Goal: Develop a new neighborhood identity to define and unite an existing urban village locally referred to as “Othello” to abate displacement of vulnerable, culturally diverse community members, and encourage a vibrant “town center” around a new light rail station on the eve of a real estate boom poised to erase the community.
Need: Work with nearly 20 community organizations and dozens of local businesses to create a distinguishing identity that celebrates diversity, unique sense of place, foster community pride and participation, support current businesses, and position the area as a clean, safe, and welcoming location for new pro-community development, jobs, and a place to call home. An acceptable identity required a “universal” concept, that was flexible, forward-looking, optimistic, professional, inviting and fun. It needed to emphasize uniqueness and yet celebrate and maintain diversity while creating an image of cohesion.
The primary challenge is that within just a few blocks, the population encompasses dozens of cultures that speaks over 70 languages at home, leading to misunderstandings and mistrust. This combined with income inequality and inaccurate perceptions of poor public safety to create an environment of fear both from within and outside of the community.
Approach: We interviewed dozens of local business people and stakeholders. We surveyed similar community branding projects in extremely diverse communities all over the world. We crunched demographic data. Although this was a part of our “home turf” we spent a lot of time in parks and cafes observing the cultural strata. We experienced numerous surprises including the optimism of immigrant communities and their pride in being considered Americans, and the youth that were creators and keepers of the cutting-edge culture which was ultimately embraced by trendy white youth.
We uncovered data showing that saying “hello” to customers is one of the simplest and most impactful ways to improve customer experience, and that saying “hello” builds bridges and trust between neighbors and business owners, making an area safer. Serendipitously, we interviewed one thriving beloved business owner who learned the word for “hello” in the native languages of all his regular customers, delighting them endlessly. Finally, we realized that the word “hello” was nested inside “Othello.”
We chose a color palette that integrated with existing local community branding efforts and was significant across most of the major cultures represented in the area. We also took a cue from African, East Asian, and iconic American designs. We translated the “Hello” in the image to 40 of the languages spoken in the area to celebrate the diversity and to use in various applications. We tested our “Hello Othello” concept with community members and stakeholders, and it was overwhelmingly approved.
Results: Upon “O! Hello Othello’s” roll out to the first community group, attendees were so excited that they embarked on a guerilla art project to paint the logo on an 8-foot sign in a high-profile empty lot to activate the space. We created an integrated marketing campaign for light rail cars that highlighted the cultural and offering diversity of local business in the area. Banners were created, festivals were themed, and the community rallied. A local Eritrean business owner took it upon herself to bring “Hello Othello” posters to the mayor to show that the area was worth investment.
Millions and millions of dollars in community and economic development investment followed. Empty lots became prime real estate for community-friendly projects from developers who made a point to reach out and connect with area stakeholders. Once built, several buildings incorporated our color palette as a signal of their commitment to the community. Positive investment continues.