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Steps to Develop a Public Sector Marketing Plan and to Ensure that It Is a Compelling One

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As a public sector manager for an organization such as a post office, library, or local utility, you might see the need for developing a good marketing plan, but aren't sure how to get started or are wary of numerous obstacles that can stand in your way. In this adaptation from Marketing in the Public Sector: A Roadmap for Improved Performance, Philip Kotler and Nancy Lee give you a detailed, sequential process to develop your own marketing plan, step by step.
From the author of Chapter 11

If you are like many public sector managers, the following challenges may sound familiar:

  • The last time I brought up the idea of developing a marketing plan, everyone said we didn’t have time. We just need to get the brochure out!
  • We don’t have a marketing department, so who’s going to write the plan? I’m a program manager and have no marketing background.
  • It doesn’t seem to me this marketing stuff is measurable, and we are under real pressures to show impacts on the triple bottom line: social, economic and environmental indicators. The marketing plans I’ve seen just talk about how much money we’ll be spending.

When you take the time to develop a formal plan, however, you will realize numerous benefits:

  • Most importantly, you will be more likely to meet your agency’s performance goals.

Consider the U.S. Postal Service, for example. In fiscal years 2002 and 2003, First-Class Mail volume declined by 4.6 billion pieces, the greatest declines in First-Class Mail since the Great Depression. Competition was fierce, with the United Parcel Service (UPS) and FedEx Corp. entering the scene as major competitors in the early 1980s, promising to deliver packages to most U.S. addresses before 10:30 a.m. the next morning. With a marketing mindset and planning orientation, the Postal Service began to change and restructure. In a win-win-win move in 2001, for example, they announced a business alliance with competitor FedEx that began with offering FedEx drop boxes at Post Office locations, and since that time the partnership as grown into a seven-year, $6.3-billion transportation contract to fly Priority Mail and Express Mail shipments on FedEx airplanes, and Global Express Guaranteed, a premium international shipping product from both companies with date-certain service in one-to-two days to most major markets.

And it would be more than interesting to know how Benjamin Franklin, the first Postmaster General and inventor in his own right, would have reacted in 1775 if he were told about the lineup of products and services offered by the Postal Service in 2005: colorful stamps ranging from the generic American flag to one with a tribute to Dr. Seuss; choices of formats for stamps, including books, adhesives, rolls, and even subscriptions. Consider as well, changes in pricing strategies. In the beginning, postage fees were based on the number of sheets in a letter and the distance a letter traveled, a stark contrast to pricing structures and incentives of today where rates are based on weight, size, shape, desired speed, day of the week, and whether domestic or international bound. Expanding access to improve convenience, a place strategy, is perhaps the most aggressive marketing effort to date, evolving from post riders on horseback in 1773 to stagecoaches in 1775, to rail in 1832, and air in 1991, to the access and delivery options we now enjoy. Today, customers have the ability to go to more than 37,000 retail locations or use one of the new Automated Postal Centers providing access to frequently purchased products and services in Post Office lobbies without waiting in line, as well as additional locations such as airports. Finally, you have probably noticed how promotional strategies have changed, with the Postal Service now using all advertising media to promote its products and services. In 2005, they even launched a grassroots sales effort, training and engaging thousands of Postmasters and station and branch managers nationwide to reach out to prospective medium, small, and home-based businesses. Over a span of five months in 2005, Postmasters and managers personally contacted more than 160,000 potential customers and this effort alone reportedly generated $25 million in annualized revenue for the Postal Service.1

  • The planning document itself can also address any important internal concerns and objections regarding "marketing:"
  • Readers of the plan will see evidence that recommended activities are based on strategic thinking.
  • They will understand why specific target audiences have been selected because they appear to represent efficient and effective use of resources.
  • They will see what anticipated costs are intended to produce in specific, quantifiable terms that can be translated to an associated return on investment.
  • They will certainly learn that marketing is more than advertising.
  • They will be delighted (even surprised) to see that you have a system, method, timing, and budget to evaluate your efforts.
  • And they can’t help but notice you have recognized and engaged others within the agency in assisting with the plan’s implementation.

Developing the Plan

An outline of a marketing plan, one similar to that used by managers in the private sector, is presented in the following sidebar, with the remainder of this article providing more detailed description of each major section.

Marketing in the Public Sector

Marketing Plan Outline

1.0 Executive Summary

Brief summary highlighting major marketing objectives and goals the plan is intended to achieve; target audiences and desired positioning; marketing mix strategies (4Ps); evaluation, budget, and implementation plans

2.0 Situation Analysis

2.1 Background information and data leading to this planning effort

2.2 SWOT: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats

2.3 Competition: Direct and Indirect

2.4 Past or similar efforts: activities, results and lessons learned

3.0 Marketing Objectives and Goals

3.1 Objectives (e.g., increases in utilization of services, participation levels, product sales, behavior change, compliance levels, market share, customer satisfaction, customer loyalty)

3.2 Goals: Intended results that are quantifiable, measurable, and specific

4.0 Target Audience

4.1 Profile: demographics, geographics, behaviors, psychographics, size

Readiness to buy

4.2 Perceived barriers and benefits related to marketing objectives

5.0 Positioning

How you want the program or agency to be seen by target audiences

6.0 Marketing Mix: Strategies to Influence Target Audiences

6.1 Product

Physical goods, services, events, people, places, agency, ideas

Components: Core, Actual and Augmented

6.2 Price

Monetary costs (fees) target markets will pay

Monetary and nonmonetary incentives and disincentives

6.3 Place

How, when and where programs, products and services can be accessed

6.4 Promotion

Key messages, messengers, and media channels

7.0 Evaluation Plan

7.1 Purpose and audience for evaluation

7.2 What will be measured: output, outcome and impact measures

7.3 How they will be measured

7.4 When they will be measured

8.0 Budget

8.1 Costs for implementing marketing plan

8.2 Any anticipated incremental revenues or cost savings

9.0 Implementation Plan

Who, will do what, when

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