We have learned that the first six of the Eight Pillars of Economic Development in Growing Cities are education, housing, infrastructure, collaboration, growth strategies, and livability factors.
The seventh pillar is memorable marketing.
Economic development marketing and branding is a vital part of economic development. It’s the shorthand that communicates who you are to people both inside and outside your community.
When it works, it emotionally resonates with stakeholders by inviting them to see why you are different and why people should invest, work and buy in your community.
Here are five principles to drive your strategic and creative work with branding and marketing for economic development:
• Understand your stakeholders. Start by acknowledging that the audiences in economic development branding are often more complex than product branding. You are both representing your community and trying to reach targets far beyond your area. That means you have one foot that is local and the other foot that is independent.
• Understand your goals. Once you understand your targets, focus on what you want your outcomes to be. Economic initiatives can vary dramatically, from attracting more diverse businesses to creating jobs to stabilizing a downtown or driving tourism. The strategy behind your branding and marketing efforts should connect to exactly what your goals are, and some of them may actually be conflicting.
• Differentiate and define. Economic development efforts tend to use the same words and appeal to the same feelings no matter the geographic area. Just look at how everyone talks about the quality of life.
That’s not a differentiating point. Instead, drill down deeper and define what makes the quality of life special in your area.
• Get true community buy-in. Work to get community buy-in, but know that it’s also important to challenge your community. While your brand should be believable and authentic, that does not mean boring.
You want the community to understand that when it comes to economic development, you cannot market on what feels ordinary and safe. Aim to stand out.
• Put actions behind the brand. Economic development is not about nice pictures and words. It goes far beyond an engaging slogan. Instead, aim to live the brand through actions.
If your brand is about small-town living with a nostalgic feel, your storefronts should reflect that and your hospitality and retail workers should be welcoming.
If your economic development brand is about diversity, your recruitment efforts for businesses should welcome people of all colors and genders. If your efforts are focused on tourism, invest in the attractions that make people want to come to your area over and over.
Lessons learned: Sadly, when budgets are tight, when the economy is down or when apathy exists in a community, the first thing that gets cut is the marketing budget. But that’s when it is more critical than ever to tell your story. Pitch your assets. Brag about your business climate. Promote your existing businesses. Creating consistent, engaging and memorable marketing is what will get you to the front of the line.
Without memorable marketing, you aren’t even in the game, because no one will know about your city. Remember, people don’t know what they don’t know. You have to tell them.
Lorie Vincent is the founder and president of Acceleration by Design, a boutique economic development firm that has been hired by the city of Goliad to assess the city’s economic status and create a two-year action plan to bring businesses into the city.