I recently joined about 130 fellow Nashvillians on a Chamber of Commerce-sponsored trip to Austin, Texas, to learn about how a city much like ours has done very well, especially in building a strong tech industry, something our PR firm is actively involved in bringing about here in Music City.
I learned a lot during our three action-packed days in Austin. Here are some lessons that are valuable not only to city leaders but also to marketing pros and their clients who want to think bigger:
Talent matters more than anything.
Austin has succeeded for many reasons, but the main reason is the concentration of talented people who live there. Some of the nation’s most innovative businesses are moving to Austin to have access to this incredible talent pool.
How did Austin become a magnet for talent? Austin makes it easy to learn, with great public and private universities. It also makes it easy to live, thanks to Texas’s low tax philosophy.
Lessons for marketers: Encourage your people to be lifelong learners and give them the resources, like a training budget, that enable this to happen. And don’t overtax them with small-minded tasks. Make sure they have time to stretch their imagination.
Expect resistance all the time.
There is a strong “no growth” contingent in Austin, especially among the political class, which makes economic progress a constant challenge. So the business-minded folks in Austin must be both persistent and innovative in how they pursue growth.
Lessons for marketers: Seek out challenging projects and clients to keep you on your toes, and realize that your strongest competitors have the most to teach you.
Play to your competitors’ weaknesses.
One of Austin’s biggest advantages is that it is not in California, New York or Illinois — high tax states that are shedding talented, productive people at a rapid clip, who move to states with no income tax, like Texas. Of the 570 companies that have moved to Austin in recent years, 168 of them are from California, according to the Austin Chamber.
Lessons for marketers: Look for other companies that are doing something to make their customers unhappy and make it obvious how your company is different.
Don’t buy customers.
Austin Chamber representatives also told us that, of the 570 companies that have recently moved to Austin, only 18 got any kind of financial incentive. That’s a remarkable track record today, when corporate relocation executives regularly extract huge tax abatements from cities.
Lessons for marketers: Don’t compete on price. It may get you a few customers, but there’s a good chance they won’t be loyal and will leave for the first competitor that offers them a better bribe.
Plant seeds for tomorrow’s successes.
Austin is now in the fourth generation of its tech boom. It is strong today because companies like IBM, Motorola and Texas Instruments established a presence in the city decades ago. They laid the foundation of the culture that today attracts the best and brightest away from California, New York and Illinois.
Lessons for marketers: Build a legacy by deciding to be good at a few things, instead of trying to be OK at everything.
There is a collaborative culture in Austin. Competitors believe that a rising tide lifts all boats, so they often work together for the good of the entire economy. They still compete, mind you, but it’s not cutthroat, and they work to learn from each other.
Lessons for marketers: Get to know your competitors and don’t be afraid to get together with them occasionally to share information that can make you both better, because it makes the market better.
One of the most unique things in Austin is the way that private enterprise and the public sector work together to solve civic problems. This kind of cross-pollination has led to some very innovative solutions, such as a private equity fund that invests in affordable housing projects.
Lessons for marketers: Get outside your comfort zone. Seek out people and organizations that can provide you with a radically different viewpoint and be open enough to learn from them.