Using Data and Storytelling for Industry Attraction

Thursday, July 05, 2018

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We’ve all heard the importance of data, and storytelling, but we haven’t spent much time working on storytelling with data and hard numbers. Communities have to not only have tangible numbers to show industry and site selectors, but they also have to have a compelling story for why the industry would want to move there.

Let’s examine what you could be doing better to tell your community story.

You are not a marketer.

As an economic development professional, you wear many hats. But the most important hat you wear is the leader. Too often economic development directors try to lead and try to do at the same time. This absolutely applies to marketing.

Building awareness and getting people to talk about your community is not easy, and anyone who says differently hasn’t successfully marketed a community. It takes hours and hours of planning and execution to launch a brand idea and campaign. Once a campaign is launched there is testing, revising, relaunching and the constant care and feeding of social media. It is not easy.

But you are a leader. And, leaders know how to find experts to help them meet their goals and to accomplish their projects. So the first step to telling your community story better is to seek people who have successfully marketed communities. The great thing about successful marketers is that they love to tell their success stories. So why not seek out some professionals and at least ask what your community could do better. Advice is free.

Trying to attract the wrong audience

Everyone is not the right audience, let’s start there. Your community has assets and resources that may be of interest to specific companies. You need to identify who those companies are and what industry is best supported by your community.

In our world of mass media, sensational entertainment and lightning fast social media, people  have learned the most important skill to survive--how to ignore you.

A very large percentage of the companies who see your message will simply ignore you. After all, companies are fighting in a highly competitive global world. Unless there is a compelling business reason (PROFIT) to move they simply aren’t interested in relocation.

But there are some companies who could find the cost of doing business to be lower by moving to your community. That is your challenge. What companies or types of companies could make more profit by moving to your community? Answer that question and then you will know what audience you should pursue.

You are not “remarkable”

Marketing guru Seth Godin shares some fantastic ideas about sharing ideas and getting messages to spread. I highly recommend his Ted talk How to get your ideas to spread.

The basic premise of his talk is that it is not whether or not an idea is any good that makes it marketable; it is whether or not the idea is remarkable.  In other words, if you want your community to get noticed, find a remarkable way to tell your community story.

Getting your audience to give you their attention is a privilege. Think about it, most people are saturated with media every single waking minute, and everyone’s attention span is shrinking. So when a person decides to visit your website or read your community’s success stories, they quality needs to be top-shelf good. And, the impression you leave, needs to stick with them for a while.

This gets to Seth Godin’s point of being remarkable. If you cannot find a way to communicate your story in a remarkable, stunning manner, then you are doing it wrong and you will be no different from every other community that is boring. I know you love your community, but the trick is to make the audience love your community.  Stand out.

You need to spread the word about your community.

Bravo!  Good for you!  You spent some time putting together a compelling story that captures the attention of readers. Your presentation is edgy and has enough bite to attract viewers. Now you have to spread the idea.


There is no easy way to say this: now is the hard work and you cannot do this alone. There is just no possible way that you can effectively get your idea out by yourself. You need ambassadors and a dynamic group who can share and reshare your story.

To effectively get your story out to the group you need to put together powerful success stories that can be used in targeted campaigns. I have seen some tremendous results by doing targeted industry campaigns in Facebook and LinkedIn.

There is simply no better return on investment than a targeted campaign that complements your story and reaches your intended audience. This targeted approach will get you introduced into a network where you can start building relationships and forging business opportunities.

Data storytelling is not boring; it is dynamic!

Hans Rosling was a Swedish physician, academic, statistician, and public speaker who passed away in February 2017.  If you haven’t heard of him or watched his Ted talks, you need to stop reading this and watch his Ted Talk: Showing the best stats you’ve ever seen. No, seriously, you shouldn’t read any further till you have watched the video. 

As you can see from the video, Mr. Rosling demonstrates how statistics and data can and should be used to build a narrative. Your community has a powerful story to tell and if you look deep into your community’s demographics the narrative should present itself.

Now using the power of data and infographics to visually draw the interest of your audience. You can show, as Mr. Rosling does, how employment statistics  or housing prices or utility rates have changed in your community. Then use modeling to predict patterns and visually show your audience the potential of your community.

Remember, successful companies forecast to remove uncertainty and to maximize profits. By using data models and building compelling narratives, you can help company executives reduce uncertainty and find ways to reduce their costs by expanding or relocating to your community. And that type of storytelling will catch the attention of business owners who love to pour over data to find opportunity. Help them get there.

Your audience doesn’t care about you, they care about themselves.

In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus published his theory putting the sun at the center of the universe thus removing us from the center of the universe. This still applies today. We, us, “I” are not important when telling your story. In fact your audience doesn’t give one iota about your community.  What? You say.

Here is the trick.  When we read stories we naturally put ourselves into the story. Who hasn’t watch a movie and imagined themselves as the hero that saves the world or solves the problem. Who hasn’t watched a romance story and imagined finding the same love. It is what we do.  

So when you tell your community story, tell it in a way that brings the audience into your community. Give them every reason to imagine themselves interacting with your community and living there. Let them imagine sending their kids to the schools in your community and shopping in your downtown.  In other words, make your storytelling less about your community and more about how the audience can enjoy your community.

Thank you Mr. Copernicus.

My last bit of advice as you explore the best way to build an effective awareness campaign for your community is to see what other successful communities are doing.  Look for success and then find a way to adapt the strategies to your community.

Remember it is not the best community that wins the economic development game, it is the community who tells their story in a remarkable compelling way that draws interest.

Stay connected!


Category: Blog

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