The city is sick and they know it.
The 20,000-resident town of Booniesville is facing a declining population, a vacant downtown, and a general feeling of “nothing is good here”. These issues have been festering for decades, but after seeing nearby cities grow and thrive, community leaders decide it’s time to take action. The government, downtown development authority, and other civic organizations all meet one day to devise a plan of action.
Part of that plan is, “We need to do some marketing.”
First of all, let’s give Booniesville a round of applause. Many places, either because of ego or lack of effort, don’t even acknowledge their problems let alone try to fix them, so Booniesville deserves some recognition for already doing more than most.
*round of applause*
But if Booniesville is like most cities, the first marketing meeting centers around words like “tourism”, “attracting talent”, and “outside investment”. They’re not wrong to think about those things and how they can help the community: marketing can and should be used to bring those things into the community. But a marketing effort where the only goal is to attract “outsiders” is neglecting a huge population of people who are cheaper and easier to reach, more important to persuade, and considerably more impactful in terms of the future of the city: it’s own people.
Old Faithful vs. Shiny and New
In the face of a bad situation, many places pour every effort and resource into enticing people from outside the community to come in and save the day. After all, the people of Booniesville got themselves into this mess and had decades to fix it to no avail, so the only solution is to call in the reinforcements, right?
Booniesville is full of people who have fallen out of love with their city. Sure, there are a few city champions in their population of 20,000, but having only a handful of cheerleaders in a stadium full of people screaming “WE HATE IT HERE” or apathetically picking at the gum stuck to their seats is hardly enough to generate the momentum to create a Booniesville people can be proud of.
It seems like an immense task, but turning those screaming and apathetic spectators into raving, ravenous fans is exactly where a Booniesville marketing campaign needs to start.
For a business, great marketing is directed at both current customers and potential customers. Why? Pursuing new customers makes sense – to grow a business and make more money, a business needs to continually acquire more customers.
But current customers are both cheaper and easier to persuade to spend money. In fact, acquiring a new customer can cost five to 25 times more than retaining an existing customer, and the success rate of selling to a customer you already have is 60-70%, while the success rate of selling to a new customer is 5-20%.
A business that only chases new customers is taking an approach that can be 25 times more expensive and 15 times less successful than if they only focused on their current customers.
Despite these numbers, many businesses fall into the trap of spending most of their effort chasing shiny and new customers rather than nurturing their Old Faithful regulars. They pour money into advertising at the expense of customer experience and “keep them coming back” promotions.
It sounds ridiculous that businesses would focus all their resources on something that is considerably more expensive and less successful, but it happens all the time.
But swap out the words “new customers” for “tourists and outside-the-community talent and investment” and “regular customers” for “citizens”, and we see that many of our cities are guilty of the same exact thing.
How much less expensive, more effective and easier would it be for a city to market a downtown to its own residents first? My office sits on the Main Street of a city of 38,000 people, and I’m lucky to see more than ten people walk by the window on any given day. How much pride can there be in a place people don’t want to be in?
Before trying to convince outsiders that “our stuff is better”, what if the goal was to get everyone inside the city to buy their bread at the local baker, drink coffee at the three independent shops on the strip, and crawl the Booniesville bars on the weekend?
1,000 True Fans
In an essay in 2008, Kevin Kelley wrote that a business only needed to have 1,000 true fans, only paying $100 a year, to succeed.
What would happen if Booniesville tried to turn every one of their 20,000 residents into a true, raving, Booniesville fan?
Let’s say the city worked hard for 12 months, committed to this approach of marketing the city to the city. Through their efforts, they were able to convince 25% of the population to spend $100 more dollars over the course of a year at local businesses.
That’s an additional $500,000.
FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS. That extra $100 over the year is only an extra $8.33 each month per True Fan. That’s not a hard sell considering it’s spending under $10 in the city where they live, and a concerted marketing-to-ourselves effort could do considerably better than that.
Not only would this effort be cheaper and more effective than trying to court tourists (who frankly have better options than Booniesville at this point in their history) these 5,000 true fans not only spend money, they spread pride.
That extra $500,000 is 100% purely neighbors-supporting-neighbor money. Money like that is worth more than because it’s covered in pride and love and friendship, and has a better chance of staying within the community. Business owners start to feel supported by their city, and start putting planters in front of their space and swept the sidewalk a little more often. The divide between the government and the people it serves begins to close because of a sustained, concerted effort by “the powers that be” to support and encourage the people who live there. People want to engage more. They start to give back in the form of volunteerism and nonprofit creation.
It starts feeling ok to say things like, “I like it here.”
And that’s when the magic starts to happen. These 5,000 true fans are proud to support their city and aren’t afraid to tell others to do the same. They become vocal champions. True fans lead to the creation of more true fans, both inside and outside the community, through word-of-mouth marketing.
92% of people trust recommendations from people they know, and in this case, the people are saying, “We like it here, and you will too.”
A city full of people who say to tourists, talent, and investment, “There’s nothing here for you” will convince all of those things to go someplace else and there’s nothing a city can do to stop it.
But create a place full of people who say, “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else” and the attraction of outside talent and investment becomes considerably easier.
Staying put and growing deep
When outside talent and investment move in, they become inside talent and investment. If there isn’t an effort in place to give them attention and make them feel good about moving in, they will move out. Their roots aren’t deep enough to make it difficult for them to pack up their family and move 30 minutes down the road or relocate a business where there might be better opportunities.
But if a city’s marketing includes these transplants by engaging them and acknowledging their contribution to the community, their roots grow deep and they stay put. A family becomes generations of families, a successful startup becomes a legacy business, and an initial investment becomes a greater investment and attracts other investors who want in on the action.
Booniesville is on the right track. But in the area of marketing, the decision they make about who their primary audience is will determine everything.
Do they chase the shiny and new?
Or do they create 1,000 true fans by nurturing Old Faithful?
Find out in Part II.
Until next time…
Questions to ask:
- Does my city have a marketing plan? If so, how is it implemented and what is the goal?
- Do residents feel acknowledged, listened to, and supported by the city?
- What would a marketing plan look like if its only goal was to create 1,000 true fans?
- What would happen if we swapped the words “attracting tourists” with “increasing citizen pride”? How would our city be different if we were successful?