Articulate May 2017

Effective Marketing is an Invitation

Written By: Susan Davenport (President/CEO, Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce)

Recently, I was reviewing marketing and branding information from our national chamber association, the American Chamber of Commerce Executives. While reading, I found this statement describing a Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce initiative designed to enable the area to overcome the perception of Omaha as a “flyover city” that lacked identity: “The Chamber led the charge to create a cohesive, recognizable brand that effectively communicates the region’s attributes, character, and ‘can do’ spirit, in order to grow, retain and attract the business and talent the region needs to thrive.”

I sat back in my chair and thought “Have we done this here in Greater Gainesville? Do we have a recognizable brand that communicates who we are to the world to this extent?” As home to one of the most successful collegiate brands of all time, The Gator Nation, have we as residents of Alachua County captioned our region this effectively? I contend not yet — but we’re on it!

When the Gainesville Area Chamber and the Council for Economic Outreach undertook the “Transforming Greater Gainesville” five-year economic development strategy, we developed a plan to create 3,500 new jobs and increase capital investment in our region by $250 million. In the months that we spent combing through the comprehensive research that informed the Transforming Greater Gainesville strategy, a key theme emerged from the findings — on a global scale, the vast majority of individuals knew nothing about Gainesville.

Thus, when we organized and prioritized the elements of our strategy, a global branding and marketing effort emerged as the element most imperative to our success. This effort would need to effectively answer many questions: What are Greater Gainesville’s assets? Who are our residents, and what do they have to contribute to the greater good? How strong is our economy? And most importantly, why should anyone care? We needed a brand capable of piquing the interest of business leaders anywhere in the world by effectively addressing all of these questions.

After many months, two major strategies, more than 35 concepts, and a significant amount of market research, we settled on a visual identify and tagline we knew would best exemplify Greater Gainesville and all of Alachua County: Talent + Innovation = Opportunity!

We are Florida’s most educated community with the nation’s No. 1 community college and the state’s preeminent university. We have the state’s most sophisticated innovation and startup culture and are operating within a city that has received national acclaim for its unprecedented focus on user experience.

We know this combination of assets provides enormous opportunity to people, businesses and investors. Why would anyone not want to be here? I honestly do not know. What I do know is that no matter what your brand communicates, most people are looking for an invitation to try it out.

The invitation represents the second step of communicating a brand, and in my opinion, it is infinitely more important than the brand itself. Do we genuinely invite talent and companies to be part of our community? Are we open to new businesses that want to house their talent/employees here or, better yet, hire those outstanding regional students and allow them to begin their careers here? Our brand gives a description of who we are internally, but do our actions signal an external invitation?

As President/CEO of the Gainesville Area Chamber and a veteran economic developer, I know Greater Gainesville’s attributes are highly sought out across the country and the globe. Case study after case study tells me that our regional assets are rare, incredibly valuable and extremely marketable. But, our invitation must include economic opportunities for talent and a well-articulated value proposition for companies to join us. Once companies and people see our region, experience tells me that it’s easy for them to make the connection. But, when they try to enter, are our gates really open? I’m not sure. If not, how do we open them?

First, we must work and market as a real team that vigorously debates and discusses but ultimately unites around a solid vision for the area. As go our debates, discussions, evening news and morning reads, details are noticed. These details can’t be hidden. When prospects visit, students enroll and live among us, and visitors utilize our world-renowned healthcare facilities, they should read, hear and sense a strong team mentality.

Oftentimes, this becomes the ultimate invitation. All should see our brand and read our words, but more importantly, they must experience our actions in a way that translates to a positive, cohesive community.

Marketing is forever. By this, I mean that no matter how successful a region becomes, it must always extend an invitation that reflects its true personality and assets. In fact, greater success begets the need for more marketing. Here at the Chamber, we take that seriously and are currently undertaking the first global marketing campaign in this region’s history. But, we don’t forget that ultimately, effective marketing is backed up with a positive regional narrative that garners the desired results. We have it all here in Greater Gainesville. Now, it’s time to extend the invitations. How will those be received? Who is on your list? I can’t wait to see who joins us in 2017!

SUSAN DAVENPORT is President/CEO, Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce.

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