Today’s brand association for Wall Street is best represented by the word “greed,” even though the vast majority of employees on Wall Street are honest, hard working human beings. The brand association for McDonalds is aligned with “unhealthy,” even though the restaurant sells salads. For many, the brand association for the Catholic Church includes “homophobia” even though every Catholic I know disagrees with the church’s position on gays. Unfortunately, the brand association for Iraq includes “terrorism” even though the majority of Iraqis are peaceful people who do not condone violence. And the brand association for Fox News is “conservative” even though….ummm….well….that one won’t work.
Why am I droning on with all these brand association examples? Because when it comes to branding, perception trumps reality. In my last post I discussed how the image of the “Boston’s Tech Brand,” ‘er…well I believe I said, “sucks eggs.” I had a couple of people who were offended by my premise. One in particular, posted links and went on a diatribe about a bunch of hot, Boston-based social media companies and icons. Unfortunately, if you were to play tech brand word association with people and said Boston, 99% of them would not say “social media.” That means even though we have pockets of hot companies in social media…and clean tech and robotics and whatever, our brand perception is not aligned with those sectors. Remember, it’s all about perception and often times the perception does not mirror reality. In other words, Boston doesn’t own mindshare for those categories of technology. Unlike the Bay Area who totally owns the perception of kick-ass internet companies, I believe Boston does not have an undeniable brand perception for any new, cool, or hip technology sector. Given that someone from Governor Deval Patrick’s administration called me after reading the post, it’s clear I am not alone in having this perception.
I also said in my post that we own that perception. As a region, we need to shift the focus from the stale, reheated regional tech icons who haven’t done anything in decades to people, companies, and organizations whose personalities mirror the image the Boston tech brand wants to reflect. Here are a few random examples:
- Tom Gerace : Tom is a repeat successful entrepreneur. Back in the dot-com day, Tom and his brother borrowed money from their parents and started Be Free, a pioneer in affiliate marketing. Tom took the company public and then sold it for hundreds of millions of dollars. Today, Tom is the founder & CEO of Gather.com, a hot Web 2.0-based user-generated community for a niche demographic. Tom is wildly successful, approachable, real, cool, hip and doesn’t have a drip of Boston elitism in his body.
- Chris Hughes : Chris is one of the co-founders of Facebook who was also credited with single handily developing and executing the social media strategy that put Obama in the Whitehouse. Chris recently joined Boston-based venture capital firm General Catalyst as an Entrepreneur in Residence. Although he may be a recent transplant, he is ours now and we should be pimpin’ him as the personification of the brand image/perception we want to own. He is a young, hip, fresh face that represents the antithesis of the existing good-old-boy face of Boston’s tired tech brand.
- Josh Bernoff: When it comes to well respected voices in the tech world, Josh is at the top of the list. He is an VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester and co-author of Groundswell — Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies. Josh is as respected on the West Coast as he is on the East Coast and believe it or not that is a big, big deal. And unlike other East Coast authors of social media books, Josh Twitters, blogs, uses Facebook and truly immerses himself in that world.
- Scott Kirsner: Scott is an author, writer and blogger. His new book, Fans, Friends & Followers , deals with one of the central challenges that creative folks face in these digital times: how do you cultivate an audience and a business model that will support your work? What I love about Scott is he doesn’t allow the bullshit to flow. He is known to call out peeps who misrepresent and inflate their position of importance in the Boston tech world.
- Helium: Helium is one of Boston’s greatest success stories when it comes to today’s hot technology start-ups. While traditional media hits a wall at 100 miles per hour this citizen journalism hub has thrived. Big-ass publishers like Hearst have flocked to Helium to grab a lifeline in the tsunami social media has unleashed on the traditional publishing world. And unlike many Web 2.0 early stage companies, CEO Mark Ranalli has successfully monetized their business, something even companies like Facebook are still trying to figure out. <Disclaimer: Helium is a Kel & Partners client>
- MIT: MIT has it all going on: smahts, hot geeks, edginess, sex, sizzle, and a laid-back attitude — something the Boston tech scene needs to master. When it comes to tech innovation, I believe Stanford gets more pimpin’ than MIT due to the lift from the West Coast tech buzz. We gotta change that!
- Kiki Mills & MITX: Finally a tech organization that isn’t about wearing suits, bad hotel chicken and stuffy awards. Kiki Mills and the gang have done a fan-effing-tastic job transforming MITX into Boston tech’s version of MTV awards. However, it’s time to lose the “M’s” association to Massachusetts. This org should be national, yet Boston-based.
There are tons of other people, companies and organizations that would be a great representation of the hip, edgy, cool, fresh, new tech brand Boston needs to build. Who do you think they are?
Note: There has been quite a bit of rumbling about elitism emerging in Boston’s social media scene. I highly discourage this elitst approach. “Elitist attitude” is something we need to shed from our Boston tech brand image. The beauty of Web 2.0 is it brings the power to the people and the diversity of opinion is the essence of what makes the user-generated-content world great. Some people choose not to compete on number of Twitter followers and I find their insight to be slamadamadingdong.