Saturday, December 20, 2008

What Does 'New England' Mean in the New Global Economy?

Here’s a quick city-association game for you.

When I say Hollywood, what industry comes to mind?

If I say Silicon Valley, could you name a couple companies based there?

Nashville conjures up country music chords, and Seattle connotes e-commerce, coffee roasting, and monopolistic makers of operating systems.

So here’s an experiment to try the next time you meet someone at a party in San Francisco, or sit next to a non-New Englander on a flight from O’Hare.

Ask them what their associations are when you say “New England” or “Massachusetts.”

I think you’ll be surprised how often you get responses like “the Boston Tea Party,” “the Revolution,” “covered bridges,” “Ben & Jerry’s,” “the Red Sox,” “history,” or “Kerry, Kennedy and Dukakis.” (I know – I’ve been trying this for the past year or so.)

This leads me to the unfortunate conclusion that what we have here is a failure to communicate. While denizens of the six New England states may be aware how much goes on here – from developing new drugs to deploying advanced robots to designing new videogames – the rest of the planet is pretty clueless.

I think that our great opportunity for 2009, as the world figures out how to emerge from its fiscal funk, is to come up with a strategy for telling our story. This is a hotbed of innovation, and we need the smartest people everywhere to know that. The smartest students already come here to get educated, but we need the smartest entrepreneurs to come here to set up shop; the smartest investors to set up branch offices; and the smartest big-company execs to establish manufacturing, R&D, or sales and marketing presences.

This is not a project for government. They don’t have the money, and we don’t have the time to wait for the six New England states to figure out how to coordinate a joint economic development initiative. (The end result, anyhow, would probably just be a press release.)

This is also probably not a project that our trade associations can lead; each of them has their own priorities, and limited staffs and budgets. (But we can urge them to get on board once we’ve got a plan.)

Instead, this is a project for people who work in the innovation industries around New England. I think we need to stop thinking about how to pitch Portsmouth, Portland, Burlington, North Adams, Cambridge, or Providence as a globally-relevant business hub – and instead come up with a strategy for positioning the entire region as a beacon of innovation and entrepreneurship.

“Revolutionary ideas since 1776” might be a nice slogan.

But more than a signle slogan, I think we need a raft of ideas (most of which would be free or cheap to execute) about better branding New England and explaining what we do here.

A few I’d toss out, just to get your creative juices flowing:

- A series of YouTube videos profiling New England entrepreneurs, live Webcasts with pioneering academic researchers, or iTunes podcast interviews with angel investors and VCs.

- A small logo that New England businesses would add to their Web sites, linked to a page offering information about the innovation economy here, and the particular sector they’re part of.

- A Google map showcasing all of the robotics companies here…medical device companies…cleantech start-ups…venture capital firms.

- A page of “talking points” for execs and entrepreneurs, offering high-level info about all the different innovation industries in the region, and a few salient stats about company creation, venture capital activity, patents issued per capita, etc.

- A Flickr photoset of company headquarters, labs, academic institutions, etc.

- A Facebook group or Google calendar to keep people apprised of major conferences, seminars, trade shows, and industry events in the region.

2009 is going to be a “rebuilding” year for every state, every industry, the global economy as a whole. Everyone is going to be trying to figure out where new growth can come from.

I think that creates an incredible chance for those of us in New England to talk about what we do, make our case, brand our region, and as a result, attract people, partnerships, and business from far and wide.

This post is only intended to get us thinking together about the opportunity: spreading the message globally about what our region is about. If I were forced to encapsulate it, I’d say, “New England is where scientific breakthroughs and big ideas turn into start-ups, big companies, and entirely new industries.”

But I know you’ll serve up some better ways to say it… and great strategies for communicating it.

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Blogger Brian said...


This is a brilliant article. The universities in Boston will give us a unfair, sustainable competitive advantage in all areas of innovation for centuries to come. This should serve us well in downturns such as the one we are in now.

In my particular industry (modern marketing), Boston has very recently turned into a real hotbed with leading thinkers such as David Meerman Scott, Larry Weber, Paul Gillin, and Chris Brogan all making their homes in our area.

