Golden Rules: #1 – #6 to Help Improve Promotional ROI

Ed Burghard


Recently, I’ve received a number of questions about the role of both marketing and sales in place branding. The questions suggest some confusion around how these two activities differ from each other and how they should fit together operationally.


A model that I feel helps frame the answer is AIDA (Attention – Interest – Desire – Action). This is a model I learned back in the ‘70s and it has helped me understand the communication process.

Marketing focuses on creating attention and interest. It is about communicating the benefits of your location to a group of potential capital investors you have identified based on a segmentation strategy. Marketing is a one–to-many communication effort.

Sales is about communicating the benefits of your location to a specific capital investor. Effective selling requires you to have insight into the investor’s unique needs. It can be informed by a general knowledge of the industry, but is executed best when you understand the real problem the specific investor is trying to solve. Sales is a one-to-one communication effort to create desire and action.


Both Sales and Marketing leverage your place image – the authentic benefits your location can deliver. The focus is on communicating “what is”.

Branding includes Sales and Marketing, but adds product development (asset creation, infrastructure investment, public policy reform) into the mix. Branding includes creating a vision of what your community “could be” (identity), and developing a plan to close the gaps between “what is” and that vision.

Here are some specific thoughts on sales and marketing you may find helpful as you evaluate your community’s promotional investment. I’ve labeled them “Golden Rules” because they are a time proven concepts from the private sector that I’ve reapplied to place branding. I numbered them because I plan to add to the list in future blog posts. The objective of the rules is to help you pressure test your promotional plan. My hope is there will be at least one rule that will cause you to make a change that positively impacts your return on investment.

Golden Rules (#1 – #6)

  1. It is easier to sell a solution to a problem than to sell a positive feature. It is not that hard to position your community as a problem solving solution if you have insight into the challenges your target capital investors face. For example, “close proximity to markets” is a feature. “Ability to cost effectively reach customers” is a solution to the problem of declining profit margins. When you promote the assets (features) of your community you are relying on the potential capital investor to understand how their company will benefit. Unfortunately, it is unlikely they will work that hard, or have enough of an understanding to appropriately connect the dots the way you want them to. The responsibility is really yours to understand what the potential capital investor needs and explain the asset package your community has as a solution for those needs.
  2. Leads without information are not really actionable. Purchasing lists of “qualified” leads from third party suppliers can be effective if you also receive detailed information regarding why they may be looking to make a capital investment and who the key decision makers are. Simply promoting your location to a purchased list of names or email addresses is not sufficient to ensure success. When evaluating list suppliers it is important to understand how much information you are going to receive and how current that information is. The goal is to have enough insight that you can understand how your community’s asset package can address a need the capital investor has. If the supplier cannot provide detailed information, then you need to have a step in your process to get it.
  3. Design your processes to make it easier for the potential capital investor. People do not like waiting, they don’t like complexity, and investors especially don’t like being handed off to a number of different people before getting their questions answered. In short, your potential capital investors want personalized service and they want to feel you care about helping them make a smart decision. This does not necessarily mean selecting your location, it means selecting the best location. If you’ve designed your internal processes to be optimized for your operation, they may be efficient, but ineffective. It is far better to optimize your processes to deliver a great experience for the capital investor. Don’t worry about a little inefficiency if the delivered experience is right. It has been my observation that winning more capital investment deals has a remarkable way of making internal staff and management comfortable with process inefficiencies. Try to think more like Nordstrom – “Do what is right for the customer and you’ve done what is right for the Organization.”
  4. Questions are your greatest selling tool. Questions lead to answers and answers lead to insight that will help you better understand how your community can solve a problem for the capital investor. The more rapport you can create, the better chance you have of developing a proposition that will actually meet the needs of the capital investor. It is important you establish your desire to be a great partner who cares about meeting the investor needs rather than simply the financials associated with closing a deal. Asking questions is one way of demonstrating you care; acting on the answers is another.
  5. Marketing is always more effective if viewed as an aid to selling. Marketing is about creating awareness and interest in what you are selling. But it also needs to set the stage for sales (creating desire and affirmative action). Marketing is about “Go” time, not simply “Showtime”. You need to understand the capital investment decision process and how your marketing investment moves potential capital investors down the path of making an investment. Your success measures should strive to evaluate how successful you are at converting attention and interest created by your marketing efforts into perceptual improvement and ultimately incremental inquiries. Considering 71% of the time, a potential capital investor creates a short list of potential locations without every contacting an economic development professional; it isn’t hard to appreciate the importance of your marketing investment. However, to deliver a return, that investment must lead to your location being on that short list more often than not.
  6. When you make business climate improvements, communicate them loudly and proudly. You need to explain why the changes are important and how both current and potential capital investors will benefit. Improvements include asset creation, infrastructure investment and public policy reform. Don’t assume that just because you’ve made the change people will know. You must tell them. Only then will the improvement help you better position your location as a possible solution. New and improved is a powerful claim and is not limited to the marketing of consumer products.

What additional rules would you add to the list? Leave a comment and share your experience. Your thoughts will improve the educational value of the post for everybody.

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