If President Bush is searching for new sources of energy, maybe he should check out M2 (Madison Street Merchants) in Forest Park. This three year old ad hoc coalition of over thirty businesses on Forest Park’s main street has taken the “branding” initiative begun last year by a group of NIU business students began and run with it.

They hired Kathryn McBride, Creative Director of McLeod-Smith Graphics, who, working with some M2 leaders, developed a market analysis, a set of pump primer sample options for branding Forest Park, and a strategy for using the brand in a comprehensive marketing plan.

The market analysis’ goals are to “make Forest Park the destination of choice for consumers aged 25-60, from the suburbs and the city, for shopping, dining and entertainment,” and to “increase awareness of this district and increase profitability to merchants.”

The analysis, based in part on the NIU study, identified two target markets: Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers.

“This market [25-39 year old Gen X-ers],” states the analysis, “represents the vanguard of the powerful married-with-kids and singles markets that are seeing their careers take off toward peak income.”

This group’s mindset, according to McBride, is affected by four factors: technology, diversity, change, and choice.

“These consumers,” she said, “want to do more than just spend money; they are looking for lifestyle centers, places where they can have a sit-down meal, get work done on their laptop while having a cup of coffee, shop and be entertained.”

The analysis references studies showing that the baby boomer generation “relies on mass-media marketing even more than on friends and family when it comes to consumer information… They respond well to products and services that appeal to their autonomy, independence and their reluctance to grow old.”

This segment, the analysis states, “controls a $1.5 trillion pocketbook and is the wealthiest generation in history.”

Choosing a brand

At a Feb. 22 meeting at La Piazza, McBride presented the thirty merchants with a sheet of possible brand logos to get their creative juices flowing.

Some used the words Forest Park or simply the letters FP in forms that look like they might appear on a baseball cap. A few had taglines, such as “urban attitude.”

The group added some taglines of their own like “make a day of it,” or “explore Forest Park.” One merchant tried to bring the cemeteries into the discussion by suggesting the tagline “Forest Park: Wanted dead or alive.”

The group’s consensus was that the logo should communicate edginess yet community, techno yet organic, suburban and at the same time urban. In other words, they wanted a brand that was appealing to both Gen X-ers and boomers.

The task was eventually referred to a committee assigned with coming up with a final proposal.

Marketing plan

The group also invited Marc Stopeck from the Wednesday Journal’s display advertising department for the February 22 meeting.

Stopeck emphasized that coming up with a catchy logo was not sufficient for a brand to succeed. Success, he said, depends on how well the brand is used. He said that it has to be regularly used by everyone”all the businesses, the village government and other organizations.

McBride and M2 leadership created an informal organizational structure and implementation plan. Within minutes, the organization created committees for marketing, public relations, events, membership and finance and web site design.

Perhaps the biggest story here, however, is not the energy but that most of the leadership in M2 in general and the branding process in particular has come from women.

Ceceilia “Cece” Hardacker from Two Fish Art Glass refers to the M2’s style as “socialist capitalism.” To put it another way, it’s a kind of cooperative competitiveness that some argue comes from the feminist movement coming of age. Hardacker announced at one meeting that her objective is to have the women of M2 get invited to be on Oprah.

There is something special, new and unique going on in the Madison Street business community, and with M2 at the helm, it is anything but business as usual.