Let me know how I can help you with this initiative.

Brian Halligan

December 20, 2008 12:43 PM  
Anonymous John McEleney said...


When I first came to Boston, 128 was known as America's Technology Highway. 128 is still here (albeit with a bit more traffic), unfortunately a lot of the companies are not.

I believe there is still a lot of brand equity left in "America's Technology Highway", but it is rarely talked about. My suggestion is rather than trying to create a new positioning for the region, leverage and promote what already exists.

Happy Holidays!

John McEleney

December 20, 2008 12:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scott, yes, great idea, but what to brand?

Boston (rather than Beantown, The Hub, Cambridge, Big Dig, 128, Massachusetts, or New England) has the most branding potential, upon which the others can hang. Boston.


"Revolutionary ideas since 1776."

Our ~100 universities are core, with more emphasis on their students and the innovations they take with them into world markets.

A step in the right direction would be finding a way to stop electing crooks and dopes to high office, even ones with famous names like Kennedy. Ugh. Bad branding.

We can look forward to the (NYT) BOSTON GLOBE being bought out of bankruptcy by people who are not anti-business. That would help the Boston brand.

Have a Merry and a Happy,

/Bob Metcalfe, Boston

December 20, 2008 2:32 PM  
Anonymous Joost Bonsen said...

Snowy New England has indeed been "Revolting Since 1776" to paraphrase your slogan, Scott ;-)

Check out The Athens of America --

And Boston History Collab -- -- esp Innovate Boston --


December 20, 2008 3:33 PM  
Anonymous David Meerman Scott said...

Excellent analysis, Scott. You're absolutely right, of course. You've outlined a simple marketing problem - if you don't define what you stand for, you stand for nothing.

I want to help.

December 20, 2008 3:41 PM  
Blogger Jamie Tedford said...

I just gave the test to a friend from the west coast. What was his association? Cheers. Yup, the bar where everybody knows your name. But wait, could it be that Boston can stake its claim on "social," the "it" marketing phrase as we enter 2009? Our founding fathers did come here in large part for the right to congregate, albeit religiously. Bostonians pride themselves on sharing a pint at any hour in any of our hundreds of bars and taverns. And one could argue the new social revolution was started right here a few short years ago by a now famous Harvard drop out. Indeed Facebook was the one that got away, but that doesn't negate the fact that the seeds grew here in fertile mass soil. And companies like mine, Brand Networks have sprouted and flourished before and since. Our entire mission is to "socialize" brands. Bzz Agent is the world's leading word-of-mouth company. Communispace the leading purveyors of brand research communities. Jeff Taylor started a social network for older folks, and Gather is a social network for wicked smahhht people. Boston is Social. Social since 1776. Where everybody knows your name... and friends you. I recently started the unofficial Boston Facebook Page. I'm happy to donate it to whatever descriptor/tagline we come up with for this movement. Become a Fan and keep the dialog rolling.

December 20, 2008 6:21 PM  
Anonymous Jeff Bussgang said...

Interesting post, Scott. I would argue we need to strive for "global brands" out of NE to solve this issue, and you missed two big ones: Harvard and MIT. No NE start-ups are (yet?) global brands, but these two universities are. Go to Dubai, Mumbai or Beijing and everyone respects the prestige and power of Harvard and MIT. They are symbols of technology innovation, academic excellence and (still a godo word in my book!) capitalism. We need to continue supporting these two institutions as international beacons and build on their foundation. Not to neglect the other terrific institutions here, but these two really stand out and deserve special recognition and emphasis.

December 20, 2008 7:01 PM  
Anonymous Jeff Lockwood said...

Scott -

You hit a lot of great points with this. As you mentioned, much of this branding does go on via trade associations, trade papers, etc. but I believe it often misses the intended target because they are too "old school" in their approach; aka get a speaker, host a breakfast and they will come. The result is a room filled with the usual suspects. I agree that a grass roots effort, that goes where the entreprenuers go on the web, would be a step in the right direction. One concern about giving it a slogan is it can make it seem very corporate. Would love to help. Happy holidays.


