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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7 Comments so far

  1. Ed Villano

    October 26, 2009

    I think Singapore has done an excellent job at place branding and re-branding over time. From being a backwater of Malaysia in the 60s to a dominant economic force in ASEAN, Singapore has had multiple reinventions: safe, reliable manufacturing hub, financial hub rivalling Hong Kong, Asean/ASIA corporate hub, and now bio-tech hub. Among the Asian countries, they represent values, culture and laws that are reassuring to the West yet connectedness to the vast opportunity in Asia. I think the key to their success is the long term stewardship of LKY who, eventhough he is no longer Prime Minister, clearly continues to put his imprint on society. I was talking to a cab driver in Singapore last March 09 and was marvelling at the reverence this guy had for the journey and vision that LKY has steered his country over the decades.

  2. Michael T

    October 28, 2009

    This is a really important point. Proactive branding and effective communication needs to be done early/often and readily accessible via the web.

    I am with a multi-national company with many sites. When we make changes, we generally will avoid communicating it publicly until fairly late in the process for many reasons. Only once down to the “short list” do we announce a process and engage local development officials.

    It can be really difficult to evaluate a locality from afar if the process requires that we announce our intentions so we can be “sold” on an area. Since generally reluctant, we need to do what we can with whatever information is easily available.

    There are some economic development groups – South Carolina comes immediately to mind – that do a great job of proactive outreach and making information available quite easily. By staying front of mind well in advance of an actual project, they ensure they will be considered early in the process. And as a practical matter, that can tip the scales to give them inside track later in the process.

    Branding is an investment on the front end so that the back end can matter.

  3. Paul Ellis

    October 28, 2009

    I’d like to underscore the need for place branding to be authentic. Determine what’s unique about your city or area and become your community’s troubadour! Don’t let naysayers or competitiors divert you from clearly sharing what is real and really valuable about your place.

    Tacoma in the 1990s was a gritty mill town in Seattle’s shadow, and the regional media seemd to nlove to put the place down. Some of us began to recognize that our community’s smaller size, its lower cost, and its plethora of old warehouses offered a place where creative small business owners could thrive. We began to tell an authentic story and ignore the Puget Sound “wits” who continued to rhyme the city name with “aroma”–as in, a bad odor.

    Today Tacoma is seen around the country as a gutsy art mecca with lots of cool spaces and creative people.

  4. Tony Everitt

    October 28, 2009

    Right on. Place branding is an investment that returns well. See also

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  7. […] I have emphasized the need for communities to have a strong online communication presence. I have reported on the Development Counsellors International 2011 International Winning Strategies Report  which […]

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