Place Branding Key to Winning the First Moment of Truth

Ed BurghardWinning the opportunity to compete First Moment of Truth may be one of the most important, but difficult, challenges facing any economic development organization. Losing the First Moment of Truth means your location never even has a chance to make an argument for why it may be the best choice for capital investment.

But what if the door to opportunity never even gets knocked on? What if your location is eliminated from the consideration set before you are even aware that a capital investment deal is being worked?

A study of U.S. based executives and site selection consultants (2011) conducted by Development Counsellors International (DCI) indicates 76% of the time, a short list of location options is identified or a decision is made before an economic development organization (EDO) is ever contacted.


  • 40% – after we have a short list
  • 13% – after a few finalists are identified
  • 17% – we would not contact an EDO
  • 6% – after a location has already been selected
  • 24% – during initial screening

These data suggest that it is very important capital investors are aware of and interested in your location. They need to appreciate why your location deserves to compete for the 76% of opportunities that won’t be knocking on your door before a judgment has been made. The full market research report is available on DCI’s website.

Place branding is the key to success. You need a strategic plan to ensure your place identity meets three criteria – 1) relevant, 2) competitive and 3) authentic.

An effective place branding strategic plan has a segment focused on product development. This segment identifies the opportunities to strengthen your location performance against the three criteria for success. The identified opportunities are typically in the areas of asset creation, infrastructure improvement and public policy reform.

In addition, you need an aggressive place image communication plan to ensure potential capital investors are aware of the reasons why your location deserves to be considered. Given the importance of the internet in evaluating locations, it is mission critical you optimize the effectiveness of the electronic media choices made in your plan.

Two suggestions you may find helpful –

  1. Know how visible your website is to search engines. Your website is likely the heart of your electronic media mix. It is very important that when capital investors or site selection consultants are seeking information on your location they can easily find your data. My favorite tool to evaluate search engine visibility is HubSpot’s Marketing Grader tool. If your website scores below 80, then you have significant work to do to be competitive. If you need help, Park Bench Digital is a good group to chat with.
  2. Understand what the media is saying about your location. Media buzz can either create head wind you need to overcome, or tail wind you can leverage for accelerated success. To get a handle on how the press is positioning your location run a simple Google search.  Whatever you see in the first three pages is what potential investors will read about your community.

Investing in place branding will help increase your odds of winning the First Moment of Truth. It will help generate even more opportunities for you to compete for capital investment deals. Effective place branding requires a sound strategic plan that focuses not simply on telling the current story of your location (marketing and sales), but also identifying product development choices designed to make your location’s story even stronger.


I would be very interested in your thoughts about which locations are doing a good job of place branding and can serve as benchmarks to learn from. Please consider leaving a comment with your picks.

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