December 20, 2008 9:46 PM  
Anonymous Vinit Nijhawan said...

In my travels abroad Boston and Massachusetts are known for higher education. By extension, we are known as one of the R&D hotspots in the world. I think it will be difficult for us to regain the Rte128 industry-focused branding we had 15 years ago, look at the failed branding effort led by Larry Weber a decade ago: does anyone remember "Dot Commonwealth"? Boston will be the hub of idea generation for the forseeable future, the real question is can we avoid being forgotten like Cambridge, UK?

I agree with Jeff that we need to us modern digital media to promote our strenghts. We should initiate an active virtual dialog with all the students from around the country and the world who have graduated from Massachusetts universities and colleges. They all fondly remember their stay in Boston and Boston can stay alive in their minds with this peer dialog.

I have been blogging on my month long trip in India about Massachusetts vs India:

Vinit Nijhawan

December 20, 2008 11:14 PM  
Anonymous Halley Suitt said...

Great post and terrific comments. I can't tell if Bob was serious or not with "Revolutionary Ideas Since 1776" but I like that.

I hate to even admit what I thought of when you asked us for our first association with New England. I thought of that guy who wears the Mass Pike Rt. 90 Buckle Hat ... you know who I mean ... and his ugly matching brown buckle shoes. Old Hat.

I agree with other commenters that the two big brand powerhouses are MIT and Harvard ... but how to leverage these into a succinct and unique New England brand is the trick.
There are so many other excellent schools here and in the NE states.

I don't know if Fenway would go for it ... but if we're talking about New England environmental innovation ... we're looking at the NEXT GREEN MONSTER here. Innovation Outta Left Field.

I'll keep rolling it around in my head and get back to you.

BTW, just blogged my harrowing drive through the blizzard on 128 and Rt. 2, don't miss it.

December 21, 2008 5:53 AM  
Anonymous Ian Smith said...


As a Brit living in Mass for the last 7 years, I think you've highlighted a huge issue - New England is the best kept secret on the planet.At least the reality of what it is today is the best kept secret. I love some of your ideas to brand NE differently (or honestly). Perhaps another angle is to build on the past with a fresh update - New England, a beach head where the US meets the rest of the world.There is a very strong European connection at all levels government, private sector,heritage.I think there might be a smart way of highlighting how that heritage is being applied/working in practice today.This could form a collection of articles bringing a fresh perspective on why NE is so special.Any way I'd love to help showcase why so many people and businesses love to live and work here.

December 21, 2008 10:24 AM  
Blogger Scott Kirsner said...

Halley, I love your "Innovation Outta Left Field" idea.

Bob M., I know liberal politicians and the liberal media are favorite bugbears for you, but are they really responsible for the way the world perceives our region? Don't they have both those things in San Francisco, New York, Austin, LA, Seattle, etc.?

December 21, 2008 11:50 AM  
Blogger Author: Barbara Heffner said...

This calls for a contest. It may be tough to beat your original suggestion, "Revolutionary Ideas since 1776," since it's not industry specific.

Once you get beyond the great brands of Harvard, MIT and the Sox, folks outside the area also think of our great medical institutions: Mass General, Children's, etc. Life sciences is a strong part of the story, along with clean tech.

So let's run a contest alongside next year's MIT $100K competition. I'm sure we could get a few VC firms and local companies to sponsor such a contest and fund a small prize. You could convene a panel of innovation and marketing experts to pick the tagline, and then it could be announced with the $100K winners.

I know that branding experts will say we should do a proper branding exercise, but I just worry that it will never get done.

Safe travels everyone.

December 21, 2008 1:45 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

If you enjoyed Scott's article, check out, which discusses Boston comparative advantage against other cities.

December 21, 2008 1:56 PM  
Blogger Chuck Tanowitz said...

I'm wondering if we're looking at the problem backwards. We're trying to define a brand around innovation rather than trying to determine what New England should be known FOR, and then branding around that.

One of the earlier comments hit it on the head by noting that academia is they key.

There's also a difference between Boston and New England, and we should separate the two.

December 21, 2008 9:50 PM  
Blogger Tim Hurley said...

