “A cookie-cutter approach won’t work.”

The final post in this series on neighborhood marketing will look at how to measure success.