Open for Business: Saturday Morning Ramblings

It is a cool, damp morning here this morning, so instead of trekking over to the Starbucks, I am enjoying the view, the week’s news, and my home brewed coffee from the quiet of home.

One news item of the week from one of my favorite blogs, The Rural Blog, stimulated, what is often on a Saturday morning, my stimulus averse brain. In the blog post, “W.Va. governor is fighting state’s ‘hillbilly image’“, it states:

“Chances are that the stigma of these hoary Appalachian stereotypes (from a segment on the ABC-TV show “20/20”) will tar West Virginia far more than its
less mountainous neighbor.”

“That’s because while we know Kentucky for Louisville, bluegrass and basketball, West Virginia’s perceived backwardness has been one its most durable cultural memes — an unshakable label for a state that lacks a big city, a famous musical heritage or championship team to offer as an alternative,” (Newsweek writer Tony) Dokoupil opines. “That may soon change. Shedding the state’s hillbilly image has become a personal crusade of Gov. Joe Manchin.”

“In the next few weeks he (Gov. Manchin) will announce a “Come Home to West Virginia” spokesperson — the face of a new campaign to cast the state as a destination for families, entrepreneurs and young leaders.”…. (Dokoupil) notes that the state’s “Wild, Wonderful” slogan had changed to “Open for Business.”

Will it work? For the sake of the residents of a rural state in worse shape than we are, I sincerely hope so. However, one of the reasons that this struck a chord with me was my following this week a discussion on one of the economic development expert groups on that is on marketing communities and branding. If it is a cup of coffee (like Starbucks) or an airline (like Southwest), it is hard enough to do right. With a community, we are dealing with the historical perceptions and emotional investment people have in their hometown combining to create the difficulty of creating a brand that is consistent with our customers’ (entrepreneurs, industrial prospects, tourists, retirees, etc.) perceptions and our residents’ perceptions. I’m sure that West Virginia won’t confuse their slogan, “Open for Business”, with their brand as some communities do, but how does it help with the branding? What does that mean? Is their competition closed for business? Let me tell you that Hickman County isn’t. Zoning and building permits are processed promptly. Utilities work to speed development. Local and state government and federal officials work together. Our hospitality extends past, “y’all come back” to “welcome, neighbor.” Is it perfect? No, but we are working on it – continuous improvement – come join us!

Sorry, I digressed to shameful self-promotion – back to branding. What is that optimum convergence of a community’s assets, the target customer’s wants and needs, and the community’s wants and needs. When (and if) a community accepts this, how does it develop a strategy to communicate its brand and raise brand awareness to its target market? The rub, we gotta keep working at refining that brand.

My favorite example that comes to mind is my story (which is my recollection of THE story) of Southwest Airlines and it’s “we are America’s low fare airline”. There was a study of introducing some sort of snack and when it came to the attention of Herb Kelleher, his question was, “how does this help us be America’s low fare airline?” Reminded of the company’s brand, the idea was scrapped because the small cost (pennies per passenger) actually detracted from the brand of Southwest. The moral of the story, the slogan (America’s low fare airline) was not an empty phrase but a communication of Southwest’s brand.

Note: An article on, “Hillbilly No More” is the basis of The Rural Blog entry mentioned in this post.

About Daryl Phillips, CEcD

I am a professional economic developer. I presently work for communities and companies in developing and implementing workforce and economic development solutions as CEO of Phillips Economic Development Solutions (Phi EDS). Prior to September 2017, I was the economic development professional who served a community team of elected officials, business people, community leaders and dedicated stakeholders for economic development in Cheatham County, Tennessee (pop. 39,880) and its four towns. During my five-year tenure, I served the team as Cheatham County grew over 1,700 jobs, turned around population declines at the start of this decade into healthy population growth, increased tourism expenditures 20.3% and local tax revenue from tourism 25.4%, grew sales tax revenue 36%, focused on developing the local workforce and was recognized by SmartAsset as having the 9th highest Incoming Investment Index of all the 95 counties in Tennessee. I am a member of International Economic Development Council, Southern Economic Development Council, Tennessee Economic Development Council and International Council of Shopping Centers. I have earned the designation of Certified Economic Developer (CEcD) from International Economic Development Council (IEDC), the Economic Development Finance Professional (EDFP) certification from National Development Council and hold a Master of Business Administration from Tennessee Technological University.
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