Why brands suffer when their marketing departments are located in middle America.

The overwhelming consensus among my many advertising friends and associates is that clients located in middle America are the least savvy when it comes to marketing and advertising. If you’re in advertising, particularly agency-side, you’re likely nodding your head right now.

No doubt this subject could stir a passionate debate, maybe even offend some people. But it’s something that is rarely (if ever) discussed and it needs to be.
Over the years we’ve seen many companies relocate their operations—including their marketing departments—away from the coasts and into middle America in an effort to save money. Tax incentives and the promise of a better quality of life offered by some states has succeeded in attracting the attention of CEO’s who are always looking for ways to reduce costs.

But if I could speak directly to all the CEO’s in America, I would tell them, “Whatever you do, do not move your marketing department to middle America. If you do, your brand will suffer.”

Most CEO’s would scoff at this notion simply because it makes more sense to have all your employees located in one place, rather than sprinkled here and there. The problem is, they aren’t considering the downside, which could end up costing them more money in the long run.


Overall there is nothing wrong with middle America. Whether it’s Kansas City or Nashville, Cincinnati or Boise, these places are less congested, less polluted, more peaceful and more quiet. Great places to raise a family. People who live in middle America are by and large more genuine and family-oriented. They seem to have a better work-life balance, which makes for happier families. The quality of character of people in middle America is outstanding. Chances are you have even relatives who live there and you know they’d give the shirt off their back to help someone.

But what makes for a friendly, balanced society does not make for a savvy marketing department.


Business today is fiercely competitive. Consumers are more fickle than ever. Trends in the marketplace come and go overnight. Fortunes are made and lost daily. What’s hot one day is cold the next. Everything is moving at the speed of light and accelerating by the minute. Small, local brands are going national, then global, then getting bought up by larger brands. Consumers are being bombarded with more and more advertising, which creates more noise. This in turn evokes a consumer’s overload defense mechanism—which is to block it all out.

This is the reality.

To stay competitive in business, brands have to stand out. They can’t afford to be blocked out by consumers. They must break through the clutter, break down defensive barriers and reach their audience. If they fail, they’ll simply be ignored and fade away.


When it comes to marketing and advertising—let’s just call it branding—culture is extremely important. What I mean by culture is that giant, ever-evolving, multifaceted, multicolored spectrum of human creativity and lifestyle. From which new and exciting innovations emerge. Things that have their own gravity. Things that fuel conversation and become viral. Things that make millionaires and celebrities overnight. Culture is a living, breathing thing. And in order to truly capitalize on it, you have to be swimming in it. Preferably in the deep end.

It just so happens that cultural epicenters are located in large, diverse, coastal cities and not in rural towns and middle American cities. Often, what’s hot right now in New York doesn’t even reach middle America for weeks, months or years—despite our digital age populated by tweets and posts.


What people in middle America—and therefore marketing clients—lack most is an adventurous spirit. They generally don’t stray far from familiar surroundings. They prefer suburban neighborhoods and drive-throughs, cineplexes and department stores, large SUV’s and Costco. Their communities are mostly devoid of museums, wine bars, ethnic foods, artist communities, music venues, gourmet restaurants and symphony halls. They have little or no ‘cafe culture,’ where passionate people meet after hours to exchange ideas and inspire each other—where they can branch out into the unknown and unfamiliar. Their world is essentially homogeneous.

They also tend to be more risk averse. They have a greater fear of making a mistake which could threaten their job. After all, they’re likely to remain in their community for a lifetime and have no interest in shaking things up. This compels them to play it safe most of the time.

Living in middle America also tends to warp a marketing executive’s view of his or her brand’s audience. They’re more inclined to think that middle America is where to focus their messaging. In other words, people that look, talk, dress and act just like them. The mistake here is that innovations and trends work from the coasts inward, so it’s better to be unexpected and provocative, appealing to those on the coasts first, then let it permeate inward toward middle America. Coverage will be stronger and adoption will be longer lasting if it starts this way.


