When 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.
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.