Be Strategic in Your Community Communication Efforts

Effective communication of your community’s promise requires you to make a strategic choice on the approach you are going to take. I am often surprised by how often that choice is left to chance versus being made thoughtfully and proactively. The approach you select matters. The choice has implications on resource requirements and the amount of risk you introduce to the management of your community’s economic portfolio. Both are very important considerations for the long-term prosperity of your community.

I thought it might be helpful to provide a framework for you to consider the structural communication options available. This post is not intended to be a treatise on the subject. It is simply intended to raise your awareness of the potential paths you could opt to pursue.

Three Strategic Models to Consider

Once a community has successfully identified the industries it believes can prosper in their local business climate, the next step is to decide how to communicate your community promise to the company executives with your selected industry targets. There are three strategies you can consider. Each has pluses and minuses. You should try and select the strategy that is best aligned with your community’s ability to resource and execute. This is rarely a game of “one size fits all”. It is important to invest the time to make a choice, because, success is (to a large part) dependent upon your community’s ability to stick with the choice made.

Niche/concentration marketing – This approach targets one particular, well-defined group of companies (a niche) within an overall industry. You create a manageable list of companies and their profiles, and then develop action plans that describe how you will get your message heard by the capital investment decision maker(s) in that company.

You transform (or customize) your community’s promise into a sales presentation tailored for each company’s unique needs.

Small communities that have relatively limited budgets and, therefore, cannot afford to reach the number of companies pursued by larger MSAs can typically target niche markets effectively.

The main disadvantages of this approach is the potential for job growth may be limited, and the probability of overall success can be negatively impacted if industry growth is adversely affected by the economy.

Mass/undifferentiated marketing – This approach focuses on transforming your community’s promise into a single communication campaign that is promoted to executives in all industries you’ve decided to target. The strategy is based on the assumption that, capital investment decision maker’s needs are very similar, if not identical, across selected industries.

The main benefit for a community is that it can create economies of scale for their marketing efforts. Message consistency across communication channels helps deliver a minimum threshold level of frequency required to break through the clutter and capture the attention/interest of industry executives considering a capital investment.

The main disadvantage of mass marketing is that the reasons to believe (proof points) your community’s promise may vary across industries. For example, the Service Industry and Manufacturing Industry both are interested in cost effectively reaching customers, but an executive in the Service Industry may be more interested in your community’s telecommunications capability while an executive in the Manufacturing Industry may place greater importance on your community’s traditional transportation infrastructure (road, rail, air, water).

Differentiated/selective marketing – In this approach you transform your community’s promise into a unique communication campaign for each targeted industry.

By tailoring messaging to meet an industry’s information needs more closely, you are likely to generate a greater degree of initial message relevancy for executives in that industry.

The differentiated approach also allows your community to spread portfolio management risks, so your capital attraction efforts will be less affected by changes in the economic climate.

The main disadvantages of this approach are the potential for message confusion since to achieve threshold minimum reach and frequency often requires the use of general media channels (e.g. CEO magazines, Wall Street Journal, etc.), and the overhead cost associated with developing and sustaining multiple campaigns. Unless the individual campaigns are well coordinated and your community promise clearly articulated in each, you can actually end up confusing executives with what will appear to be mixed messaging. A good Agency and/or marketing professional on staff can help mitigate this risk.

Why is Purposefully Selecting a Communication Strategy Important?

A recent national CEO study conducted by DCI suggests 76% of the time a short list of locations is created by a company without ever reaching out to an economic development professional. That means 71% of the time your community is either considered and eliminated or included on the list for due diligence based upon its image. An effective communication strategy can help shape that image so your community can better compete for 100% of investment opportunities instead of only the 29% where you have shot a making your case directly. In today’s highly competitive market, I know I’d rather put my community in a position to have a shot at every job generating investment possible.

Discussion

Which strategic approach has your community adopted and why? What do you see as the pros and cons of each? Do you have any experience you’d be willing to share (or advice to give)? I look forward to your comments.

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