Thursday, March 30, 2006

Another option for Houston's branding identity

I've talked about developing a new and better branding identity for Houston several times before. We need something a whole lot more compelling than "Space City" or "Bayou City" or "Energy City." The Greater Houston Partnership is currently working on some possibilities for a $30m marketing campaign behind their new 10-year strategic plan. To review two of my previous attempts:
  1. "Houston, Texas - Problem Solved" based on the well-known Apollo 13 quote, "Houston, we have a problem..."
  2. "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
While I think "Open City" is great at summing up our culture, I will admit it is a bit subtle when it comes to branding, and doesn't directly sell people or businesses on coming to Houston. We need to carve out that immediate, top-of-mind image that pops into peoples' heads when they think of Houston. Some examples of other cities:
  • NYC: Capital of the World (esp. financial), culture, media
  • LA: entertainment and great weather
  • SF Bay Area: tech
  • Chicago: Capital of the Midwest, industry
  • Boston: universities and research
  • Denver: mountains
  • Austin: live music, outdoors, and tech
  • Miami: Latin America gateway
  • Orlando: family fun
  • Vegas: adult fun
I think you get the idea. It's important that we drive home our strengths and not try to pretend we're something we're not (like "Silicon Bayou"), but it's also important that it be attractive to a diverse range of industries, businesses, and people (unlike "Energy Capital of the World"). I think it's particularly important to go after U.S. or Americas subsidiaries/offices of global/foreign companies, because that's where the growth is, and they're more malleable when it comes to Houston's image (which is stuck in negative territory for most U.S. execs). We can also leverage our third-largest array of consulates to pitch companies from those countries. After watching "The Year of Yao" on DVD, I think we should be specifically targeting Chinese companies, because our profile is so high over there and they're growing so fast (heck, offer 'em Rockets season tickets).

The word I want to pitch to you is "Engineering." I was surprised no city out there has really cornered the market on "Engineering City" or "Capital." Now, you may be thinking that theme is too narrow, but it's actually quite broad. From the Yahoo dictionary:
    1. The application of scientific and mathematical principles to practical ends such as the design, manufacture, and operation of efficient and economical structures, machines, processes, and systems.
    2. The profession of or the work performed by an engineer.
  1. Skillful maneuvering or direction: geopolitical engineering; social engineering.
In essence, it's another word for "problem solving," resolving the awkward-sounding problem from my year-ago post. Why wouldn't we want a city associated with problem solving and building great things? The best thing about engineering is that it's so flexible when it comes to putting another word in front of it to accentuate Houston's specific strengths:

  • Petroleum/Oil & Gas Engineering
  • Chemical Engineering (refinery row)
  • Aerospace Engineering (NASA)
  • Computer Engineering (HP/Compaq)
  • Software Engineering (BMC + others)
  • BioMedical Engineering (the Texas Medical Center)
  • Nano Engineering (Rice, UH, TMC)
  • Freight Engineering (port, rail)
  • Mobility/Transportation Engineering (our world-class freeway network)
It could even be stretched a bit depending on the context/situation:
  • Culinary Engineering (our great restaurants)
  • Hospitality Engineering (our friendliness)
  • Business and Entrepreneurial Engineering
  • Opportunity Engineering (Mayor White, City of Opportunity and social mobility)
  • Urban Engineering (our approach to development and lack of zoning)
  • Community Engineering (our regional sense of unity)
As you can see, it's the kind of identity that can be expanded to cover themes well outside the traditional, narrow view of "engineering." It's really a way of conveying a powerful "can do" attitude: "Houston solves problems and gets things done." In addition, to be brutally honest, beauty/aesthetics are not Houston's strongest area, and engineers tend to care less about that sort of thing (more focused on practicalities and affordability), making them one of the easier groups to attract to Houston.

Finally, there's the ever-important need to put a global spin on our identity to break out of the regional pigeonhole. Some options:
  • Most aggressive:
  • Engineering World Headquarters
  • A little more conservative:
  • Engineering Hub/City/Capital of the Americas
I'm sort of partial to "Hub", because it plays up our great air connections around the Americas and the globe. We'd need to differentiate from Florida's "Innovation Hub of the Americas", Miami's "Hub of the Americas", and Boston's simple "The Hub". I recently heard Dr. Bill Gilmer at the Federal Reserve Bank asked about the impact on Houston if there is a dramatic change in energy technology. His reply was basically that there is a powerful critical mass of engineering talent here that will adapt and find something to work on, as engineering skills are always in demand. Bottom line, it's a compelling, strong, believable brand identity for Houston that both transcends and includes our Energy Capital status while also building a great talent and business foundation for our economic future.


