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What Role Can Marketing Play in Improving the Performance of Public Agencies?

One of the fields that has been most overlooked and misunderstood by public sector personnel is marketing. As a public official, how would you define marketing? You might say that we are talking about “advertising.” True, public bodies do some advertising. Witness the flurry of ads to recruit new military personnel. Or you might say that marketing is another word for “selling” and that you associate it with “manipulation.” As you will read, this becomes a tactic of last resort when marketing principles and techniques have not been used to develop, price, distribute, and effectively communicate the real value of your offerings.

This negative image of marketing is understandably drawn from observing the unending stream of advertising and sales promotion in the private sector. But to identify marketing with only one of its 4Ps (product, price, place, and promotion), namely promotion, is to miss the power and benefits of marketing thinking. Not knowing marketing is tantamount to not doing marketing research; not defining one’s customers, partners, and competitors; not segmenting, targeting, and positioning one’s offerings of services; not managing the challenging process of innovating and launching new services; not recognizing new channels for distributing public services; not pricing these services correctly when the agency must recover some of its costs; and not communicating about them in clear, persuasive ways.

Marketing turns out to be the best planning platform for a public agency that wants to meet citizen needs and deliver real value. Marketing’s central concern is producing outcomes that the target market values. In the private sector, marketing’s mantra is customer value and satisfaction. In the public sector, marketing’s mantra is citizen value and satisfaction.

We show that traditional marketing concepts work well in the public sector. They work for the federal government and also for those 83,000 local governments, 50 state governments, and thousands of cities, counties, school districts, water districts, and transportation districts—and around the world.

You can use the matrix in Table 1.1 to get a sense of the marketing intensity of different well-known types of government agencies. The more checks in a row, the more marketing-intensive the agency. Among the high marketing-intensive organizations are the postal service, army recruitment, and public transportation, which count on customer utilization and participation. Among the low marketing-intensive organizations are the IRS and auto licensing services.

Table 1.1. The Marketing Intensity of Different Public Agencies

View Table

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