Scott, interesting post. My reaction is this issue has been plaguing us in New England for the past 15 years or more - it was as evident back in the “go-go” days of the 90s as it is now during the downturn. You’ve written about this phenomena many times in your Boston Globe columns about how the Boston area has been the “feeder system” or “Triple A franchise” to Silicon Valley, Armonk, Austin, Redmond, etc. for years. We are great at innovation and quite adept at starting and funding promising companies, but the list of those we’ve actually held onto - except for EMC and a few others - is dwarfed by those who got scooped by the titans of tech and other industries. You know the list as well as anyone - EqualLogic and Maven were probably the latest, but they have plenty of company with like likes of Ascential, edocs, Cognos, Dragon Systems, Groove Networks, Lotus, m-Qube, SpeechWorks, and dozens more who’ve been acquired in the past decade or so. When each of these innovators is acquired, we lose more of more of our identity, even if the founders go on to start more start up firms or join the venture capital ranks where they invest in them.

As you and other readers note, there is a huge marketing challenge at work here. But there is an execution problem too. The greatest marketing campaigns we could collectively create and implement will not be the only solution. While I agree with Jamie Tedford’s comments that Boston is really "social" by any measure - in business, politics, sports, education, etc., it feels like the “network” that can collaboratively solve this issue and help us compete with other major metros, is not strong enough. Maybe the great economic train wreck that we are experiencing - and we will overcome btw –will be the lightning rod to help galvanize the region’s top players in tech, bio tech, higher education, marketing, venture, etc. Count me in to help!

December 22, 2008 10:35 AM  
Blogger Angelo said...

Enjoyed the article and many of the posts. However, I am not in agreement with your comment that this is not the responsibility of government. Economic development is the responsibility of the state government. Part of economic development is selling the benefits of the region, too which I would agree we are all doing a poor job.

Perception is reality and the perceptions of many individuals, both living within and outside of the region, is that we are losing our competitive edge. These perceptions are rooted somewhat in a media culture that celebrates the success of its sports franchises, but not its businesses and entrepreneurs (e.g., The Boston Globe). Who is the Tom Brady of entrepreneurs in the region? I don't know, do you?

We also need to take a broader definition of entrepreneurship. There are many successful start ups in the regions that never raise venture capital and are neither biotech, nor high-tech companies.

Lastly, while Harvard and MIT are great brands, some of the best entrepreneurs and ideas come from many of the colleges and universities that are not frequented by the investment community. Places like UMass, WPI, BU, NE, BC, Babson/Olin, are producing great ideas and great people.

We have a lot to work with in the region. All of the ingredients are here and the current results aren't too bad either, when you take a broader definition of entrepreneurship ( see: "What we have here is a failure to communicate."


December 22, 2008 11:56 AM  
Anonymous Dave McLaughlin said...

Thanks for yet another great post. We at Boston World Partnerships could not agree more! It is incredible exciting to read this sentence from your post...

"I think that our great opportunity for 2009, as the world figures out how to emerge from its fiscal funk, is to come up with a strategy for telling our story."

This is exactly what we've been working on!

Boston World Partnerships was created by Mayor Menino with a board from business, non-profits and government to do exactly this. We spent 2008 developing and refining a pretty progressive, totally inclusive, super cost-efficient strategy that will employ a range of social media tools & tactics, as well as harnessing the overseas networks of Boston businesses and universities, to create a global infrastructure for sharing information and gathering intelligence relevant to economic growth and business opportunity in and around Boston.

Shortly after New Year's, we will be launching this international campaign to raise awareness about everything that this region offers to businesses. This is an open framework, one that depends on participation by a broad cross-section of people who are tied to Boston's economy. Part of that launch will include the introduction of a cadre of Connectors. These are business people in all different industries who are signed on to serve as the vanguard of this viral effort. (Many of them are subscribers to your blogs, including myself!)

All are welcome to join us to learn more about this strategy. Prior to Launch, we do this pretty untechnically. We host one-hour conversations with no more than a dozen people in each. We share our thinking, invite questions, outline ways for individuals to participate - and to benefit from that participation. For more info, contact Yoon Lee: yoon (at) bostonworldpartnerships (dot) com.

