ow can investment promotion agencies differentiate themselves from their competitors? What tools can they use — should they use — to achieve this goal? What are considered best practices today in communicating to potential investors an area's strategic value? These were among the topics covered in a September Red Hot Locations event in London, the FDI International Marketing & Communications Seminar.
"At Red Hot Locations FDI International Seminars, time and again we hear that each community needs to develop a demand-driven value proposition in order to deliver true differentiation, but 'stand out' for locations around the world is still a difficult goal," says Catherine Dawson, chief executive of London-based Red Hot Locations, the world's leading events firm on foreign direct investment and corporate location trends. "Many destinations have similar propositions, mature economies struggle to differentiate and new entrants are on the up. Over two days, we recently held the FDI International Marketing & Communications Seminar in London (soon to transfer to North America) taking a look at how you deliver a story about your location to attract FDI. As the old Indian proverb says, 'Tell me a fact and I will learn, tell me a truth and I will believe, but tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.'
"With economic development and investment marketing professionals attending from North America, the Middle East and Europe, the consensus was that giving the right message, in the right language, to the right person, within the right company, at the right time is crucial. As Voltaire said, 'The art of boring someone is to tell them everything.' "
Pitfalls To Avoid
Investment promotion agencies (IPAs) can easily fall into traps that dilute their message or direct to the wrong recipients, noted seminar speakers, including Andreas Dressler, managing director of Terrain, a Berlin-based consultancy focused on FDI and assisting companies in their search for strategic locations.
"The greatest challenge in economic development marketing is the definition of a clearly defined target group," says Dressler. "Many agencies define their target group too broadly as consisting of all companies with the potential for expansion. Even when agencies adopt an industry focus, the target group is still too broad. As a result, marketing messages tend to be very high level and generic, which make it very difficult to provide compelling arguments to potential investors or to differentiate one location from another.
"IPAs should really think deeply about what sets their location apart from others," Dressler continues. "Almost all locations have something 'special' that is either really unique about them or at least can help generate attention. Focusing on specific sectors, as opposed to broad industries, makes it easier to formulate value propositions that really address the needs of individual decision makers and set the location apart from others in the eyes of a specific target group."
Dressler says there are two keys to a successful marketing strategy. "First, clearly define your target group and determine what messages will gain the attention of this group. Second, integrate your marketing strategy closely with sales, meaning direct contacts to individual companies and decision makers. Marketing is not an 'ivory-tower' activity but very much part of the on-the-ground efforts to get in front of potential investors."
Social Media as a Marketing Tool
Should IPAs embrace social media as a marketing and communications tool, and are those doing so going about it the right way? This was the topic of a presentation at the seminar by Daniel Nicholls, Senior Consultant, OCO Global, a consultancy with expertise in FDI, trade and investment and business recruitment, among other areas.
"One tendency, which still seems quite commonplace, not only among IPAs but many organizations both public and private, is to use social media solely as a channel for pushing out promotional messages," he relates. "It's as though the 'social' in social media is sometimes forgotten, and that these platforms are about engagement and responding to existing content, as much as producing and sharing new content. While posting pieces of information about your place that should be interesting for a particular audience is worthwhile, it's also important to be looking at questions or issues being posed on different groups, channels and platforms, and considering how you as an agency can contribute an answer, solution or at least a valid point to these discussions.
"There are many agencies out there carrying out some very innovative and creative social media activities," Nicholls observes. "New York EDC, for example, has recently held an infographic contest, promoted via social media and other channels, to engage designers around the world to showcase that New York is the best for business. While not a lead generation activity in its own right, the exercise is clearly designed to provide the agency with a way of presenting New York's credentials in a visually compelling way, and the exercise has been very social in the way its engaged people throughout. Other organizations, such as Scottish Development International, are effectively offering interactive webinars as an effective way of engaging potential investor audiences by providing insightful thought leadership on a specific sector, with a view to generating qualified leads."
Are IPAs executing their branding strategies effectively?
"Branding is much more than an exercise in developing or refreshing a logo or tagline, as the term is often interpreted," says Nicholls. "Your brand is essentially your reputation, and so branding should ultimately be seen as reputation management. The concept of brand ownership is somewhat dated in an age of social media, where your brand is not only shaped by what you say, but also by what others say about you. Brand leadership, however, remains as important as ever, and requires a skillful, compelling approach to communications if your messaging is either going to cut through — or engage with — all the chatter that's going on in your name.
Other speakers shared their views of best practices among IPAs' marketing & communications strategies. John Elink-Schuurman, managing director, Europe, for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP), described two of his organization's campaigns that were particularly successful.
"VEDP's Wall Street Journal iPad campaign that allowed readers to compare Virginia to any other U.S. state across a range of key business indicators was particularly successful," he relates. "The campaign ran for a month in early 2012 and resulted in over 20,000 comparisons. The interactive aspect of the campaign prompted a high degree of 'stickiness' and drove significant traffic to our Web page for readers who were interested in learning more about Virginia's comparative location advantages.
"Second, VEDP has recently launched a mobile app on both Apple and Andriod platforms," he continues. "The app provides users with practical information on Virginia's inventory of available properties and communities and also offers one-to-one comparisons of how Virginia compares to other states in major business comparison categories. We believe that extending useful information about Virginia's advantages to the mobile platform will better position Virginia among site selection professionals."
Suzanne Rosman, marketing manager, UK & Ireland, for the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency, describes her marketing activities in those markets: "It is all about the receiver," she says. "Marketing a country and the services of an investment promotion agency is always a fine balance. Naturally, the Netherlands is the best place to set up your business, and the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency your most professional agency to assist. However, it is not about the agency and sender of the message, it is all about the receiver. It is all about showing the added value of the Netherlands to that decision maker within a company. If it is not relevant, to the point and shows the immediate benefit for a company and its decision makers, the start of a B2B relationship with the receiver will be slow. I would like to jumpstart a thought process with the decision maker, particularly on the opportunities the Netherlands has to offer, as soon as she/he receives my message. The solution is targeted marketing.
"It takes time," she explains. "Knowing who to reach out to and how. Lessons can be learned by reading B2C marketing strategies online or doing further training on developing a marketing strategy. But then it is all about the best execution. Tailoring your sector value proposition to your carefully selected sector companies with the right growth profile, investing in a contact database and targeting your message though clever segmentation. This can happen either through sub-sectors, number of employees or position in the industry value chain. Be sure that your message is relevant to the audience by testing it via your sales team. That makes your marketing activity a true IPA integrated teamwork initiative."
Were the ideas shared at the Seminar of value?
"The best practices from this seminar will help me to develop a very comprehensive marketing plan promoting Oman for business and investment for the future," says attendee Basim Ali Al Nassri, Director General of Marketing & Media, Oman Public Establishment of Industrial Estates.