Location Branding – How To Attract The Big Money

This is a guest blog post from Peter Davis, CEO of Pete Davis Media.  Pete has made it his career to understand the hidden drivers of how people make choices.  Pete has a great perspective on branding.

“Those who succeed actually seek out what the market wants to buy and they build it.  Those who fail, ignore the market and pay the price.”

“It’s my job to help my clients make more money.”

I would love to have the economic development profession Pete’s clarity and say “It is my job to help people living in my community achieve the American Dream.”

The really cool thing is how Pete’s background as a trader in the futures and currency markets has impacted his perceptions of branding.  Because of his experience, Pete is very bottom-line focused.  That’s why, after several LinkedIn exchanges with Pete, I thought his perspective on the role of emotion in the capital investment decision process would be uniquely insightful.

A Perspective From Pete

Economic Development. The fine art of attracting companies, businesses and lots of bling to your community. And, traditionally, not an area in which the fine art of branding tends to tread. My friend, Ed Burghard from the StrengtheningBrand America Project, has asked me to chime in on this topic, so here goes. Plus, this provides a great example of how branding can – and should – be applied to disciplines considered outside of its realm.

Economics typically isn’t the sexiest topic (Hey baby, wanna see my spreadsheet?), especially for a branding blog. But it is relevant. After all, the ultimate goal of any branding program is to generate revenue – money. And as Danny DeVito pinpointed in the David Mamet classic, Heist: ”Everybody needs money. That’s why they call it money.”

Traditional thinking tells us that in order to attract businesses to your community, all you have to do is roll out a red carpet of numbers, forecasts and revenue projections. Yeah… not so much. Turns out that blinding CEO’s with science is, at best, a one-trick pony.

How do I know this? Statistics, of course. (I am nothing if not a hypocrite). A 2008 study by the DCI (which, for you Jack Ryan fans, is not the Director of Central Intelligence), found that 76% of the time, a company will narrow its choices of communities in which to park itself without ever talking to an economic development professional. In other words, there’s not much diligence in their due diligence.

So what’s going on here? Turns out that, rather than sift through the numbers, even the most important economic decisions are, in fact, emotional, which falls squarely in the lap of, you guessed it, branding. Any great consumer product must actually deliver, doing so is as much a matter of perception as it is of tangible benefits. And so it is with economic development.

Hmm, sounds curiously like consumer behavior, doesn’t it? Because it turns out that, whether someone is buying a pair of jeans, an iPhone, a futures contract or relocating a factory, perception IS reality. And while it’s easy to think of C-Level execs as rational, data-driven, bottom-line people, the truth is that they are people just like us. They have wants, needs, fears and egos.

The trick to convincing them to set up shop in your region is no different than influencing a group of consumers to buy what you’re selling. It’s part substance, part packaging and all presentation.

If I was trying to attract business to my region, I’d start off by finding out what they really want and need. I’d dig deep, uncovering the things they need but don’t know they need. And then I’d get even deeper and would uncover their Primal Needs. both of the decision makers and the organizational culture. Do they need to feel important – i.e. high status – in their new location. If so, I’d sell them on the power their business would project from my region. I’d present the numbers and facts in a way that supported this. I’d paint the picture that grabbed those desires, I would position my region as the only one in the entire world as capable of fulfilling them.

If flexibility and logistics were a concern, I’d focus on Control, positioning my region as the unparalleled hub from which they could extend globally and adapt to a continually changing environment.

Economics, business development and finance are often thought of as beyond the scope of branding. But branding is nothing more than the deliberate presentation of a codified set of signals designed to convey specific ideas. And that makes it useful everywhere.

Discussion

Pete said, “I’d sell them on the power their business would project from my region.”  I think this is an interesting statement to explore further.  In what ways could you help a potential capital investor see the “power their business would project”?  How would you articulate it?  What could you present that might help visualize the concept?  What tactics might make sense to employ?

Please leave a comment with your thinking.  The more you understand how to ensure potential investors can envision business success from your community, the more impactful your attraction efforts will be.

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  2. Linda H. DiMario

    October 30, 2012

    Score another one for the pragmatic, thoughtful and reality-based economic development marketers in the world! Mr. Davis and I agree wholeheartedly that the same customer behaviors that influence decisions are almost always in play with even the biggest decisions like where to locate a company. Why would we think that these driving, motivating behaviors would be utterly absent just for this type of decision? On the flip side of this human behavior is the site selector’s insistence and their RFPs which suggest that it is all about the cold, hard facts. This is one of the reasons that ED’s incline toward cold, hard statistics and data to make their case rather than taking the time to frame this same data and intelligence in more illuminating, emotional and resonant terms. And recognizing that these decisions are influenced on so many levels and in so many unexpected ways that it necessitates a more complex and robust network and social media engagement – painting a bigger picture of the community and the opportunity than mere data can alone. We know it and I submit that site selectors know it too.

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