Branding a Mega Region: Limitless Possibilities

June 26, 2014

By Amy Holloway

In June 2013, the Greater Houston Partnership hired us to develop a Brand & Marketing Strategy for its 10-county region. As a fifth generation Houstonian and a daughter of a NASA engineer, the assignment was near and dear to my heart. I wanted to give Houston the very best our Avalanche team had to offer. To do so, we immersed ourselves in an eight-month research and strategy process that culminated in a regional brand identity, creative campaign, and marketing strategy that has been wholeheartedly embraced by the region.

DIGGING DEEP
Discovering the roots of Greater Houston’s brand began with intensive research. We involved hundreds of individuals both inside and outside of the region. In addition to extensive quantitative analysis and benchmarking, our team conducted dozens of individual interviews, 13 focus groups with 10-20 participants each, and 300 surveys of Houstonians. Externally, Avalanche surveyed 104 site consultants on their impressions of the region, conducted 50 questionnaires with C-suite executives, interviewed the Governor’s office, and interviewed international consulates.

We discovered that Greater Houston’s economy far outperforms most places. Between 2012 and 2013, Greater Houston created more jobs than every state in the US except California, Florida, New York, and Texas.

The region’s extraordinary economic performance was no surprise to people outside of the region. Many interviewees were aware of Greater Houston’s booming oil and gas economy, Fortune 500 headquarters, and world-class medical industry.

But that’s where similarities between reality and perception ended. When asked questions about the region’s quality of life and entrepreneurial spirit – two factors critical to attracting talent – external audiences’ perspectives were more negative than reality.

UNCOVERING GREATER HOUSTON’S BRAND THEMES
Having grown up in Houston, I know the region is culturally vibrant, fun, and creative, and other Houstonians agree. Houston’s leadership is accessible. Residents are highly diverse, welcoming, open, and encouraging. Illuminating these qualities and addressing external misperceptions became a top objective of our brand and marketing strategy.

Without exception, we found one common theme in all of our conversations with Houstonians: There is no better place in the world to be for people with ambition. Greater Houston has an endless sense of possibility. Houston’s entrepreneurial culture is without peer. The region’s culture inspires people to act on their ideas and supports their success.

We realized that the region’s future depends and raising awareness of the region’s entrepreneurial spirit and quality of life that appeals to entrepreneurial minded people. We were driven to create an economic development brand that defined Houston as a place to be. It needed to reflect the region’s adaptability, accessibility, and accepting nature. It also needed to reflect the myriad opportunities for residents to have a vibrant life and career.

Greater Houston’s brand was born to celebrate the region’s endless sense of possibilities:

Houston

www.TheCityWithNoLimits.com

ENGAGING THE COMMUNITY
Greater Houston’s brand identity impacts more than just economic development. It affects every organization in the region’s ability to recruit and retain talent, attract visitors, draw in students, and increase entrepreneurship.

The task force that advised our work consisted of a wide range of organizations whose own marketing activities affect the region’s image: the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Houston Texans, the Texas Medical Center, local economic developers, local media outlets, universities and colleges, Houston First Corporation, major corporations, homegrown companies, the City, the County and many others. In the end, the “No Limits” brand has been embraced by these organizations as well as the GHP. You can see their enthusiasm for the brand in this “Making Of” video:


The campaign launched on June 3rd and will continue for many years to come. Our partners at MMI Agency flawlessly executed the creative brand development, website, video, and other campaign tools.

The Greater Houston Brand & Marketing Strategy is an example of how a well researched, authentic, defensible, inspiring, and honest brand can elevate a region. Greater Houston’s image resonates with its target audiences, and GHP is now equipped with the tools to successfully communicate with business and talent alike.

LESSONS LEARNED
We learned lessons along the way that any community should employ when building a brand identity:

Invest in brand research. We use an extensive brand research methodology that ensures that the resulting brand identity is authentic, defensible, inspiring, and honest. This increases the likelihood that the community and external audiences will embrace the brand.

Build a brand that encourages collaboration. A brand that can be tapped into by all entities in your community, from EDOs, Chambers, CVBs, and other local organizations, allows you to communicate with one voice. Receiving input from stakeholders during the brand development process and providing clear brand usage guidelines streamlines this process.

Engage a top-notch creative team. Many brand & marketing strategies have good intentions but fall short on execution. A reputable creative team will not only bring your brand to life but also win the confidence of your stakeholders.

A brand is not a tagline. A brand is the emotional response to a region in the minds of your marketing audiences. It is the feeling that is evoked when they hear the name of your region. A logo and tagline should embody the brand but are not your brand identity. Once a brand is established, all of your marketing activities – whether it’s your website or the copy and imagery that you use in your sales presentations – should reflect your brand identity. Investing in research upfront will ensure that the resulting brand is authentic, defensible, inspiring, and honest.

Commit to your brand. While your marketing materials, website, content, and even logo may change over time, a strong brand identity should not. Design styles might evolve but the core brand theme should remain consistent.