Did All 238 HQ2 Proposals Ignore Video Marketing Best Practices?

The brick walls in your city look similar to the brick walls in my city…

Coming as no surprise (clears throat) that Amazon now appears to be having advanced discussions to put its #HQ2 in Northern Virginia, my reflections this Saturday morning are on the stacks of cash and countless hours teams of people from the 237 ‘other’ cities spent producing and hyping their cookie-cutter Chamber of Commerce videos which, no doubt, were the lead off hitters in each and every proposal Jeff Bezos’ decision-making crew had to endure.

Though I’m sure there’s a video for Northern Virginia, too.

According to Amazon, the company received 238 proposals from cities and regions in 54 states, provinces, districts, and territories throughout North America in response to the opportunity to land the company’s second headquarters. The list of The Salivating 238 was evaluated by Jeff Bezos and crew and now appears down to one.

237 finished in second place.

Better said, 237 second-place finishers = 237 first losers.

The HQ2 gold-rush mentality that swept North America has been interesting to watch. Right up until it took the sum total of about two minutes to figure out that so much of what you were taught about sales and video marketing was violated by so many of those who could only fantasize about getting the final rose from Jeff Bezos.


ZERO Differentiation

Cue the commoditized feel-good, warm blanket safety videos. It seems as if every one of the 238 proposals has a two-minute Chamber of Commerce video attached to it. I get it. There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your city. Except this was a competition to WIN. Not to attract more tourists.

I ran across a site that grouped together a bunch of the HQ2 video submissions. I bit, and checked out the content. I viewed one or two videos. Then a few more. I started to click on and off faster. To channel surf among the videos quicker and quicker. I felt as if I was watching city-branded videos produced by graduates from the same media production class using the same generic, Xeroxed template.

Skyline shots. Buildings. People. Fast moving pedestrians. Shorelines. Blue skies everywhere. Plus I dig those camera angles from fast moving videos where somebody is flying low in a helicopter over a body of water, racing to the shore while panning up to display the panoramic view of a metropolitan area on a gorgeous summer day. Can’t seem to get enough of those. The videos made me think of that, though I can’t be sure if that type of shot is actually in any of the videos. (I bet it’s in at least one of them!)

I saw boxes. Lots of brown boxes in one video. Or was it more than one video with those brown boxes? Plus nice looking offices with advanced technology. Or so they claim. Flashing graphics. One, to the next, to the next, to the next… the videos stared to blend together. I didn’t watch 238 videos. Didn’t have to. I only watched a representative sample. But the message was clear: every town, in every part of North America is a great place to live and would be a great place for Amazon’s second home.

Warm, feel good, safe video.

Zero risks. Zero creativity.

Now guess what?

Zero reward.

If anybody had a chance to compete against the ‘DC-bound’ HQ2 you could’ve fooled me. At least when it came to the videos. Everyplace, everywhere, in every video looked, sounded and felt the same.

I bet they all have good food, too. So they all probably taste the same.

If I was trying to persuade the Recreational Club of Millennials in Western Iowa to send a group of tourists to spend a weekend in downtown Chicago with one of those videos, fine.

This wasn’t that. This is a cut-throat, ruthless, winner-take-all business competition.

237 lost.

What Else?

Focus on Feature/Function

Today, there are two types of people in sales and marketing: Those that have received the message that you should not focus on feature and functionality in your marketing presentation and sales pitch (certainly not lead with those) and those who got the memo and continue to choose to ignore it.

The HQ2 videos I saw were either ordered by or produced by those who ignored the memo.

The HQ2 videos featured buildings. Lots of them. Buildings that could be in Anytown, USA or Downtown North of the Border, Canada. If you covered the name of the city on the video label and just presented the raw footage, you’d have a hard time playing Name That Town!

No doubt Mr. Bezos knows the differences between visuals from Midtown Manhattan in New York and Michigan Avenue in Chicago, but I’d wager that the contrast among the 238 becomes fuzzier and fuzzier as the content reel rolls on.

But what are Features without some Function?

Transportation? Check. Anytown can get packages from here to there. Get people from to and from work. Roads, stoplights, fast moving, whizzing-by lights… Got it.

Technological advancements? Check. Anytown has computers that help get packages from here to there. Send and receive email. Connectivity to electricity.

So on and so forth…

Not to belabor the point about feature and function, but it’s similar to marketing and selling software. There’s usually a commoditization among tech products and solutions. The pitch and presentation has to overcome it. Differentiate from the rest of the field.

Commoditization can also found among the cities competing for HQ2.

Their videos I watched did not overcome it. They did not differentiate.

But I’m sure the videos instill a measure of civic pride. Something to show at the downtown luncheon where everybody pats themselves on the back while 20 stand on stage and claim credit. Until they finish second. Or are Numbers 2 through 238 on the final list. (Thought they’re all just Number 2.)

Kudos to the folks at Amazon who have to stay awake watching those videos.

238 x 2 minutes for each video = 476 minutes. That’s almost eight hours of video content that looks, sounds and feels the same. That’s if every proposal had a video attached to it and if every video is two minutes in length. But that’s not counting the in-between breaks.

More, those videos were front and center in this competition. They’re likely to have been first up in any virtual or in-person presentation. They’re the safety valve. The default starting point and mandatory path of least presentation resistance.

Imagine the team of civic and hometown business leaders crammed into the presentation room on the day of, pitching their glorious city. The mayor says:

Good Morning, we’d like to start by showing you a video that brags about our town and why we’re the best choice…

Press Play. Game Over.

Next time, for those who want to WIN this type of competition, differentiate. If you’re going to use video and launch into your presentation with it, you’ll need to differentiate that, too.

I’m (somewhat) surprised at this. How did those producing video submissions not know that every other city in North America would be producing the same type of video for every one of their proposals? It’s like having the other team’s playbook and still losing the game.

This was a cut-throat, ruthless, winner-take-all business competition.

So is every sales pursuit.

Then why were those HQ2 videos designed for corporate travel agents and the monthly civic business luncheon — and not to WIN?

Tony Compton holds two degrees from Loyola University Chicago: a 1987 B.A. in Communication and a 1995 MBA. He has held a number of marketing and business leadership positions over the past three decades.

Follow Tony on Twitter: Tony Compton




Producer/Host: Now That’s a Marketing Podcast! | Cranking it up for those wearing 1000 Marketing Hats | Apple, Spotify, Google, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio & more

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Tony Compton

Tony Compton

Producer/Host: Now That’s a Marketing Podcast! | Cranking it up for those wearing 1000 Marketing Hats | Apple, Spotify, Google, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio & more

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