Inward Investment Marketing: Online Lead Generation Strategies for Success

Wednesday 14 February 2024
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It should be uncontroversial to say that effective internet marketing now belongs at the heart of effective inward investment attraction strategies. Recent market research shows that almost all business location searches now involve online research.1 And the great thing about attracting investing businesses online is that investment leads can effectively be 'self-qualifying': they've found you because your location offer aligns with their needs. Compare and contrast this with the practice of chasing businesses because they have the 'right profile' for your location (e.g. industry sector), but otherwise have no strategic fit or even plans to invest!

But the rise of the internet is a challenge as well as an opportunity. While investing companies (or their advisers) are online searching for the best business location, it's also an increasingly crowded environment in which your location offer could easily get lost. 

Since 2012, when we established Clarity to specialise in inward investment marketing, we've worked on numerous, regional inward investment marketing projects, refined our techniques, and monitored the online strategies pursued by investment promotion agencies (IPAs) and site marketers.

So, here are a few key observations concerning what works, and what doesn't, when it comes to online inward investment lead generation:

1. Highly differentiated inward investment value propositions 

Let's start with that crowded online environment. In any highly competitive marketplace, business success requires effective differentiation - to stand out in the crowd. In our field that means distinctive inward investment value propositions that align specific location strengths, or unique combinations of capabilities, with the identified needs of specific types of businesses. It means avoiding generic sector categories and 'us too' lists of location benefits. However, for successful, online inward investment lead generation, this is just the start of it...

2. Highly optimised online content 

To enable online lead generation, those distinctive value proposition messages must be crafted into highly optimised content that can attract businesses online - by aligning with their search queries - but also engage their interest and establish your inward investment agency's credibility and expertise. Yes, that means the keywords, key phrases and content prioritisation that many of us are familiar with as being central to SEO (search engine optimisation). But it also means accessible content that's entirely focused on our target audience's needs - presenting valuable business location solutions, insights and supporting data. When value proposition messages are diluted by inaccurate, inexpert copywriting, the consequences are likely to be ineffective SEO, reduced IPA credibility, and reduced lead generation potential. 

3. Meticulous attention to segmentation 

We talked about the importance of effective segmentation in a recent Clarity article. In summary (and with specific regard to inward investment marketing) segmentation means grouping particular types of prospective inward investors (e.g. in the same industry sector or business function) as a basis for targeting the right location solutions at them. It's closely associated with distinctive inward investment value propositions and effective content optimisation (SEO). 

But it's also a key area in which investment promotion agency marketing often falls down. The problem is that IPA's typically want to present multiple value propositions (e.g. industry sector offers) on the same website, and often combine them with other types of poorly optimised content (e.g. 'News' releases in which organisations too often 'talk about themselves', not their location solutions for investors). All of this creates 'message pollution' that harms SEO, reduces the value of website content to prospective investors, and ultimately makes it much harder to attract and convert inward investment leads online. 

4. Prioritising inward investment lead generation functionality

It sounds obvious, but generating inward investment leads online means putting lead conversion (i.e. identification) at the heart of your online strategy and the functionality of your website. Compelling value propositions, optimised content, and effective segmentation can attract potential inward investors to your website, but won't tell you who they are, or provide a solid basis for your follow up actions (e.g. contacting them). This requires strategies potentially including optimised 'calls to action' (encouraging them to identify themselves), the effective use of incentives (e.g. information-rich Location Data packs) and data-compliant lead recording functionality (potentially linked to a user-friendly CRM system) to enable structured follow-up. 

It's therefore useful for inward investment professionals to ask themselves: 'is our IPA website optimised for lead generation, or is it just an attractive 'online brochure'?' If it's the latter, you'll almost certainly be missing out on opportunities for inward investment lead generation.

5. Managing partner input and expectations 

It's clear that targeted, optimised, well-segmented online content (notably on IPA websites) is key to generating inward investment leads. But why is this focus so difficult for IPAs to achieve?

In our experience, part of the problem is the intrinsic difficulty of managing marketing campaigns involving multiple regional stakeholders and partners. Even when a projects starts out with a focus on the very best, differentiated value propositions (e.g. industry sector offers) and tightly focused messages, pressure from stakeholders can lead to the inclusion of yet another 'key sector' (that isn't really 'key') or another location USP (that isn't really unique). All of this reduces differentiation, dilutes the offer, and makes investor attraction and lead generation harder. 

These can be difficult battles to win, but IPA teams should make the case for doing the right thing from a marketing perspective, rather than trying to please all the partners all the time - an impossible task anyway! 

6. Keep on publishing and sharing your location benefits online

There's a common misconception that a website is 'finished' when the developer hands it over to the client - in our case the investment promotion agency or site marketer. But this is to think of the website as something static and unchanging - the 'online brochure' we referred to above. And it's a way of thinking that fails to recognise the website's true potential for inward investment lead generation. 

Instead, we should think of our websites as dynamic publishing platforms that we can use to continually communicate our location solutions to targeted audiences. Continual website publishing (e.g. via News/Blog feeds) boosts SEO and therefore enables investor attraction. It also enables us to 'nurture' investor and intermediary relationships by sharing that content with (e.g.) targeted LinkedIn connections or email subscribers. And if we attract and engage more of our target audience, it follows that we should be able to convert more inward investment leads too!

Lead generation - the key objective of inward investment marketing

Generating inward investment leads online isn't easy. As well as requiring optimised messages, platforms and communication strategies, it's likely to require the effective management of broad-ranging regional partnerships with diverse interests and objectives. But it's worth the effort, because investing businesses are online, researching locations, and ready to be attracted by IPAs and site marketers with the right location offers for them. And, quite simply, it can mean the difference between achieving what should be the key objective of inward investment marketing - attracting inward investors - or achieving very little at all. 

Contact Clarity to talk about more effective online inward investment lead generation strategies.


Nick Smillie
Managing Director & Senior Consultant


[1] GIS Planning, FT Group

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