At 8:06 PM, March 30, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

3 problems:

1. Who's your target market? Until you answer that question, everything else is spinning your wheels.

2. Can anything sound any more boring than "engineering"? Maybe "Accounting City", but not much else.

3. What's the purpose? Does anyone not come to Houston because they find our current nicknames old or uninspiring? Will anyone decide to come to Houston because we call ourselves "Engineering City", or some other nickname? Do we have to sound like every other middle sized city in the US, with some schmarmy slogan? Can't we be unique by NOT having one?

No one goes to New York because it is the "Big Apple". They go because it is New York. And these cheezy nicknames and slogans can work against you. I was unimpressed with Las Vegas' over the top approach already. But, their current slogan, "What happens here, stays here" has me swearing never to set foot there. The commercials suggest a more appropriate slogan: "Las Vegas. Where everyone is a Fraud".

If you must come up with a slogan, target it. For business: "Houston. Open For Business". For everyone else: "Houston. Be Yourself."

But frankly, the best marketing slogan would be: "Houston. Slogans? We don't need no stinkin' slogans."

At 8:17 PM, March 30, 2006, Blogger John Whiteside said...

It's funny, I just finished doing this very exercise for another city. (Sorry, they were paying for it!)

You know what? I love "Open City" because it can apply to so many aspects of the city - and it's also honest. You think it's too subtle, but that's why it works. I can think of ways I'd use that to talk about business, lifestyle, entertainment, all kinds of things. Frankly, I bet whatever the GHP folks come up with will not be as good as "Open City." (Because I know how this process works... and it's rarely pretty.)

"Engineering" is a recipe for disaster and loud laughter from the rest of the country, in my opinion.

At 8:06 AM, March 31, 2006, Blogger Owen Courrèges said...

Personally, I just like the good 'ol "Bayou City" slogan/moniker. It won't play well on advertisements, but are we really advertising outright, here? I'd also rather not try something dull-sounded or contrived. So let's go old school, people...

At 2:48 PM, March 31, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Open City" makes me think of Berlin during the Cold War, or Danzig on the Polish Corridor.

How about "Houston: We can fix it."?

At 9:03 PM, March 31, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Baby Doc" Brown transitioned Houston into "Port-au-Plunder." Taxpayers have been branded and indentured, along with future generations to carry the enormous bob debt burden.

At 10:35 AM, April 01, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No spell check.

The end of the sententce should be ", bonded debt burden."

Go look at this week's COH Agenda.

The City is plundering the TIRZ's of cash, and the General fund to pay to cure the HUD-related housing inspection and repair problems that Mayor Brown allowed to become so enormous. No one has yet been held accountable.

At 11:43 AM, April 02, 2006, Blogger Kevin Whited said...

Culinary engineering?

That is a stretch, so much so that it sounds like the sort of limbering up that Elyse Lanier used to do. :)

At 3:08 PM, April 02, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

well, i'm just a computer geek and out of houston, lo, these many years (left in 83), but along w/redscare's problems i'd add:

don't confuse the brand w/the slogan.

i'm reminded of a piece i heard on NPR in the distant past about truth in state mottos. Among others, the author suggested (if I remember correctly)

Oklahoma: where cheating at football is a way of life.

Texas: where too much is not enough.

Houston needs to counteract its own truth in mottos:

Houston: where only airconditioning makes it possible to survive.

yet another rice alum

At 8:45 AM, April 03, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tory, Did you folks read Ries and Trout in your MBA curriculum. They've got all the insight you need for this project. Their crucial insight is that the most expensive thing in the world is to change people's minds. Houston is as closely associated with energy, as Volvo is associated with safety. I don't have any problem with Energy City since energy and energetic have several connotations. I don't feel like it's a stretch to tie entrepreneurial activity in Houston to the word energetic. The drawback is that in terms of physical activity during summer months, Houston is "Torpor City" rather than "Energy City."

At 12:19 AM, April 04, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had thought about this debate before and like many others, arrived that our openness is one of our biggest assets which resulted in - "Houston: Your life, Your way". This is more aimed at individuals.

For business, I have always enjoyed the Royal Bank of Scotland's "Make it Happen" theme and think it would apply well to Houston in some way.


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