Listen Up! Recruiting Interest And Investment Starts Here

Listen and learn. Think before you speak. Never refuse a breath mint. These are words that I heard repeatedly as a kid and phrases that guide me every day at North Star. Our goal is to uncover what makes a community special. Not easy. But simple really. We listen. We inquire. And we listen some more.

This is how we do what we do. Learning as much as we can about a place by engaging as many voices as we can. What is it about the culture of the place that stands out? What about its history is interesting and relevant today and what lessons does it take into the future?

One thing we hear everywhere we go is that “our people make us special.” Every place, every time. So friendly. So generous. It may be true, but it’s not really distinct — not unless they can articulate why their people are different from everyone else. Here’s where the follow-up questions help residents hone in on what makes the place meaningful and memorable. And we listen some more.

Some folks will tell us that it doesn’t matter what they have been or even are. They only want to focus on what they want to be known for even if they are nowhere near delivering that. This is when we deliver disappointment. We can’t tell you to be something you’re not. We won’t do it. Can’t do it. It’s not what we do. Even if it is your secret hope.

Communities that can listen to their constituents and consumers will understand their community’s promise and identify the voices that will share it freely. Listening does not require talent but it does require commitment and curiosity. It is the first step to attracting interest and investment. And that is the thrust of any community branding — garnering interest and investment from those who call it home already and those who should (new residents, businesses, visitors).

So we listen, and we learn what makes communities compelling and competitive for different audiences. What one person tells us may contradict or challenge what another has already offered. That’s why listening to many is key. It is inclusive and defendable. It’s not just one or two observations.

Listening is something that we all should do more of these days. Rather than seeking information that affirms our own position. We value our objectivity for communities, and they come to appreciate that as well. While our strategic recommendations following all of the research and conversations may not be a revelation, the surprise comes in how we bring all of a community’s advantages together in a carefully articulated position. Our goal is always to hear, “You got us!”

So those imperatives that I learned as a kid are still helpful. I spend my days gathering perception research and varied perspectives. Opinions are not facts, yet they can guide you there. Uncovering what is real and authentic to a place signals that you are approaching what makes it special. So keep asking questions. Take a breath mint. And listen some more.