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


Social Media the Elephant in the Marketing and Communications Room

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 and many people who work in communications and marketing are overwhelmed with the changes that are taking place. Personally, I spend many hours keeping up with the innovations that are happening in our field. Sometimes I feel that the tsunami of information is overwhelming but as a consultant you absolutely need to be on top of your profession.  Let’s look at what’s happening out there

There are over 200,000 new blogs being created every day. Bloggers publish over 1.6 million posts per day, or over 18 updates a second[1] . Facebook has surpassed 500 million users! Linked-In is now the world’s largest professional network, with over 75 million users. Twitter, a real-time, public, short messaging platform, is used by well over 150 million people worldwide. There are more pod casts in the world than there are radio stations. The variety of topics covers every niche imaginable. What’s more, the widespread adoption of geo-tagging and location-based mobile services is slowly making the concept of privacy extinct in exchange for just-in-time convenience.

So what do a marketer/ communicator do with all of this stuff going on? Before you consider getting into the social media game in any major way a certain mindset shift has to occur within your 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!

The amount and quality of tools and applications is growing at an incredible pace. This leads to many skeptics not wanting to invest time in any particular tool in case it’s obsolete by next year. However, if this is your thinking then you’re missing the point. By engaging in social media, you’re not investing in the tool, you’re investing in the people behind that tool (i.e. building genuine relationships).  People are real and they are here to stay, no matter which platform they’re using down the road

There are many major changes in the world of marketing and communications, however before public sector and non-profit organizations start developing social media tactics it is important for them to ask some fundamental questions such as: What are the key issues that we are trying to address by engaging in social media? Which channels make the most sense based on our target audience? What is the relevant existing conversations already taking place? How are we going to measure performance? What is our existing digital footprint?” and “How can we get engaged in this new digital space of social media before we become obsolete?”  Too often we see public sector and non-profit organizations launch into social media without first having a strategy developed. Now, you would think by now   marketers and communicators would know that it is important to develop a comprehensive communications or marketing strategy before engaging in tactics. But many organizations are becoming so enamored with social media channels like Facebook, Youtube etc. that they forget that strategy comes before tactics. In addition many organizations are not integrating social media with their traditional marketing communications activities.

To learn more about social media marketing check out Public Sector Marketing 2.0 – Fresh insights on government, association, and non-profit marketing in a Web 2.0 world

Also considering taking  a social media marketing course. Go to the following links

Link 1

Link 2

Link 3

Also we have included social media marketing into our Professional Certificate in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing.


[1] Technorati, 2009


Crowdsourcing: a Low-Cost Approach to Acquiring Information from your Clients and Stakeholders

At the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing  (CEPSM) we are always looking for innovations in the field of marketing .One of the items that is very important to myself and my colleagues at CEPSM these days is understanding where we believe there is growing value for our clients, particularly with the advent of social media and seeing growing numbers transition from learning to doing.

My colleagues and I  have spent the last number of months researching what areas are going to have the highest impact.  A clear winner and a social media area that we feel confident in steering our partners and clients to consider is crowdsourcing.  Crowdsourcing is a broad social media term coined to capture the actions of bringing together a group or set of stakeholders to help to solve challenging issues.

Crowdsourcing (which is sometimes also referred to as Innovation Management) in its simplest form gets the “crowd” to put forward ideas, make improvements to and comments about those ideas, and the participants rate the ideas put forward.  A great way to understand more about crowdsourcing and why it should matter to you would be through books and blogs, of course.  Here is a good blog here (that provides insight into a good book that explains crowdsourcing).

The sponsors of a crowdsource engagement, assuming that the process is sound, are left with a wealth of ideas, many of which have been improved through the engagement, how the ideas compare in rating from the participants, and, ultimately, some ideas that will move to implementation.

In his article, “Power of Crowdsourcing”, Matt H. Evans contends that “Crowdsourcing taps into the global world of ideas, helping companies work through a rapid design process.” This is usually available at relatively no cost, as people are always willing to share their ideas on a global scale.

Perceived benefits of crowdsourcing include the following:  source:

  • Problems can be explored at comparatively little cost, and often very quickly.
  • Payment is by results or even omitted
  • The organization can tap a wider range of talent than might be present in its own organization.[
  • By listening to the crowd, organizations gain first-hand insight on their customers’ desires.
  • The community may feel a brand-building kinship with the crowdsourcing organization, which is the result of an earned sense of ownership through contribution and collaboration.

My colleague Mike Kujawski is fresh back from the big Gov 2.0 Expo in Washington.  One of the clear takeaways from the many keynotes and sessions that took place was the unofficial crowdsourcing theme throughout the Expo.  Clearly, the resonation of crowdsourcing in so many of the discussions, breakouts, and, most importantly, in the activities of the public sector is the strongest validation that we have seen yet of its evolution.

The Canadian federal government has not been immune to the evolution in crowdsourcing, something that CEPSM has been very interested in.  There are a number of recent examples of successful crowdsourcing engagements from the feds.  As far as we are aware, the only crowdsourcing company devoted to and supporting the public sector, is PubliVate. We have found them to be not only collaborative and innovative but also very much aligned to the principals and focus that we have at CEPSM. Moreover, we have been impressed by their solutions and their results with their public sector clients.  A quick snapshot of that is below from a “quantitative” perspective with their 5 most recent engagements and a look at the number of ideas (blue dots) and comments/improvements to ideas (orange dots) across from each.  In the “worst” case (Engagement D, which also had the fewest participants) their end to end solution produced about 100 ideas and 250 comments and improvements to those ideas to Engagement C where they had almost 1,200 ideas and about 2,800 comments and improvements (the blue dot is hiding behind the orange one).

When you couple this with another element that we appreciated which was the focus on one’s business objective, it is pretty impressive stuff. Lastly, I should mention that their methodology is great; all of the data shown above is was collected with participants in a 3-4 week period where there was both some urgency but also some idea “incubation”. As we know  speed is of the essence from time to time and crowdsourcing is a solution to marketing challenges which can be turned around quickly.

As we all continue to learn and start to become “practitioners” of social media, it is important to understand the outcomes that you can expect and make sure that those are aligned to the outcomes that you desire.

From what we have seen, crowdsourcing is a strong wave that is starting to grow within our community and we want to be there to be as an active participant as well as ensuring that we are providing the solutions to you that you need.  That is one of the reasons why we have established an association with PubliVate and are pleased that they will not only be at MARCOM but – we hope – will be with CEPSM for the long haul as crowdsourcing picks up and ends up being a primary tool for many of our clients.

Regardless, of our associations (although we think we have picked a very good one), I would urge you to find out more about something that is highly flexible, outcome-based, and provides strong returns in many ways to your business objectives utilizing the principles of social media.