Paul Brown: What is the New Paltz ‘brand’?

paul-brown-SQWhen we hear the names or see the logos of companies such as Apple, L.L. Bean and Hershey and consider their brand, we are likely to think of the Merriam Webster definition of “: a class of goods identified as being the product of a single firm or manufacturer.” Were we to seek a more general definition, those of us who did not grow up on a ranch in the western United States would likely choose Merriam Webster’s “: a characteristic or distinctive kind.” This past weekend I asked members of the New Paltz online community to share with me their thoughts on the New Paltz brand and provided Webster’s generic definition.

I was delighted to receive dozens of posts, provided largely on Facebook’s “New Paltz” group page, boasting 2,167 members, and the “You know you’re from New Paltz High School When…” page, with its 893 members. Interestingly, there were no posts from any of the 663 members of the “Why we love New Paltz” online community. The responses ranged from the serious to the cynical and from the creative to the obvious. Some folks talked about scenic views such as “… the ridge line with the fire tower” and provided pictures, while another responded more philosophically by observing that the New Paltz brand was like, “Irish Potato Candy — -because it looks like something delicious, but when you take a bite, you find out it’s all an illusion and really just cinnamon-covered crap.” I know, I know, but I had to laugh.

Food for thought was provided by one individual who commented, “I love Mohonk and what it has meant for this community, but the pictures of the Smiley memorial are so common as to be trite. Besides, that’s private property; is that an appropriate message for the ‘brand’?” Something very typical of the posting threads of the virtual New Paltz community then followed as another person wrote, “Hate to point this out, but the ridge is not actually in New Paltz.” This was then quickly followed by several comments discussing township boundaries and the practices of the U.S. Postal Service in assigning addresses. Such topic wandering is part of the fun of reading local Facebook posts.

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One individual provided a wonderfully creative word graphic, with ‘diversity’ as the largest word in the center, surrounded by gradually smaller words such as ‘equality,’ ‘age,’ ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘status.’ I found myself envisioning a meeting at the town Community Center where citizens were invited to create such a word graphic and how that meeting might go. Suffice it to say, I would not begrudge the facilitator his job that night.

The post, “Is a brand a word, a phrase, an idea, an image? Seems to me defining the idea…the feeling…of the brand is the key” served to refocus the thread back to the original topic of what exactly is the New Paltz brand and how it can best be defined. Comments about the importance of the people who live and work in New Paltz and how we ourselves define the brand ensued. Added to the mix of ideas were the following: “We’re hippies. We’re farmers. We’re musicians and artists. We’re techies, CPAs and doctors, social workers, teachers, mechanics and self employed in any number of professions;” “family, history, progressivism, farming, open fields, running water, towering mountains, [and] a stone’s throw from the Big City.”

In attempting to describe the New Paltz brand, one might legitimately ask, who cares? Clearly, dozens of current and former residents did, in fact, care enough to take the time to thoughtfully, creatively and articulately share their thoughts and feelings on the subject. New Paltz is, or was and always will be their home. The community is a reflection of who they are, and so they care. The New Paltz brand does indeed exist in the minds of the people who live, work and visit here. We are the brand, for better or worse.

A new line of discussion was sparked by the individual who wrote, “As far as brand goes, it doesn’t matter how you all see yourselves — brand is how outsiders see the town.”

This brought back the memory of a wonderful two weeks spent in Sydney, Australia where everyone — from crew members on the ferries to police officers, locals, bus drivers and the service persons who helped us in restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues — made us feel completely welcome, wanted, valued and safe. My personal hope is that residents of our community and those here just for a visit feel the same way about New Paltz.

There are 5 comments

  1. valerie ann erwin

    Very nice article Mr. Brown. And I believe you are correct. Marketers use “brand” to identify a medium or product to the consumer, not to inform the the manufacturer. Though the manufacturer and experienced user may have developed their own peronal interpretation of what the brand means to them, I believe that it’s the brand’s effect on the newly initiated or the new consumer that is most pertinant.

    No matter how the various and varied residents of New Paltz visualize our concept of brand to the outside world, I do believe it is the personal responsibility of each resident to present a welcoming and positive version of their vision of the brand to our visiters. Regardless of the variety of individuals, the cohesion of purpose will only strenghthen and enhance the draw of our wonderful community.

  2. new platz yes

    I like that this question is posed to the community because aspects of this place are simply maddening. Part of our brand is natural surroundings, slower pace, and recreation. That same part of our brand creates huge opportunities that when it comes to planning our community fails by arguing and disagreeing with drama and lack of logic. Part of our brand is education, and that ties into tourism, which SHOULD tie into smart growth – whether that be new development, re-development and in-fill development. Other than education tourism is our number one source of economic revenue, tax revenue, jobs, and sustainability as a place to do business. And I see us constantly missing opportunity because a few voices scream and shout, thus overriding the greater success we could have. Proof points – New Paltz should be able to, and allowed to, encourage re-development of the old 87 Motel and Diner site with —- drum roll — NEW HOTELS! To serve our education clients and our tourism clients. New Paltz should be able to re-develop (smartly) the Bus Depot — because it serves our education brand and our tourism brand. New Paltz should encourage re-development (smartly) of the Shop Rite Plaza; the same is true of the downtown parking lot behind the Starbuck’s building – a site prime to support downtown parking on three-levels with street level retail and even a few apartments above. Now, the hairs are raising for people because all they read is the word “development” but they aren’t listening. These are sites that are under-use, or out-dated, or out of business…and we should be actively bringing them into the 21st Century with hotels, businesses, apartments, and access for visitors, tourists and residents alike. This is all in working toward our brand which should be “Destination”.

  3. Jennifer

    I grew up in New Paltz, and love to visit the area, but the lack of decent hotels is a big drawback. We have been anxiously awaiting the new Hampton Inn for, what, 6 years? I come up for day trips most of the time, when I would gladly stay longer, or I blow right past and stay in Lake George, because of the abundance of comfortable and affordable hotels. I totally agree with the writer above.

    And I was the one who said the brand is how outsiders perceive you. Which is a little weird, hippy town where odd things happen, like the TC voting to shoot feral cats or the County Pool being built on the graveyard of an old poorhouse. New Paltz and Rosendale are frequently featured in the NY Times (that is where I got the information I just cited)….and on Law and Order: SVU. I think a lot of writers have weekend or summer places up there, and use it as a tax write-off.

    But I digress.

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