Marketing Isn't a Bad Word

Reading Alan Pentz’s recent blog post about the federal government and social media got me thinking about the federal government and marketing, in general. The government tends to shy away of the idea of “marketing” because it equates it with selling a product but marketing is about more than hawking wares. Marketing is also about telling your story, influencing behaviors for good and changing minds. In fact, the American Marketing Association doesn’t even mention sales in its definition of marketing. It’s all about providing value. Not surprisingly, our clients often tell us that they have a difficult time communicating the value of what they do. Many government agencies are staffed with specialists or technical people (engineers, scientists, economists, emergency response personnel, etc.) who do great work but they aren’t as good at communicating the value of what they do. So when budget time rolls around, they don’t get the resources they need because they don’t have the metrics to show what their program accomplished and what benefits it provided the public, their stakeholders, etc. In a time of shrinking budgets and sequestration, demonstrating value has become increasingly important.

That’s where many of the basic principles of a simple marketing plan would help. Even government programs need to define their goals, purpose and target audience, determine how they will reach their audience and begin to develop a brand identity.

Government is competing in 24/7, market-driven world. It can’t afford to be subtle. Consider this: In 2007, Yankelovich, a market research firm, told The New York Times that a person living in a city sees up to 5,000 ad messages a day.  That was before Twitter became a household name and a year before the iPhone app store opened, allowing us to be bombarded by ad messages just about every time we look at our smart phones. Imagine how many more ad messages the average person sees a day in 2013.

Government can’t afford to not adopt some of the more traditional marketing principles. How does your agency communicate its value?