A Compelling Claim: An Essential in Economic Development Marketing

Across America, communities and regions of all sizes are vying for the attention of employers looking to site their next manufacturing, call center or distribution location.

When you look at various economic development groups' websites, you see all the same things: demographic data, incentive packages and an array of "shovel ready" sites for prospective employers to consider. Blah, blah, blah. You can substitute one city for another: they all sound alike. This homogeneity is the enemy of growth.

Economic development groups love to hire site selection consultants to conduct local economic development studies in their area. While these studies can be helpful in suggesting direction and vision for what a community could be, few address in any detail one of the most important factors economic developers should consider: how to effectively market the community.

Effective community marketing begins with finding and articulating what makes your community truly special from an employer's perspective. In his book "Town, Inc., "Andrew Davis calls this the compelling claim. He points out that while many communities have slogans or claims to fame that have no relevance in attracting employers, very few take the time to research and develop a truly compelling claim.

Davis cites many examples of bad claims, based on things that are meaningless to employers like celebrities ("Oprah Winfrey has a summer home here"), attractions ("We're just forty miles from Disney World") or novelties ("Home of the World's Largest Ball of Twine").

So, what makes a compelling claim? There are four criteria that can make your community's claim an essential part of your marketing strategy.

  1. Uniqueness
    You can't share the same claim as another community. A truly compelling claim must be your very own, even trademark-able. Your claim is your brand differentiation: a calling card to spark the interest of prospective employers.

  2. Believability
    Davis points out that compelling claims should be believable and supported by:
  3. An interesting origin story about how a particular business or industry began in your community
  4. A cornerstone for a cluster of businesses or type of industry that your community attracted over time, planned or not
  5. A visionary person or persons who embody success and can speak to your community's business-supporting attributes
  1. Relevance
    A great claim must appeal to a large prospective employer base. It can't be too general or hollow and it needs to be relevant to the needs of employers both today and tomorrow.

  2. Persistence
    Claims are not campaigns with a limited shelf life. They are a long-term commitment to your community's positioning with site consultants and prospective employers. Because developing your claim requires a good deal of research and creativity, it must stand the test of time and last for decades to come.

We recently worked with the city of Marion, Ohio to develop its compelling claim. Like many communities in the "rust belt," Marion has a rich manufacturing history, but fell on hard times in the 1970s and 80s when larger employers left town. Our research uncovered its strengths: smaller specialty manufacturers, a cluster of educational resources, an innovative public school system focused on providing students with technical certificates upon high school graduation and a track record of working with employers on customized workforce training. Our recommendation was well-received: "Marion, Ohio: America's Workforce Development Capital.TM "

There are many marketing strategies and tactics that communities must execute to make their claim come alive. Great economic development marketing begins with knowing your brand's strengths and leveraging them to stand out from the crowd. If you can't differentiate, you'll continue to sound just like everyone else.

Does your community have a compelling claim?