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Brand building in the Lone Star State

Melissa Ivey

Howdy y’all

I’m a Michigan native and pretty much anyone I talk to from Texas knows it because they say I still have an accent (and they aren’t referring to the typical Southern drawl). We moved to Texas when Michigan’s economy took a turn for the worse, and Texas seemed to be a shining state where everything was growing.

It’s a trend that's continuing. Texas was second only to North Dakota in terms of economic growth among the US states in 2014. It grew by 5.2% last year, driven by mining and manufacturing, and the state houses three of America’s top five fastest growing cities in Houston, Austin and San Antonio. The state seems to be relatively unaffected by the wider financial hardships that have hit the US such as the oil crisis, thanks to the diversity of its economy – a point illustrated by the news that Texas is now a larger tech exporter than California.

All hat and no cattle?

While the state’s economic performance is certainly something to be proud of, it’s not necessarily what comes to mind when the rest of America – and the world – think of Texas. When you mentioned Texas to people as recently as 10 years ago, the first things they they’d think of were cowboys or roaming cattle. Now, they’re more likely to mention the Dallas Cowboys or the state’s famous eight-hour smoked brisket.

The fact that ranch life, boot-cut jeans and cowboy hats have become synonymous with Texas is hardly surprising. From the late 1970s to the early 1990s, long-running soap opera Dallas was the world’s window into the state. The salacious tales of the stinking rich Ewing family that lived on the Southfork cattle ranch captivated America – and storylines like “who shot JR” catapulted the show into popular culture across the world.

The show also portrayed Texas as full of cowboy hat-wearing oilmen and their trophy wives. While it’s said that Dallas natives were initially perturbed by the depiction of life in their city, the boost to tourism was considered fair compensation – until the success of the drama, Dallas was predominantly known as the location of President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.

There with bells on

The picture Dallas painted of Texans wasn’t helped by the assumption that cult cartoon Beavis and Butthead was set in the state. But the tide has turned in recent years. The Johnson Space Center in Houston has been the base for NASA’s manned space missions for more than half a century, anchoring the state in academia and boosting the reputation of nearby Rice University – while sport and music have transformed Texas into a globally renowned hub of culture and one of the top US destinations for overseas visitors.

Texas is home to some of the most advanced sports stadia in the US, with venues like the NRG Stadium in Houston and the AT&T Stadium in Dallas being built within the last 15 years. The latter is home to NFL team the Dallas Cowboys and, with the league growing in popularity globally – particularly in England, as Darren has mentioned before – there is no shortage of fans wanting to take a trip to the Lone Star State to check out these new sporting meccas.

The AT&T Stadium in Dallas ahead of a game.

The same can be said for those passionate about music. The city of Austin is known as the "live music capital of the world” because it has more music venues per capita than anywhere else in the US. The city is home to two of the biggest music festivals in the country – Austin City Limits and SXSW. The latter features music prominently, but also includes film and technology, strengthening the state’s digital credentials.

Austin City Limits in full flow.

Yes ma’am

There’s no denying Texas has a lot going for it – and we’re all certainly proud of it. That statewide pride is one of the most striking things about living in Texas. To have such a collective passion for the place you live is rare – and it helps foster the positive image of Texas that’s becoming so prominent. My Facebook newsfeed is filled with videos about how great people think Texas is and how Texans are different. And after living here as long as I have, I understand why. Texas has no state income tax, you feel like you get more for your money and the weather is perfect. Well, except for the summers – it can get pretty steamy here.

Did you know that Dr Pepper was invented in Texas? Or that there are more tigers in the state than in India? You don’t have to search Google for long to discover more about the state and why it distills so much pride in its natives – just check out this list.

Let’s two step

When I think of all the good things Texas has going for it I do wonder how accurately the state’s nickname reflects its brand. Nicknames and slogans are of course just part of a brand’s identity, but they should dovetail with its values and evolve with the company (or state). The name “the Lone Star State” refers to when Texas was an independent republic and is a nod to its struggles to free itself from neighboring Mexico. But without the context, the name makes Texas seem excluded from the rest of the country – and perhaps a little elitist. Maybe it’s time to change the epithet to better reflect the shifting perceptions of Texas.

All the signs indicate that Texas will continue to go from strength to strength, economically and culturally, shaped by the next generation. My son, who will be two next month, is a native. Will he grow up with the same pride as many of my Texan friends? Will he have a southern drawl like his friends at school? Will he continue to help shape the Texas brand? Or will he want to move away and experience life in another state? I suppose it’s too early to figure all that out. But one thing’s for certain: there’s no better place to start sampling what America has to offer than its most iconic state.

Melissa has left The Frameworks.