Does Regional or State Branding Work?

Ed BurghardBuilding sustainable cities – and a sustainable future – will need open dialogue among all branches of national, regional and local government. And it will need the engagement of all stakeholders – including the private sector and civil society, and especially the poor and marginalized.

Quote from Ban Ki-moon


I have been asked several times to share what I learned from leading the Ohio Branding effort as the executive Director of the Ohio Business Development Coalition from 2005 to 2011. During this time period, Ohio won Site Selection’s Governor’s Cup award in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011 (5 of the 7 years). It is important to note that the Ohio Branding effort didn’t really get started until 2006 as 2005 was primarily focused on getting the OBDC structured and staffed.

I’ve structured the learning using the Galbraith Star Model as my format. For perspective, Jay Galbraith created this model in the 1960s. It is the foundation upon which many Corporations (including P&G) base their organizational design choices. It focuses on design elements that are controllable by management and can influence employee behavior. Categorizing the Learnings using the Star model should be helpful as you work to continually improve your organization’s effectiveness. And, as an added benefit, I get to introduce you to yet another great model that has served me well throughout my career.

Each learning is supported with quotes from economic development professionals who were working in Ohio’s major MSAs at the time. These were considered partners and customers of the OBDC.

Strategy, Purpose & Values Learnings:

  • A state coordinated approach to managing the Ohio brand communication made an important contribution to economic development success. The drivers of this learning are the importance of delivering a consistent message to a target audience in a disciplined way. Here are some quotes from economic development professionals in the major Ohio MSAs.
    • “Creating a single brand for Ohio was important to help bring all audiences together (ED community, regions, state government, etc,) as well as providing a single message platform to facilitate consistent and impactful communication with our key internal and external audiences.”
    • “Place branding the state has made a difference in how others outside the state view Ohio and how we view ourselves. There is a measurable quality to the Ohio branding as evidenced by the findings of the Brand Equity monitor.       Building the Ohio brand helps us define ourselves, identify our assets, and communicate those assets and attributes to the broader world.”
    • “Perhaps it would be best to consider the state’s marketing efforts prior to the creation of the OBDC versus post. Prior = episodic, opportunistic, inconsistent, inefficient, cost ineffective. Post = strategic, targeted, consistent, sustained, cost effective.”
    • “Pulling together the regions in Columbus for a best practice session was especially helpful.  We discussed what worked, what did not work!  After the daylong session we were able to meet informally at dinner and talk about our work and how it supported the Ohio brand…State of Perfect Balance.” 
    • “The Ohio brand provided a foundation or central point upon which the regions could base their individual messages. Across the board, I think regions found commonality in assets and messages. We may not have realized this strength otherwise.”
    • “First and foremost OBDC through guidance, council and advocacy has allowed the regions in Ohio to Market and Brand their strategies and assets while collectively marketing the State of Ohio.   This was done through the Matching Grant program that enabled each region to develop a Brand strategy with funding to execute the plan.”
    • “We all had the opportunity to review each of the other regions plans and gain insight from one another.” 
  • Being apolitical is a key contributor to success. The OBDC’s focus on doing what is right for Ohio was noticed and built a level of trust with the broader Ohio economic development community.  The Organization transcend 3 Gubernatorial Administrations.
    • “Being apolitical ensures Organizational sustainability. The OBDC served Ohio under three Gubernatorial Administrations.”
    • “There are challenges to the mission when politics change.”
  • Making data based decisions helps ensure more right choices.
    • “Commitment to research for direction, tracking and measurement is key. Measuring and benchmarking the efforts helps inform future investments, ensuring the impact of private and public investments.”
    • “Measuring reputation, benchmarking the brand awareness and perception of Ohio routinely was vital to directing the program’s strategy.”
  • Securing a reliable and sustainable funding stream is critical to delivering the mission.
    • “It is important to stick with the effort. Starts and stops don’t work. To keep the momentum building – to ensure the branding sticks in the minds of targeted audiences – they must hear it frequently over a sustained period of time, and from multiple channels and spokespeople.”
    • “You need financial independence to stay focused on the mission.”

Structure Learnings:

  • Creating a simple, aligned structure is more important than the exact nature of the structure.
    • “Developing a flexible enough organization to change directions is important (e.g. adding lead generation work to the scope).”
    • “It doesn’t matter whether the state organizes by region or industry. What does matter is having dedicated, intelligent project managers that are attentive to needs and persistent in follow-up.”
    • “Feeding the funnel is just the start.”

