By Jim Walton, CEO, Brand Acceleration, Inc.
A few months ago, I was attending a board meeting with an economic development organization, and one board member asked the following question, “When our website is completed, are we done?” Fortunately, I had been warned that he was the bean-counter of the group, and that he was always focused on saving money. Clearly not a marketer, he saw such investments as expenses, something that was meant to be controlled or cut. Ever honest, I told him, “No, marketing is never done.” This was not the answer he wanted to hear. In his mind, the website was a large financial bite, one that he would rather not repeat.
Here’s what I told him: “Imagine the world’s best-known brands, such as Apple, Nike, and Coca Cola. Now, imagine what would have become of those brands had they simply created a phone, shoe, or soda can and then spent no money on marketing. Had they done nothing, they would have been catastrophic failures. No one would know them. One thing that these companies have in common is an on-going, never-ending marketing and awareness effort.”
As I said this, I could see the look on his face. He thought he had me when he said, “We’re not a multi-billion-dollar company with a huge budget. We’re a small community with very little money,” to which I responded, “They all started out very small, usually in a garage or small shop.”
I’ve been in the marketing and advertising industry my entire career. I’ve made a career-long sturdy of how successful marketers operate; what works, and what doesn’t. One immutable truth (discovery) is that There is No End. Great Marketers Never Stop.
Following this man’s frame of thought, a new website was all that was needed. It is not. A website is only a starting point. In the economic development industry, as with any industry, it is an absolute requirement. Any person, company, or site consultant considering your community will always go there for a look, and it had better be very robust. Keep in mind that your website is a research tool. Visitors have very specific questions and your website is the answer portal. If the site is weak, or worse yet, non-existent, your community is at a very significant disadvantage. This is not a place to cut corners.
But, then what? What’s next. A website with no promotional support is like cyber driftwood. It’s just floating around, maybe being seen, but maybe not. This is not a marketing strategy. The only way people visit your economic development website is through a search, like Google, or if someone (you) sends them to it. This is where an on-going marketing program comes in.
Effective economic development organizations utilize multiple tactics to grow community awareness and drive people to their website. Such tactics could include, but are certainly not limited to, email marketing, social media marketing, videos, banner ads/online advertising, familiarization (FAM) tours, mission trips, direct marketing, and many others. I’m often asked which tactics work. The answer is All of Them. I believe that a strong mix of tactics will help grow awareness. Also, remember that repeated touches are crucial. Don’t do a one-time postcard mailing and expect calls to flood in. It doesn’t work that way.
What if you have a very limited budget? Then, in that situation, your best bet is to be highly-targeted. If your community is very qualified for one or two specific industries, then you should use your limited resources to target people who focus on those industries.
So, back to my bean-counter friend, and people like him. To be truly effective at growing community awareness and generating leads, I would suggest you make your marketing budget a very significant priority every year.
There is No End. Great Marketers Never Stop.