Branding Carrboro: Living in a town with its own identity

When it comes to branding, sometimes the fewer words the better. At least that’s the approach the town of Carrboro has taken.

Back in early February of last year, Carrboro’s Board of Aldermen unveiled a new logo for the town, as well as a slim new slogan: “Feel Free.”

Banners sporting the new Carrboro logo and tag line adorn the main drag of West Main Street. (Staff photo by Chris Powers)
Banners sporting the new Carrboro logo and tagline adorn the main drag of West Main Street. (Staff photo by Chris Powers)

Since their debut, both the logo and the tagline have become the foundation of a new branding effort by the town, and they now grace street banners, business cards and even colorful Chapel Hill Transit bus advertisements.

According to Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle, the town was long overdue for a branding face-lift.

“We hadn’t really even come up with a new logo or look for the town in many, many years. There’s a kind of ‘70s-ish looking Carrboro logo around that you’ll see on the entry ways to town,” Lavelle said. “We really wanted to have something to kind of just present the excitement and the look and the energy of modern-day Carrboro.”

The first step toward capturing this energy was to gauge all types of public opinions concerning Carrboro, said Annette Stone, economic and community development director for the town.

“We did a lot of focus groups. We talked to various commissions and committees that the town has appointed to try to get a really broad range. We did a lot of surveys,” Stone said. “We really did a lot of public outreach to try to get a feel from the community of what the brand should look like and communicate.”

Lavelle said the collaboration between the Board of Aldermen and the Splinter Group, the Carrboro-based marketing agency that developed the brand, was extensive and resulted in an accurate picture of the town.

“I think it was probably about a year and a half ago when the Splinter Group came to us and talked to us about the process they’d gone through, talking to people all through the town — who work for the town or live in the town, visit the town, citizens of the town — about what does Carrboro mean to you?” Lavelle said. “And they distilled it to a lot of different concepts about the town and really went through a long process before they finally arrived at ‘This is a great tagline for Carrboro.’”

Both Lavelle and Stone praised the brand’s flexible nature, making it easily adaptable to multiple facets of the town government.

“We kind of made it open source,” Lavelle said. “We have some guidelines for what needs to stay the same, but different departments have made it look like the department. For example, [Recreation & Parks] has trees and parks coming out of [the logo].”

“It’s being repeated, and that’s sort of the idea behind it is for folks to be able to take it and use it,” Stone said.

As an extension of Carrboro’s new branding, the town unveiled a new promotional video in October. Titled “It’s Carrboro 2014,” the clip is a remake of a 2006 rap song by locals Brian Risk and Billy Sugarfix. Directed by Richard Jaimeyfield, the video takes viewers on a humorous tour of Carrboro’s eclectic businesses and popular haunts, concluding with a still of the new logo and tagline.

Berkeley Tate, who is featured in the video along with her co-workers at Balloons and Tunes, said she felt the video helped to spotlight the town’s wealth of local businesses.

“Even for me — and I’m all around all the time — it told me about places I have never heard of,” Tate said. “I know everyone at my store was thrilled to be in it and excited to tell people about it. It involved so many different parts of the community.”

While Tate said she is unsure of the economic impact of the “Feel Free” campaign at Balloons and Tunes specifically, she said she views the brand as a valuable tool for establishing Carrboro’s identity.

“I don’t think I’ve ever lived anywhere that has [a brand],” Tate said. “I think Carrboro is a place that’s clearly trying to create a community and that just seems like another step.”

Both Stone and Lavelle said they were pleased with how community members has embraced the brand, as well as how it portrays Carrboro’s reputation as a free-spirited, open-minded town.

“I think the business community is kind of rallying around it,” Stone said. “I think it has increased Carrboro’s recognition in the region definitely.”

“It’s a nice little short tagline too, which I like. Two words, eight letters. When they first talked about it, it really is ‘Feel Free…’ Feel free to be yourself, feel free to express yourself, feel free to hang out, feel free to lay on the lawn,” Lavelle said.

“It’s really the essence of Carrboro. You can really feel free to do pretty much whatever you want.”

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Author of the article

Chris is a UNC-CH senior journalism major from Wake Forest, N.C., serving as co-editor of the Carrboro Commons.