'Selling' Cleveland Heights: a competitive strategy view

Our city boasts ethnic diversity, eclectic neighborhoods, cosmopolitan commercial strips and traditional residential charm reflected in a diverse housing stock. Plus, we have a fabulous recreation center, Cain Park, Dobama Theatre, dedicated teachers, a beloved library and houses of worship, and more.

Despite the city’s gems, we’re confronted with vital questions around maintaining the quality of life for all residents (multi-generational and new arrivals), delivering city services when budgets are tight, and sustaining property occupancy. Of course, these are factors facing cities across the nation. But how does Cleveland Heights respond?

Fortunately, this is not a “build it and they will come” proposition. Cleveland Heights already has a wealth of assets that other places are struggling to build; once we recognize and appreciate what we have, we can protect and sustain it.

This is the first article in a new column that will provide a competitive and marketing strategy view on issues and trends affecting Cleveland Heights. The first topic is “selling” Cleveland Heights from a competitive strategy standpoint.

Competitive strategy is essentially the marketer’s response to one or all of the “five forces” that get in the way of success.

Michael E. Porter, Harvard Business School professor and well-known strategist, defined five forces that shape the attractiveness and sustainability of an industry: the threat of new entrants, the threat of substitutes, the bargaining power of customers, the bargaining power of suppliers, and direct competitive rivalry. When one applies this thinking to a place, such as Cleveland Heights, one can better understand the competitive situation and define some initial steps to overcome these forces to “sell” our city and yield an attractive “profit”—more visitors, more investment, more businesses and more residents.

It’s not surprising to find that the forces all deal with customers and prospects, and the competitors (direct, emerging, or unintentional) trying to influence them. A solution will begin to overcome these competitive forces.

The first step is to define the basis, nature and hierarchy of the customers and prospects influenced by the five forces impacting Cleveland Heights.

In order to identify and act on these forces, one needs real market knowledge—not just focus groups, but facts. This eliminates hunches or “it seems like a good idea” from being part of the solution. The cost of guessing wrong is more than our community can afford. 

Gathering the facts will take time, so concurrently, let’s take step 1A: Identify and assess the primary target market—current Cleveland Heights visitors, investors, residents, businesses and institutions. The target, for now, is us!

What does this mean in practice? A business should consistently communicate that it appreciates its customers, and tell them in person and through all communication channels. It should regularly learn who they are, where they’re from, what they like and dislike, and what alternatives they have.

Any business, large or small, can execute this step by delivering consistently and reliably what it knows it can deliver and what its customers appreciate. Stop there—going further means guessing. Make adjustments when you are certain you can deliver more of what your customer prefers.

This initial target, current customers, is the best first step. Any improvement must sustain these current customers first. 

So, repair the holes, then fill the bucket. Begin by talking to the audience you already know, that can be targeted with available resources and channels of communication. If Cleveland Heights businesses and institutions do this, we might all be pleasantly surprised by the number of wins our city can rack up.

Jinida Doba

Jinida Doba is an associate with Cleveland Heights-based Dorsey & Company Strategic Consultants to Management. Doba has called Cleveland Heights home since 2010.

Read More on Height of Competition
Volume 8, Issue 10, Posted 6:48 PM, 09.30.2015