Marketing sells products; could it also sell infrastructure projects?

The process of funding and delivering infrastructure projects in Australia is changing.

In the current fiscal climate, significant government financial resources are tied up in maintaining and managing existing assets with limited Capital Investment available to deliver new infrastructure.

In the lead-up to the 2016 election, the federal government pledged $50 million in funding towards supporting new infrastructure projects across the states. The funds are designed to encourage private equity investment in large infrastructure projects across the country in order to deliver in areas that neither state nor federal governments can afford to deliver on their own.

Whether the plan works remains to be seen. From an end user perspective, privately funded projects often result in additional fees and tolls. Persuading the taxpayer to pay for new infrastructure can be a challenge, especially when they are accustomed to tax dollars footing the bill. Yet, only projects that can prove an economic return will attract private investment – if it costs more to build than you expect in return then it just won’t happen.

This is where I believe we need to readjust our way of thinking and change the communication of information regarding new infrastructure projects. Which brings me to messaging and marketing.

When you have a new product or service you want to sell, you employ tried and tested techniques that have been developed over many years to leverage the way people think and make purchase decisions, with the ultimate aim of getting them to buy your product. Holidays are sold on relaxation and fun; cars on prestige, comfort, practicality and safety; beauty products and perfumes on self-belief and attractiveness; and foods on health and wellbeing. In short, you sell benefits, not features.

In the days where projects were predominantly government funded, project messaging and marketing was largely irrelevant to the everyday Joe or Jolene – after all they weren’t going to pay anything for them — so basic information regarding what the project was, where it would be located, and when it would be completed was all they needed. Project names were very generic, often reflecting what they were (e.g. Adelaide Light Rail) or where they started or finished (e.g. Perth to Forrestfield Airport Link).

Today, I believe the average Joe and Jolene need to be sold on the improvements new infrastructure will deliver in their daily life and routines. Projects need to be sold as new adventures, community improvements and positive lifestyle changes; things that will enrich their personal time, address their traffic or crime concerns, improve their daily commute, or raise their property values. And project names need to excite and inspire people and reflect the improvements or changes that they will deliver. A local community that is passionate and vocal about their needs can influence councils and state governments to identify and prioritise key projects that will benefit their lives.

In order to prove an infrastructure project as economic, governments need to identify and sell all the benefits to potential investors too. Potential investors need to consider return on investment from multiple angles, looking beyond tolls and charges to the value adds. New infrastructure developments represent opportunities for further development of retail and commercial space due to access improvements and bring new growth to an area. Terms like ‘Value Capture’ and ‘Transit Oriented Developments’ or ‘TODs’ are just a couple of common terms being used in the market that reflect this way of thinking. Only then will private investors be able to truly sell the dream to end users by focusing on the benefits the projects will deliver.

So I say package it, market it, and sell it right if you want to align the new funding process to future infrastructure project delivery.