- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Someone sitting in a focus group in Minneapolis was asked to describe what it would be like living in South Dakota. The response is not the stuff economic developers dream about.

“You could really become a hermit,” this person said. “You could really isolate yourself from everyone else.”

Here’s what someone said in Des Moines:

“My friends would think I’m crazy to go to either of the Dakotas, because they probably just think it’s a barren wasteland, that there’s not much to do, not much job opportunities. It gets cold there. Really cold there.”

That’s just the start of some revealing research that was presented last week to economic developers from across the state by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, the Argus Leader reported (https://argusne.ws/1Dyreyb ). It forms the basis for a new marketing campaign designed to target specific workers in strategic locations and industries.

“We thought we better get some solid research done to understand what it’s going to take and what the messaging should be,” Commissioner Pat Costello said.

With the help of advertising and marketing firm Lawrence & Schiller, here’s what the state found.

People between the ages of 21 and 45 without children were asked their opinions about Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. They did not know the team from Lawrence & Schiller represented South Dakota.

The focus groups were held in Peoria, Illinois; Des Moines and Davenport, Iowa; and Minneapolis and Rochester, Minnesota.

The questions were built around three factors key to a person’s decision to relocate. The first is sameness - whether the new location is similar enough to the existing location to feel like a fit. Then comes upward mobility, and finally “a life I can imagine.”

Here are the most popular words associated with the state: Mount Rushmore, Black Hills, Sturgis, Corn Palace, flat, mountains, sightseeing, Wall Drug.

“They knew lots of travel things, and that’s a testament to our state,” said Tracy Saathoff, director of consumer insights with Lawrence and Schiller. “But at the same time when you think about the prospect of relocating where you’re thinking about a job, there’s not a lot to draw from because you’re limited in your perception.”

“Limited” is an understatement. Consider this feedback from someone in Des Moines when asked about working in South Dakota:

“South Dakota is mainly cattle, sheep, horses, livestock . living off the ranch, taking care of the ranch. It’s not as industrial, not as technical.”

Another from Des Moines: “If you’re not in that tourism industry, I don’t think the opportunities are there.”

They also thought there weren’t as many opportunities to change employers, and that there were limited opportunities for movement within the company, small family owned businesses, suburban office parks and lower salaries.

Some acknowledged they would save money because of the cost of living in the state, but they also thought there was less to do.

When Costello and his team heard the feedback, he wasn’t all that surprised. The comments weren’t that different from what he’s heard from site selectors who scout locations for businesses.

“They just don’t think of South Dakota,” he said. “They don’t think Sioux Falls or Watertown or Brookings or anything like that. So what that told us is they’re not coming here on their own. So if we want them, we’re going to have to go get them.”

Enter the state’s new advertising campaign. It starts about as far from the target market of South Dakota as possible - on Mars.

“Mars,” the commercial begins. “The air: not breathable. The surface: cold and barren. But thousands are lining up for a chance to go and never come back.”

Cut to images of South Dakota as the narrator continues:

“South Dakota. Progressive. Productive. And abundant in oxygen. Why die on Mars when you can live in South Dakota?”

The final graphic reads: “South Dakota. Plenty of jobs. Plenty of air.”

The new state ad campaign by Lawrence & Schiller takes a light-hearted approach to getting young people interested in moving to South Dakota.

“You can live a life here. You can have fun here,” Costello said of the messaging. “You can have a great job and go fishing and biking and hiking. The opportunities are abundant.”

The Mars ad also touches on an approach the state plans to use involving so-called trending topics.

The young people being targeted by the campaign “are saturated with media,” said Mary Lehecka Nelson, director of marketing for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. “Something needed to hook them, and we know that demographic spends a lot of time talking about trending topics.”

The idea is for South Dakota to become part of the conversation, instead of trying to direct it with more in-your-face messaging.

“We think the Mars thing is right now,” Costello said. “Once this runs its course, we’ll hitch our message to the next wagon.”

Costello tells a story of debuting the Mars ad in a Cabinet meeting with Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

“Older people thought we were crazy, and finally the governor said, ‘OK, who here in this room has heard of this colonizing of Mars?’ It was a stark contrast. Half the room raised their hands, and those people were 35 and under. That’s the effect. We want to go after those 25- to 40-year-olds, and that’s where this hook works.”

Saathoff, at Lawrence & Schiller, emphasized the need to build brand equity in the South Dakota name by creating more diverse perceptions of the state with this campaign.

“We need to show South Dakota has broadened and developed and that we’re part of a larger progress in the Midwest,” she said.

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Information from: Argus Leader, https://www.argusleader.com

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