Houston branding identity week: History and StrategyContinuing our series, today we'll review Houston's branding history and talk a little about strategy. It's a lot to cover, so let's dive right in. First, a quick list of previous Houston brands (thanks to Mack for the list).
- Bayou City
- Space City
- Energy Capital of the World
- Houston: The Real Texas
- Houston: The Buckle of the Sunbelt
- Houston Proud
- Just Say Houston
- You'll Think the World of this City
- Who Says the Sky's the Limit?
- Houston's Hot
- Houston. Expect the Unexpected.
- Space City: A Space of Infinite Possibilities
- Houston: It's Worth It
- Hot Town, Cool City
- City of Opportunity (Mayor White)
Now, a few of my attempts:
- "Houston, Texas - Problem Solved" based on the well-known Apollo 13 quote, "Houston, we have a problem..."
- "Engineering City", or "Engineering World Headquarters", or "Engineering Hub/City/Capital of the Americas"
- "Tropical Texas"
- "Open City" or "Texas' Open City of Global Opportunity" (more), summing up our friendliness, hospitality, entrepreneurial energy, minimal regulations (including no zoning), open-mindedness, diversity, affordability, social mobility, optimism, and charity (especially after Katrina).
- Otis White on our image problem
- A long, in-depth Houston Business Journal article from 2002 interviewing some major Houston players on our identity and brand
A point I made that the group agreed with was the inherent conflict between GHCVB branding for tourists and conventioneers vs. GHP branding for economic development (i.e. attracting businesses and talented residents). The former only cares about attracting people here for a few days, while the latter needs them here for the long haul. The former is all about local attractions, while the latter cares about things like opportunity, quality of life, education, and affordability. GHCVB has handled branding in the past, and I think that could be at the core of the failures. Houston is simply not a tourist town, and trying to brand us like one is folly. Houston's strength is livability and weakness is tourism - which do you think we should build our branding identity around? It's the difference between branding the way Austin, Portland, Boulder, Denver, and Seattle do it vs. the way Las Vegas, Orlando, New Orleans, Honolulu, and Miami do it.
So let's talk about what people are looking for in a place to live and what sets Houston apart. People today want the amenities, diverse culture, and career opportunities of a big city with the heart of a smaller community. They also want a "sense of place" as well as aesthetics in their city and neighborhood (often a Houston weakness). This is an over-simplification, but I'm going to categorize our competitors into two broad categories:
- Big, international cities with great amenities, culture, and opportunities, but are often unaffordable and tend to be have more a feeling of cold "big city" anonymity or fragmentation for residents than genuine community (at least for the metro as a whole - individual neighborhoods can exhibit a strong sense of community). Examples include NYC, LA/SoCal, SF/Bay Area, London, and to some extent DC and Boston.
- Smaller, often faster-growing cities that are more affordable and have a better feeling of community, but may be more mono- or bi-racial than internationally multi-ethnic - and thus less culturally diverse, maybe even a little bland and provincial. Examples include Atlanta, Tampa, Phoenix, DFW, Charlotte, Austin, San Antonio, Raleigh-Durham, Minneapolis, Denver, Portland, and Seattle.
The closest match I can think of to this "best of both worlds" positioning is Chicago. They are larger, slower growing, and less affordable, but our branding profile is similar in many ways.
OK, so now we have a compelling differentiation strategy, but how do we sum that up into a concise branding identity? We'll wrap up Houston branding identity week on Thursday night with a proposal for your consideration. Stay tuned...