Why the TOWS Matrix is important to Public Sector Marketers

As someone who teaches marketing I am always surprised that most of the participants at my courses and seminars are very familiar with a SWOT analysis (which stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.) For those who are not familiar with the SWOT analysis – it helps organizations  identify strengths and weaknesses predominantly based on internal factors. Opportunities and threats usually arise from an external environment.

However, very rarely do I find participants who are familiar with SWOT employ  the SWOT/TOWS Matrix or as it is better known the TOWS matrix which is SWOT spelled backwards. Though there is a difference between the two, together they perform a marvelous dance.

Now think about it… what did you do the last time you completed a SWOT analysis for your organization? Did you address any of the weaknesses the threats? Probably not.

A TOWS analysis involves the same basic process of listing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as a SWOT analysis, but with a TOWS analysis, threats and opportunities are examined first and weaknesses and strengths are examined last. After creating a list of threats, opportunities, weaknesses and strengths, managers examine ways the organization can take advantage of opportunities and minimize threats by exploiting strengths and overcoming weaknesses.

The TOWS analysis helps you get a better understanding of the strategic choices that you face. (Remember that “strategy” is the art of determining how you’ll “win” in your marketing endeavours) It helps you ask, and answer, the following questions:

How do you:

  • Make the most of your strengths?
  • Circumvent your weaknesses?
  • Capitalize on your opportunities?
  • Manage your threats?

A next step of analysis, usually associated with the externally-focused TOWS Matrix, helps you think about the options that you could pursue. To do this you match external opportunities and threats with your internal strengths and weaknesses. This helps you identify strategic alternatives that address the following additional questions:

  • Strengths and Opportunities (SO) – How can you use your strengths to take advantage of the opportunities?
  • Strengths and Threats (ST) – How can you take advantage of your strengths to avoid real and potential threats?
  • Weaknesses and Opportunities (WO) – How can you use your opportunities to overcome the weaknesses you are experiencing?
  • Weaknesses and Threats (WT) – How can you minimize your weaknesses and avoid threats?

The TOWS Matrix is a relatively simple tool for generating strategic options. By using it, you can look intelligently at how you can best take advantage of the opportunities open to you, at the same time that you minimize the impact of weaknesses and protect yourself against threats.

SWOT and TOWS analysis involve the same basic steps and likely produce similar results. The order in which managers think about strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities may, however, have an impact on the direction of the analysis. Michael Watkins of the “Harvard Business Review” says that focusing on threats and opportunities first helps lead to productive discussions about what is going on in the external environment rather than getting bogged down in abstract discussions about what an organization is good at or bad at.

Once you have completed a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), the TOWS matrix puts the results of SWOT analysis into an action plan. SWOT systematically sorts out information and sets priorities. TOWS rearranges this information, provides a framework to identify possible strategic options to pursue, and creates inputs for strategic planning.

Used after detailed analysis of your threats, opportunities, strengths and weaknesses, it helps you consider how to use the external environment to your strategic advantage, and to identify some of the strategic options available to you.



When you have many factors to consider, it may be helpful to construct a matrix to match individual strengths and weaknesses to the individual opportunities and threats you’ve identified.

So next time you develop a marketing strategy give some thought to working with the SWOT/TOWS Matrix. SWOT analysis helps to sort out the important information systematically and to set out priorities. Strengths and weaknesses tell us where we are now, whereas opportunities and threats tell us where we want or do not want to be. Then the question, ‘What should we do to get there?’ arises and the TOWS analysis helps to find out the answer.



Back by popular demand , The Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing (CEPSM) returns with an exclusive one day workshop in Ottawa: Social Marketing Planning for Attitude and Behaviour Change

Date: February 26th, 2019

Location: 343 Preston Street, Ottawa, ON, Canada

Seminar Leader: Jim Mintz Managing Partner and Senior Consultant at the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing  Read full bio

Register: http://bit.ly/2AgWGZx

Private Tailored Workshops

CEPSM’s private, tailored workshop option is well-suited for organizations with groups working on joint initiatives, issues and/or programs. This option allows for the provision of a customized training approach uniquely adapted to your organization’s needs. CEPSM can deliver the training at your location or at one of our facilities.