Happy Holidays!

Warm regards,
Dave McLaughlin
Executive Director
Boston World Partnerships

December 22, 2008 2:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

New England: "Where smart people do cool stuff with technology."

New England, the RIGHT coast for innovation.

Sorry, ask me next year, I'll try to do better.

You made some great points. So who's gonna lead this thing?

December 22, 2008 8:15 PM  
Blogger Patrick Rafter said...

New England-- A History of Innovation.

Where tradition meets new ideas

Before we consume too many sour grapes about a declining New England economy, let's remember that Massachusetts has been contributing to regional, national and international economies for 400+ years.


Our "can do" spirit, combined with Boston's attractiveness for generations of voluntary immigrants; its proven position as a center of knowledge and a vibrant community.

NE's a place of substance over flash, where one can develop real friendships, loyal partnerships and
enjoy 4 seasons with our families. Paraphrasing Tip O'Neill, one could say that all "economics are local". Using modern Web-based tools to connect with others worldwide, we can actively participate in the world economy, while living, working and thriving in New England. Where we want to be.

May 2009 be a great year for us all!

--Patrick Rafter

December 23, 2008 10:08 AM  
Anonymous Mike Howard said...

So, regarding "Revolutionary ideas since 1776": I have a bit of a rant in response.

First of all, a slogan is definitely not what this community needs. But it’s an interesting place to start. And the suggestion of this particular slogan hints at a much deeper underlying problem with our regional brand – or more to the point, our regional product.

Scott, in your article, you state that your informal respondents associated Boston, Massachusetts, or New England with things like “The Revolution,” “covered bridges,” “The Boston Tea Party,” and “History.”

With all due respect, I don’t think “Revolutionary ideas since 1776” will move that perception forward.

One thing I’ve noticed while visiting, working, and living in other cities around the country, is that while many of them may honor different aspects of their heritage, we here in New England downright wallow in it. It seems to me, we are victims of our historical reverence. We’re like a theme park of our own quaint past – and not just Ye Olde Past, either. 128 is dead. Polaroid is dead. Cheers is dead (if it never existed). And yeah, Paul Revere is dead, too. And nobody cares.

“Revolutionary ideas since 1776?”

Revolutionary ideas have nothing to do with tradition. The fact that we’ve had innumerable revolutionary ideas since the birth of our nation does not guarantee this region will ever be known for a single revolutionary idea ever again.

Relevance – be it cultural, educational, commercial, technological or otherwise – needs to be earned, recognized, and embraced on a local, national, and worldwide level every single day.

We don’t need a slogan or a campaign. We don’t need global brands to get behind New England with talking points. What we need is to tear off our oxford cloth sleeves, get out there, and prove it. Today. And tomorrow. And tomorrow night, too.

What we need is not a better brand for “New England” (uggh, how much more old-timey-ness could that name evoke?). What we need is to continue to offer a better product.

We need to recognize big ideas and get behind them in any way we can (government and trade organizations can help as much as any of us).

We need to find ways to get ourselves to the forefront of green initiatives. We need to continue to encourage recreational opportunities in a region with a less than ideal climate (let’s give our Bike Czar some support). We need to foster the arts and the creative class at all levels, and we need to encourage entrepreneurialism and patronize local business fervently not just in Boston, but in our outlying communities as well.

And we need to talk to the young people who come to our city from all over the world to enrich themselves academically, and ask them what they think about the place.

And we need to really listen.

Maybe we’d hear that culturally, we’re parochial, boring, safe, conservative, or derivative. Or that socially we’re insular at best. Don’t know if you’ve heard, but we’ve got a reputation for being a bit intolerant, close-minded, and yes, bigoted.

And here’s a theory: Maybe the whole “100 universities” thing works against us. It may turn out that very few people want to stay in their college town after they graduate. After all, they know the social scene. Their families are from elsewhere, or else their families are from here – either way, their bound to yearn for something more. I know I would. Wouldn’t you?

Let’s hear that stuff and figure out how to address it.

