Live. Work. Play. They’re the crux of how many communities have marketed themselves for years. Likewise, communities have touted proximity to major cities, access to transit and being desirable destinations. Then came COVID-19. It put the pause on large gatherings – parades, festivals and fireworks, to name a few. The need for easy access to major cities and physical places of employment lessened for many residents. And, several of the assets that made communities destinations found their businesses on pause.
This isn’t a doom and gloom, things will never be the same type of a post. It’s an acknowledgment that the tried and true, the comfortable and the predictable aren’t the lynchpin of economic development marketing in 2020. Just as countless businesses and nonprofits have retracked in response to the current climate, economic development is faced with the same opportunity.
In fairness, this opportunity is also a challenge. But, more importantly, it’s also a chance to highlight things in the community that never made it into the spotlight and to engage audiences in new ways. I mean, did you really think “visitors” from New York would be “touring” a museum in San Francisco from the comfort of their own living rooms in 2020?
So, let’s talk about that pivot. Yes, it’s the buzzword du jour. And, while it will lose its luster like all buzzwords do, its importance shouldn’t be diminished. Pivoting has allowed businesses to bring in revenue while their physical storefronts were shuttered. It’s led to the birth of new services and redefined the way many industries do business. It’s also been what has kept some companies in business – period.
So, what exactly does a shift in economic development marketing look like? How can you maintain your stance as a go-to destination when you can’t have thousands of people traipsing through downtown during the height of the tourist season? How do you keep the identity that you’re known for – and that has served you so well – when so much has changed? And, how do you recruit major employers at a time when many employees aren’t reporting to physical workspaces?
Hone your value proposition
What makes your community great today? Why will it remain a desirable place to live tomorrow? How can people visit you from the comfort of their homes?
While you may need to adapt what you showcase and how you talk about the community for the here and now, you want to retain the core of your brand and community. As the old adage says, the more things change the more they remain the same. Focus on blending the old and the new for a message that is timely, authentic, and salient.
When San Francisco’s Dolores Park painted social distancing circles on the lawn it was a bit unexpected. But, it conveyed an important point – you can still enjoy the city’s outdoor spaces while social distancing.
When the Shedd Aquarium couldn’t welcome visitors in-person, they handed tours over to the experts – their resident penguins. As these guys made their way through the aquarium, fans enjoyed the footage from their own homes. Now that the aquarium can once again accept visitors, it’s taking the penguins’ tour on the road giving Izzy and Darwin an opportunity to visit the nearby Field Museum, which fans can also watch remotely.
If your community has been historically known as a vacation town, this may be the time to talk about why it’s worth staying year-round. If your city is in a position to offer generous tax incentives to relocating businesses, hone in on your audiences’ appetite to save money.
Remaining relevant, regardless of the current circumstances, is key.
Leverage the assets within the community
The power of “we” may seem a less likely solution at a time when social distancing is the norm but great things happen when businesses band together. Partnerships are a powerful way to retain existing and attract new customers during these times. And, this spirit of collaboration and community is a great asset for showcasing the strength of your businesses, nonprofits, and neighbors.
You may have seen nonprofit galas that made the shift to virtual in the early stages of COVID-19 offering patrons the opportunity to do “take out” for the catered meal they would have enjoyed at the in-person event. This allowed them to deliver a piece of the in-person experience while patrons enjoyed the program over Zoom. It also gave visibility to the restaurants and catering companies whose revenue-generating opportunities were very limited during that time.
Showcasing the strength of a city, town or region requires a deep understanding of its economic, cultural, educational, and quality of life assets. Further, it necessitates an understanding of which assets are most relevant to prospective businesses and residents under certain circumstances. By keeping pulse with consumer insights and business trends, communities can leverage their economic development marketing campaigns to positively impact their bottom lines while setting themselves apart from the competition.