Traditional Marketing doesn't work for Inward Investment Promotion. So what does?

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

What’s the most difficult job you’ve ever done?
A colleague asked me this question a few days ago, and the first job that came to mind was Inward Investment Manager.
That’s right – a public sector post with few of the commercial pressures that characterise Business Development roles in the private sector. But let’s leave working hours and cultural factors aside for a moment. In my experience, Inward Investment Promotion was just plain difficult. In fact, there are three very specific reasons why I think it’s one of the hardest Business Development jobs you can do - successfully, that is.

So what’s so difficult about Inward Investment Promotion?
 
1.       Finding the ‘needle in the haystack’
In most industries, Business Development teams have a clearly defined, and often limited, pool of potential customers. Tyre manufacturers target vehicle manufacturers and tyre distributors. Plant Equipment suppliers target construction companies. Meanwhile, shipping costs or customer service requirements often restrict potential customers to a limited geographical area.
In the case of Inward Investment Promotion, a high-quality investment which grows GVA and provides high-value jobs can, in theory, come from anywhere and almost any sector. The pool of would-be investors is massive, but real inward investment leads are few and far between. In summary, inward investment lead generation is the ultimate ‘needle in a haystack’ challenge.

2.       The fallacy of ‘Strategic Fit’
So where do you start? Well, Investment Promotion Agencies usually start by trying to identify their Regional USPs (e.g. key sectors and supply chains or skilled labour availability). Based on this information, they may then target companies which seem to have a ‘Strategic Fit’ with their Region.
At this point we encounter our second problem: a company may do the same stuff as organisations based in our Region, but if expansion into our market isn’t part of their Corporate Strategy, there is no Strategic Fit. (I’m sure I’m not the only one who has seen consultants paid exorbitant amounts of money to identify ‘inward investment leads’ based on the fallacy that doing the same stuff = Strategic Fit. For the same results, you can go to kellysearch, and it’s free!)

3.       Finding companies when they’re ready to invest…
Let’s assume things are going well and you’ve overcome the first two challenges. You’ve identified a company that could (for example) benefit from your Regional supply chains and skilled labour force. You’ve approached them and, yes, their strategy does include expansion into your market. But not right now. That’s right. The best prospect you’ve found so far has no intention of investing in your market within the next five years. Meanwhile, you’ve been tasked to deliver solid inward investment leads within the next 18 months.
So there it is - the three-fold challenge that makes Inward Investment Promotion one of the toughest Business Development jobs there is.

Inward Investment Lead Generation – the Networking Approach
Many enlightened inward investment professionals are aware of this three-fold challenge, and realise that traditional ‘marketing’ approaches to lead generation simply don’t work in Inward Investment Promotion. Instead they focus on networking - building links with intermediaries (e.g. international location consultants) and industry networks. And they often start close to home, because most inward investors have established links with the regions they invest in (e.g. supplier relationships or existing facilities).
However, these enlightened individuals often find themselves working for agencies which continue to spend lavishly on traditional marketing activities (advertising, brochures, exhibitions, e-mailing to industry databases etc.) which typically deliver meagre results, if any at all.

Inward Investment Marketing – is it entirely hopeless?
Well, no, it isn’t, actually. In recent years, the way companies procure goods and services has changed, and it has changed in a way that can work to the advantage of Investment Promotion Agencies. Today, in the 2010s, over 80% of companies requiring new products or services (including new business locations) start the process with online Research  – i.e. they (or their consultants) ‘Google’ their needs.
The potential here is obvious. Rather than adopting traditional, expensive, scatter-gun, ‘outbound’ marketing techniques, agencies can focus instead on 'inbound' marketing - getting found by companies, or their consultants, at the precise moment when they are researching potential investment locations. No more hunting for needles in haystacks. These are real inward investment leads, the right individuals, and they’re ready to invest.

‘Getting Found’ and ‘Getting Engaged’ by inward investment leads
Before I go any further, I should emphasise that I am not talking here about questionable ‘SEO’ techniques to get your location’s website to the top of Search Engine rankings for ‘Inward Investment Nirvana’. Modern Search Engines (notably Google) don’t like SEO sophistry. What they do like is exactly what your target investors are looking for – original, informative, regularly updated content that responds to their needs (as stated in their Search Engine queries). It’s a virtuous circle – great website content helps prospective investors to find you, and engages them once they have.
So exactly what kind of website content are we talking about?
 
1.       Content that provides Solutions, not Sales patter.
Remember that we’re trying to engage potential investors at the point of Research, not ‘Purchase’. They want solid, reliable facts (e.g. numbers of IT graduates from local universities, stating specialisations and grades), not vacuous sales statements (e.g. ‘we have a large pool of IT graduates!’). Providing high quality information projects credibility, builds trust, and is more likely to encourage companies to contact you, or include your location in their investment evaluations.

2.       Content that’s regularly updated.
Search Engines favour websites with regularly updated content and so will your prospective investors. If they know that your site’s a trusted source of high quality information, they’re more likely to ‘bookmark’ it as a ‘Favourite’, make return visits, and ‘Subscribe’ to receive more information, thereby providing you with their valuable contact details as a basis for direct discussions.

3.       Content that addresses the needs of prospective investors, not your own.
Think of all the website News pages you’ve seen in which companies, or Regions, talk about the things that are important to them. A VIP has visited. We’ve won an award! We’ve celebrated an anniversary! All of which is likely to be of no interest at all to your prospective inward investor, who wants to know about, say, broadband speeds or drive to work times.
All of this begs several more questions. How do you maintain a ‘production line’ of high-quality website content? How do you know which content’s hitting the mark? How, exactly, do you encourage prospective investors to contact you, once they’ve visited your website? Generally, how do you make Inbound Marketing deliver results for your location? These are all important issues to address separately another time.

For the moment, let’s just reflect on the fact that technology, carefully utilised, has come to the aid of the Inward Investment practitioner, as he or she pursues what is undoubtedly one of the most difficult Business Development challenges there is.

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