CH Branding Survey needs second round

[The writer sent the following as a letter to Cleveland Heights City Council on April 17. City Manager Tanisha Briley responded promptly, and a possible meeting is in the works.]

The most recent issue of Focus magazine provided a synopsis of Cleveland Heights’ self-appointed Brand Steering Committee’s branding initiative findings, and the committee’s plans for translating those findings into a new city logo and tagline.

While no one should fault the committee for its intentions, there are deeply concerning issues with its approach, most especially regarding how it sought respondents for its online brand survey and subsequently reported those responses.  

The survey was first publicized in July and August 2018 Heights Observer articles. Additionally, the survey was posted on the city’s website, in its subscriber-based e-newsletter, on Facebook and Nextdoor, and in the fall-winter 2018 Focus magazine. While these outlets might seem sufficient for publicizing the survey, the approach presumes that most residents are actively tuned in to city media.  

Not surprisingly, those who did respond selected Cleveland Heights’ diversity—using the most encompassing sense of that word—as the city’s number one asset (followed by its support of the arts and its aesthetic charm).

Indeed, our diversity is, as the Focus article put it, a treasure. But ironically, according to the committee’s report, close to 80 percent of respondents were white, rendering the number of results from residents of color, given the study’s variance and small pool, nearly negligible.

Over 60 percent of respondents live in households with only 1–2 people, and over 45 percent are also over the age of 45. Nearly 70 percent have bachelor’s degrees or higher, over 40 percent have household incomes of over $100,000 annually, and nearly 40 percent live south of Cedar Road.

While it’s wonderful that this concentrated demographic values our community’s diversity—and while a more representative variance might have resulted in a similar, if not identical, outcome—there are real dangers in not reflecting on the disconnect between what a non-representative sample of us says we appreciate and how that appreciation manifests.

Cleveland Heights is more complicated and wrought—and in many ways more fluid and resilient—than the survey reveals. While our community has an abundance of lovely, walkable residential and commercial districts, we must also acknowledge that we live in pockets overly defined by race and socioeconomics.  

And if we tout our love of this community’s diversity, we must work much harder to invite diverse voices to the proverbial table. There may be an impulse to question why a wider demographic didn’t take the survey, but that’s a scapegoat response.

Rather, the city must re-open the branding survey, and work harder to reach out to, and hear from, a more robust swath of this community. For example:

  • Distribute fliers to all of the schools (public and private) for distribution at evening events and in student take-home folders.
  • Put short plugs in the announcements of our religious institutions.
  • Put up posters and signs in all the commercial districts with pull tabs listing the branding survey link.
  • Ask members of the many civic engagement groups to go door-to-door to take survey results.
  • Host tables at community events around town where residents can take the survey; offer qualitative interviews then and there.
  • Ask for volunteers to staff tables at the community center and libraries during high-traffic times.
  • Allow community organizations and religious institutions to conduct their own focus groups and report responses.

Again, while the outcome on paper may be the same, the opportunity to enfranchise more respondents, to increase civic engagement, and to send the message that every voice is valued in this process, will pay much higher, long-term community dividends in the forging of a better brand.

To not do so is to risk cynicism, as evidenced by the first-wave response to the proposed logo and tagline: a slogan that sadly and ironically highlights white privilege above diversity. {The committee retracted the slogan after a negative response from the community.]

Jessica Schantz

Jessica Schantz is the e-news manager at the Heights Observer and a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights. The opinions expressed in this article are hers alone. 

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Volume 12, Issue 5, Posted 10:47 AM, 05.02.2019