Over 238 international cities have applied since tech giant, Amazon, announced it would take bids for its second headquarters. Among those applicants our home city, Calgary, created one of the more notable marketing campaigns.

Calgary Economic Development, the organization that put together the bid, went all out in their marketing efforts including: a 120-ft. by 10-ft. banner hung from a building near the current Amazon headquarters, strategic street graffiti throughout the city of Seattle, and a full-page ad in the Seattle Times.

Love it or hate it, this courtship from the city of Calgary to Amazon has elicited some strong reactions and also some valuable lessons about marketing. Here are the key lessons that marketers can take away from the Calgary Amazon bid:

Start Without Parameters

“What if we told Amazon we would fight a bear for them?”

This was a conversation that happened amongst Calgary Economic Development and its partners sometime between when the concept was first conceived and when it was hung on a giant banner across the street from Amazon HQ. It’s vital to encourage all ideas, no matter how far-fetched, in the brainstorming phases of a project. If a team works in fear of being shot down, you may never know some of their best ideas. Even if the idea doesn’t suit the budget or ends up being non-feasible, it might be what sparks the conversation that fleshes out an even better plan. Getting your team onboard and excited is one of the key ways to foster success in any project.

Get Input from Outside your Team

Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, is known for crowd sourcing ideas. Borrowing a page from his book, Calgary Economic Development created a website so that anyone could submit their idea on how, and what, to bid for the project. As well as the crowd sourcing website, they also formed an advisory committee consisting of the mayor, successful Calgary executives, and others. Often times when we create something— be it an advertisement, a blog, an email, or even a landing page—we only bounce our ideas off our coworkers or boss. While this makes sense in the editing process, it presents two big issues in the planning phase:

1) You can’t always create original content in an echo chamber. An echo chamber is defined as an environment in which a person encounters only beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own, so that their existing views are reinforced and alternative ideas are not considered. It’s not that you can’t create great new ideas on your own, but without new influences, it’s going to be tough to stay original.

2) Who knows the type of content that people want better than your demographic? I have some news, and you might want to sit down for this one: marketers are not unbiased. But what does that have to do with creating content? Well after a while, you start to look at things through the lens of a marketer, which is not always the same as looking at things through the lens of a consumer. If you’re a marketer creating content for an agricultural business, you’re probably going to want occasional input from real agricultural professionals. If you’re writing an email newsletter about finance for a client, send it to a friend in accounting and ask if they understand the email, and if they would actually open it. If the answer is no, ask more questions and revise. If you’re creating an advertisement for a home renovation event, ask your neighbour who just renovated their home what social channels they were looking at for inspiration or advice.

Don’t be Afraid to be Ambitious

This project had no shortage of tenacity. With a high profile and large budget, it stood out amongst the majority of the 238 other applicants. The only requirement for the application was a business proposal but Calgary chose to go above and beyond the minimum with a looming, 120ft. banner.  Win or lose this bid, the size and calibre of the ads has still created wide spread exposure to the city. Several international publications wrote about the campaign, people all over Seattle saw the ads, and there’s no doubt that a larger scale conversation about Calgary has been started. The conversations created by this might lead to more people choosing to vacation, move to, or even relocate their own business into the city. Strategy and budget will always determine the size of a marketing campaign or project but don’t be afraid to go big when the situation calls for it. The ROI might not be overnight but long term, wide scale brand recognition has its own benefits.  While we aren’t yet sure when Amazon will choose their new location, two things can be sure: no one can say Calgary didn’t pull out all the stops in their bid and we could all learn a thing or two from it.

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