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

  1. How is our brand perceived now?
  2. How do you wish your brand to be perceived in the future?

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

We all know what happens when you make assumptions.

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.” That’s a 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, and 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 would 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?

  • The Spurs
  • USAA
  • San Antonio Military Medical Center
  • H-E-B
  • Toyota
  • Six Flags and Sea World
  • The JW Marriott, La Cantera, and Hyatt Hill Country
  • Fiesta and the Rodeo
  • The Pearl
  • The 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

Eric Whittington

Eric Whittington is a native Texan, a 29-year Bexar County resident, and co-owner of The Whittington Group, a communications and brand strategy firm based in San Antonio. He has worked on numerous economic...