Community Branding Requires Strong Marketing & Supportive Leadership

At Brand Acceleration, we work with cities, towns, regions, and states nationwide, helping them develop strategies that grow awareness and drive economic activity. Often, the first challenge put to us is to “create a new brand,” however, brands are not “created,” they’re discovered. After some serious probing, we often find the same thing.

Your community might have the best connections, community college, sites and building inventory, and fishing in the nation, but if nobody knows about it, what difference will it make to future prosperity? As you might expect, I interview many community leaders and almost everyone believes his or her place has a strong brand. “We’re an agriculture, manufacturing, military community.” I hear it all.

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, when we ask site selectors, c-suite executives, or real estate brokers what they believe, we often find that the community is virtually unknown. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes a clean slate is a great place to start. But it’s important to get started.

You can have a great web site and a really creative logo, but if you do nothing to effectively plant your message in the minds of the most important prospects who can bring jobs and investment, your community may be like the tree falling in the forest. No one will know.

Being heard in a crowded space
The worldwide web is just that, worldwide. It’s a huge place where unsupported web sites get lost. Like cyber-driftwood, they just float along hoping to bump into an unsuspecting soul who might be working on a jobs project. Many community economic development web sites are just like that, floating aimlessly….hoping….wishing….dreaming.

Making matters even worse is the fact that search engines are making it more difficult every day. Google, Bing, and Yahoo are ever-changing. Without warning, they make changes that make it more difficult to navigate their algorithms. In the last eighteen months, Google installed their Panda updates, dramatically increasing the need to actively participate in social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs. Then, almost immediately, they installed their Penguin update, punishing web site owners who intentionally stuffed key words into their sites, seeking an advantage. Just a few days ago, they added the Hummingbird update, recognizing searchers who use full sentences. For economic developers, Hummingbird could be a blessing or a curse, depending on how well they know their audiences search practices.

Failure to fund equals failure to thrive
I attend numerous economic development meetings and conferences where I hear economic developers talk of funding challenges. In addition to serving their primary role as marketer, they often spend much of their time doing fundraising, being seen at community events, serving on various boards, and kissing countless political backsides. Some estimate their effective economic development time at 15%. My challenge to elected officials and EDO board members to take over the fundraising role so your economic developer can dedicate all of his or her time doing the primary job of marketing and seeking jobs and investment.

Now what?
Assuming you have a great web site (And I do mean great. Good is no longer good enough.), what should you do next? In addition to your web site, which should be professionally produced and optimized for search engines, you must find powerful ways to grow awareness of your area, convincing key audiences to take a look. I like tactics that are strategic and measurable. After all, you might have to prove to your board that the money spent is working.

For Brand Acceleration clients, we’ve had great success with a well-thought-out mix of tactics such as e-mail marketing, online banner ads, videos, mission trips, direct mail, and even occasional print ads. There are no silver bullets, though. If you think you can market on the cheap, running a single ad, for example, you should keep your money. That kind of marketing never works. In order to successfully grow your community’s brand and drive activity, you must consistently be in front of highly-defined prospects with an on-going effort. It takes at least three impressions just to stand a chance of being remembered.

Maybe your community has a strong reputation. Maybe it has no reputation beyond the county line. In either case, now is the time to get started with a strong promotional effort. If you’re not telling your story, who will?

I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to share your thoughts and personal experiences below.

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