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Downtown Oxford gets branded by a pro



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March 21, 2012 - "Small. Done Right."

That was the tagline created last week as part of downtown Oxford's effort to brand itself as a destination for visitors.

"You are a vibrant and vital downtown," said Ben Muldrow, a partner in the Greenville, South-Carolina-based Arnett Muldrow & Associates. "You exist as a community that people love and they're passionate (about). You're not just a downtown – you're the way downtowns and small towns should be done."

Muldrow's firm is being paid $6,000 by the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) to do a branding campaign for Oxford that gives it an identity as a place.

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Using a combination of colors, typefaces and taglines, Muldrow came up with numerous logos for downtown Oxford (above), the DDA and all of its events such as the Scarecrow Festival and Soup & Sweet Stroll.

On Monday, the DDA board approved using the aforementioned logos he created.

Muldrow even extended the scope of his work to include creating new logos for governmental entities like the village and township along with independent organizations and events such as the Oxford Chamber of Commerce and downtown's Girlfriends Walk.

These logos would have to be approved by the individual entities.

"This is by no means a mandatory exercise, but an effort (on) the part of the DDA to unite downtown Oxford, Village of Oxford and Oxford Township as a single destination," noted DDA Administrative Assistant Maria Martin.

Martin indicated that since these other logos have already been created and paid for, any entity wishing to utilize them is free to do so at no additional cost.

During Muldrow's March 15 presentation to a small group of local leaders, stakeholders and volunteers, he explained that creating a brand gives Oxford a way to create a distinction between the community as an "experience and destination" and the community as a collection of political boundaries and governmental entities.

"Up until this point, the only tool that you had to promote your downtown was the DDA logo," Muldrow said. "What if you get ticked off at something they do? Does that mean you hate downtown? Well, it might. But you shouldn't."

No matter what folks' political differences and opinions are, the brand is an "opportunity for you to all rally behind the family name," Muldrow explained.

"Elected officials and government – by nature, their role is to be frustrating because there's always two sides of every issue," he said. "So, you're always going to have a particular part of the local population that is disappointed with certain decisions. That's just the way it works. It's not an indicator of anything other than the fact that you're just like everybody else."

Politics aside, Muldrow said the one thing he heard over and over again as he talked to various Oxford business owners, officials and residents was the thing that they "truly cherish" and "hold dear" is the "small town sense of place."

Hence, the tagline of "Small. Done Right."

Muldrow showed how this tagline could be altered in an advertising campaign to show different facets of the Oxford experience. Each ad he presented featured a different image related to a downtown building, business, scene or merchant's products with the tagline altered to fit what was being depicted.

For instance, there was a photo of the Centennial Park gazebo coupled with the tagline "Relaxation. Done Right." Or a crate filled with wine bottles from the Oxford Wine & Beverage Co. and the tagline "Cheers. Done Right." Or a shot of the unique historic buildings in downtown's southwest quadrant with the tagline "Skyline. Done Right."

Muldrow explained how Oxford can offer and mean different things to people who don't live here, depending on where it is they call home.

To outsiders living south of Oxford in more urban areas, the community can offer an "escape" to "a different kind of place" that has a "small town feel." To outsiders living north of Oxford, the community can offer a denser, retail shopping opportunity in the form of its downtown area.

Oxford's branding campaign needs to play up its uniqueness.

"I think you would be hard-pressed to find any other community that has the character that you do – (a place) that you can drive five minutes in one direction and be on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere and 10 minutes the other way and be at an NBA game," he said. "That is a truly, truly unique feature."

Muldrow said he understands that Oxford already has some taglines such as "Gravel Capital of the World" and "Oxford Rocks!"

While "Gravel Capital of the World" is a "very interesting moniker," Muldrow said it's not going to be helpful when it comes to marketing and attracting businesses and visitors. But that doesn't mean it should be scrapped.

"It is still a moniker that could be marketable in kind of helping to build out our personality," Muldrow explained. "So, down the road, if there is any event that you want to roll 'gravel city' into the name of – or something like that – that's fine."

As for Oxford Rocks, Muldrow said it's a "very appropriate kind of name or identity for a concert series."

He understands it's the kind of tagline that people either "love it or hate it," so he advised using it "in a place where it's not really going to ever irritate somebody too much."

As far as implementing his ideas for logos, Muldrow indicated it wouldn't have to be an overnight transformation.

"You are a community. You are not a corporation," he said. "I do not expect nor have I ever experienced a community that could simply say, 'Throw away everything that you use and change to this.' That's ridiculous and it's not realistic.

"The DDA has enough event marketing and digital messaging strategy out there to begin to roll out elements of this, so that you don't actually have to start changing things until it's time to re-order stuff. Don't throw business cards away. Use what you have and then when you re-order, re-order the new design . . . It's going to be a nice, long, slow roll."

Muldrow recommended the entire community utilize the Oxford Township Signature as a primary channel to communicate with residents, particularly new residents.

Published by the township's Parks and Recreation Department, the Signature contains information on various recreation programs, local events and services, and township government.

Muldrow indicated he would like to see the village, DDA and Chamber of Commerce all have pages in the Signature in order to make it "full of information to help people connect with this community."

"Having all that information in one place, I think, would be really good," he said.

Muldrow also advised using the local cable access channel, Oxford Community Television, more than it is right now.

"I don't think that the cable channel has been used to the benefit of the organizations and business community like it should be," he said. "The more that those resources use it, believe it or not, the more the consumers will find value in it."

The small group of folks who viewed Muldrow's presentation reacted favorably to it and offered positive feedback.

Ron Davis, director the township Parks and Recreation Department, said he hopes the community's leaders will be able to "put their egos aside" and "do what's right for the community as a whole" by implementing Muldrow's ideas.

"If we only have one or two entities doing it, it kind of loses its luster," Davis said. "But if everybody pulls the wagon in the same direction, it has validity and sincerity and everybody's on the same page, working for the same goal for the same group of people."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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