I recently revisited the book A New Brand World to see if there is any learning I could reapply to economic development. The book describes 8 key principles for success. Below is my take on the implications of each principle when reapplied to economic development.
Principle #1 – Relying on brand awareness has become marketing fool’s gold. It isn’t sufficient to simply increase awareness of your location. Knowing your community exists is not a good reason for investing capital, it is simply the starting point of a complex decision process to select the right location for a business to grow and prosper. One of the more useful marketing models I’ve learned is AIDA (awareness – interest – desire – action). AIDA makes it clear that awareness of your location as an option for capital investment is important, but only a first step in a process. Communication efforts that focus solely on driving awareness will produce impressive contact numbers, but a disappointing deal conversion result. Be certain your place marketing and sales plans go beyond simply creating awareness.
Principle #2 – You have to know it before you can grow it. It is amazing at how difficult it is for many economic development professionals to articulate the one or two points of difference that set their location apart from competitive options. When asked, they often share a laundry list of assets with the hope that one or more will strike a responsive chord and start a selling conversation. If you do not have a good handle on what the unique promise of your location is, it will be difficult for you to create a plan to sustain your promise relevance or improve your location’s overall competitiveness. Trying to strengthen everything is a recipe for failure. You need to invest in strengthening your location’s strengths and neutralizing the competitive weaknesses. To do this, you need to know he compelling and authentic promise for your location.
Principle #3 – Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. In the book, this is characterized as the “Spandex Principle”. Just because you can purchase Spandex doesn’t mean you should be wearing it. I think it is an apt characterization of a common pit fall. Non-strategic investments are ultimately a waste of resources and do little (if anything) to improve the competitiveness of your location for capital investment. Sometimes, I see this played out as an economic development organization trying to broadly communicate every piece of good news that gets published about their location. Just because you can claim to have the world’s best whatever, if it isn’t strategically aligned with your core place promise you shouldn’t invest your limited communication budget to get that news out. You should stay disciplined in communicating your core place promise so you have the greatest chance of actually getting it heard by potential capital investors. Similarly, just because a magazine runs a deep discount on advertising space doesn’t mean you should run an ad unless it is a smart choice to reach your strategic target audience. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Principle #4 – Transcend a product-only relationship with your customers. In economic development this is a critical principle. The capital investment decision is complex and based on much more than availability of assets. The investor needs to be able to envision success in your location. You want to be certain that you work to propose a win:win scenario that creates a legitimate long-term reason for a company to want to select your location over other options. Often it boils down to a financially competitive package, a workable set of mission critical assets, and a “good feeling” that the company can be successful. You need to work just as hard to create that “good feeling” as you do to put together a robust RFP response.
Principle #5 – Everything matters. One of the more complicated aspects of place branding is the number of touch points associated with bringing your promise to life. Every interaction with the community makes an impression. The quality of the infrastructure, the accessibility of the public sector leadership, the effectiveness of the educational system and so on and so on. Everything associated with your location, both big and small, contribute to the experience and to your location’s image. Everything matters. A clear and concise understanding of your location’s compelling points of difference is so important. If everybody sings from the same sheet of music, you have a choir. If everybody is singing their own tune, you have noise. It is important to make certain everybody in your contributes positively to delivering the promise.
Principle #6 – All brands need good parents. It helps to have a single person (or organization) accountable for ensuring a brand remains relevant, competitive and authentic. Unfortunately, in place branding there are many people who view their responsibility as the brand guardian and they often interpret the your community promise through their own paradigm. This can lead to inconsistent communication of the promise. It can also lead to confusion and a place improvement plan misaligned with your core promise. It is important the public and private sector leaders recognize the value of consistent communication of the brand promise and make doing so a high priority. It is also important they act as good parents and not dysfunctional ones.
Principle #7 – Big doesn’t have to be bad. Large cities may be complex, but scale can be leveraged to advantage as well. Large often means choice, allowing people to tailor their experience to their specific wants, needs and desires. As an economic development professional, it is important to understand the neighborhoods within your city and be able to link these to the other important assets so you can paint a complete and compelling picture of what living in your city would be like. It’s also been my experience most cities have a number of “special gem” assets locals have passion for but often overlooked by visitors. Know what these assets are and give the potential capital investor an authentic experience. It could be sharing a perfect, out of the way location to view the city, or a unique bistro that serves a specialty dish available in few other locations (e.g. Chicago’s deep dish pizza, or Cincinnati’s chili dogs). It is important you demonstrate how easy it is to get around the city, don’t just explain it. For example, when I realized how easy it was to get around Toronto via subway, and I was introduced to back bacon sandwiches on a warm Kaiser roll from the St Lawrence Market, my impression of Toronto was forever changed.
Principle #8 – Relevance, simplicity, and humanity – not technology – will distinguish brands in the future. Technology is definitely important, but life is about people. It is important you find the authentic story of your community that explains why residents are passionate about living and working there. This story needs to be mind and heart opening. It needs to be capable of encouraging capital investors to think of your community in new ways and to instill pride in your residents. Every location has a set of assets to consider, some stronger than others, but the ability to connect with people and organizations is extremely important. Assets to expensive or difficult to leverage are not really that relevant to an investor. Ensure the story you tell is simple, relevant and touches people’s hearts if you want to increase your odds of success in capital attraction, retention and expansion. Remember, people really do matter.
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I would be curious to hear your thoughts on the above and have you share any examples (pro or con) to help round out the dialogue. Adding your perspective will help make the discussion even more valuable.
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