(Editor's Note: This PositionistView is condensed from the original article that appeared in the September 2009 edition of Inside Business. PositionistView guest author Lute Harmon Sr. is chairman of Great Lakes Publishing, which publishes Inside Business, Cleveland Magazine, Ohio Magazine and other titles.)
Cleveland's political corruption escapades are just the latest in a series of events that have shaken our confidence and damaged our national reputation.
Crazy as it may seem, most of us like Cleveland so much we are willing to forgive and forget. Yet that won't make our problems go away. A city cannot continue to lose good people, including its bright college graduates, without paying a high price. In a competitive world that rewards talent and brains, Cleveland is losing its most valuable asset.
At times like these, when the phrase I hear most often is "I've never seen it any worse," I wish we had a common understanding of the benefits we share in living here. It would be nice to believe enough in our strengths and in a vision of where we are going that we could absorb the blows of inept politicians.
In the past, we have created slogans to convince ourselves and the world that Cleveland is a good place to live and work. Unfortunately, our attempts have been less than successful. "Believe in Cleveland" certainly doesn't work if you're having second thoughts. And no one I know has ever been able to explain what "Cleveland Plus" means.
As serendipity would have it, a book arrived on my desk recently that may provide an answer. As with most good answers, this one has been right under our nose for a long time - which is the point of the book.
Dick Maggiore, president and CEO of Innis Maggiore advertising agency, was nice enough to send me Jack Trout's new book, In Search of the Obvious. Trout, a friend of Maggiore, is recognized as one of the world's most knowledgeable marketers. His earlier book, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, written with Harvard professor Al Ries, is still the best positioning idea book ever written.
The importance of what Trout has to say starts with the premise that we live in a highly competitive world where if we want to sell something - a product, a city, a country - we need to create a brand. And successful brands do one thing: They deliver a specific, believable benefit to the customer.
Trout makes the point in this new book that the most successful brands are those that are the most obvious. If the customer doesn't understand the benefit of a product immediately - and believe it - it won't sell.
The brand that delivers what it says it will deliver wins customers every time. If you want to give your beloved a diamond that lasts forever, you will give her a DeBeers. If you want better ingredients, better pizza, you'll call Papa John's. If you want to drive the best engineered car in the world, you'll drive a Mercedes. If it's the safest car you want, you'll purchase a Volvo.
Marketing is not so much a battle of products as it is a battle of perceptions. And perception, as we know, is reality. DeBeers, Papa John's, Mercedes and Volvo have successful positioning ideas because they are perceived to deliver what they promise.
Trout has several tests for a successful brand. The two most important ask: Is it obvious, and is it real? Which brings us to Cleveland today.
Wouldn't this be the perfect time, with the addition of a Medical Mart and all the national attention we are getting as a world-class health care center, to brand Cleveland as the city in which to live, work and get healthy? Our positioning idea would pass Trout's tests with flying colors: It's obvious, and it is real.
And better yet, getting healthy in Cleveland is a brand we can extend, from healthy bodies to healthy minds and healthy businesses - our three greatest assets.
Now that Jack Trout has helped me see a positioning idea and believe it, the next time someone asks me why I live in Cleveland, I'll say: "Because I want to be healthy, wealthy and wise."