We’ve got so much going for us here. But we will be defined not by pointing out the things we’ve done over the years or even by pointing out the things we’re doing right now. We’ll move forward by striving to move forward.

December 28, 2008 10:44 PM  
Anonymous John Foster said...


Thanks for your article. Good kick in the pants. I am an independent wildlife researcher and environmental educator. I've been working in New England for about 15 years.

I would like to make the pitch for including the economic draw of wild NE. I have been fortunate to have worked on several projects to promote ecotourism in Massachusetts. Tourism, and by extension ecotourism, is Massachusetts' third largest industry. Even though MA is a very populous state is has an extraordinary inventory of natural places. New England's nature helps to produce a 'quality of life' that many people value greatly, both those that have it and those that wish to possess it.


John Foster
New England
Naturalist Training Center

December 29, 2008 12:20 PM  
Anonymous Beth Monaghan said...


Great article. This is an important issue that we need to address. I would propose that we assemble a working group to explore the ideas you've suggested and all of the others noted here. I've heard lots of CA transplants lament that New England lacks the entrepreneurial camaraderie of the Silicon Valley where there are more networking events, more impromptu meet-ups, etc. Let's make a concerted effort to work together to address this important issue. We'll need lots of diverse minds to get it right and your column has done a service in identifying many of them.

December 30, 2008 7:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I came to New England as a cub salesman for a major Ohio machine machine tool builder, just after completing their two year sales training program. I have witnessed on a first hand and fully involved basis the major changes which have taken place in this region's economy over a period of 52 years. My area of focus was the metalworking industry, as because of this I worked with firms who manufactured virtually any product you can think of that was made in this country. New England's metalworking was a vital presence, wide spread from Providence to the CT River Valley and up to Vermont - all across our northeast were the large and small shops so important to our economy. Gradually their numbers diminshed, as increasingly efficient machinery reduced some of the need for people and consolidations took place. Today, this total industry is a mere shadow of what once existed. Much such work has fled south of the border and over Pacific. But even so, until a few months ago, there were more jobs available in New England metalworking than there were interested, trainable people to accept them. There are organizations making efforts to help stem the shortage of young people who can be attracted into our remaining manufacturing firms, but progress seems slow, and lack of it is a real threat to our industrial future.

December 30, 2008 11:39 AM  
Blogger GaryR said...

Scott --

Thanks for such a thought provoking article.

The many thoughtful responses and statements of interest in being involved in a "solution" indicate that you have hit a nerve in the community. The question this raises for me is what to do about it.

Like a man with a hammer, I propose to organize a structured brainstorming session around the challenge you have presented. I envision a meeting with 12-20 participants from among your readership or possibly the other bloggers who have joined in the conversation already. I will bring several high-level, open-ended questions; flipchart materials; colored dots; and several years' experience successfully running similar sessions. I would need a conference room with a large enough table to seat everyone and plenty of wall space to hang flipchart pages on as we fill them up. My experience is we could get most of the ideas out on the table and do a preliminary ranking exercise some evening in about ninety minutes and certainly no longer than 2 hours. At the end we could discuss potential next steps.

I will monitor the blog to see if there is any interest in pursuing this. If there is I'll start the process of getting it organized.

Thanks again,


December 30, 2008 2:14 PM  
Anonymous Vanessa Keefe, Director of Marketing said...

Excellent ideas Scott. I work for Charles River Apparel, a national apparel manufacturer based in Massachusetts. We are known in our industry for being a New England company. We even play off the core values of New England (quality and value) when we talk about how we design and create our jackets. Our customers see this as a plus – they associate Charles River Apparel and New England with well made, durable and long lasting jackets.

I am surprised that more local businesses don’t try and use the New England location to their advantage. We have continually stressed the New England aspect of our business to our 13,000+ customers, many of whom are outside of New England, and we have seen it really resonate. Our logo even features a rower rowing on the Charles and we use rowing imagery in all our marketing efforts.

I think you propose some excellent ideas to generate business and with my company’s national exposure we would love to help. Please keep us updated on your efforts and what we can do to assist.

