What I hope to see in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing in 2018

Every year I provide a list of marketing trends for the coming year by top experts in marketing. As we move into 2018 these are the areas that I personally would like to see addressed. Many of the topics in this blog were covered in some of my 2017 blogs.

Marketing must  be an essential part of the overall policy and communications function of the public sector, especially when “selling” policies, programs and the introduction of legislation

There is a strong need to educate senior managers and in some cases political staff in the public sector about the value and applicability of strategic marketing in selling government policies, programs and when introducing new legislation. This requires recognition across all levels of management of the value of marketing.

As Jeff French points out in his recent blog:

“Marketing is often perceived as a function that can be applied after policy and strategy has been set. It is viewed as a set of procedures dominated by communications planning that are applied to inform and motivate people to comply with the communications being disseminated by government.

Marketing in government needs to catch up with the rest of marketing. Marketing in the commercial sector is not about persuading people to buy stuff they don’t want or need: it is about building relationships that are mutually beneficial and developing products and services that people want, and delivering them in ways that delight and enrich people’s lives. Marketing today is also about respect and responsiveness. If you want someone to spend some time even considering what you have to offer, you increasingly need their permission to do this. The days of aggressively assaulting people’s space and time with pushy promotions are disappearing fast. Now promotions need to be intrinsically valuable to people if they are to be effective. Marketing is focused on value creation, building brand loyalty, and aspiration. The principles of relationship marketing, permission-based marketing, and service dominant logic need to be used by those interested in advocating the wider integration of marketing in the public sector.

What is required if marketing is to be fully utilized within government is the need for a managerial cultural shift towards a more citizen-informed and engaged approach and one that seeks to apply marketing principles to the development of all social policy and strategy. This means positioning marketing managers/directors in posts with authority and the development of more marketing and market research expertise in all government departments. Governments could assist this process by supporting professional training and education programs.”

Marketing must surely now be seen to be an essential part of the overall policy and communications function of the public sector, especially when “selling” policies, programs and the introduction of legislation.  With the shift of the public sector to more managerial, business-like approaches, the adoption of marketing and related practices can also strengthen the efficiency and effectiveness of government policies and their supportive communications. One of the greatest obstacles to using marketing in the public sector is the lack of understanding of the different types of marketing in which to engage and how each might help the public sector improve their communications impact.

Broadening the concept of Marketing by focusing on Demarketing

Demarketing can be viewed as blending all 4Ps of the marketing mix and aiming for policy changes to nudge and sustain healthier and more socially responsible behavioural choices as well as a deeper understanding of the people we wish to serve, the environments in which we make choices, the market research we conduct and the programs we implement.

The concept of demarketing for marketers who have spent their careers convincing people to buy their products, programs, and services is very challenging. When studying marketing in my youth I never expected to spend a good part of my career dissuading people from buying products, but we are living in a world of diminishing earthly resources and products that can seriously affect our health. Demarketing is becoming the new normal and a much-needed next wave in marketing.

Accelerating the use of Employee Branding in the pubic and non-profit sectors

Many organizations spend a lot of time and energy building strong brands —but they often fall short when it comes to strengthening their employer reputation. “Employer branding” is no longer simply a concern for recruitment marketing; it is also a key component of effective organizational leadership. If organizations can’t attract, engage, and retain the right talent, they’re unlikely to achieve their goals and objectives.

Public sector

Branding is a legitimate public-sector activity. Over the past decade people have come to understand that branding is not only necessary for the public sector but critical. You have to put money in the “trust bank” first, establishing a positive and distinct reputation for trustworthiness and a particular set of values. This is not the same thing as doing your job and explaining your mission—it is something more.

The growth of a world class public service will rely on the ability of the public sector to compete for the very best candidates, yet the coverage of the government’s attempts to reduce public spending have eroded much of the brand equity that employment in the public sector enjoyed.

Creating and promoting a dynamic and attractive employer brand, or rather brands, will be key in this process. One of the first big shifts required will be for both employers and employees to move away from the idea of a singular public sector. One of the main reasons for joining the public sector – the variety of careers – will in itself drive the requirement for a range of value propositions that are unique, relevant and compelling at a more granular level than is usual.

According to studies conducted by the Conference Board of Canada, public sector organizations need to promote the purposeful nature of public service work and its social impact to become more attractive to millennials and Gen Z’s if they are to address the skill shortages and skill mismatches predicted in the coming years.

The public sector’s ability to leverage its brand as a purpose-based employer has eroded in recent years and HR leaders are particularly concerned that attracting talent to the public sector has become more difficult as it competes against the private sector. With nearly half of its new hires expected to be millennials, HR leaders at all levels in the Canadian public sector, need to differentiate the value of their organizations from the private sector to attract the right, high-quality talent to move forward into a challenging future.

