Quinn: Silicon Valley leaders need to do more to promote the Silicon Valley brand

Silicon Valley needs some help.

What is it? Where is it? Who is it?

Its borders have become so blurred that the Golden Gate Bridge is often used as its symbol by national and international media.

What do you expect when a region isn’t identified with a landmark or a notable skyline?

That is why the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber has launched a new effort to address what it calls “business velocity” and quality-of-life issues in the region.

The new initiative, called “silicon valley IDEA,” as in Initiative to Drive Economic Advancement, is short on details at the moment. More than 20 groups are meeting to identify and solve problems.

But what is interesting is that the leaders involved say they are going to have a multimillion-dollar budget that will be spent in part on a regional branding initiative, said Matthew Mahood, president and chief executive of the chamber.

“Most regions compete,” he said. “People know where Silicon Valley is, kind of.”

The effort couldn’t come at a better time. As I wrote in a column this week, the traditional Silicon Valley — Santa Clara County — has lost some cachet as its boundaries have expanded north and east to the point of being meaningless.

Image matters. Tech entrepreneurs want to be with other tech entrepreneurs. And if they are picking San Francisco over Sunnyvale, eventually, the region will lose some of its identity as the seat of innovation.

One sign that it is happening?

After years of running neck-and-neck, San Francisco has finally pulled ahead of Silicon Valley in venture funding, according to a report by the Silicon Valley Institute for Regional Studies.

In 2015, more than $13 billion was invested in companies in San Francisco compared to $11 billion in Silicon Valley. Sure, Uber and Airbnb vacuumed up a good chunk of that S.F. money, but if the trend continues, Silicon Valley should be worried.

That leads back to the need for marketing.

“We lack this concept of a sense of place,” Mahood said. “When you land at the San Jose Airport, you don’t know you have landed in Silicon Valley.”

Nor, he pointed out, is there any signage on roads indicating that a person is in Silicon Valley.

What if the airport had some displays about Silicon Valley history and signs dotted I-280 or 101 telling people when they have crossed into Silicon Valley’s true borders?

What if a downtown San Jose building was to be wrapped with some signage or symbol that creates an icon, akin to the Seattle Space Needle or the St. Louis arch?

“Let’s create something iconic to help tell the story,” Mahood said.

This marketing effort may strike some as more flash than substance.

But businesses, like people, tend to go where the action is.

If Silicon Valley wants to plant a flag, it better do so quickly.

Above: Matthew Mahood, CEO and president of the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, unveils the silicon valley IDEA initiative. (Michelle Quinn/Bay Area News Group)


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  • Anthony Stegman

    When I moved to this region in the early 1980s San Jose was not a tech hub. IBM was way down south in the boonies, but there was little else in San Jose. “Silicon Valley” comprised Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, and Palo Alto. San Jose proclaims itself the “Capital of Silicon Valley”, but that doesn’t make it so. Some type of “branding” won’t make it so either.

  • Steve Robenalt

    Hangar One at Moffett Field was always my true signpost that I was in Silicon Valley.