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Economic Development Marketing Practices to Avoid

Economic Development Marketing Strategy

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Economic development marketing is an art in and of itself. You want to promote your uniqueness, but make sure that you’re hitting their pain points at the same time. You need to market both diversity and specificity at one time. It can be tough, and there are a number of pitfalls that marketers in your shoes face. I’ve put together a list of the most insidious offenders, based on 25 years of marketing for local governments.

1. Putting too much thought into a logo or tagline.

I’ve seen some awesome economic development logos – and I’ve seen some downright hideous ones. I’ve also seen that the success of the department isn’t in proportion to the cleverness of its logo. Don’t get me wrong, having a strong brand is important, but your logo is only one piece of your brand. Don’t agonize over it at the expense of making sure that your message is focused, relatable, and relevant. Ultimately, your brand should speak to a known need in your audience that only you can solve.

Finding the perfect tagline – and one that’s not already taken – can be tough. It often requires rigorous research, time, creativity, and experience, but here are some tips to help you along:

  • Keep it short. NyQuil may have been able to endure on a long tagline, but they’re the exception. Keep your tagline to under five words – doing so makes every single word count.
  • Double entendres rule. Double meanings can go a long way with tying your business message to one that’s uniquely yours. New York touts itself as “State of the Future”, claiming that while they’re obviously a state, the future is already there. This is not a requirement, but it’s fun when you find the right fit.
  • It’s not critical to have. Don’t pressure yourself to pull out a great tagline. Prospects are more interested in what you can offer than in a few pithy words beneath your logo.

2. Saying too much at one time.

Visit most economic development websites and it’ll feel like drinking through a firehose. There’s too much information all at once, and that’s often the result of a department not knowing their customers. Most site selectors or business execs have a shortlist of what they’re looking for. Your mission should be to find out what those needs typically are and address them succinctly. There are a few ways you can do this:

  • Informal conversation with prospects, usually done at conferences.
  • Survey your existing businesses to see where you shine. This information will be useful for another reason later.
  • If you lose an RFP, do a follow-up. Not all will respond, but the ones that do can be insightful.

3. “Me too” marketing.

I’m not talking about the hashtag – I’m talking about doing the same thing everyone else does, whether you realize it or not. If you’re leaning heavily on the promises of being “pro-business” or having a strong workforce, then I have some bad news: so is absolutely everyone else. You need to take a look at your community and find what’s really special about it – why you live or work there – and promote its uniqueness. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why do people move to my area?
  • What do we have that neighboring cities/towns/counties don’t?
  • Why would someone care about coming here?

As I said earlier, the insight you’re given by surveying existing businesses can create extremely powerful economic development marketing. With their permission, you can use their quotes to provide third-party validation on why businesses should come to your neck of the woods.

Another example is to play to other areas’ weaknesses. Detroit plays to their perhaps limited strengths by showing how much it costs to live in other cities, compared to living in Detroit.

Detroit's Economic Development Marketing Approach

4. Failing to collaborate with other departments.

Economic development is one of the foundational pillars of local government, but only one. By not collaborating with tourism to promote culture or attractions, or development services to promote zoning or permitting, you’re missing out on some powerful opportunities. Leveraging other departments will help you tell a more compelling story. In fact, a lot of their marketing – including a tagline – may have already been created and available for you to use.

5. A lack of economic development marketing strategy.

The best local governments promote non-stop, even with very little real estate available. They know their customers – where they look for information, how to speak to them, and how to serve them. They know which metrics matter, which ones don’t, and what affects growth. All of this comes from a well-designed marketing strategy and consistent execution. A comprehensive economic development marketing strategy like we produce is pretty exhaustive, but here are some tips to get you started:

  • Target audience personas: take all of the insights you have about an audience in one particular segment.
  • Messaging matrix: list out each persona, then develop top-of-funnel, middle-of-funnel, and bottom-of-funnel messaging for each one.
  • Channel strategy: know where your audience gets information they trust, then advertise/contribute content/offer to guest speak in those channels.
  • Metrics: list your top key performance indicators to make sure that the messaging resonates, that leads come from your channels, and that you’ve accurately nailed your personas.

By putting into use the tips above, and working from a solid and well-researched strategy, your economic development marketing can be more concise, more attractive, and more effective.

Related: Economic Development Branding Should Stand On Its Own

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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