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Opinion: A brand strategist takes on Hudson Yards

More than ever, leading developers are harnessing the power of brand to articulate, convey and evoke expectations for their experiences – from positioning an entire destination like the long-awaited Area15 in Las Vegas to focusing on specific experiential components such as The Current pop-up village at Boston Seaport.

Hudson Yards is the latest to leverage this brand-first mindset.

We live in an era of brand democratization. Amazon third-party sellers create brands from their garages, start-up entrepreneurs disrupt every category they touch and ghost restaurants pop up every day in major cities. How truly strategic, well-crafted and successful these brands are is a debate for a different day. But in an effort to contend for relevance, major brands are upping their game by frantically investing in VC funds, seeking acquisitions and partnerships, and developing private labels.

Mixed-use developments are also taking note of this rising expectation for brand definition and activation across every category. No matter how you feel about it from an economic, political or urban planning standpoint, it’s clear that Hudson Yards is leaning into brand as a motivator, cultural symbol and experience marker. The development is a worthwhile exploration of seven best practices of brand strategy and expression.

1. Activate a Compelling Proposition
Hudson Yards touts itself as “a template for the future of cities,” and promises that “this new neighborhood has not only changed the way New York looks to the world, but the way the world sees New York.” The proposition they’re aiming for is clear, and undoubtedly bold – but is it too assumptive and lofty?

On paper,  the largest private real-estate development in our country’s history delivers on the premise of a neighborhood with public amenities (i.e. school, clinic, parks, daycare), commercial (i.e. retail, office, restaurants) and entertainment (i.e. art, cultural center, exhibits). But only time will tell if Hudson Yards will truly kickstart expansive growth of New York’s Far West Side, and ultimately, shift perception of the global epicenter it calls home — or whether its aspirational vision will fall flat with the everyday visitor and narrowly serve the elite few.

2. Unlock Visual & Verbal Assets
Related Companies, the real estate developer behind Hudson Yards, viewed naming as a fundamental exercise across the development – from the destination’s namesake to each of the experiences sprinkled throughout. The Hudson Yards name has a weight that authentically connects the site to its history, yet is also an empty vessel (pun intended), enabling every brand and experience that comprise the development to embody its own unique identity.

Brandmarks for each of these components have also been strategically crafted. Hudson Yards has a primary logo; each experiential and residential offering have differentiated marks; and the office towers take a hybrid approach. The logos for 10 and 30 Hudson Yards create a purposefully unified system as they both flank The Shops & Restaurants, while the towers at 50 and 55 Hudson Yards are set apart physically, as well as with looks all their own.

3. Integrate Personality & Storytelling
The development’s personality seems to stop at the creation of visual identities. Aside from focused moments in the HYxOFFTHEWALL installations, a disjointed mix of architectural styles limits a cohesive brand expression that is glaringly absent throughout the property. We also see mixed-use destinations increasingly investing in environmental graphic design as a way to further connect with guests through messaging, storytelling and wayfinding. And though clearly positioned as a future-forward, luxury destination, there’s an untapped opportunity to infuse more personality and engagement throughout the development, especially at The Shops & Restaurants.

4. Create Anticipation & Cadence
Hudson Yards has remarkably been named since 2001 even though its groundbreaking wasn’t until 2012. An advantage for mixed-use developments (compared to consumer goods) is that guests can physically see something has begun and track progress over time. And with a name to reference, buzz has amply preceded this development’s launch.

Whether purposeful or not, the phased opening of further components (such as The Shed [an arts center] and additional residential and office towers) will create continued anticipation following the project’s March 15 launch event. A steady pace of new news creates demand, ensuring all eyes will be on Manhattan’s New West Side through 2024.

5. Curate a Portfolio
Ever a fan of a robust portfolio strategy, Hudson Yards is an impressive manifestation. Retail tenants span a spectrum of traditional and emerging brands (from Neiman Marcus to Forty Five Ten) as well as accessible and luxury price points (from Uniqlo to Dior). The selection of residential offerings (1/15/35 Hudson Yards and Abington House) include apartment rentals, condos with a range of bedroom counts, and even subsidized housing.

Defined experiences such as HYxOFFTHEWALL [series of art installations], the Floor of Discovery [houses first locations from digitally native brands and experiential shopping offerings] and Snark Park [multi-faceted exhibition space that will house immersive art installations] are rampant across The Shops & Restaurants, articulating specific offerings à la sub-brands. Finally, and potentially the most fascinating, several strategic affiliates in Related’s own portfolio have found a home at Hudson Yards. You might say there’s a little something for everyone. But I also wonder if the development is lacking focus and a distinctive target audience.

6. Be a Cultural Participant
We believe brands and culture are intricately linked – they mutually inform, influence and inspire each other. The tenant mix at Hudson Yards reflects an ambition to both drive and respond to sociocultural trends. Practice mindfulness at The Conservatory or Sundays; leave your mark by entering the competition to name Vessel frequent HYxOFFTHEWALL and Snark Park to encounter ever-changing exhibits; shop digitally native brands on the Floor of Discovery; explore a new take on partnerships at 3DEN, as the relationship between brands continues to evolve.

The development also has a purposeful bent towards community and environmental integration with its proximity to The High Line, innovative design like The Shed’s retractable shell and investment in sustainability through LEED and inventive irrigation systems.

7. Explore Your Brand Stretch
Hudson Yards has also established itself as a playground for brand experimentation. Equinox, a subsidiary of Related Companies, is leveraging the location to open its first hotel experience, a lifestyle extension of its current fitness offering. The placement of Neiman Marcus on upper levels is an unprecedented first for the department store. And Dallas’ Forty Five Ten is testing an entirely new format with four separated storefronts that deviate from any of the brand’s existing store experiences.

Hudson Yards is the latest, and certainly most high-profile, development to capitalize on the potential of brand influence, and strategically consider how brand uniquely manifests in the mixed-use sector. As shopping, lifestyle and mixed-use developments continue to push the boundaries and define new success criteria for this evolving industry, we believe br
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