What Defines the San Antonio Brand? Hint: Don't Make Assumptions

When it comes to defining a brand, two fundamental questions are:

1.       How is our brand perceived now?

2.       How do we wish our brand to be                       perceived in the future?

A lot of work goes into answering each of these. But one huge mistake regarding the first question is to assume you know how your brand is perceived and believing that your customers see it the same way you do. 

You know what happens when you assume.

Case in point: I recently heard someone who is involved in marketing downtown San Antonio state with absolute certainty that “downtown is what defines the San Antonio brand.” Pretty bold statement.

I know this person sincerely believes that statement.  But I also know that he is so myopically focused on downtown that he isn’t the slightest bit objective. That he couldn’t imagine anyone disagreeing.

Defining a brand is partly about asking hard questions. Questions that challenge preconceived beliefs.  Questions that may be painful to address because the answers don’t fit our assumptions.

If our firm were working on how the San Antonio brand is perceived today, some of the hard questions we’d ask include:

How do the tens of thousands of people now living beyond Loop 1604 view downtown, given that many of them rarely if ever visit downtown?

         How greatly, if at all, do the following organizations define the San Antonio brand?

o   The Spurs

o   USAA

o   San Antonio Military Medical Center

o   HEB

o   Toyota

o   Six Flags and Sea World

o   The JW Marriott, La Cantera and Hyatt Hill Country

o   Fiesta and the Rodeo

o   The Pearl

o   University of Texas at San Antonio

          How do people who live 75 miles or more from San Antonio define the city?

          If downtown really does define a city – any city – is that a net positive or negative for                       that city?

          Is the idea that downtown defines San Antonio’s brand how things really are, or how we                   wish things to be?

          Is it even a good idea to pursue defining a city’s brand by its downtown if the vast                             majority of its residents neither live there nor work there?

Hard questions, right? The point isn’t to say downtown is unimportant. The point is to challenge dogma and assumptions.

The point is that when someone says, “Our brand is known as…” or “People love us because…,” they need to be challenged – to back up such assertions with proof.

Downtown San Antonio is a wonderful place. It is steeped in amazing history. It attracts visitors from around the world. But does downtown really “define San Antonio?” 

Says who?

-          Eric Whittington

Brand Exercise: How Choosing a Mayor is Like Choosing Detergent

Those of us who work with organizations to establish, protect and express brands often talk about differentiating. In other words, we need to figure out how to differentiate our brand from all the others, in a positive way.

Let’s say we’re talking about laundry detergent brands. Maybe our brand is better at cleaning stains and we have the data to prove it. Or maybe ours is cheaper, easier to use, more eco-friendly or something else that truly separates our brand from the rest. We need to determine why our brand of detergent is a better choice for the customer.  This is Brand Strategy 101 stuff.

Politics is the same. It’s easy for citizens to assume all politicians are alike. One talking head is as good – or bad – as the next, many believe.   

But election day is coming soon to San Antonio, and voters will have to choose one mayor from a field of three serious candidates. In some ways, those voters will face the same questions they face when selecting detergent, a hamburger or a cell phone company. 

The choice is all about the brand, baby! And how voters perceive each contender.

So, it’s a fun exercise to assign brand attributes that define each candidate for San Antonio mayor. In short, the qualities that define each each candidate and that differentiate each to some degree from the others.  Here’s how the big three stack up, at least from my point of view:

Manuel Medina

  • Fiery
  • Intense
  • Disruptive
  • Street smart

Ron Nirenberg

  • Tough
  • Unbending
  • Savvy
  • Driven

Ivy Taylor

  • Studious
  • Methodical
  • Business-like
  • Reliable

Without a doubt, anyone paying attention to this race could easily add a dozen more descriptions to each candidate. And many would surely disagree with my choices.

The real question is: Which bottle of detergent will get the most votes on May 6?

- Eric Whittington

Kyle Argueta: Reflecting and looking ahead

Almost a year ago, Kyle Argueta joined our firm as an intern. Though he was still exploring various potential career paths available to communications graduates, he quickly took to the strategic communications work we do every day. He ultimately decided to pursue a career more tightly focused on publications or education, and recently departed us to finish his last semester at Trinity University. We're going to be watching and cheering as this outstanding young man take his next steps forward. The post below is Kyle's summation of his time with us.  

