Creating a new web site is one of the most important things an economic developer needs to do. It serves as a window into the world of his or her community, providing crucial information to the people who might consider bringing a jobs project to town. A look at your web site is often the very first step taken by a site selection consultant or other prospect. The challenge is knowing exactly what he or she expects of your site.
“What do we want to say?
This is undoubtedly the most commonly asked question at a meeting where the topic of discussion is a new economic development web site. It could also be one of the biggest mistakes. The real question is “What does the visitor want to see?”
Sitting on the inside of your community, it’s easy to see all of the things you love and hold dear; the statue of the Civil War soldier with the long gray beard along with a mustache touched by a mustache wax, your beautiful new city hall, and don’t forget the old covered bridge just outside of town. They’re all beautiful….to you, but you’re not the audience. Will showing those things on your economic development web site help attract investment and jobs? No. Has a c-suite executive ever told an economic developer “I chose to invest in your community because I love the covered bridge?” Again, no.
An outsider’s eyes
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a site selector or c-suite exec sit right beside you while you make photo selections, write copy, or choose design concepts? So have we, and here’s what we did.
When I started Brand Acceleration, I decided that we would dig deep into the economic development industry from the audience’s perspective. The audiences being real estate brokers, site selectors, c-suite executives, existing industry managers, entrepreneurs, trailing spouses, and others. I wanted our staff to understand these people better than anyone in the industry, even our clients. So deep that working with us would be like having these people right at the table when making important decisions.
It’s not enough, in my opinion, to know which pages need to be on a web site. We wanted to know which were most and least important, so we asked. We surveyed audiences, 278 of them, offering a list of 18 potential web pages, and asked them to rank them from most to least important. Number one was the Sites and Buildings page. They want to see your inventory. No inventory? You’re off the list. Next, they want to see economic and workforce data. This is where they quickly judge the potential of your area and workers. It was because of this that we developed our Economic Dashboard, a dynamic source of critical information that the economic developer never has to manage or maintain.
Want to know where Quality of Life ranked. Number 14! Once you make short list status, however, it jumps quickly to the upper tier. If the trailing spouse doesn’t see what he or she wants, you may be off the list. “I refuse to live in that ugly place!” And, no, she’s not coming there because she loves the statue. We’ve done extensive research to find out what a trailing spouse expects to see on the QOL page.
Digging even deeper
Along with our recent survey, we make it a point to have regular discussions with these demanding professionals, asking endless questions about what they expect of web sites, e-mailers, videos, online ads, etc. Topics include, but are in no way limited to, copy length, bullets versus copy blocks, data expectations, best ways to present properties, best use of photography, their use of mobile devices, map design, colors (especially if targeting Asian markets), and much, much more. It’s a never-ending research project and we’re not stopping.
Imagine having a site selector at your side, selecting photographs, picking a logo design, and proofreading copy. Our goal is to provide counsel that is so deep that it has the same effect. That’s one of the many reasons we established the Brand Acceleration Board of Advisors. Comprised of recognized industry experts, this group helps our team with answers to burning questions about such topics as site selection, regionalism, workforce development, business retention and expansion, YAP (Young Adult Professionals) groups, and the entire myriad of industry topics. They help us grow, develop, and better serve our clients and the economic development industry. They’re great!
Have an opinion on this subject? Want to share a story? I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to share your thoughts and personal experiences below.