Recognizing that attracting talent to the public sector has become more difficult in recent years, public sector organizations have identified the need to re-brand as a priority. Public sector organizations want to highlight the value of public service as a vocation—or a calling—to set themselves apart from private sector employment and to make it a more attractive career for millennials.

If the public sector is both to compete successfully for talented applicants and retain high performing employees, they need to brand the public sector as an employer of choice that provides challenging work, progressive human resource policies, and opportunities for promotion and career development. The public sector needs to emphasize the advantages they can offer as compared to the private  sector. This will require the development and implementation of a comprehensive marketing and communications program.


While for-profit companies may have to work hard to define and communicate a mission, non-profits have a leg up on the private and public sectors. Whether your non-profit focuses on social issues, education, the arts or community causes, you should have no trouble convincing candidates that working for your non-profit is worthwhile.

When you’re competing against higher paying jobs in the private/public sectors, non-profits should go the extra mile to convince candidates that the experience they’ll gain working for your non-profit will more than compensate for a potential lower salary.

To be successful, create a compelling employer value proposition. Your mission as a non-profit defines what your organization does for your community, country or the world; your employer value proposition (EVP) defines what you do for your employees.

Non-profit organizations that want to recruit top employees must compete against top-notch, for-profit employers that have reputations for being some of the best places in which to work. But with a carefully designed employer branding strategy, your non-profit can also become an employer of choice — even if you don’t offer the same employment packages as the competition.

Brand activism becomes the breakthrough concept in marketing management.  

Brand Activitism is clearly going to be a big opportunity for non-profits and governments with major causes who are looking to partner with the private sector.

“It’s no longer enough for brands to be passive about their brand identity as consumers are expecting more from the brands they engage with. Often this means taking a political viewpoint to be relevant and engaging.

This is not entirely a new phenomenon. The original flag bearers for brand activism such as Ben & Jerry’s (1978), The Body Shop (1976), Ecover (1980) and in Canada Mountain Co-op (1971) came of age with the independent thinkers of Generation X. The pace at which brands have adopted activist tendencies has accelerated, driven in large part by presence on social media and the pressing need to be relevant to an ever-more challenging universe of consumers.

Brand activism emerges as a values-driven agenda for companies that care about the future of society and the planet’s health. The underlying force for progress is a sense of justice and fairness for all. For example, in a recent Forbes study, 75 percent of millennials state it’s important that the brands they buy from give back to society. Millennials have high expectations for brands. Millennials live in a world filled with constant problems – air pollution, bad drinking water, crimes. Many would like brands to show concern not just for profits but for the communities they serve, and the world we live in.  In fact, more and more, we see a yearning for jobs that have a higher meaning than profit-making.

Public sector organizations have to get their act together especially in the area of Digital Marketing and Service Delivery

In a recent article, Gerry McGovern a well-known digital blogger states that Government, like all organizations, claims to exist to serve citizens but in reality, is usually more interested in serving itself. Digital is increasingly exposing government incompetence and how remote from the real life of people so many in government are (particularly at a senior level).

Is government capable of dealing with digital transformation? Government just assumes it can continue to be the same old government. There are, of course, a great many government workers who do excellent work, but they often do this great work in conflict with the very institutions they work for. As you go up the bureaucratic management tree the eyes look ever upwards, seeking to please the politicians and massage egos.

This year, Canada`s Auditor General Michael Ferguson wrote, “we see government programs that are not designed to help those who have to navigate them, programs where the focus is more on what civil servants are doing than on what citizens are getting, where delivery times are long, where data is incomplete, and where public reporting does not provide a clear picture of what departments have done.”

For example, how can any organization whose mandate is to serve the public rationalize a situation where agents (Canada Revenue Agency) at their call centre meant to assist taxpayers with their tax questions, answered only 36 per cent of all incoming calls and provided incorrect answers to auditors nearly 30 per cent of the time.

In addition, they blocked some 29 million of the 53.5 million incoming calls during the audit period, resulting in a busy signal or a message to try back later. Each blocked caller made an average of three or four calls per week, often never getting through.

As McGovern points out Government must become useful again, and to do that it must measure the outcome of the policy. It must measure the use of what it creates and rapidly learn and evolve based on use. For example, what is digital transformation? What is being transformed? Digital is just the enabler of transformation. It is the government, the senior bureaucrats and the politicians who must be transformed.

Wishing all of the readers of my blog a very Happy, Prosperous and Healthy New Year!

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