- Eric Whittington

Anxious about landing an off-campus internship, I took to the web and started a job search that lasted way too long into the night. As I clicked and sifted through countless company websites, I quickly noticed that the credentials and requirements for those open positions seemed to be of NASA caliber. To avoid facing the reality of the ultra-competitive workforce that I was soon obligated to join, I closed my laptop and tried to fall asleep. I was greeted by a pleasant surprise the next morning. In my inbox was an email from a professor who shared a posting about a local PR firm looking for eager and talented interns. I did research on the firm and liked what I saw. I decided to put myself out there and apply. Little did I know that responding to that email was going to change the trajectory of my professional life.

 My time at The Whittington Group was a fantastic experience filled with opportunities that few entry-level job holders, let alone interns, get to be part of. Still growing as a firm, the Whittington Group welcomed new talent and ideas, and invested in their workers, including me (the intern). However, I never felt like “the intern.” My role at the firm required more than fetching coffee and faxing documents. I was quickly immersed into the busy, ever-changing atmosphere that came with this line of work. Being part of a small staff meant that all of us would have to wear multiple hats and juggle a variety of assignments. Up for the challenge, I hit the ground running and tackled what came my way with gusto. While there were a few assignments and tasks that came down the pipeline, I never felt overwhelmed or under appreciated. My supervisors, Eric and Casey, made great efforts to explain the significance of each assignment and graciously extended their help when needed. The attention to detail that was placed on assignment description and feedback motivated me to produce quality work, and reinforced a level of professionalism that I respected and in which I took pride.  

Each day at work was dynamic, and offered something different. One day I would be drafting a press release and the next day I would be networking at an event, while simultaneously capturing clips for a video package. Never the same and constantly changing, my robust role required me to learn about the different sectors that our clients represented. It’s was my thirst for learning and proactive attitude that not only kept me at the firm, but contributed to my promotion as Account Executive. 

I believe that The Whittington Group has propelled my professional career in more ways than one. The Whittington Group has helped me sharpen my written and networking skills, and has given me opportunities to advance. I was constantly encouraged to give personal insight on projects and had multiple opportunities to sit in marketing and communication meetings with our clients.  As such, I garnered many valuable connections since my time at the firm and have been privilege to work with some of San Antonio’s biggest “movers and shakers.” The opportunities that were placed in front of me allowed me to grow as a worker and person.

As I move forward in my professional career, I now have the confidence to consider those intimidating job positions I once feared, because The Whittington Group has prepared me with the skills and experiences needed to succeed.

-Kyle Argueta

Buying the Craftsman brand: What you get for $900 million

Sears’ sale of the Craftsman brand – for a cool $900 million – is a great starting point for a discussion on “branding,” the overused, misunderstood and mysterious marketing buzzword.

I’ve heard branding described in a thousand different ways. The most frequent and, I would argue, wildly oversimplified view is that branding is the process of stamping a logo, slogan, colors, etc., on a website, letterhead, signs, product packaging and swag like beer can holders and reusable grocery sacks.

But think about that for a minute. Can you imagine a conversation in which execs from Stanley Black & Decker said, “Let’s pay almost a billion dollars so we can slap that cool Craftsman logo on a bunch coffee mugs and T-shirts”?

Of course not. The $900 million price tag is about what the Craftsman brand stands for, not just the logo and other visuals. The real value is what Craftsman means to consumers: durability, quality, toughness, hard work, reliability, performance, etc.  Those brand attributes were earned through decades of product development and customer cultivation, not just applying a logo to any random product.

Sears has been building those perceptions among consumers for the past 90 years. The familiar red and white Craftsman logo symbolizes everything that consumers expect from and believe about tools, lawn mowers, flashlights and other items that bear the logo.  The exact same products with an unknown name and logo – let’s say “EW’s Tools” – would sell at much lower prices because the EW brand has no history, no equity and no value in the marketplace.  

Stanley Black & Decker is paying $900 million for 90 years of brand building. The logo – what many mistakenly define as “the brand” – is just the symbol representing all of that work. As long as Stanley Black & Decker meets or exceeds the expectations consumers have of Craftsman, the brand will continue to have high value in the marketplace. 

- Eric Whittington