Branding matters. Whether it is for business or for a region. As we begin a serious conversation regarding branding the greater Washington region, it is important to clarify what exactly a brand is.
Many evaluate brand strength by two factors: awareness and ubiquity. Take Google, which has become so synonymous with the act of conducting an online search that it has actually been adopted as a verb in the English language. Google it and you will see.
“Silicon Valley” is now used as shorthand for a region where innovation occurs, rather than the corner of California where the semi-conductor industry got its start.
People look at brands as something that prompts the brain to immediately “know it when they see it.” This assumption — the belief that with a catchy name and enough money a brand can be created — wastes a lot of money and time. As a business owner and policy maker, I have participated in branding exercises, gathering in a room with outside consultants to brainstorm on the catchy name for a business or the perfect logo.
However, a successful brand is not simply the outcome of a creative process. It is a successful execution of a business strategy to provide something valuable to a customer. A brand is a shorthand descriptor of a business’ value proposition.
Consider Google and its ubiquity. It is successful because it provides a search technology perceived as better than its competitors. It offers something of high value, not easily replaced. Imagine the countless decisions that go into creating a business supporting such a high value: hiring top-level creative minds, training them in a strong culture of innovation, investing in emerging technologies, ensuring the resulting software works predictably, and investing in real estate and office surroundings to encourage creativity and employee commitment. All of these are examples of the thousands of business decisions that Google must make, each measured against a common business value proposition: being the best search engine for its customers.
Silicon Valley differs from Google in that its brand has value because of a community’s concerted action. It’s a culture, a shared enterprise, where, after years of customary practices, a common value proposition has emerged. Silicon Valley focuses on individual entrepreneurship, strong connections between research and development and business, legal rules encouraging free movement of technology workers, compensation approaches that reward risk-taking, and a capital marketplace that embraces these values. The value proposition is clear: go to Silicon Valley to be part of a productive innovation culture.
As our capital region now asks the branding question, I am confident that the time is ripe for us to look into the mirror and discover what our true brand is. My work with the 2030 Group, TandemNSI and elsewhere has shown through data that there is a model of D.C. entrepreneurship — a unique way of doing business well; we have a very strong value proposition.
For anyone wanting to change the world and leverage proximity to the regulations and rules that shape our society, greater Washington is the place to be. To build our region’s brand we must proudly exclaim and celebrate this unique value proposition.
Jonathan Aberman is a business owner, entrepreneur and founder of Tandem NSI, a national community that connects innovators to government agencies. He is host of “Forward Thinking Radio” on SiriusXM, a business and policy program, and lectures at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.