To learn more about our customized in-house training and private tailored workshops contact jimmintz@cepsm.ca or go to Easy Affordable Marketing Training for Public Sector & Non-Profit Organizations 




Branding and Stakeholder Engagement – the Missing Links in Government Strategic Communications and Marketing

This blog was written by:

Jim Mintz, CEPSM and Kathleen Connelly, Intersol Group Ltd.


The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

George Bernard Shaw 


The major challenge facing public sector organizations today is that they have great difficulty getting their message out. More important, many can’t seem to get their messages to resonate with their diverse target audiences, including internal and external audiences, stakeholders etc. Most communication and marketing approaches generate some awareness but not much else.  Public sector organizations today are looking for approaches that generate something more substantial like motivating people to get engaged and take action.

This is a common problem with most organizations we work with at the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing and Intersol Group Ltd. Many organizations are very focused on tactics, but very few have strategic communications plans to guide all of their activities. They tend to be reactive rather than proactive. Even in cases where they do have a strategic communications plan there tend to be some critical missing links.

The success of any communications effort is dependent on a strong underlying strategy and two main factors: getting the audiences right and telling them a story that matters to them.   Get that right, and everything else falls into place. And this means understanding the internal and external stakeholder landscape and identifying the right opportunities to bring meaning to the messages.

Strategies to increase awareness, support and understanding both internally and externally must include a holistic view of strategic planning, business and operational goals, marketing, communications, creative strategy combined with the granular details required for implementation in areas such as web, social media channels, media relations, inbound content-based communications, outbound marketing, and analytics.

From our experience there are two missing links in many public sector communications plans. Without a branding framework to guide the communications and a full understanding of the stakeholder landscape to encourage true engagement, the best communications or marketing strategy will “fall flat on its face”.

Missing Link #1:  Branding is much more than a visual identity or a tagline for an organization; it’s a core business tool, a strategic platform for both communicating and building value among its audiences.  A brand contains within it the complete value that an organization delivers, a relevant promise that matters to its audiences and is aligned with the organization’s strategic and operational goals.


Branding is a strategic investment. It leads to an improved ability to internalize and communicate organizational vision and mission. A well-conceived brand provides clear and easy to understand principles that guide your communications and marketing efforts. The internalization and integration of a brand leads to the brand promise being lived by everyone who works for the organization, at all points of contact. “Living the brand” means more efficiency, and more return on investment for your communications and marketing dollar. A brand stands for the relationship that an organization has with its employees and partners, as much as it represents the relationship that it has with the people it serves.

Missing Link #2:  Stakeholder Engagement when done well increases the credibility of the organization.  Involving stakeholders and attending to their concerns establishes the organization as fair, ethical, and transparent, and makes it more likely that they will want to work with the organization. For the above reasons, identification of stakeholders and their specific concerns makes it far more likely that the organization’s communications efforts will garner both the support they need and the appropriate focus to be effective.


To be successful, organizations have to rally support for what they are trying to achieve while building and maintaining good relationships with key stakeholders that are integral to future work. The objective is to work with stakeholders in a way that strikes a balance between meeting their expectations while reaching the organization’s communications and marketing goals.

Finally, a number of principles must always underpin and guide stakeholder engagement approaches. They include open and effective communication, a focus on seeking mutually beneficial outcomes, inclusiveness to ensure a variety of voices are heard and engaging in a way that builds mutual trust and respect.


Kathleen Connelly, Senior Consultant at Intersol Group, and Jim Mintz, Managing Partner at the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing, have many years of experience working with senior levels of government and bring fresh perspectives on communicating in a public sector environment.  

For more information about our services, please contact:

Jim Mintz | jimmintz@cepsm.ca or Kathleen Connelly | kconnelly@intersol.ca


Marketing Workshops Spring 2017

Marketing 101 (for Marketers and Non-Marketers)

March 29, 2017

343 Preston Street, Ottawa, ON,

This workshop will provide participants with an overview of public sector and non-profit marketing. The workshop will teach participants how to develop a marketing  strategy and plan as well as how to transform a government/nonprofit organizations from using the traditional communications approach to an integrated, strategic marketing approach.

The workshop will focus on:

  • An overview of marketing;
  • Systematic processes and strategic elements for developing and implementing an action-oriented strategic marketing plan;
  • How to set realistic, practical marketing objectives and goals;
  • How to evaluate marketing efforts with practical ideas on how to improve execution;
  • How to develop a client-based mindset in a public sector or non-profit organization;
  • How to use market research to support a decision-making framework;
  • How to develop a system for measuring progress and monitoring performance.



