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karen vanderven from the soapbox

Telling our Story: Marketing 101 

Of all of the 'Soapboxes' I have spoken from over the years, I think the topic that has yielded the most eyes rolled heavenward, not-so subtle sighs (oh, no, not that again), and folded arms of non-verbal resistance, is that of marketing.

However, marketing to me is one of the most powerful and effective concepts I have ever learned about as well as one of the most misunderstood. Recently there was an 'assignment' on CYC-NET to consider why the media only seem to have 'bad things' to say about what happens in child and youth care. Questions offered for consideration included:

Is that because we are silent ... we don't tell the world about 'the good things' that happen in our programs, we feel we shouldn't say anything, or we don't know how to ?

I have decided to 'do' this assignment as my column for this month, considering the issue and how marketing can address it. First of all, a brief reply to the questions.

We don't tell the world about the good things that happen, I think, because we don't know how to, and because we feel implicitly that this is not part of our job. We also don't do it because unconsciously we resist anything that may smack of 'advertising' or, as the saying goes, "tooting our own horn". Too bad.

I once made up a name for this resistance: "unproductive humility". We think we need to be modest and it does us or our field no good whatsoever. I have described elsewhere being comfortable with marketing as "another form of caring".

Now, as to Marketing 101: Marketing is not equivalent to advertising (not that I feel there is necessarily anything wrong with advertising either). Rather it is akin to planning and pertains to how one designs one's product or service, what information one needs in order to do so, who the service is for, how it will be delivered, and how it will change as the context and conditions in which it operates also change. There are powerful marketing ideas, such as 'positioning' and 'distinctive competence'. There is a wonderful concept known as the 'marketing mix'. There are four concepts in the 'mix': Place, Product, Price and Promotion. The latter notion, 'Promotion' relates to how we describe our 'product' to our 'publics' those who consume it or have a stake in it.

But don't take my word for it in this brief exposition. Check it out yourself. There's a fine literature on 'non-profit' marketing. Start out with the pioneer expert, Philip Kotler. Learn about another interesting notion, 'social entrepreneurship'. If I had my 'druthers', everybody in child and youth work preparation programs would have a course in marketing, or if not that, one in relevant business concepts that included major coverage of marketing, the concept and its methods.

Let's make sure first of all our services or 'products' ( this isn't necessarily a bad word either), are good and use the best methods there are for telling our story widely! Knowledge about marketing can help show us the way.

From the Soapbox,