Thursday, November 05, 2009

Loudoun County Marketing and Business Retention - Awash in Unrealized Opportunity

This week's Loudoun County Marketing and Business Retention Committee meeting (the MBRC is a part of the Loudoun County Department of Economic Development, or DED) was quite interesting, with many discussions revolving around the status of Loudoun's marketing efforts to attract "heads in beds" as well as new business investors.

What was missing, from our perspective as a Loudoun-based professional Internet Marketing firm, was a concrete marketing plan and progress report with measurable performance indicators and objectives, that most businesses typically use to gauge the effectiveness of their integrated online and offline marketing and communications efforts. While the Loudoun County Visitor's Association (LCVA, a non-profit association mostly funded by the DED, as "primary programmatic element of Loudoun's travel and tourism promotion") is doing a fantastic job of creating online web-based marketing material and beginning to leverage social media/Web 2.0 tools (follow @visitloudoun), there's quite literally no similar effort or investment (in our opinion) for doing the same online to promote Loudoun's non-tourism related business community.

Here's the interesting tidbits we learned:

- The MBRC has recommended that the DED fully fund the LCVA for the upcoming fiscal cycle - this is a good thing, and frankly funding should be increased - though making sure that the LCVA capabilities and programs are executed in a way that they can be integrated and reused for other DED programs, the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), and the Chamber of Commerce.

- The Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce 2010 Public Policy Positions paper, regarding Economic Development, was discussed and generally received approving remarks - though we'd suggest the word "Internet" or "Online" be used once or twice. The paper does recommend twice that "measurable performance goals and metrics" should be developed and implemented, and that Loudoun leverage in its marketing the "County's strongest economic assets, including industry sectors where Loudoun possesses a clear competitive advantage". Absolutely correct.

- "Rural Tourism" initiatives should be moved to the LCVA program - this is also a good idea, as LCVA is in name a "whole county initiative".

- Loudoun's got over 4 and 1/2 years worth of vacant buildings, and it evidently costs more to provide residents with Government services than businesses - this "upside down" and otherwise bleak indicator of the economy is actually an marketing opportunity waiting to be leveraged, i.e. Loudoun's competitiveness in the DC region in terms of low-cost, accessible and environmentally-attractive places to work and recruit employees.

- One of the MBRC/DED's biggest priorities is to do a better job recruiting new businesses to the county, overcoming the persistent perception that Loudoun's incredibly difficult to do business with...what was particularly interesting about this discussion, was that despite this perception, there really are very good examples of business investment success, and very real methods and routes to successfully purchasing and operating properties in the County - these examples and information, however, are simply not marketed.

- The initial foray by LCVA into online marketing and social media is well-received and is evidently generating positive economic impact, but can be much more aggressive and infused with professional Internet Marketing and Social Media ROI tracking methodology...for example, there were "0" new subscribers to the Industry eNewsletter in September; sales numbers were significantly down this quarter because (in part) of the absence of a sales person (an online sales campaign can be much more self-propagating); there appeared to be no online paid advertising at all; overall "IT Marketing Economic Impact" was down nearly 10% since last year; and there was "no data" by which to judge economic impact of the social media activity.

- There was discussion regarding the many events recently held or being planned, including a "Teacher's Internship Project", a "Vendor Opportunity Fair", the "Breakfast of Leaders", etc...but these events simply aren't marketing or published effectively using available online tools and outlets (just try to find them using Google; one meeting attendee remarked that the Local and Regional Media outlets simply don't provide as much coverage of Loudoun/DED-related news as they should).

- There was much other discussion about "print-based" marketing and signage associated with existing or planned rest stops (to be re-opened, according to our new Governor!), visitor's centers and other community centers - all good things, but with low ROI compared to online methods.

In all, we'd classify the road ahead for the DED and MBRC as "awash with overwhelming and real opportunities for professionally-managed success, use of Internet New Media, and immediate tactical collaboration with the local business and technology community".

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