Birmingham’s real image

Jake McKenzie
Jake McKenzie – CEO Intermark Group

ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.

Today’s guest blogger is Jake McKenzie.  If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.

A little over a decade ago, the head of Nissan North America, Carlos Ghosn, made an announcement that shocked nearly everyone – Nissan was moving their headquarters from southern California to Nashville, Tennessee. When publicly questioned why, he cited savings in operational costs and large tax incentives.

But in private discussions, Ghosn began his answer rather differently. He shared how Nashville is simply a great place to live.

His response is revealing.

Marketing psychologists will tell you that nearly all “purchase” decisions are not made by a careful weighing of the costs and benefits, but rather by a quick, emotionally driven judgment (e.g., Ghosn’s private comments about how great of a place Nashville is to live).

After a decision is made, people look for reasons to rationalize and justify their decisions (as Ghosn said publicly, Nissan benefited from tax incentives and operations savings).

We all do it. We make decisions out of emotions first. And then we rationalize those decisions. Powerful brands are ones that know how to capitalize on this human behavior.

A city, region or state is no different. Their brand influences who chooses to reside there, how successful they are in recruiting talent and where companies choose to do business.

So, we wondered, what is Birmingham’s brand?

We’ve been asking people what they believe is Birmingham’s brand – what our region represents. The answers from both residents and out-of-state folks are, well, all over the place. Among the various answers given are: Heart of Dixie, Civil Rights, municipal bankruptcy, Tree City USA, UAB, Dega!, low cost of living and a slew of others.

In short, Birmingham’s brand is all over the board. You can look at recruitment efforts (employee recruitment, economic development and local tourism efforts) of our various government and business groups and see this lack of a cohesive story as well.

Then, we noticed something remarkable. When we asked business leaders what they told potential recruits from out-of-state, the business community didn’t offer a spread of answers. In fact, they all said basically the same thing: It’s a great place to live and raise a family.

We get similar answers when we talk to people who moved to Alabama from other states – their move was motivated by family and quality of life.

Those answers make us smile, as it’s the primary reason Intermark Group has our business here and what we tell out-of-staters during recruitment.

Now imagine if we all shared the same answer when asked about Birmingham – businesses, economic development, the city, region, tourism and everyone. Instead of the litany of marketing messages we offer about Birmingham’s brand, what if we simply said what is true: It’s the best place to live and raise a family.

Sure, great tax incentives provide companies justification after the decision, but the emotional pull is about quality of life with family and friends.

What Birmingham has to offer is second to none. We have a cohesive story already; we just need our leaders to share it.

Jake McKenzie is the CEO of Intermark Group, , a Birmingham, Alabama based advertising agency helping clients manage change and growth through applied psychology, group imagination and dynamic conversion.

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David Sher is the publisher of ComebackTown, a co-founder of Buzz12 Advertising Agency and co-CEO of AmSher Collection Agency.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham)), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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