Topel: Visibility counts in selling yourself or your city

Topel: Visibility counts in selling yourself or your city

October 1st, 2017 by Sybil Topel in Opinion Columns

Sybil Topel

Sybil Topel

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Visibility counts.

And that's where telling your story — or the story of your business — matters most.

In my role as vice president of marketing and Communications with the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce, I lead the way as we tell our members' stories to target audiences. Our audiences are all over the world and down the block. Before we create our marketing, we anticipate the question site selectors and investors always ask, "What's a Chattanooga and how do you pronounce it?" Once we get past that, of course, they move on to, "Why should I invest here?" Here's the challenge. There are thousands of regions selling the same message, "Pick me!," to the same audience members. The most high-profile search right now, the Amazon headquarters search, proves this point. A quick internet search will net hundreds of articles on who's doing what to make their location look perfect.

In working with our economic development team we wanted to be bold and different. We wanted to create a message that really reflects Chattanooga:

-Our many outdoor amenities

-Our start-up successes, and

-Our amazing 10 Gigs of internet that help fuel our economy

All those qualities make us unique. So, rather than produce a video where all the scenes look like a cul-de-sac in "American Beauty," we took a creative risk and went with humor. In a series of videos, we told three stories. Two videos feature unique (invented) businesses and one is a musical: "Cha Cha Land," an obvious salute to Hollywood's hot Oscars success, "La La Land."

Yes. I keep comparing our marketing campaign to Oscar-winning movies. That's kind of the point. In a crowded marketplace where your competitors keep re-packaging and re-using the same message over and over, we chose to stand out by making exaggerated, ludicrous claims. We weren't trying to regurgitate the cold hard facts about Chattanooga. We wanted to communicate the feeling of Chattanooga. We're friendly and affordable. We're the mid-sized, family sedan of cities. We're the Tom Hanks of places. Everybody likes Tom Hanks.

We told Chattanooga's own story in a unique way that made people smile.

While the video won numerous awards, the proof is in whether it helped us target a tough-to-reach market. Each business was crafted to reflect a particular business sector — an international business, a home-grown start-up. The "Cha Cha Land" video included high-profile businesses like our Chattanooga Airport — with direct flights to many places, including New York and Chicago — again targeting businesses who might not know we added new flights recently. Our creative team included local video producers, singers, dancers, set designers — a full Chattanooga casting call.

Back to visibility. Chamber staff and volunteers work with many wise marketing professionals who make it their business to know as much as possible about Facebook's latest algorithm — which currently bumps videos higher up on your page's feed. We used that knowledge to our community's advantage in our strategic deployment of the video. More than 160,000 people viewed it. That's not as big as Tom Hanks' tweet, but it's pretty cool in Economic Development Land.

I invite you to view our home-grown videos. You'll see a startup owner frustrated by a slow internet (until she moves to Chattanooga), an international business with a magical "un-do" button (that would be cool.) In "Cha Cha Land" you'll see a hard-driving boss who needs her team to return to the big city, but they tell her 'No,' because Chattanooga's "literally perfect." And you will see an inclusive cast led throughout by a tuxedo-clad character we've dubbed "Mr. Perfect." It's tongue-in-cheek — we're poking a little fun at ourselves.

But our underlying message is serious. We're recruiting top talent — both here and outside the region. Humor sells. View the videos and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Visibility counts.

Sybil Topel is vice president of marketing and communications at the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce. Contact her at

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