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Simple Branding

August 21, 2014
This is going to be my last column on the concept of branding. This one is going to be about how I did it with almost no money, and how you can use some of the same ideas so you can unify your city’s image, identity and experience.

Let me begin with this: Branding, at its core, is about discipline. It’s about setting strict standards and maintaining them. Once you form your brand, do not deviate or it will be useless. 

That said, let’s start at the beginning.

Do your research
Your brand cannot come strictly from inside your organization. Normally, cities hire a branding consultant to facilitate the process with the public and translate their findings into, at first, a visual standard. 

In Milton, that model seemed duplicitous because we were in the midst of a strategic plan that pulled a city vision, mission, core values and action items from numerous meetings with the public. 

If you’re doing something similar, see what develops. Maybe you don’t have to spend a ton of money if everyone in the room is in agreement about what your community wants.

Look to your community’s own visual standards
My basic idea when it came to a logo was that I wanted something that could double as a neighborhood monument sign. I wanted something that would not be out of place with our upper class neighborhoods. 

Look around your community. What visual concepts do you see repeated over and over? Is there a common ground they share with your city’s established identity?

Once you have an idea, stick with it
If you have a city brand or come up with a new one from research, once you’ve decided on a direction go full force forward. 

Roll out the brand and make sure everyone in your organization knows this is it. No more different e-mail signatures. No more forms and permits on 10 different templates. Own everything that’s coming from your city. Standardize it.

Be meticulous
This standardization is going to be somewhat tedious. You’ll hear grumbles. You won’t get buy-in from every employee. You can’t please all the people all the time. Be firm, be meticulous. If you see something, say something. What matters is that the system maintains over time. 

Have a long-term plan in mind
Sit down and write out exactly what your brand is. Milton’s logo is Trajan font, Century Gothic font, two bars and a horse. The colors are registration (black) and Pantone 730c.

I have a standard operating procedures manual that includes branding in case I get hit by a bus tomorrow. What matters is that the brand persists long after I am gone. This can only happen if there are documents that allow it to be mutable to other administrations. 

OK, I think that just about covers it. Again, everything I’ve said in these columns is what I’ve experienced working in Milton. I am by no means a branding expert. Rather, I’m a Milton expert who did some research because our budget wouldn’t allow something extravagant. 

Give it a try if you’re up to it. You’ll be surprised what you learn.
Jason Wright is Communications Manager for the Georgia Tech Research Library. Up until November 2015, he was the Director of Innovation and Engagement for the City of Milton where he oversaw all aspects of the city's branding and communications efforts, including transparency, automation, design, photography, printing, web services and social media and public outreach.

Prior to Milton, Wright spent seven years working in the magazine and newspaper business. Most recently he was editor of both the Milton Herald and Alpharetta–Roswell Revue and News, where he wrote, edited, photographed for and oversaw design of the weekly papers. Prior to that, he worked as a writer, editor, designer and photographer for local, regional and national publication.