Sunday, August 12, 2012

A new brand for Houston

"We've probably spent in excess of $75 million in the past 30 years on image campaigns, and we keep coming back and saying, 'Well, that didn't work.'"
 - Former GHCVB CEO Jordy Tollett in the Houston Business Journal
A list of many of those can be found here, including the old standbys "Bayou City", "Space City", and "Energy Capital of the World" (Wikipedia has more here).  And despite many of my own previous attempts on this blog, inspiration has struck me again, especially after reading this recent article at on why every city needs a brand (and more on that here).

A good city brand works on four different levels:
  1. It attracts tourists.
  2. It attracts new residents, especially highly talented and educated ones.
  3. It attracts expanding businesses.
  4. It inspires the citizens and creates a local identity.
But it's very hard to come up with a single brand that does all four.  Even some of the most successful brands don't necessarily hit them all.  Two of the most famous city brands are New York's "I {heart} NY" and Las Vegas' "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas."  And in Texas we're all familiar with "Keep Austin Weird."  In this case, I think I've stumbled upon something that can work across all four.

Before I reveal it, I need everybody to drop their cynicism shields.  I don't think the most successful city brand in history, "I {heart} NY" could get off the ground today with our snarky cynical culture.  Just like new songs, sometimes ideas need time to grow on you.  So open up your mind, hold back judgment, and let me  reveal some context-setting definitions and the brand first followed by the supporting reasons.
Noun: The friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.
Adjective: 1) Friendly and welcoming to strangers or guests.  2) (of an environment) Pleasant and favorable for living in.
It started with me thinking of "Houston Hospitality", but then the symmetry jumped out at me it became


What the "Aloha Spirit" is to Hawaii, the "Houspitality" can be to Houston.

Here are some of the key words and phrases people often use when describing Houston and how they fit:
  • Houspitality for visitors and newcomers: welcoming culture to outsiders, friendliness, hospitality (duh), openness to people from all over the world (diversity), amazing restaurants, museums, arts, and other amenities
  • Houspitality for businesses: business-friendly taxes and regulation (including no zoning), culture supportive of  entrepreneurship, open business culture
  • Houspitality for residents: friendliness, openness, affordability, ease of living, high standard of living, social mobility, opportunity, open-minded, charitable (especially after Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey), "big small town"
Some additional supporting reasons:
  • Short and sweet, and people "get it" pretty easily.
  • Fits well with the Texas Medical Center helping people from all over the world (and the word "hospital" is right there).  It also fits well with the airports, port, GHCVB, GHP, and others.
  • It differentiates us from other big cities (ever heard anybody talk about the friendly reputations of NYC, DC, Chicago, SF, or LA? I didn't think so) as well as tourist destination cities (which tend to become jaded towards visitors).
  • UH's Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management uses the motto "We are hospitality", and is one of the top ranked schools in the country for that specialty.
  • Sounds like "vitality", which is another good brand association.
  • I found a cool, somewhat similar concept here, transforming Humanitarian to Houmanitarian.
  • OK, this might be a small stretch, but it could also reference "housing hospitality", as in our affordability (hat tip to Anne Snyder).
  • I think more and more people today are hungry for real community, which is harder and harder to find.  Houspitality is a great brand to convey our real sense of community in Houston.
Finally, I'd like to end with some supportive excerpts from Ken Hoffman's recent excellent column on what Forbes got right and wrong about Houston being America's Coolest City.  I think you'll easily see the Houspitality Spirit running through them...
I remember thinking, am I going to have to change? Am I going to have to learn how to write Texan?
I didn't change anything. That's part of what makes Houston cool. You can come here and stay yourself and fit right in.
Houston is cool because whoever or whatever you are, you're welcome here. The first two years I lived here, I was burning out the copy machine at Kinko's applying for jobs anywhere else. Now I wouldn't leave here for anything. ...
Where better to get better?
When a congresswoman got her head half blown off, she came to Houston to get better. When Middle East oil sheiks need surgery, they come to Houston. We have the best medical facilities in the world. I didn't think that was cool until I was run over by a lunatic in a van and was taken to the hospital in an ambulance.
I still have no idea what hospital I was taken to. But they fixed me up. That was cool.
We're in this together
And please stop talking about Houston's "diversity." The only thing the word "diversity" does is separate people. Sure, we have ethnic neighborhoods; those are good for a city. It helps in picking a restaurant.
I've never seen a city where people blend more gracefully than Houston.
Houston is cool
I thought it was pretty cool when Houston welcomed Hurricane Katrina victims to ride out the storm's aftermath here. I spent a couple of days in the Astrodome, handing out supplies and clothes to Katrina refugees. I learned a lot about Houston after Katrina. The experience changed me, too.
Being cool is a city that makes you feel like you belong. 
UPDATE 12/13/16: A great personal essay demonstrating Houspitality from a Cuban that made Houston home.



At 1:34 PM, August 12, 2012, Anonymous James Glassman said...

Houston, the Future is Here.

At 2:42 PM, August 12, 2012, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I like it!

At 2:51 PM, August 12, 2012, Blogger MIke Trozzo said...

The Friendly City

At 10:11 PM, August 12, 2012, Blogger Michael said...

