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How social media can bring strategic marketing thinking into government

It’s been almost 4 years since we started the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing (CEPSM) . We set forth a very clear mission: To advance the marketing discipline in the public sector. How have we gone about doing this? Through our core functions of speaking, training and consulting.

The definition

Here’s how I like to simplify the marketing definition, whenever anyone asks: “A strategic process and set of tools wrapped in a philosophy for helping an organization do what it wants to do.”

People forget that marketing is first and foremost a process that helps organizations attain their objectives as effectively and efficiently as possible. It follows  a specific process and various frameworks (such as the 4P’s) that have been developed over many decades.

Why did we start CEPSM ?

  • Marketing is one of  the most misunderstood functions in the public sector, often confused with “promotion” and “marketing communications”.
  • A major primary research study on The State of Marketing in the Public and Non-Profit Sectors reinforced our beliefs early on.
  • There is confusion between the “marketing” function and the “communications” function. In some cases the two are falsely seen as the same thing.
  • There is a very evident lack of marketing expertise within the government environment. People are being put into senior “marketing” positions having never taken a single marketing course in their lives, let alone attained a business degree.
  • Marketing is perceived as an “art” with no attention being paid to the “science” side. Big mistake.

What has changed?

Very little so far. Having worked with over 50 government clients I can say there is still a tremendous issue with people working in silos and not sharing experiences with each other, thus repeating the same mistakes. Tactics are still being developed without any strategies to guide them. Something needs to be done at a more holistic level.

Every year about 15-20 people go through our Professional Certificate in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing (through Carleton University). This course (or something equivalent) should be a mandatory prerequisite for anyone taking on a “marketing” position in government, or a “communications” position that has marketing elements to it. The problem is that people think marketing is some “fluffy” position that is responsible for glossy brochures and tv ads. As a result, any kind of formal training is often ignored. This is especially frustrating for people that actually have marketing/business degrees and are put into these positions surrounded by people (often their bosses) who don’t (I have met plenty).

What keeps me believing?

I have recently noticed an interesting rise in thirst for strategic marketing thinking in government. The neat thing is that most people don’t know that they’re asking for it , albeit indirectly. I’m referring to the thirst for my niche, i.e. anything to do with web 2.0, gov 2.0, social media, etc…

When it comes to social media marketing, there is a lot more interest than pure old “marketing”. Thanks to this, I have been invited to numerous senior management speaking engagements , conference presentations, and workshop courses. The  interesting part is that what I teach in my social media marketing workshops, is essentially  “marketing 101” with a modern twist that takes into account the necessary organizational culture change that is needed to integrate social media  into an organizational strategy. Therefore I am able to put forth basic marketing principles and get people thinking using the strategic mindset that is “marketing”.

My conclusion from all of this….

…the “sexiness” of social media is a great opportunity to push forward “strategic thinking” and the “marketing process” in government! Especially since social media is something that very few people understand, but almost all want to participate in. Of course there are elements of the marketing process that social media has re-defined (e.g. marketing research can be crowd-sourced, niche audiences can be easily found, feedback can be collaborative, etc…) but the importance of  having a “strategy before tactics” will stand the test of time.

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