Intro to Social Marketing Planning for Attitude and Behaviour Change

March 9, 2017


343 Preston Street, Ottawa, ON,

Awareness.  Are you getting tired of hearing that word? If you want to move your marketing and communications efforts beyond merely public education and awareness campaigns and into the realm of action-oriented attitude and behaviour change then this workshop is for you


The workshop will focus on:

  • How to use a step-by-step structured approach to prepare a social marketing plan that is actionable, has maximum impact, and leads to successful implementation;
  • How to present and “sell” your social marketing strategy to management;
  • How to implement a social marketing program on a very tight budget;
  • How to monitor and evaluate your inputs/outputs, outcomes and impacts;
  • How social marketing gives you a single approach: for mobilizing communities; influencing the media; activating key stakeholders; and building strategic alliances with business.







Branding a “Must Have” for Public Sector and Nonprofit Organizations


Most people we work with at the our Centre do not understand branding.  First it is important to understand that a brand is everything associated with an organization, product, service, cause or person — all of the attributes, both tangible and intangible.  It’s your logo, your promise, the product or service you deliver, your name — all of that and more. It’s what you stand for, what you do, what you say and what you look like. It’s everything. It is the beacon that will incite people to join forces with you and make your cause their own.

How Does Branding Work?

According to Rob Frankel, a branding expert and author, branding is the most misunderstood concept in all of marketing. He states that branding is not advertising, marketing, or PR; branding happens before all of those, first you create the brand then you raise awareness.

Brand is built on two levels:

Mass level: Through tactics like social media and on-line marketing, public relations, community involvement and other communication tactics.

Personal level: Through individual interactions with clients and stakeholders created through the unique experiences audiences have in dealing with your organization every day across multiple touch points.

Developing effective graphics and visual representations of the brand are insufficient in themselves for creating, representing, and managing a brand. The reality of the organization and the attitudes and behaviours of people who work in the organization have to be commensurate with the brand values that the organization is projecting with its audiences.

For example; service organizations should use internal marketing to communicate brand values within their organization. In this way they encourage their internal team to better understand the corporate brand and identity and improve commitment enthusiasm and consistent behaviour in delivering the organization’s values

Therefore, it is important to note that branding starts on the inside and moves outward. Making brand promises and creating brand images and expectations are ultimately of no value without the internal practices and attitudes to deliver the promise.

Relationships must be the priority of branding and that approach must permeate an organization and its culture. The commitment of every member of the organization is critical for delivering consistently on the brand promise. This shared passion ultimately creates a powerful tool for building long term relationships, trust, and loyalty.

Is it a difficult process?

The branding process does not have to be difficult; however, it does take time and commitment from internal stakeholders. Note the key word: process. Building a strong brand takes time.

Understanding the needs, expectations, and experiences of target audiences is the most important part of this process; this requires researching and getting to know your target audience, it also involves getting to know your organization.

Now you may be thinking that initiating the branding process could mean major changes to your organization, this is not the case; remember, branding does not really change what your organization does on a daily basis, it changes how you do it.

Branding is connecting projects and what you do to an overall brand vision and creating experiences for your clients that reflect the brand values.

Is It Expensive?

There is a popular misconception that brand building is synonymous with large budgets and major marketing efforts. While a successful branding effort certainly does require “communicating” the brand to your audience, it does not always require a significant marketing investment.

Branding budget requirements are primarily related to the development of strategy and implementation within the organization. Specifically, most brand strategies involve some level of client, stakeholder and staff interviews, development of planning documents, and internal brand orientation, training and communications. Organizations can integrate brand strategies with on-going service delivery and customer communications by using existing marketing communication materials. However, these materials will need to be adjusted to reflect the brand proposition and to ensure consistency of messaging. Building a brand is not about how much is spent, but the consistency of effort over time.

Are brands more appropriate for commercial products than for public sector organizations?


The idea that a public sector or non-profit organization should not view other agencies or organizations as competition and therefore should not treat them as such is a common mistake that leaders make.

In the opinion of Kurt Aschermann, Senior VP for Marketing and Communications of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, branding is an exercise designed to help the sector serve its constituents better by establishing its uniqueness in a much cluttered public and non-profit world.

