My girlfriend and I each started Master’s programs this year at the University of Iowa. She is studying Urban and Regional Planning and I am working on my MBA. I’m pretty new to the world of marketing, but when we she talks about community and economic development it’s hard for me to not apply marketing concepts to them. With just a little bit of refocusing, cities fit into the Four Ps marketing framework fairly well and it’s fun to see the applicability of marketing from other viewpoints.
Product. From a community and economic development perspective, a city can be seen as the product that is being sold to both businesses and individuals looking for a place to locate. Attributes such as industry specialties, educated workforce, arts and entertainment, and natural resources all become points of differentiation between cities. Consider why technology firms cluster in Silicon Valley and Boston or why country music performers group in Nashville. Those cities offer the resources that businesses and individuals need to succeed in their given profession. For technology firms, it’s access to venture capital and being grouped around the nation’s best engineers, entrepreneurs, and universities. In Nashville, music artists have ample venues to practice and can meet the plethora of producers that call Nashville home.
Price. In many ways, price for cities is set by governments. Tax abatements or loans can be given to encourage businesses to locate to a city. Tax Increment Financing (TIF) is offered to spur development in specific areas of a city. On the individual side of the equation, governments offer varying degrees of education, law enforcement, and public parks. All of these services have a price attached to them through various forms of taxes. There are also a number of indexes to compare cost of living across cities. All of these factors shape both where businesses and where employees choose to reside by looking at the price of a city and the level of desirable amenities it provides.
Place. This is the most difficult category to draw parallels between marketing and community development because placement of cities is not variable anymore. I cannot pick up Iowa City and move it to a coast. However, cities do have some ability to affect how people visit them. Cities can be significantly altered with the arrival or departure of an interstate near town. Low fare airports encourage travel to and from the destination. An expansion of a subway or metro system can significantly increase the accessibility for a city. These are the closest things a city has to a distribution network. While the placement of a city is generally fixed, economic development can change the reach of a city’s network.
Promotion. City promotion is quite similar to product promotion. Some cities and states use commercials and other paid advertising. Others focus on rankings of “Top Places to Raise a Family” or “Best City for Bicycling” and then write press releases and other PR materials on the topic. There are even trade fairs where cities and states go to present their offerings to large corporations looking for places to locate.
That’s the great thing about marketing. It’s applicable everywhere. It crosses industries. It adapts over time. And, if you look hard enough, it can add value to almost any product, even cities.