Thursday, October 17, 2013

Names Matter

The publisher who took my first mystery novel said my original title wasn't mysterious enough. Since my book had paranormal elements, I made a list of every word I could think of related to mysteries, and another list for ghosts, then tried combinations from each, until I finally hit on a title my publisher liked: BY BLOOD POSSESSED. That publisher taught me that I have to put as much thought into naming my books as I do the first chapter.

Norristown's shopping areas are the same way. What they're called matters enormously. Even individual buildings--if we're going to attract good businesses, each location should have an identity all its own. If someone says "Madison Avenue, New York," you get positive business vibes. If you say "Main Street, Norristown," you don't. Not yet, anyway.

I read that Norristown Centre is going up for sheriff's sale at the end of the month. If you don't know where Norristown Centre is, it's because it was poorly named, probably one of the reasons they couldn't rent out the buildings. Everyone I know still calls the area Logan Square, a perfectly good name, since it straddles West Logan Street. What makes "Norristown Centre" so bad? For one thing, until we get our act together, "Norristown" in a name won't sell anything. "Centre" looks pretentious, especially on a sign next to a nearly empty row of buildings. If it were up to me, only Centre Theater on Dekalb would be allowed to use that spelling. That's part of THEIR identity. No other business in town should confuse the issue. On the sign at Logan Square, "Centre" simply looks like a misspelling.

I hope the new owner either calls it "Logan Square" or comes up with a great new name. "North End Shopping Center" would tell people where to find the place. Something like "Markley Plaza" might do. Do a focus group or take an online survey to see what name people like best. Put some effort into it.

In the past month, there's been talk about what type of business should go on the first floor of 1 West Main. First question everyone asks: Where's 1 West Main? You say "The old PNC Bank building," and light dawns in everyone's eyes. People aren't GPS machines. They like landmarks. 1 West Main is such as generic name that it's not a good marketing tool. Oh, the "1" gives it a little distinction, but I'm not sure that's enough.

Like I said the other day, visitors might one day come to Main Street just to look at our architecture. Let's give our best buildings distinctive names, based on their histories--for instance, The Corson House. Put signs on each of these structures, hand out self-guiding brochures with the historic info. Or save money on the brochures--put at least the building's name, date and architectural style on the sign, and a QR code that links to a website with the historic info. The signs don't have to cost a fortune, in fact, they should be easily updated, as technology changes. For very little money we could create a walking tour. But, of course, let's put more retail on Main Street so people can shop and eat while they're here.

Names are marketing tools. They give buildings and shopping areas distinctive identities. Before Norristown's economy can gain traction, someone needs to tell realtors and developers that names matter.

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