Connecting state and local government leaders
COMMENTARY | It is an opportunity to amplify your community's strengths.
Economic developers have a lot on their plates. Attracting new businesses, assisting with business expansion efforts, and supporting the development of innovative technologies makes for a packed schedule. This admirable job-creation immersion often leads to the neglect of one very important component of growth strategies—an area’s brand.
A state, region, or county’s brand—its identity, differentiators, and values—should bind job-creation strategies and guide tactical decisions about the types of businesses to incentivize, educational programs to create, and infrastructure projects to support. A representative brand should firmly encapsulate the value of an area’s businesses and workforce, its history, its magnitude, and promote what it stands for in a compelling, attributable way.
It should also reflect the needs of stakeholders—businesses, policy makers, educators, and residents. The brand-building process should include an evaluation of differentiators, the creation of a compelling value proposition, and the development of an outreach strategy.
First, Index Your Assets
Planning wisely for future growth starts with broad knowledge of an area’s economic resources. That means starting with a strong handle on the sectors driving the local economy, your workforce profiles, and other key factors. Many state agencies have inserted a wealth of data into white papers that demonstrate industry capacity and workforce expertise, but these figures are not marketing collateral—they lack a compelling narrative that speaks to shared principles.
Analyzing assets for brand building goes beyond evaluating location quotients and cluster maps. Research and data are vital, yes, but these instruments do not stand alone. They also provide insight into why businesses succeed in a particular location and the exceptional characteristics of an area.
Contextual, qualitative research shows us what we do best and affords opportunities to amplify strengths through messaging, highlighting the significance of living and working in a particular location.
Think Critically about a Value Proposition
A state’s brand is more than just a tagline or slogan.
Many state taglines (most of which are used solely for tourism) are uninspired and lack differentiators. Nebraska’s “Nebraska Nice” (which has now been retired) and Oklahoma’s “See for Yourself!” slogans don’t seem to be tied to any particular asset. Idaho’s “Wander. Winter. Wonder.” and Tennessee’s “Soundtrack of America” slogans clearly connect to larger campaigns; one touts outdoor activities and the other alludes to the state’s deep roots within the entertainment industry. Both Idaho and Tennessee have interactive web platforms that highlight brand identities and personalities.
Development groups must focus on establishing a cohesive voice and developing unifying messages to support it. The value proposition should summarize an area’s qualities in a dynamic, relevant way in order to convey benefits and to stimulate interest—both locally and across state borders.
With respect to economic development, we know your state is “open for business,” (it says so on the interstate signs!) but in what capacity? Why does being “open for business” really matter to a manufacturer or a tech startup looking to scale?
Reflecting on why local businesses succeed and thinking philosophically about how the area is perceived, how its constituents interact and behave, and how its competitive market advantages make it unique can strengthen incentive polices and relocation pitches.
Finally, Develop a Communications Strategy
After taking the time to evaluate assets and develop a compelling narrative that amplifies strengths, it is time to promote the brand.
Start by weaving components of the brand into comprehensive plans and marketing collateral. Next, develop a targeted outreach strategy to inform external stakeholders of place-based advantages.
Outreach strategies should have a multi-platform approach, which may include digital and traditional marketing tactics.
A collection of development organizations and creative services companies recently refreshed Richmond, Virginia’s brand to highlight the community’s creative spirit and artistic edge. To market the new brand, the group created bumper stickers containing only three letters in a bubbly, welcoming font: “RVA.” The stickers are now slapped on bikes, buses, and bar bathrooms; Richmond-based businesses use the RVA logo to promote corporate events and even grocery stores display the badge to up their “cool factor.” The campaign has undoubtedly reached millions and clearly resonates with residents – Richmond’s identity is now tied to those three letters.
Branding is often overlooked when states or local organizations seek to stand up businesses and the workforces that support them. A convincing brand can connect growth strategies and workforce initiatives to ensure an organization has a cohesive approach to economic development.
Thinking about the community you represent and promoting its values goes a long way in clearly communicating your area’s worth and enables a location to stand out from the crowd.