Vanessa Keefe
Director of Marketing
Charles River Apparel

December 30, 2008 5:23 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Thanks for the article.

An idea I have suggested in the past (published letters to the Globe, the David Brodnoy show years ago) is that New England should go on double daylight savings time in the summer. Much of the summer it's light at 4:30 am, but dark at 9 pm. In Michigan at the other end of this same time zone, it's light at 5:30 and dark at 10. If we want to promote quality of life here, imagine days long enough for a round of golf after work, or a picnic at the beach... I know this isn't business per se but this all needs some excitement, and New England in the summer just can't be beat - until 9 at night. Having lived in Michigan too, I can attest they have it much better this way.

I know this sounds like a crank idea at first blush, but I hope that reflection will show that it makes sense for New England business and quality of life.

December 31, 2008 9:44 AM  
Anonymous Michael Gaiss said...

Just catching up on things and some really fascinating stuff here. You’ve obviously touched on a topic that folks are highly passionate about given all the terrific follow-on comments and thoughts that have been contributed. Nice job.

In terms of telling the story, we can definitely do a better job of communicating what we currently have. There is obviously a void of one at least across this audience and there is value in having one.

As a follow-on step around this point, I’d suggest (as others have) that we bring together a group to initially try and attempt to do that. The group can define the scope of the opportunity and develop the strategy, positioning, messaging and communications programs to address. Part of that discussion should center on how we can possibly make such an effort successful? This would include how to include external constituencies – trade associations, government, companies, universities, other supporting entrepreneurial ecosystem players – that we’ll ultimately need onboard and partnered with to turn this into a sustainable platform.

However, as alluded to by folks, we’d be shortsighted to not also expand this at some point to look at ways in parallel that we can make our story better. As you’ve touched on in the past, we should be doing a better job building a stronger environment for making New England a more vibrant ecosystem for innovation (and I’d add commercialization as well). Touching on just a few, this includes putting in place more channels for industry networking and the sharing of expertise (and making it more effective), providing more compelling reasons for younger entrepreneurs to start their business here (and making it easier to do so), or simply making it easier for them to hook into career opportunities with startups in the area to gain experience. We’ll need these in place for longer term viability, competitive differentiation and to keep raising the bar on our story.

Being a pragmatist, that’s a big agenda. For the sake of moving this dialogue forward and aiming for a more immediate impact, we should probably focus efforts at this time on telling the story better. I’d be happy to host a follow-on dialogue at Highland some evening if that would be of interest.

January 3, 2009 6:16 PM  
Anonymous Cynic said...

It's a fascinating idea, but I think you're going about branding precisely backwards.

Regions aren't tagged with labels that encompass the full range of the resources they have to offer, much less the local culture. They tend to be known for the one thing they do better than anyone else. Hence, if you say "Silicon Valley," I think of tech; if you say "New York" I think of finance; if you say "Washington" I think of government. Does that encompass the full range of what these areas have to offer? Hardly. But it does capture the single element that's most distinctive.

I agree with other posters who suggest that some version of the 'Athens of America' image still resonates. We have an unparalleled concentration of excellent universities. There are worse things. But if you're looking for a new image for the region that suggests we're more than a good place to go to college, it doesn't suffice.

I'd suggest that we all start talking about Boston Biotech. It's not a perfect name. Hardly any of the industry is in the city proper, and it still comprises just a small fraction of our local economy.

So why Boston Biotech? Well, at the moment, biotechnology occupies the space in the public imagination that computers and then the internet occupied over the past two decades. It seems like the next frontier of science. Every region is trying to lay claim to a piece of the pie. Newsweeklies feature breathless features on their covers. Biotech, in other words, is a byword for innovation. It's where the action is perceived to be, and so, its presence serves as a signal to bright an innovative people that this is a region receptive to their ambitions.

Think of Silicon Valley. When I lived there in the nineties, it was a hotbed for innovation of all sorts. The tech boom was its best known feature, but garage entrepreneurs worked on projects of a wide range of varieties. Smart people moved there to make it big; locals were inspired to take risks. Being associated with the best known industry of the day proved beneficial for the entire region, and for almost all the local industries.

