Perception is reality, as they say. One Minnesota municipality has made waves when it comes to overcoming a mediocre reputation in the region through various rebranding efforts.
With a population of more than 77,000 people, Brooklyn Park is situated along the Mississippi River and is the sixth-largest city in Minnesota and the fourth-largest in the metropolitan area. A suburb of Minneapolis, it is an ethnically diverse and fast-growing city. According to the city’s website, “We are a community that believes our residents are our strongest asset and the key to making Brooklyn Park thrive and prosper.”
And listening to residents has been key to their success. “We consistently heard from stakeholders that Brooklyn Park has a poor reputation in the region. We knew our reputation was not consistent with reality,” said Kimberly Berggren, director of community development with the city of Brooklyn Park, Minn. “People who live and work here, love it. Ninety percent report being proud to live here. But, the reputation was based on things that might have been true a long time ago. So, we needed to ‘rebrand’ or help people understand the reality of Brooklyn Park today.”
This project has been years in the making and one that is expected to produce dividends for quite some time. “Although we’ve been working on this branding effort for several years, it is a long-term project and the biggest returns are probably yet to come,” said Berggren. “So far, the branding work has improved our everyday communications and has reintroduced Brooklyn Park to regional stakeholders in a new way.”
One specific fruit of their effort has been the successful Huburb campaign, which Berggren describes as “helping people (especially the business community) understand we are not a sleepy suburb, but rather a community that is vibrant and exciting to be part of.” It has been effective in part because of the fact that residents or visitors don’t know what it means. It piques interest and is unexpected, which reflects the city’s brand persona.
Prior to this project, Berggren said first and foremost on her colleagues’ list was engaging residents. They worked with a consultant and commissioned focus groups “with all types of stakeholders to ensure the brand territory was accurate and also aspirational,” she said. They tested other ideas and landed on the territory that fit them best. The Economic Development Authority was the final decision-making body. They picked a territory that they felt fit the community and also could help with the economic development goals of the city.
In hindsight, Berggren said defining this brand territory has made it much easier for staff to create consistent messaging for the variety of stakeholders they work with, internally, citywide and regionally. In her words, “We generate so many communication items through our work, and we now have a foundation for framing all those communications toward a goal of helping people understand what makes Brooklyn Park unique and great.”
There is the practical side, too. Staff employ the use of a brand manual that provides a shared format, images and color palette, and a tagline: “Unique. United. Undiscovered.,” which can be used in a variety of creative ways. Equally important is continuing the momentum they’ve created. That’s why they continue to use formal structures, including commissions and advisory groups, to help with decision-making, she said.
That calls for an intentional approach. “When we plan initiatives, we ask ourselves who should be included and how do we engage them in the work,” she said. “Our community engagement division helps staff across the organization ask and answer those questions before launching new work. The answer is different depending on what it is you are doing.”
Speaking of variability, Berggren said measuring return on investment can be challenging at times, due to the complexity of the work and desired outcomes. “For example, for a while we were tracking and measuring media messages to try to understand if we were seeing more positive media stories as a result of our branding work. Even that one indicator is extremely challenging because of the subjective evaluation that you must do to classify any one media story as positive or negative. And, even if you can find an increase in positive media stories, you are only measuring correlation, not causation.”
Despite this reality, Berggren said the investment made in developing a brand territory, brand messages and refreshing logo and graphical representation of the city was worth it. She encourages other municipalities to consider the investment and potential returns of similar work.
“Although cities can’t measure the bottom line as easily, I believe the ROI is there for cities as well,” she said. “And, there is the practical benefit for staff of having direction and tools to make it easier to prepare and deliver the wide variety of city communications.”
For more information about Brooklyn Park’s rebranding efforts, visit brooklynpark.org.