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Hartford: Don’t Blink!

By Kerri Provost

July 27, 2011

No matter how Hartford attempts to market itself, there will be naysayers; we know that hating Connecticut’s capital city is a pastime for both those who live in places where the only thing to do on any given night is turn on the television, as well as for those who live within city limits and accept the inferiority complex.

The “New England’s Rising Star” slogan was mocked, not because Hartford marketed itself in future tense, but because some found the violence issue humorous– replacing “rising” with “shooting.”

Any of the new images revealed by the Cundari Group this morning will likely be mocked by the same haters, because it is easier to do that than to work to solve the problems they view Hartford as having.

Unlike past campaigns, where slogans were chosen by a small group and then launched, the Hartford Messaging Project is actually seeking constructive feedback now, so that they can work out the kinks. When I spoke with Mary Newman, the Executive Vice President of the Cundari Group, and hinted that one of the images looked a little like a hospital sign, she welcomed that input; not all public information sessions are this receptive. There will be another meeting this evening at the Hartford Public Library, and for those who can not make that, comments can be forwarded to them in other ways.

At the morning session of the Brand Positioning and Creative Options Public Engagement event, the response from the audience — or those who were bold enough to not be anonymous and make their comments at the microphone — was positive. The conversation over Twitter, by those not in attendance, was almost entirely in the other direction.

The purpose of the meeting was, according to Oz Griebel, “not to make a decision but to get reactions,” something repeated by several speakers. He said that this branding should work in conjunction with what the iQuilt people are doing.

Some have expressed skepticism of work outsourced to Canada. I asked Jordan Polon why this company was selected over a local one, to which she replied — and I paraphrase — “because they kick ass.” She said there were sixteen hours of phone interviews and several local companies were in the competition until the final round. The Cundari Group has worked with BMW, Microsoft, Four Seasons, and Subway — all brands that we recognize. What sealed the deal, according to Polon, was that Cundari has proven itself in the realm of place branding.

After opening remarks by Oz Griebel and Mayor Segarra, Mary Newman explained that “this is all about your engagement” and asked that people be “kind” as “we’re showing you stuff that is pretty much right off the drawing board.” She said that before reaching this point, there were focus groups, stakeholder interviews, a segmentation study, research into positioning and target audiences, and campaign options. Over 2000 surveys were conducted during April of this year; these were given to people from Springfield to New Haven. This project does not seek to draw in tourists from Ohio, as Jordan Polon put it. This is for people already living in the region.

Of those surveyed, two-thirds were already willing to visit Hartford, and the common reasons for this came down to live events and fine dining. Newman said, “we don’t expect someone to change their lifestyle,” meaning that the campaign would not be trying to make antisocial people who never leave their sofas turn into fixtures at the clubs. They identified several target demographics — most of which were well-educated and over the average age of 37. The “Millennials,” a name assigned to a group with the average age of 32 — which is not part of that generation at all — are also a target, but they were named last. This group is fresh out of college, no mortgage, and the ones likely to hit the aforementioned clubs.

The survey results also revealed that the top two draws to Hartford are live sports events and the Connecticut Science Center. This erodes some of the myths circulating that “nobody” goes to either the new science center or sporting events.

And that’s a challenge of any campaign– dealing with misinformation and ignorance. For example, there are multiple places online (not to mention actual signage) that indicate where to park, but some people still say there is no place to do so. How will they successfully bring to the public’s attention what exists and what resources about these events/things/services are out there?

Three concepts and campaigns were presented. The images, they said, can be replaced by ones representing more current events — so an advertisement for the ballet can be swapped for an image of another cultural activity. The overall theme seemed encapsulated in “Hartford. LIVE!”. The message is that something (live experience) can only happen once. Simply put, they use the Scarcity Principle.

The first campaign is “Hartford: Make Your Own History” and is linked with the asterisk image. The second campaign is “Hartford Moments” and is linked with the mosaic image. Regular people woud be encouraged to submit their own examples of “moments” they have enjoyed in the city. Of the three, this seemed the strongest, mostly because it showcased a range of moods and did not take itself too seriously. One ad used nostalgia; another, humor. The last campaign was “What do you want to do today?” to showcase how there is enough happening that we feel torn about making choices. This was paired with the image containing arrows. It was described as the edgiest during the presentation, and did get mixed reviews. On one hand, it lends itself well to how there will be package deals to drive attendance (Dinner vs. play? Why choose? Go to both!). It debunks the “nothing happening” myth while also showing what some of us already know to be true: there are times when we can not attend everything we would like. But at the same time, the representation in the ads was of two people fighting. One showed a ballerina play-fighting with a chef. This immediately conveyed the message, but does Hartford want to invite even playful fighting into its image when we are working so hard to drown out the misinformation that the city is especially dangerous to visitors?

The next step of the project is to hear from the public over the next 4-6 weeks, before they prepare the project. It is due to launch in 2012, and they are already considering what must happen to sustain it. As noted, nobody there wants it to be a three month initiative due to poor planning, which vanishes suddenly and achieves nothing.

Newman spoke to what must happen to drive attendance. Hartford.com would be refreshed as a planning tool; the site already serves well as this, but people do not seem to know that the resource already exists. She added there needs to be awareness of what is out there. Only one aspect of driving people to visit Hartford involved something other than celebrating what is already here. She said that some effort to fill in the gaps needed to happen. The feedback they received indicated there is a lack of casual dining and shopping.

At the end, about fifteen audience members stood at the microphone to provide feedback. The Executive Director of the Hartford Children’s Theatre reminded the group not to “forget the smaller venues” in their ads, as the larger venues, he said, already have the money for marketing. While the sample ads featured the majors (Bushnell, XL Center, etc.), it was explained that any of these can be swapped out. Also, while much of the meeting seemed focused on Downtown, I was reassured that this would be for all of Hartford’s neighborhoods.

A few audience members asked that more attention be given to the historical assets, like Mark Twain and the Colts. Mary Ricker Pelletier, the Project Director of Park River Watershed Revitalization Initiative, said “going green is what’s creating some vibrancy in other cities,” and that she hoped they would “add nature to arts and all this other stuff” being focused on. A few in the audience said it felt like they were “preaching to the choir.” A Manchester resident said, “I think you have to develop a sense of safety.” Lisa Thiesfield of Babbalu.com thanked the group for their “transparency.” Past campaigns seemed less inclusive and more foisted upon everyone. For those less comfortable with public speaking, a few comment boxes were placed at corners of the room.

A notable difference between this campaign and related concepts, and the almost-former one of “Hartford: New England’s Rising Star,” is that the city won’t be exclaiming, “Hey! We have potential!”. Instead, this relates to the banners that state “Hartford Has It.” This campaign has the guts to announce that Hartford is currently worth visiting.

An evening meeting will take place today from 6-7:30 at the Hartford Public Library. This is an opportunity to respond to the marketing project. For those who can not attend the meeting but who are interested in providing constructive criticism (i.e. not just kvetching), there is an online survey to complete after viewing the presentation online.

Reprinted with permission of Kerri Provost, author of the blog RealHartford. To view other stories on this topic, search RealHartford at http://www.realhartford.org/.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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