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Economic Development Marketing: Beyond the Basics

Economic Development Marketing Beyond the Basics

If you’ve read our articles over the years about improving economic development marketing, then you may know what I mean by “the basics”. An economic development department needs its own brand, website, and plan for alignment with other areas of local government, among other things.

This article isn’t about those. I’ll assume that the brand, website, social media program, CRM, and email marketing are in place. Instead, we’ll go beyond those basics to a new level of economic development marketing.

After all, the best way to lose market share is to keep doing what you’re doing and not change a thing.

Beyond Branding: Develop Brand Campaigns.

One of the key components of successful economic development marketing is a strong, often independent brand identity, but you’re often marketing to very different targeted industries. What gets the attention of healthcare may not appeal to manufacturing. As a result, you need to tailor your approach to each industry (and maybe even geography). The best way to do this is through individualized brand campaigns.

Think of a brand campaign as a way of creating a new look and feel to communicate key benefits, using language and visuals that apply specifically to that audience. The materials all have a cohesive look (even including their own logo) and align with your existing brand guidelines.

I’m not talking about making a brochure and calling it a day. A campaign includes how you connect with your industries as well. Consideration to your marketing channels, email lists, and even remarketing contain that same message and aesthetic, so the audience sees a consistent brand campaign that applies specifically to them.

Beyond Digital Marketing: Maximize Platforms.

Organic social media posts only get the attention of current followers. Standard email marketing is very general and repetitive (major business announcements, reports on property vacancies, etc.). A standard website gives information without providing much reason for the visitor to do the same — if anyone is visiting it at all.

Social media. Bring LinkedIn Ads into the mix. It’s the only platform that lets you target audiences by industry and role (albeit not perfectly). Most people are more familiar with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. and you should still schedule posts to them but if you’re looking for site selectors and C-level executives, you’ll find them on LinkedIn. Look at these ads as an extension of your brand campaigns.

Search engine optimization (SEO). If a website isn’t optimized for search, it’ll only show up for branded keywords (i.e., the name of the department or community). The only ones that use branded keywords are those that already know you in which case, search quality is irrelevant.

All of that is to say that your economic development marketing needs a keyword strategy, a plugin like Yoast if the website is in WordPress, and some training to keep your content optimized. From there, you can bring in position tracking (which shows the average position in search for each keyword), structured data, and other features to take your search visibility to a (literally) higher level.

Oh, and if that website hasn’t been re-designed within the past ten years, it’s time.

Email Marketing. First things first: email marketing is relatively worthless without segmentation. By creating lists for each targeted audience, you’re able to :

  • send content to that audience that resonates with them without a lot of fluff;
  • create unique signup forms on each targeted industry landing page, automatically adding them to their corresponding list;
  • bring automation into the marketing program, which delivers pre-written lead-nurturing emails at pre-determined intervals.

Email automation treats each person that signs up for a newsletter to be welcomed individually, and receive custom content. It can also be customized to provide unique content, depending on the actions that the person takes. For instance, if the recipient clicks a link for a ribbon cutting, they can receive an automatic thank-you email that’s scheduled to send the day following the event.

Beyond Business Collaboration: Build a Program.

Without the support of the local business community, a job in economic development can be a soul-sucking experience. With their support, it hardly feels like work. How can a business community become engaged without the use of webinars, endless Chamber of Commerce events, and town halls where only the grumpy people show up?

Show your community pride through co-marketing. The best form of advertising is word-of-mouth, right? Invite business leaders to be a face of economic development, telling their stories and featuring their businesses, all the while providing your targeted industries that they too can be successful in your community.

Promotions like this are effective toward targeted industries but they also show the local business community that they’re an important part of economic development.

Nurture emerging leaders. Leadership programs are common throughout the United States. However, they’re often 6-8 month programs that take a lot of planning and resources.

A smaller program is far more feasible. Develop an application process for a 6-week leadership program, where future business leaders meet one evening a month to go through a light professional development program. Here’s a start of topics to get it started:

  • Bookkeeping basics (understanding balance sheets, P&L statements, etc.)
  • Marketing basics (audiences, social media, public relations, etc.)
  • Strategic planning (SWOT, SMART goals, mission/vision/values, etc.)
  • Commercial real estate (understanding lease types, tenant responsibilities, SBA loans, etc.)

Bring in experts from the business community to provide presentations on each topic to reduce the burden on the department to provide content. Not only does this help to grow the community’s next generation of entrepreneurs, but it also sends the message that economic development works to provide opportunities to those within the community.


Basic methods deliver basic results. Within each strategy of economic development marketing, take a look at how things could be expanded within current resources, how the business community could support that growth, and how technology is evolving to help you deliver an extraordinary experience to every lead, every day.


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Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.

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