Speaking of kind of cheesy but just might work... Has anybody ever tried to do anything with "You ston". It needs almost no explanation kind of like "I Heart NY", and it goes with the city name mnemonically. If it was in digital media you could have an H morph into a Y or something to ensure that people "get it".

Looks like some groups are using this on a limited basis:

It could be used from all of the 4 perspectives you wrote about:
1) Tourism - "You want it? You got it...we're Youston - with scenes of restaurants / beaches / performing arts etc. etc."
2) attracting individuals who want to be successful - what better place than "You" ston? Again seems like an easy advertising campaign if so desired.
3) attracting businesses that want to be successful
4) creating a sense of pride in those that already live here that they live in a city where it is easier to be successful / self actualizing than nearly anywhere else in the world

Just a thought but personally I think this is instantly more recognizable / communicable than something like Houspitality. But your idea did get me thinking of this again...

Also, if we wanted to be super cute / text messag-y / techy with it we could also be U ston where again the HO could be there and then fade away. Probably more for a niche campaign of some sort. Not even sure I like that... hehe.

At 2:30 PM, August 13, 2012, Anonymous Copywriter Hal Werner said...

Houston's recent population growth seems to indicate that we're not having much trouble getting people to move here for jobs, despite our sometimes stodgy image.

However, I'd say there is clearly something wrong with the way the tourism bureau is handling things. I had no idea we even had a tourism bureau for the first several years I lived here, and to find out they've spent $75 million without much to show for it is ghastly.

I don't know if they're hiring the wrong marketing people or approaching the problem incorrectly, but I completely agree, a city has to have a brand.

That brand must be unique ("we're nice" is not unique) and reflect a personality that makes sense for the area. This gets tough since Houston is light on history compared to many places.

I think the unique angle is where Houston consistently falls short. Aside from the energy capital of the world, nobody has managed to find an exciting, ownable, realistic personality for Houston. If we can figure that out, we may have a winner.

However, the attitude of the city itself may be part of the problem there. So many people I've talked about like the livability of Houston so much, the advocate keeping it a secret so other won't come.

Kudos to any one who can figure it out. As an advertising/marketing guy myself, I'd certainly enjoy a stab at it, assuming the people in tourism were receptive to a good idea.

At 2:32 PM, August 13, 2012, Blogger Unknown said...

Yeah Youston might have legs.
I'm sorry, but Houspitality is terrible.

Youston actually makes sense, partially because its an acceptable pronunciation of the name. It's also shorter, fewer syllables, easier to say...

At 2:34 PM, August 13, 2012, Blogger Unknown said...

But also!!!

I think Bayou City is here to stay.
It's what actual Houstonians call the city, and as the bayous get beefed up as a network of linear parks they will actually be something to be proud of, like NYC's Central Park or MPLS' Grand Rounds

At 4:38 PM, August 13, 2012, Anonymous mark said...

Houston Proud! Oh wait - that one was used when we were all depressed during the 80'real estate crash

At 1:11 PM, August 14, 2012, Blogger Unknown said...

I like where this is going, but I have to agree that 'Houspitality' is a bit of a mouthful.

I can see You-ston working as a branding campaign.

My suggestion is "The By You City" as a tag line.

At 1:13 PM, August 14, 2012, Anonymous Marc Nathan said...

'The By You City' above was mine, but it showed up as 'Unknown User' in the comments - all jeers may be directed at me.

At 8:57 PM, August 14, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Houspitality: it is creative and a nice play on words. But it is not a marketing brand and not a suitable theme for promoting the city.

"You-ston, the by you city" is a double dose of word play which I think has potential for local promotion. But I don't see it as being useful for promotion outside of Houston or as an national-level image.

At 2:33 AM, August 18, 2012, Blogger JC said...

You Stoned?

I suggest we revive "Where 17 Railroads Meet The Sea" .

But really, WHY? For convention business? Houston is not and will never be a great draw for conventions save for the Petro industry (the Medical industry prefers exotic beaches with tax havens). Houstonians are not natural boosters. Many, perhaps most, of the prople I know who have moved here haven't even transferred their sports alligences here. Folks come here to do business, to make money in a relatively unfettered enviornment.

"Houston: We'll Leave You The Fuck Alone". Now that works for me. Or "Houston: Like The Internet, But With Real Things And No HTML!"

At 9:43 PM, September 11, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Plus, hospitals.

At 10:42 AM, February 28, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Houston: We'll Leave You The Fuck Alone" +1

At 5:06 PM, December 13, 2016, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

This story is a great example of Houspitality!

'The city where they give you a garden when you ask for a salad'
Accidental Houstonian Olivia P. Tallet

At 9:41 PM, March 01, 2019, Blogger VeracityID said...

I have long said, well t least for the the four years that I have lived here (after living on both costs Chicago, Asia and the middle east) that TX is the most radically welcoming culture I have ever seen and that Houston is its most radically welcoming city. I keep meeting immigrants from inside and outside the Us who are partisan, proud Houstonians. Like me. Great idea.

At 10:32 PM, March 01, 2019, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

People have said similar things to me so many times! We need to build our identity around it!


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