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How Can Small Communities Generate Investment Leads?

small communities generate investment leads

Cookie-cutter marketing approaches may work in some industries, but certainly not in economic development. The size and visibility of a city, state or country drastically impacts the quantity and types of tools in that community’s marketing arsenal.

Unfortunately for those on the smaller end of the spectrum, most sessions at conferences and webinar fodder are oriented more toward sizeable regions and above. So we pulled together some of the best-bang-for-their-buck marketing and lead generation tactics specifically for communities that may be smaller, more rural and/or don’t have the marketing spend of their larger counterparts.

Conduct an Audit of Existing Resources

It may sound basic, but often when we conduct a marketing blueprint, we find there are resources sitting right under an EDO’s nose that they’re unaware of. These resources could be micro-regional (among surrounding communities), state or provincial, macro-regional (Midwest, Western Canada, Southeast, etc.) and federal programs that can provide a funding or awareness boost. Regional trade groups supporting an industry is another potential source.

Work Your Existing Influencer Channels

Smaller regions with little existing visibility can struggle going directly to the market, or even to major influencers like site selection consultants. But we suggest thinking of “influencers” a little differently. State EDOs are one place to start—a recent DCI report, What’s Working in Lead Generation, showed that U.S. regions with populations above 200,000 were getting an average of 20% of their leads from the state EDO. Such groups also host companies and consultants, and organize trade show delegations that can give you added exposure. Another powerful “influencer” can be regional colleges and universities, which may have extended relationships through alumni networks and private industry partnerships. Don’t discount their location either—if there is an industry tie-in, that university across the state or province can still be an asset for you. Lastly, consider regional or state/provincial industry associations, regardless of their exact location. If there’s an alignment of interests, there’s a conversation to be had.

Be Exceptional to Your Own State

The founder of marketing automation company HubSpot, Dharmesh Shah, says, “To be exceptional, you have to be the exception, not the rule.” As noted above, states or provinces will often send out queries or requests for information to multiple communities for a specific project. Use this as a chance to not only impress, but be exceptional. Make the responses data-backed, organized, concise and as tailored to the opportunity as possible. Take time in advance to develop a master template, but then customize it with each response and keep the data current. If there are design and branding resources you can utilize, all the better (don’t discount the power of outstanding photography in positioning your community). Regardless, you will earn a reputation as being responsive and relevant, which forges a trusting relationship with your state or provincial EDO that will pay dividends down the road.

Experiment with Paid Search and SEO

B2B marketing resources will tell you that upwards of 90% of the research process on any purchasing decision is done online before someone considers reaching out. Our own Winning Strategies shows 70% of decision makers won’t contact an economic development organization until at least the short list has been determined, if ever. Most of that research starts on the search engines. By developing a sound SEO strategy for your community, both paid and organic, you should be able to increase visitation to your website from companies that are engaged in the research process. Having someone with the digital know-how or hiring a digital agency may be required to do it right, but for a relatively small budget, you can gain access to increased eyeballs.

Conduct an Online Reputation Audit 

We’ve increasingly heard from smaller communities that their online reputation is preventing potential workforce from moving there or giving companies hesitancy about their ability to recruit a workforce if they expanded to the region. Have you ever Googled your community through the eyes of a company, potential worker or a visitor? Or have you searched your location on social media and seen what images are showing up? It can be unsettling sometimes.

In an age where everyone complains online, what we’ve found is that smaller communities simply have less positive content to flush out the inevitable negative sentiment. An online reputation audit of what is out there now will help to better understand how to improve that digital rep going forward. Not to toot our own horn, but this is a service DCI began offering recently to help address this very need. Contact us if you want to learn more.

Other Quick Ideas to Get Started

  • Trade Show Attendance: You’ll have to work extra hard, but it’s a way to generate relationships. Just make sure you’re going to conferences that attract decision-makers, not predominantly sales people.
  • Limited SSC Outreach: Depending on how small your community is, it might be tough to get the attention of site selection consultants. But if you have a strong enough story in a particular industry, find consultants who specialize in that industry and let them know why they should be talking to you. Consider to start your search.
  • Network Through Existing Employers: Our Winning Strategies survey consistently rates “dialogue with industry peers” as the top overall marketing tactics influencing perceptions of a place.
  • Do You Have an Airport? If you’re getting business travelers through an airport in your community, recognize that this is your number one marketing tool. Be welcoming, train the airport staff, brand areas of the airport to reflect your community’s story, and make sure your key messages are visible to visitors.
Written By

Steve Duncan

Steve Duncan is Vice President of DCI’s lead generation division. Since 2004, Steve has managed marketing programs for a diverse set of city, state and country organizations, from Albuquerque and Houston to Tuscany and Wyoming.

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