We Win and Lose By Rankings

May 31, 2018
Clark Krause

Is our community in the final three? Final two? The first choice or the first runner up (i.e. losing out?). We love to tout the times when we are the last one standing, and try to learn from the times when we aren’t. The relationship between rankings and making the cut has morphed over time in a curious way that melds the measurable quantitative aspects with softer, qualitative ones.

Indulge me in a bit of history. Back in the day – a decade plus ago – you would get an actual call on an antique device called your “office phone” from a site consultant letting you know that you were in the top 12 states for a project. A slew of questions and requests followed by evaluations and eliminations would narrow down the top five to six states. After several site visits and ‘get to know you’ meetings with the consultant and company, there would be would be more data requests and narrowing down five cities to three cities. Finally, the day would come for another “office phone” call that ended with elation over the win or heartbreak over the loss.

Today, all of the technology-enabled data driven pre-work usually leaves you with one shot. Your fate is close to decided in an unidentified board room where the consultant and company have already been through several cuts before you even receive a cell call or an email saying, “Congratulations you have made the top 3, we are headed out to see ya.” That does not mean that the site selection process did not start months before with 65 metros or 12 states, it just means that data drove closed door discussions and eliminated the “also rans” before contact is ever made with a finalist community.

So, how does an underdog community without the spotlight of national familiarity make the cut in a secret meeting across the country? With meaningful social behavior and a media trend that is helping to level the playing field, great metros that are not as well known are stepping to center stage for the first time.

For the past two decades, people vaguely familiar with what I do have always asked me; “Do top 10 lists and other accolades in the media matter? Do they drive business to consider expanding here?” I used to quickly respond that they did not make a difference. But the times, and my perspective, have changed. I believe that media and social trends that embrace “Top 10-20” lists and “Best City For…”, may actually play a role in place-making and place-finding strategy. With consultants and companies visiting less cities while in the elimination process, awareness through accolades may be one of the only tools we have to emotionally and personally connect to the expansion and relocation decisions happening within the far away board room.

The ability to reach people via a ‘Best of’ or ‘Top 10’ ranking is waiting before you wake up, pour a coffee and say hello to your screen of choice. We no longer just know the Top 10 lists in our favorite paid magazine subscription; we are now hit hourly with the latest list from thousands of magazines – from Forbes to Outside, US News & World Report to Kiplingers, not to mention online-news and lifestyle outlets and blogs. While it may not be a formal part of the site selector decision-process, I strongly believe it’s influencing the influencers whether they are aware of it or not. Subconsciously, the repetitive appearance of communities, metros and lesser-known states in these rankings are making an impression.

Accolades do matter, because these snack-sized bits of content are being served up to all of us on our news aggregators and ubiquitous portable devices that we check dozens of times a day. Repetition of rankings for mid- to small-sized metros help these communities gain mindshare when they may not have previously.

Accolades do matter, because in a world of highly-accessible data we crave the emotional connection to information and place. And this personal glimpse drives a curiosity to learn more.

We see the proof in our engagement. Whether it is about the ‘Best Run Cities in America’ or Vogue’s Top 10 Travel Destinations for 2017 (yes, Idaho’s on the list alongside Madagascar and Sri Lanka), lists drive the clicks. We see proof in the curiosity and quality of that first conversation. When company influencers and site selectors know the nuts and bolts about us, but also have a glimpse and knowledge of the soul of this place. They know a bit more about what makes us tick, and what makes those magazines, newspapers and blogs continue to tick us off on a list.

I’m a convert, believing that we’re in the midst of an evolution between data gathering and analysis of a place. See a running list of our accolades here.