Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Branding Houston?

I wanted to pass along an interesting radio program about a city branding effort in Chicago. The branding of Houston has always been a keen interest of mine, and I was struck by the number of parallels between Chicago and Houston:
  • Key assets of quality of life, friendly people (that Midwestern thing), infrastructure, scale, geographic centrality, and access to talent and diversity
  • A particular strength in transporation infrastructure
  • Large numbers of Fortune 500 headquarters
  • An attraction to young people not just for quality of life, but as a good city to build a career (lots of job opportunities for self and spouse vs. a smaller city)
  • Biggest negative in peoples' minds is the climate
  • An aspiration to shift from a regional capital to a global city
They developed a pretty popular shared vision for the city, but no tag line (which they dismissed as silly). While I agree that most tag lines are silly in a chamber-of-commerce-boosterism-sort-of-way, it really weakens a branding effort when you can't reduce it to the essential phrase. For example, I can't actually remember what the specific "Chicago brand" was supposed to be. Something vague about being a friendly, global city with talent, diversity, and quality of life. Not exactly snappy.

If you're interested, there was a fascinating dialogue in the Houston Business Journal a few years back about branding Houston (I personally prefer to think of it as a deeper "identity" rather than a superficial "image" or "brand"). Most people seem to agree "Space City" and "Bayou City" aren't really cutting it anymore. While I have my own ideas (posts for another time), I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts in the comments.


At 11:05 PM, August 30, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have never thought we needed a brand name. I am a native having been born here in 1952. I have seen Houston city grow from a town to a city without relying on a brand name. We are unique-it's what got us where we are today. People come and stay if they like it or they leave if they don't. In my lifetime it appears more stay than leave. It just doesn't ring as all that important to me that we have a brand name or not. We have a diversified and diverse city that seems to sell it's self. Maybe that could be a slogan? "Houston: It Sells It's Self" [tounge in cheek, here]

At 7:13 AM, August 31, 2005, Blogger John Whiteside said...

Well, remember that marketing folks use the word "brand" in much the way you're talking about - it's not necessarily just a name or a tagline but a clear concept of the attributes of the things being branded and what they mean to consumers. It's basically a marketing buzzword to mean the unique identity of something.

I don't know if any places have ever successfully branded themselves. I remember reading about a fairly silly-sounding "Cool Brittannia" campaign for the UK a few years ago. Never heard of it again, but London remains a hip world destination because, well, it is. Savannah got branded by "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil."

Branding rarely works when it's a lie, so reality tends to overwhelm these attempts. Houston's reality is that it makes a bad first impression but has lots going for it, so it's particularly challenging. I say this as a convert who got dragged down here for business trips over and over until I realized I liked it so much that I moved here!

At 7:25 AM, August 31, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was younger, I thought Houston was the home of the space program; that the City fielded high school, college and professional sports teams other cities envied; that Houston was the oil-industry capitol of the world.

Houston was the epitome of independence and success.

Now, it appears to have been transformed into a world class "Port-au-Plunder."

At 8:14 AM, August 31, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now, it appears to have been transformed into a world class "Port-au-Plunder."

I just knew you couldn't make it through an entire post without tossing a ridiculous blast like that.

At 9:40 AM, August 31, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

TomC: "We are unique - it's what got us where we are today."

I agree, but how do we sum it up and communicate it to others in a short phrase? Clever slogan suggestion, although it would certainly get mocked in the sense of "those silly Houstonians are always selling themselves..."

I think the identity is not just for outsiders, but something for locals to live up to - to reinforce the character of the city. For example: Austin, Boulder, and Portland have clear brands, and locals try to reinforce it.

At 9:42 AM, August 31, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

John said: "I say this as a convert who got dragged down here for business trips over and over until I realized I liked it so much that I moved here!"

Funny you should mention that, because I was wondering this week how many Katrina refugees might decide they're impressed enough with Houston to move here.

At 1:20 PM, August 31, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Carl Sandberg did a great job of branding Chicago as the city with big shoulders.

When I read the poem, it always makes me think about Houston in the Luv Ya Blue era.

At 9:18 PM, August 31, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, Tom, Tom [sigh] you just can't help yourself. Once again you've shown your seemingly inate ability to turn an intellegent, thoughtful discussion into something unseemly. Don't you need to be out there sucking up a few more of my tax $$ with your Minority, Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (M/DBE) status. After all, being in this forum makes you seem so "Underutilized" ref: http://www.bazan.net/bazan.html

At 9:21 PM, August 31, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe after this week when we take in more than 25,000 people, the world can see what a great city we are with such a big heart, we won't need a brand name.

At 10:56 PM, August 31, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chicago's more visionary. I like their urban rooftops garden initiative.

At 7:36 AM, September 01, 2005, Blogger Andrew said...

Taking in New Orleans sick, homeless, displaced, and criminals will give Houston a great reputation.
If Houston can pull off this without a spike in crime then we should be called Houston, the "Miracle Worker".


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