Attributing foreign investment to place marketing efforts

What can you do to demonstrate the impact that place marketing has on the bottom-line for your organisation? Before he joins us as a judge for the 2023 City Nation Place Awards, Mohamed Ashoor, Head of Digital Marketing at the Bahrain Economic Development Board [EDB], talks to us about how they developed a marketing attribution model to show the impact that marketing has on delivering investments into the Kingdom in order to support more strategic decision-making and demonstrate the value of the team’s work.

What stimulated you to focus on developing a marketing attribution model within the Bahrain EDB team?

In general, wherever I worked I always wanted to find out about the real impact of the marketing work. In today’s digital world we have more data points to look at than ever, but I think we often get lost in the output instead of looking at the outcome. With that in mind, I didn’t want our reporting to focus on how much outreach we’ve done alone. I also wanted to focus on what we bring to the country’s economy considering we focus on a very specific objective of attracting more foreign investment to the Kingdom. When our senior management team asked about the impact of Marketing and Comms, I wanted our answer to look beyond the obvious and to be relevant to the bottom line, which is incoming investment value. Also, the more we show our impact, the more we’ll be trusted to do the things we believe are worthwhile.

What challenges did you encounter in the process?

Initially, there was a bit of change management that needed to be done. While uncovering the impact of our marketing might have been a priority for us, it was understandably not the main priority for other teams within the EDB. Also, there was a data and processing issue as we needed a proper set up to track the journey of an investor prospect from A-Z, or the initial lead generation through to the successful investment project. Last but not least, there was a resource challenge since this is a time-consuming task and we didn’t have a dedicated team for it.

How did you get teams on board with the taskforce you proposed?

The key point that won everyone over was the fact that this taskforce will give us concrete data regarding the impact of all marketing and comms activities on the business bottom line. I talked about it with all relevant team members to explain that once we know what works, we can achieve even more by optimising accordingly and spending our resources more efficiently. At the end of the day, we have business objectives to fulfil, and nothing is more meaningful than delivering better work to support that objective as directly as possible. We basically spoke their language - numbers and conversions in dollar values - and steered away from marketing terms that might not be as relevant or clear to them as they are to us.

How did you decide which tools to use in developing your dashboard?

We wanted the most trustworthy source of data and at the same time the most practical. So considering we already use a Microsoft CRM, it felt like using their own PowerBI software is the best way to go. It was also a practical decision since one of our IT team members is a PowerBI expert and he could build the dashboards with us in-house.

Did the data reveal anything that you hadn’t predicted? In what ways did this impact your strategy?

It revealed a lot of details that we didn’t expect. For example, we always thought that our most valuable leads will come through concentrated lead gen efforts, but we didn’t realise that there was still a number of significant leads that will come through the website completely organically because we’ve got our basics right with our SEO and content strategy. Additionally, digging through the data also showed that what’s on the surface didn’t fully reflect marketing’s contribution to the projects and successes in the pipeline, as looking at it from a first-attribution point of view wasn’t comprehensive enough since our conversion isn’t that simple. We had to adopt a multi-touchpoint attribution approach to fairly reflect contribution of different channels to a project’s creation and/or success throughout its conversion cycle.

How has this changed the way that EDB is going about its marketing and communications?

Our decision making on campaigns and events now heavily depends on the business outcomes we anticipate from each activity. We also don’t mind exploring new ideas and events that can help us meet our objectives, but we always measure them based on their business impact since it’s our main priority - especially now that we have the mechanism to properly identify what business impact they have. We also have a data attribution model that can help us understand the live projects and successes of any marketing activity over the last six years or so with just a click of a button.

What would be your piece of advice for someone looking to start a similar project in their own organisations?

Never work in isolation, always try to find out ‘why’ rather than ‘how’, and get high-level advocates. In my opinion, one of the pitfalls of any marketing department trying to prove its worth is that we often talk in our jargon and focus on what things mean to us, but then forget that for the wider organisation, there is a bigger task at hand. Find out how your work impacts on that bigger task. Even if you want to say that reach and brand exposure etc. does work, try to find the missing link to what the rest care about. Also, understanding the ‘why’ is very important, because finding the answer to it (or the lack of it) can help you solve things on a macro level rather than just spending time with the details. The details matter too, but if the overarching direction isn’t right, they will not get you to where you need to be. Lastly, advocacy will take you a long way forward. Get those who aren’t from your department to believe in the purpose of your project and how it will help their department and the company overall to deliver better results.

Thank you so much for sharing your advice and letting us know more about the work that you’re doing.

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The Place Brand Portfolio is City Nation Place's searchable portfolio of Awards case studies from the past five years.