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 Salon.com 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.

Hospitality 

Noun: The friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.

Hospitable 

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

Houspitality

What the "Aloha Spirit" is to Hawaii, the "Houspitality Spirit" 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 Hurricane Katrina), "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.
  • 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. 

This piece originally appeared at Houston Strategies.

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capture his heart

Going to graduate school was a positive decision for me. I enjoyed the coursework, the presentations, the fellow students, and the professors. And since my company reimbursed 100% of the tuition, the only cost that I had to pay on my own was for books and supplies. Sources: capture his heart

Slogans & Brands

Well, most places forget that a slogan and brand name will not overcome serious problems that make people stay away. Until those problems are dealt with, branding will do nothing. You can brand Gary and Detroit all you want, but since nobody is really dealing with their problems it doesn't make any difference what you say about them. They still suck and nobody is fooled.

There have been places that have changed their names to escape their negative issues. It doesn't work, because the problems remain, and the new name quickly gets the bad image too.

I don't know what Houston has to worry about, it seems it has a lot going for it that major cities rarely have anymore. A good business climate, affordable property, no winters etc.

How about: Fetid

How about:
Fetid Swamp.
Petrochemical smog.
Hot & Humid.
Fire in the Canal.

Dave Barnes
+1.303.744.9024