Systems & Process Learnings

  • Discipline in approach and messaging enables success.  Finding an overall promise for Ohio and avoiding the temptation to chase the latest news encouraged similar messaging discipline in EDO partners.
    • “The OBDC discipline of brand identity and commitment to the brand aligns all entities aggressively selling Ohio as a profitable location for business investment. From the ads to the extensive web presence, from social media to the executive interviews, these efforts are changing decades old misperceptions of the state and are driving Ohio’s economic future.”
    • “Laser focus on C-Suite executives ensures the men and women making investment decisions for their companies understand all that Ohio has to offer.”
    • “Discipline of thought, message and strategy keeps all efforts moving in the same direction. The OBDC identified seven key messages to use in all marketing and outreach material to tell the Ohio story. The discipline of using consistent messaging ensured all materials aligned on telling the story of Ohio as the ideal location for business investment.”
    • “Benefits, benefits, benefits – Sell the benefits of Ohio in every way possible. Tax reform and industry leadership were two key selling points that we leveraged and reinforced every step of the way.”
    • “OBDC’s disciplined approach helped ground the regions that, at times, have been known to start and stop, pivot and turn campaigns. Even with these adjustments, the regions could rely on the OBDC for stability.”
  • Purposefully concentrating on the highest leverage opportunities creates impact.
    • “Focusing your time and effort in the right areas has been key. Focusing on lead generation and executing deals with the hottest prospects is important.”
  • Creating programs based on target insights is key to effectiveness.
    • “Knowing the target audience and assessing their needs was a critical step. We always kept the capital investor and key influencer audiences in mind.”
    • “Reaching the audience where they play and keeping on top of relevant trends helps deliver the greatest bang for buck. We need to keep pushing the envelope to find new and creative ways to define and reach our target audiences.”OBDC has contributed a level of sophistication and innovation in the development and tactical deployment of marketing messages heretofore unknown in Ohio.”

People & Leadership Learnings:

  • Servant Leadership helps ensure collaboration and results.
    • OBDC has contributed a level of sophistication and innovation in the development and tactical deployment of marketing messages heretofore unknown in Ohio.”
    • “The importance of hitting the road to formulate and nurture relationships with the right people when trying to develop new business.”
    • “It takes a special quality and approach to bring regional interests and people together and keep them engaged. The OBDC team and leadership is the ‘core’ for many of us, furthering discussions that one individual or region couldn’t due to perceived boundaries.”

Rewards Learnings:

  • Financial incentives help coordinate regional and state level efforts. Having “skin in the game” provides a state level organization a seat at the regional strategic planning table.
    • “Creating incentives for the regions to work with the OBDC was very helpful in getting everyone to play in the same sandbox. Selling the state as a whole is important to boost everybody up – not just a few regions.”
    • “Ohio economic development is decentralized and partnership relationships with the regions is key. Economic development in Ohio is a complex equation with no simple solutions.”
    • “OBDC provided value through support to regional and industry-vertical Ohio branding and positioning strategies/programs/campaigns.”
    • “The grant program enabled the regions to collaborate with local partners, secure matching dollars and reach out to both experts and volunteers for support in developing their brand!  It unified the region!”

The OBDC made a significant contribution in helping the Ohio economic development community believe that working together is not only possible, but actually preferable for success. In my mind, the big learning was the importance of working on the system as well as in the system. It was not sufficient to simply become more efficient when process changes could deliver discontinuity on fundamental effectiveness. Viewing the Ohio economic development community as a set of interdependent processes and investing in continual improvement of those processes yielded breakthrough performance. A state level EDO is in the best position to see the opportunities and take action. Such work needs to be an important part of their Organizational mission. From the start, the OBDC strategic approach was to enable others to be more successful rather than duplicate work. That choice encouraged identification of opportunities for work consolidation across the system (e.g. common GIS platform) that reduced total cost, increased efficiencies, streamlined response time, and improved overall effectiveness. I am confident these investments had a positive long-term and sustainable system wide impact.


In 2011, Governor Kasich decided to fulfill the original vision of Governor Taft and essentially privatize state level economic development in Ohio.  To that end, the Governor created the JobsOhio organization and folded the OBDC work into it.  Now, Ohio operates with an even more fully integrated economic development approach similar in concept to Michigan’s MEDC and Florida’s Enterprise Florida operations.  The relationship between JobsOhio and the Ohio regional partners is not the same as when I led the OBDC.  It has been modified and strengthened to take full advantage of the JobsOhio capabilities.  CaveatMy learnings are limited only to the time I led the OBDC and are not intended to reflect the current situation.  But clearly, leveraging a state level economic development organizational approach continues to be considered a winning strategy for the state, and JobsOhio is providing excellent leadership.

2013 American Dream State Ranking Report

2013 American Dream State Ranking Report

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