The headline of a recent Boston Globe article put it this way: “Selling Lowell, MA via a martini bar.” And a Lowell Sun article lead with, “Mills Martinis & Media.” Both stories were about an innovative approach to building awareness of new real estate offerings in this former mill city, 30 miles northwest of Boston. What were once huge cotton mills were being converted into deluxe loft condominiums. Ideal living spaces for young professionals eager to own their own residences, but priced out of the metro Boston market. Lowell not only had condos they could afford, but a growing arts and entertainment scene that would appeal to their urban lifestyle. If only they knew about it.
A conventional marketing approach would have been to promote the condos directly to targeted audiences in Boston through print and broadcast media. Fortunately there was no budget for such a program. So an unconventional approach had to be found. Enter “From Mills To Martinis.” The idea was to take the story about Lowell into environments that are populated by the target audience the city wanted to reach, and were conducive to enabling the story to spread rapidly. What could be better than a martini bar? Visualize one of Boston’s more popular establishments on a typical Thursday night. The bar draws an energetic after work crowd of young professionals. But on this night, something is different. There seems to be a party going on. Something about Lowell. There are huge posters with intriguing images of the city through the bar. There is a special Milltini being served in a uniquely shaped martini glass with the message “Look at Lowell Now” on its base. Bright red tins of mints are on all the tables. There are drawings to enter for tickets to Lowell events, restaurants and museums. And there are representatives from the city and condo developers to talk to about living in Lowell.
The first event goes well, but it is not clear how much impact it had. Two weeks later it is repeated. Hits on the city’s Look At Lowell website (www.lookatlowell.com) begin to increase. A third event draws the Boston Globe to cover it. Then the story about this approach to promoting Lowell in Boston interests the locally produced TV show “Chronicle.” The show’s producer Myles Gordon was intrigued by the innovative approach the city was taking to lure people away from the overpriced Boston and Cambridge housing market. “It’s not so much the lofts that came to our attention, it was the Mills to Martinis. It sounded like an interesting gimmick,” said Gordon. And it was this interesting gimmick that started people talking and retelling the story about Lowell to like-minded friends and colleagues.