A Balcony View: Iron out branding

Over the last several weeks, I've been less than cordial about the branding processes of North Star Destination Strategies, the market firm hired to facilitate Glendale's new image. Am I going to apologize? Nope. In fact, as more time passes, I've become even more curious as to why we are going through this branding exercise at all.

According to the BrandGlendale.com website, "The Glendale brand will create an image at the mention of Glendale's name."

Really? Once we have a brand, people will have an image of Glendale locked into their heads? That seems like a bit of an over-promise.

I just got back from a weeklong motorcycle road trip up the coast, and anytime I mentioned living in Glendale to a stranger, I usually got the curious monkey stare. You know the one. The person's eyes narrow, the brow furrows, the lips purse tight and the head tilts to one side as if to physically say, "I have no idea what you are talking about."

Of course, as many of us know, describing Glendale to strangers is easier when you say, "It's next to L.A.," or it's, "between Pasadena and L.A.," although I will admit that I've often used the latter to describe Eagle Rock, so I wouldn't recommend it as a unique brand position for Glendale.

But let me get back to this broad notion that our new brand will create an indelible single image for the city. During my travels, I passed through Oxnard, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay, Cambria, San Simeon, Big Sur, Carmel, Monterey and San Francisco. Of any of these cities, I can't fathom how a brand statement could have conjured up an image at the mention of their name. Maybe San Francisco could do it. But then again, it has landmarks so iconic that imagery is conjured up without the need for any words at all.

I think the problem with this branding exercise isn't necessarily North Star. The problem is that we turned the responsibility of communicating our brand over to a group from Tennessee, hoping they would show up with a magic pill that would solve our identity crisis, if indeed we have one.

Unfortunately, the implementation of a brand, particularly one with such lofty goals as instant recognition, is going to take a boatload of media money to achieve. There are reasons Apple and Nike spend hundreds of millions of dollars on brand awareness: because they realize that frequency is a key to creating a memorable brand. If it weren't, they'd run one ad per year and save their money for other investments.

The BrandGlendale.com website also says our brand "will exist as a promise that is seen and heard through multiple channels of communication" and "will promise an experience throughout our city and reflect our ability to deliver on the promise of that experience."

If a brand is really supposed to exude consistency through every single medium, what does it say that the Web address for the survey page is Surveymonkey.com? Oh well, at least the name is consistent with the looks I encountered during my tour of California.

This notion of a truthful brand begs one more question from yours truly: Once the brand is identified, how are we going to get the entire city to deliver on the brand promise?

We can brand Glendale any way we want: "The smarter city;" "The best thing next to L.A.;" "The city that means business." But as the old saying goes, I think we have to walk the walk before we can talk the talk.

Whether it's common sense or location-oriented or business-focused, the point of a brand, as North Star correctly points out, is consistency. Until that consistency is identified, the brand statement will remain an unfulfilled promise. Regardless of how much money we throw at marketing and public relations, it will just be a meaningless string of words that came as a result of a fancy survey.

And to that end, I wonder what we are going to learn from a survey that lists "car dealerships" and "boring/nothing to do" as phrases to describe Glendale. Yes, I know that question is designed to discover existing perceptions. But should we even be considering perceptions like these if we are looking for a brand that will create an image at the mention of Glendale's name?

If so, maybe our brand will be: Glendale — The dull city with a nice inventory of new cars.

GARY HUERTA is a Glendale resident and author. He is senior manager of communications for DIRECTV and a copywriting professor at Pasadena Art Center College of Design. Gary may be reached at garyrhuerta@gmail.com.

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