Conversely, a modern, coastal city is a rich spawning ground for new and exciting cultural shifts. It’s where passionate people flock. Places like New York, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco and others (and perhaps Chicago). Only cities like these can feed cravings for technology, innovation, art, fashion, architecture, music, ethnic foods and diversity. People here crave new experiences, new insights and new adventures. They seek out the latest fads and trends. They are more ambitious. They are more vocal. They socialize more and have larger social networks. They act on spontaneity and pride themselves on having an open mind. They eat healthier and are more active. They pursue individuality and self-expression rather than conformity. In short, they are more passionate in their pursuit of a textured, dynamic life.

These epicenters are where influences from Europe, Asia and South America permeate society. Where a strong cafe culture thrives. Where entrepreneurialism thrives. Where knowledge increases through the exchange of ideas. Where it’s common to become engrossed in a two-hour conversation about camera lenses, mobile apps or music, after midnight on a Tuesday, and come away totally invigorated.
On the coasts anything seems possible.


In the past decade, numerous companies have moved their marketing departments from the coasts to middle America. In each instance, the company culture changed significantly. The vast majority of people in those marketing departments refused to move out of state and resigned. Those positions were then filled by locals from the community to which the company moved, with disastrous results. That’s because the marketing department mindset became safe, bland and corporate. The bold, savvy risk-takers were gone.

To illustrate this, I’ll share a couple of real world examples.

Example 1: A few years back, some marketing executives at a large automaker (who had previously moved their marketing department from California to Nashville) needed to take a last-minute international trip to an automotive event to gain insight into the category. It was deemed vital that all the marketing people attend. The advertising agency folks (from LA) were quickly making arrangements when it was suddenly revealed that the majority of the clients that were expected to make the trip from Nashville did not even have passports. So they were unable to attend the event.

Now stop and think about this for a moment.

It is absolutely imperative that marketing executives—whether agency side or client side—are cultured. They must have their finger on the pulse of society, especially if they manage international brands. This means marketing executives must have a comprehensive world view. No true marketing executive can be savvy and well-rounded if he or she has never even ventured beyond the borders of their own country.

This incident spoke volumes about these automaker marketing clients. They should not have been in marketing. Perhaps accounting, manufacturing or operations would have been a better place for them.

Example 2: A dog food manufacturer located in Nashville was approached by a very popular rock band known for interestingly choreographed YouTube music videos that commonly went viral and received tens of millions of hits. This rock band was preparing to make another video, but this time with dogs. They approached the dog food manufacturer to be the sole sponsor of their new music video. The advertising agency of record was absolutely ecstatic that this rock band had approached them and very strongly advised the client to take the offer. Especially considering the price was a fraction of what a TV spot would cost. But the client lacked interest. First, they weren’t exactly sure who this rock band was. Second, they weren’t convinced that their core audience knew who this rock band was. Third, they weren’t convinced that their brand could benefit from merely sponsoring a YouTube video. After weeks of pleading by the advertising agency—and even with proposals by the rock band to dress the music video backdrop in the dog food brand’s signature brand color—the client still declined. So the deal never happened. Naturally, the rock band went on to produce the video without them. To date, the video has received over 13 million views on YouTube. Something the dog food brand could never hope to achieve on its own.

It’s pretty obvious that any savvy marketer would have leaped at the chance to partner with a well-known rock band for a few measly dollars. Sadly, this dog food brand in Nashville did not have a savvy marketing department, so they lost out on huge branding potential. Especially considering that these YouTube videos live on forever and continue to get more hits over time, like a gift that keeps on giving. They should have trusted their advertising agency and followed their recommendation, but they trusted their own gut instinct instead—which was dead wrong. They were simply out of touch.

These are just two examples but these types of things happen every day, keeping brands bland and invisible.


Moving your corporate marketing department from the coast to middle America is like trying to transplant a tree from sunny California to the arctic circle. Even if it does survive, it’s not going to flower.

If any CEO’s happen to be reading this, I implore you to please keep your marketing department in a major city on the coast. You can still have the rest your operations in middle America but you should keep your marketing department in a vibrant, innovative coastal community. Otherwise you’re doing a huge disservice to your brand image (and ultimately your shareholder value).