Small towns don't have a location problem - they have a branding problem.
Updated: Jan 31
Small towns are quickly losing their biggest excuses when it comes to not thriving.
Brief incomplete thoughts on small towns no longer have a location problem and 5 steps we must take.
The Background: Survey a random group of small-town residents asking what are some of the biggest challenges with living there and a few answers will inevitably always come up:
Excuse one: "There's nothing here"
That answer, among others has been and continues to be used by individuals as a reason to justify why their towns are dying. And while this is not a fact but simply a way of thinking - it has been so deeply ingrained into individuals’ heads at this point that it's becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Worse yet, it has become generational - making the spiral of prophecy fulfilment happen even quicker! What I mean by becoming generational is we have an entire older generation who actually tells the younger generation - " you need to get out" or "no one will blame you if you left".
And it’s tough because they’re not trying to do harm, they are trying their best to provide their kids with the “better life than I had” that loving parents seek for their kids. With social media and the internet it is very easy for parents to see more opportunities outside their community and justify preaching to their kids to move because more often than not, the outside of the community is being promoted more! They see those statistics and opportunities and preach to their kids about moving to where there is opportunity – it’s human nature almost, we’ve done it for centuries, moved to greener pastures for better farming, moved out west for more opportunity of freedom, etc.
I'm sure that reasoning is responsible for thousands of young individuals leaving their towns every year.
But what those towns don't realize is that younger generation is finally starting to have the leverage* and quickly gaining the knowhow to possibly create incredible opportunities right from their hometowns!
Excuse 2: “We’re hours from anything”
The objective should be to focus on what your town does have and focus on highlighting those things. Brands don’t start with having everything and rarely will they ever get to the point of having everything. They focus on what they do have and they double down on doing the best they can with what they have at this current moment. The same can be said for small towns, small towns don’t have everything and they are a ways away from the “everything” that can be found in major areas – but they have a lot to offer, especially if you’re looking to start a business!
Small towns offer less distractions, less distractions means we can slow the right variables down and focus on the goal. Slowing things down permits us to refine and curate what’s important. Instead of consistently dealing with the incoming, it allows us to focus on the important leverage points. More on this in another blog post.
In addition to that, normally with it being “hours from anything” that means that there is probably an opportunity to put something there – internet is not limited to a location. Also, each town has some sort of natural resource that can be an incredible positive: it could be mountains, it could be water, it could be history, it could be cheap land. The potential is there, we must find it.
Excuse 3: “There’s no money here” This is one that is deeply rooted in the “find greener pastures”. It does not take a rocket scientist to see that a small town does not have the funding of a metropolis, major cities or even a large town. Small town’s on average* mean fewer total funds overall.
This lack of funds, plus the easily distributed content of greener pastures (a.k.a. showing better locations through a quick search or opening of an app) makes these small towns seem like not enough.
It takes a serious decision and commitment to go against human nature of seeking something that is seemingly* better.
As mentioned previously, we are hitting a point in time where individuals are starting to get an incredible amount of leverage! What I mean by that is we as individuals need less than ever before to get started! 1 smartphone can generate an incredible amount of cashflow with the proper knowhow! Less input for even more output than before and because that is the case – we do not always* need to be where there is money.
With leverage 1 + 1 can equal 3, and getting caught up on a location not having money means we’re not identifying the fact that the internet does not have a location. Money and digital products can be transferred instantaneously from locations - with physical products quickly getting to locations faster and faster. To further this idea, less funds means that each $ generated can potentially make a bigger impact. Example, $1 in $100,000 community means more than $1 in $10,000,000 community.
Excuse 4: “It has a drug problem”
It’s sad but it is something that must be noted, small towns, especially rural small towns have an opioid crisis and while it might be easier to lose track of that in the noise of populated areas, it is normally apparent to the residents of small towns that there is an issue. Unfortunately, this is not something that can just be addressed, it’s systemic and it would need a systematic approach to solving.
However what we must realize is a systematic approach normally starts with one person and grows to a small group and beyond. Being in a small town is interesting because it means that in theory, the likelihood of the Bystander Effect is smaller. There are less people to deflect responsibility to and that makes it more likely that the residents will take responsibility for their communities. Note: this is not always the case, but again, it’s a systemic issue and to start solving it we must take first steps as individuals.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ― Margaret Mead
Peel back the layer of any location and you will inevitably find issues in some shape or form. Drug abuse doesn't discriminate across locations, just the choice of drug changes. There are other towns out there that are growing and despite the underlying issues. My main point is we cannot let that be a defining feature of how the town is branded. We’re all fighting that epidemic together - it is important to address the problem and not sweep it under the rug so to speak. “Be the change you wish to see in the world” – your world starting with your hometown in this case.
So, what does this mean – Location is not going to be the problem, branding is. Furthermore, what this means for us is that we must take responsibility to brand our locations properly step by step – brick x brick! 1: Identify what makes your location – it’s location. Each town offers its own unique ingredients. 2. Identify the biggest challenges in that location and realize those challenges are opportunities. 3. Figure out the brand you want the town to have and put in a place to make that happen. 4. Assemble a team and continue to assemble a team – never stop assembling a team, it’s ongoing. 5. Hold others accountable to understanding the opportunities!