In Boston, we have an advantage - we're already at the forefront of Biotech. It's the single industry that best encapsulates what we have to offer - the confluence of abundant talent, academic resources, medical infrastructure, and innovation. We can make a reasonable claim to being the Biotech capitol of the world - if it's not an uncontested crown, we're certainly the odds-on favorite. I know this will rankle the many regional entrepreneurs who feel that biotech has already sucked up an unfair share of resources and attention, at the expense of their industries, without delivering a commensurate payoff in terms of jobs or knock-on effects. And as far as state spending is concerned, they're probably right. But this is different - I'm talking about marketing. As a brand for the Boston region, we can't do any better. Getting people to think of Boston Biotech stands to bring its greatest benefits to the rest of us, who don't actually work in the industry, but want to see the region known for its innovation.

January 3, 2009 9:26 PM  
Anonymous DoriAndi said...

Okay, I HAVE to say this.

The problem is that all of the smart people are already here; in New England.

That's why nobody else gets it.

Pretty simple.

January 7, 2009 2:48 AM  
Blogger Mohamad said...

New England, the Innovation Hub


I'm the senior state executive for IBM here in Massachusetts, with the honor of overseeing 5000 of our most innovative people. I share your concern, and recognize that the lack of a strong New England identity limits our ability to fully leverage the incredible assets we have here in New England.

For me, New England (and more specifically eastern MA) represents an innovation hub. IBMers in Massachusetts develop chips that power all three major games machines, chips for the world most powerful supercomputers, software for social computing (Lotus), business intelligence software (Cognos/Applix), software development tools (Rational), enterprise data integration software (Ascential), IT/asset management software (Maximo), and some of the most advanced green computing software and hardware. Additionally, one of our leading IBM Research labs is here in Cambridge.

However, even with all of this going for us, until recently we lacked an identity that our 5000 employees could mobilize around. So, in an effort to bridge that gap, we've opened a state-of-the art "IBM Mass Lab" campus in Littleton/Westford, IBM's largest software lab in North America. We're using "IBM Mass Lab" as our moniker to create an identity, heavily linked to enterprise software and innovation.

For New England, I personally like the term "Innovation Hub". Innovation is what makes our region truly unique throughout the world. I believe "The Hub" was coined by Oliver Wendell Holmes originally referring to the Boston State House as the hub of the universe ... so certainly no lack of clarity about how we think of ourselves :)

Whatever the answer, clearly a collaborative approach to defining and promoting this New England identity is needed, and IBM is ready and willing to help in that process.

Mohamad Ali,
Vice-President &
Senior State Executive,
IBM Massachusetts

January 7, 2009 5:16 PM  
Anonymous kel kelly said...


love the post. unfortunately, the problem is bigger than a rebranding strategy. the personality of the brand can only represent the personalities of people behind it. compared to the bay area and silicon valley, the east coast looks like a bunch of uptight peeps. when you go to a web 2.0 conference and tim o'reilly gets up in torn jeans and sandals, it screams the personality of the west coast brand -- hip, innovative, fresh, risk-taking, and relaxed. you can feel it the second you walk into an event. from tony hsieh at zappos to any other iconic ceo at web 2.0 companies, their personalities really are the west coast brand image. we gotta get the icons of the east coast brand to begin by voting their suits off the island and lightening up. while chris brogan is a great representation of that desired image, i think he stands somewhat alone. for those of you reading this who feel compelled to cite other examples, i ask you to relax. the point is that our east coast image is conservative, safe, comfortable, stale and lacking energy. we own that image. we need to change it. it's not about a logo or tagline, it's about being iconic representations of the brand we want to be. let's shake it up. have some fun. throw away the powerpoint and jump on mac's keynote. stop writing books about web 2.0 and actually start swimming in it. start pimping more brogan-like peeps vs. "leaders" who had their glory days 20 years ago and haven't done anything hot since. there is no judgment here, only a feeling that we are responsible for our own image.

kel kelly

January 10, 2009 12:44 PM  
Blogger Intertubist said...

New England: Home of the brains.

January 10, 2009 1:43 PM  

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