I have been keeping tabs on the SELECTUSA Program since it was created by Executive Order in June 2011. One reason is because my friend Aaron Brickman is the Deputy Executive Director. Aaron is somebody I believe really “gets it” and I am excited to see the Invest in America Program he led so well be recognized and expanded in scope. The other reason is the SELECTUSA Program is a formal acknowledgement of the importance of place branding to the long-term success of Brand America, and I am hoping it serves to encourage economic development professionals at all levels to improve their branding mastery as a strategy for economic recovery and prosperity.
What problem is SELECTUSA intended to address?
The purpose of SELECTUSA is to market Brand America as the ideal location for capital investment. The Executive Order does a nice job of describing the problem facing Brand America –
“The Federal Government lacks the centralized investment promotion infrastructure and resources to attract business investment that is often found in other industrialized countries. Currently, States and cities are competing against foreign governments to attract business investment. Our Nation needs to retain business investment and pursue and win new investment in the United States by better marketing our strengths, providing clear, complete, and consistent information, and removing unnecessary obstacles to investment.”
Most developed countries have well established “nation branding” efforts in place, and are effective in aggressively competing for FDI. The United States has not had a well-coordinated and effective way to market Brand America since the Voice of America Program established prior to WWII. Historically, the promise of freedom and self-determination broadcast by the VOA was a powerful message to attract capital investors. Unfortunately, today, the VOA is primarily a news service.
What does SELECTUSA do?
SELECTUSA is a program administered by the Department of Commerce. It has four mandated functions –
1. The Initiative shall coordinate outreach and engagement by the Federal Government to promote the United States as the premier location to operate a business.
2. The Initiative shall serve as an ombudsman that facilitates the resolution of issues involving Federal programs or activities related to pending investments.
3. The Initiative shall provide information to domestic and foreign firms on: the investment climate in the United States; Federal programs and incentives available to investors; and State and local economic development organizations.
4. The Initiative shall report quarterly to the President through the National Economic Council, the Domestic Policy Council, and the National Security Staff, describing its outreach activities, requests for information received, and efforts to resolve issues.
What’s My Take?
Obviously, the Program needs more time before any meaningful conclusions can be drawn. But, I am optimistic that this is a major step in the right direction. And I have confidence Aaron will do an excellent job leading the Organization.
On first blush, there are four things I recommend be considered to make the Program even stronger.
It is encouraging to see SELECTUSA has elected to use the internet as a key communication channel. The program has established a website and presence on both LinkedIn and Twitter. I encourage every economic development professional to bookmark the website, join the LinkedIn Group and follow SELECTUSA on Twitter. Let’s help Aaron by creating an actively engaged community. Successful use of online media for global communication is mission critical. And, SELECTUSA is off to a good start.
But, there is room for improvement. For example, the Hubspot Website Grader score for the website is only 74 (scored on October 15, 2011), so there is still upside potential for improved technical performance. One free thing we can all do to help is add a link to the SELECTUSA website. For perspective, increasing the number of inbound links will improve the website’s SEO visibility.
Another improvement opportunity is the promotional copy. In my opinion, it is too feature focused and the tonality can be strengthened. The benefits of investing in Brand America are not as clearly articulated as they could be. Remember the saying I have shared in prior posts – “Features tell, Benefits sell”. To illustrate my point, on the Why Select USA page, the claim “Center of Research and Innovation” describes a feature. It tells what the United States is. But, it needs to be translated into a meaningful business benefit explaining why locating near the “Center of Research and Innovation” is important to a capital investor. From a tonality perspective, the copy needs to be modified so it is less confrontational. Phrasing like “U.S. companies dominate the World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies Ranking” may make Americans swell with pride, but the word “dominate” can be interpreted by foreign direct investors as negative smack talk. Improving the technical performance and copy effectiveness can be done easily with the help of a branding expert.
I am hopeful SELECTUSA leadership will be granted responsibility for identifying and prioritizing business climate improvement opportunities for Brand America. This is where the real step change will occur. In my opinion, coordinating, facilitating and providing information is necessary work but not sufficient to achieve the mission. SELECTUSA needs to be given latitude to advocate within the Department of Commerce and across Federal Agencies for continual improvement in the national business climate. Enacting required “product improvement” changes is how we will ensure Brand America continues to be globally competitive
I believe SELECTUSA needs to measure and report FDI inflow share versus other major trading blocks (e.g. E.U., Asia, South America). Brand America’s share has been declining. It is important to acknowledge that Brand America’s share suggests we need to do a better job competing for FDI and then take decisive action to reverse the share decline. Brand America may be #1 versus other countries, but the capital investment decision focuses on trading block first and country within trading block second. Brand America’s declining share suggests we are losing the First Moment of Truth too often.
Nothing encourages more investment than the celebration of success. I recommend serious consideration be given to adding a Program to the VOA that provides success stories of foreign companies doing business in the United States. Adding the VOA a key communication channel to the overall promotional mix will definitely help SELECTUSA meet its capital attraction and retention objectives.
I think SELECTUSA is a good start, and welcome step in the right direction. I am excited to see the Federal Government building on the success of the Invest in America Program (congrats to Aaron and that entire team for a job well done). I am very optimistic that over time SELECTUSA can make a meaningful and positive impact on reversing the declining FDI inflow share trend. I believe if the Federal Government will empower and resource SELECTUSA to become all it can be, then the result will be increased FDI and job growth in the United States.
Are you also optimistic about the potential of SELECTUSA to make a difference? What advice would you offer SELECTUSA leadership to help ensure a positive impact? What services would you like SELECTUSA to provide to make your job of promoting your community, region or state easier? Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Also, consider adding a link to the SELECTUSA website to your EDO website. It will make a difference.
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