One of the major challenges for any organization involved in communications is “clutter.” Branding is used to cut through the noise, establish a consistent presence and convey credibility. Many public sector and non-profit organizations now use brand strategies as a discipline for coordinating messages to create a consistent presence for relationships. Regardless of what sector your agency or organization is a member of branding is a useful tool in helping further your organization’s objectives.

Benefits And Positive Impacts Of Adopting A Branding Approach

Branding is seen as a strategic investment in the organization. It can lead to an improved ability to communicate and internalize organizational vision and mission; a well-conceived and communicated brand provides clear and easy to understand sets of principles that help guide management decisions and operations.

The internalization and integration of a brand leads to the brand promise being lived by employees and being upheld at all points of contact; “living of the brand” means more efficiency, good service, and more return on investment. If used strategically a brand can be a very profitable asset and have a major impact on how the organization is seen by key clients and stakeholders, this can also lead to your agency acquiring new clients.

Not only is branding a great strategic investment for your organization, it also provides greater leverage of marketing resources. Since branding strategies are not restricted to promotion, a strong brand can ultimately spend less on marketing and communications efforts and make budgets go further.

In the public and not-for-profit sectors it is not uncommon for the product offering to be an idea, a cause, or a service. Promoting these intangible offerings can often be difficult; by having to break through all the clutter to reach target audiences. Branding helps make your intangible product or service more tangible, which ultimately makes it easier to differentiate from competition and communicate with your target audiences.

Branding can also help organizations move into new product lines. Using the existing brand as a platform for new products or services brings an already existing expectation and value to the new products because of the equity established and the positive association between the established brand and new initiatives.

Any product or service can ultimately be copied, but a brand cannot. This inability to recreate a brand increases your organization’s long-term sustainability. An effective brand builds brand equity. Brand equity is the built up value an organization gains from its communications and activities; therefore, effective brand building leads to high brand loyalty, name awareness, strong brand associations, etc. This value that is held by clients and stakeholders is what competitors will have a hard time trying to duplicate.

Brand is a promise to deliver value. For all key audiences it has to stand for something that is credible, compelling, engaging and differentiating in order to drive the desired perceptions, behaviours and attitudes. A brand strategy helps your organization bring focus on value delivery to your key audiences. For example, your brand could be creating value for your audience’s tax dollars, their individual needs, or their corporate needs.

Branding facilitates consensus building within your agency or organization. Focusing on “them, not us” will lead to great collaboration among organization members. Communication silos are often a challenge that members of public sector agencies face; branding will help break down the silos within and between departments, ministries, government, industry, etc.

By engaging all members of your organization there will be an increased level of involvement and buy-in to the entire branding process which ultimately leads to the increased ability of your organization to deliver on its brand promise.

How To Build Your Brand

Most successful branding efforts start with the development of a sound strategy and plan that takes into account the organization’s mandate, employee input, and client and stakeholders perceptions.

The branding process usually features an action plan that includes internal and external research, the development of potential branding models/platforms, validation of proposed direction with clients and employees, and finally a 1 to 2 year implementation plan for communicating and supporting the brand both externally and internally. In addition, like any strategy, the impact of the brand strategy needs to be monitored and adjusted as required.

branding diagram


Need help with your branding check out our Introduction to Branding for Non-Profits and Public Sector Organizations Workbook  or contact me at jimmintz@cepsm.ca .



Back by popular demand , The Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing (CEPSM) returns with an exclusive one day workshop in Ottawa: Social Marketing Planning for Attitude and Behaviour Change

Date: February 26th, 2019

Location: 343 Preston Street, Ottawa, ON, Canada

Seminar Leader: Jim Mintz Managing Partner and Senior Consultant at the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing  Read full bio

Register: http://bit.ly/2AgWGZx

Private Tailored Workshops

CEPSM’s private, tailored workshop option is well-suited for organizations with groups working on joint initiatives, issues and/or programs. This option allows for the provision of a customized training approach uniquely adapted to your organization’s needs. CEPSM can deliver the training at your location or at one of our facilities.

To learn more about our customized in-house training and private tailored workshops contact jimmintz@cepsm.ca or go to Easy Affordable Marketing Training for Public Sector & Non-Profit Organizations