Marketing in Government and Non-Profit Sectors … Not a Good News Story

Every day, professionals in the public sector and nonprofit organizations deliver thousands of programs and services in increasingly demanding environments. Governments as well as many non-profit organizations are adopting marketing approaches to help meet the challenges of complex and difficult mandates and satisfying client needs in the face of diminishing resources.

Recognizing the growing importance of marketing in the public and non-profit sectors, the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing and Phase 5 conducted a landmark survey in May 2006 to assess the health of marketing in both these sectors. The study was conducted with close to 600 professionals in marketing-related positions in government and non-profit organizations across Canada. Respondents to the survey were primarily involved in marketing products/ programs/services/policies, overall corporate image/brand management, and social marketing.  For more information see THE CASE FOR MARKETING IN THE PUBLIC SECTOR

The study examined eight best practice areas of marketing: culture, organization, planning, management, knowledge & skills, marketing information & measurement, resources, and results/outputs.  The results showed that the government sector, in particular, fared poorly in terms of the level of adoption of best practices in each of these areas.  In five of the eight categories, survey respondents in government did not agree that their organization had adopted best marketing practices

The survey results showed that government had not adopted strategic marketing management in any significant way. Respondents indicated that their organization have adopted very few of the best practices of leading marketing organizations. Government organizations are less likely to recognize strategic marketing as a function that is distinct from communications. As one respondent stated, “Historically, marketing and communications were considered synonymous. Only recently have we started to recognize the difference.” Organizations interviewed lack the culture and organizational support to advance the practice of marketing. They lack a common understanding of strategic marketing principles, from the senior executive level down.

The survey also found that public sector and nonprofit organizations:

  • do not have a proactive, systematic approach to identifying high value, client-centred ideas and turning these ideas into new products, programs and services;
  • are more focused on tactics and implementation than on strategic marketing and planning;
  • tend not to measure to improve results and ensure accountability of marketing expenditures;
  • do not support the marketing function either in terms of funding or culture;
  • and have difficulty attracting, training and retaining staff with marketing skills given the culture and lack of organizational support.

In short, governments in general neglect incorporating a formal marketing process and establishing measurable marketing objectives. They are not effective in implementing a proactive process that considers client needs when identifying and developing new products, programs and services. Governments tend to be reactive, rather than developing proactive systems to address shifts in the marketplace.

Here we are nearly 4 years later. What is the state of marketing in 2010? Well, unfortunately not much has changed. Our Centre in our dealings with non-profits and the public sector has noted the following:

  • We still have many organizations developing one- off disjointed tactics without a strategy and based in many cases on “personal opinions” rather than solid marketing research.
  • People running marketing programs that have no training in marketing and think that communications and marketing is basically the same thing… It isn’t!
  • · Performance measurement and evaluation is virtually non-existent and when done is all about outputs with no regards to outcomes and impacts. In addition the focus of evaluations is on AWARENESS which is the beginning of the marketing process but for most it is the beginning and end of the communications/marketing process. (Spending on public opinion research, for example — which includes polling and surveys often used for evaluations — has tumbled since 2007 to $7 million a year from $31 million a year)  See my blog on research and evaluation
  • Now that on-line strategies and social media and digital strategies are in vogue we now see organizations developing online products and digital engagement tactics without an overall  strategy.  A recipe for disaster!

So where do we go from here.

1. There is a strong need to educate government executives about strategic marketing management principles. This requires recognition of the value of marketing, in terms of the potential impact on the effectiveness and efficiency of programs, services and outreach campaigns, as well as the benefit to citizens.

2. Public and nonprofit sectors are much more familiar with the promotion and communications aspects of the strategic marketing framework than with elements of segmentation and strategic market selection, branding and positioning, product/service management, channel management and pricing. There is a wide recognition of the role and value of the communications function and many organizations have developed communications plans outside of a marketing framework. There is an opportunity to broaden this function to include a strategic marketing mandate and re-positioning it as an expanded role. Marketing can be used to achieve the vision of better informing and engaging citizens by viewing communications within a broader strategic marketing framework. It can help drive results in program uptake, program impact and behavioural change. It can also save money by helping executives and program/service managers make informed investment and resource trade-off decisions.

3. There is no clear marketing function or job category in government and therefore few positions include “marketing” in their titles. In the private sector, marketing has a clear career path. Governments need to look at both classification and standards for hiring marketing people. One respondent to our survey stated that, “Marketing is not respected by colleagues. Economists have much more ‘cachet’.” Judith Madill, in an Optimum Online article, states that, “for marketing to be successful in government, it is necessary to assign responsibility for the marketing initiative to a senior manager with influence in the organization’s decision-making environment.”

4. Most people performing marketing functions in government do not have formal training in marketing. This suggests a clear need, such as the training tools and resources offered by The Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing and the Professional Certificate in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing given by Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business,  as well as keeping up to date on public sector marketing issues by attending marketing conferences such as MARCOM.
5. Governments don’t always consider client needs when developing service and product approaches. One manager captured this tendency in the following comment to our survey: “I would like to see a coordinated effort between what we call project leaders and marketing communications. Instead of marketing products or services based on internal political thrusts, look at what people actually need. Build it, market it, and continually serve these clients to meet their needs.” Governments need to examine the process by which they develop and manage products, programs and services. Marketing management systems and practices must be adopted from the planning level on down. Measurement systems must be put in place to track success against marketing objectives and make necessary adjustments to improve performance.

6. Many government managers identify marketing with cost recovery or revenue generation. While marketing can assist in these goals it may be more valuable for other objectives of government – improving relationships with groups and individuals, and serving clients better. Marketing can be beneficial to government because it ensures that clients and stakeholders play a major role in developing and implementing a program/product/service; initiatives tailored to specific segments of the market ensure efficient use of limited resources; and application of the four Ps (product, price, promotion, place) will help move the initiative beyond communications/promotion.

7. Finally since the publishing of our study the world of communications and marketing has changed significantly with the advent of marketing in a digital environment. We now live in an era where the communication and marketing landscape has been completely turned upside down in both the public and non-profit sectors. Social media has become the elephant in the communications and marketing room.  Before organizations consider getting into the social media game in any major way a certain mindset shift has to occur within the organization that caters to transparency, collaboration and participation. This crucial part of the process is all too often being ignored. Instead, organizations are jumping into tactics thinking that social media is merely just another communications channel. That’s a big mistake! Organizations need to start with a digital engagement and social media strategy before leaping into tactics.

As governments and nonprofit organizations continue to try to meet the challenges associated with demands for improved service delivery within budgetary constraints, they need to get their collective act together in the field of marketing and communications. This should result in these sectors delivering programs and services with more speed, quality, efficiency, and convenience.


The Professional Certificate in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing 2011

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