Lately, I’ve had a lot of conversations about how Marble Falls is marketed. The majority originates with solicitations for advertising and questions about the EDC’s marketing plan. Some of the discussions are about how Marble Falls compares to peer communities in terms of visibility. Other conversations are about who our “target audience” is. The answers to these questions will typically follow the theme of “It depends.” I’ll attempt to provide a better map of the landscape below.
Perhaps the most visible marketing comes in the form of paid advertising by the Marble Falls/Lake LBJ Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau. The current campaign was designed by Door Number 3 a few years ago and features the tagline “In the middle of everywhere.” Whereas Door Number 3 originally handled all aspects of the campaign, they now focus on the creative elements; the CVB oversees placement and social media.
Because the funding for this advertising campaign comes from hotel occupancy taxes collected in the city of Marble Falls—currently 7% of the cost of every room—the campaign must positively impact tourism and put “heads in beds.” This is why locals don’t see the ads, which are geo-targeted outside the region.
This year, the City of Marble Falls has budgeted $475,000 in revenue for the HOT fund, which comes from the roughly 475 hotel rooms in the city. In addition to the aforementioned advertising campaign, this fund also pays for the operation and debt service on the Visitor Center, as well as funding assistance for a number of special events and projects in the community. While not a perfect science, you can generally get a good idea about how robust a city’s marketing budget is by looking at the number of hotel rooms in their jurisdiction. Most (but not all) cities collect HOT, which should be used to perpetuate tourism activity.
The Marble Falls Economic Development Corporation enters the equation on tourism advertising when it comes to markets that are likely to produce an economic benefit without necessarily resulting in an overnight stay in a Marble Falls hotel. In other words, we help extend the same message conveyed throughout the rest of Texas into the Austin area. Some examples of Austin ads funded by the EDC can be seen here. In this case, our target audience is as simple as someone who can easily drive to and spend some money in Marble Falls.
Of course, we also engage in more typical EDC marketing. We place print ads and advertorials in site selection and/or business expansion magazines. We try to have a presence in the State’s Economic Development Guide as well as the Greater Austin Economic Development Guide. When we advertise in print publications—which currently comprises about 37.5% of our marketing budget—we usually look for additional features such as e-blasts, online exposure, lead generation, and/or bonus distribution. The majority of our marketing budget (60%) is dedicated to our online presence, which includes banner ad purchases, search engine optimization and marketing, and a Google AdWords campaign. As our budget grows, we would like to devote an even higher percentage to new forms of media.
This year, the EDC has budgeted $80,000 for marketing. This amount does not include trade shows or other forms of outreach. In all, our organization is statutorily limited to spending no more than 10% of our annual revenue on promotional expenses. While we have some wiggle room, it would only take a few more full-page ads for us to push that limit.
In terms of approach, we have been overt in telling a story about a lot of the things that make Marble Falls special—beautiful scenery, small-town charm and character, great place to raise a family, ideal location, etc.—but we have not been as aggressive when it comes to direct and unprovoked solicitation of individual businesses. We will conduct research on target industries and reach out to firms that have expressed an interest in relocating or expanding, and we will support the success of existing firms and encourage new additions to our community. With that said, a prospect should understand our market’s strengths and challenges before we would consider them a viable prospect. This is why our primary goal in marketing is to encourage a conversation about Marble Falls. We may use pretty pictures of the lake or describe our vibrant arts scene Downtown to compel someone to take a look at Marble Falls, but we attempt to move beyond the CVB’s goals related to driving tourism spending with our own goal of encouraging long-term investment in our community. Performance agreements aside, we shouldn’t have to pay someone to come to Marble Falls. (Our position on incentives will have to be the topic of another blog in the future.) In the case of traditional economic development marketing, our target audience is a firm that can experience success here and be a good fit in the community as well.
If you would like to know more about our marketing program, or if you would like to chat about anything else related to economic development in Marble Falls, please get in touch—we’d love to have a conversation.