Connecting City Residents with Services: Marketing is a Must

Our latest post on Bureau Blank’s blog is from Kristen Demaline, senior content strategist.

Seeing so many creative, smart, effective policy interventions and programs bubbling up in cities nationwide gives me hope in these challenging times. At Bureau Blank, we work with teams supporting women entrepreneurs launching small businesses in New York, using active design and planning techniques to improve public health, and improving the lives of low-income people across the country through innovations in urban practice.

As someone with a communications background, I know how tough it is to get the word out about those ideas to residents, even in the best of circumstances. (Or with the healthiest of advertising budgets.) People encounter so much messaging and content every day, especially online. How can cities cut through that noise to connect residents with great ideas and programs? Because it’s not enough to have that great, data-driven program or pilot project. You have to market it.

I know you know this, dear reader; I also know how many times “do we have to?” or “we can’t, we have no money” concerns arise in conversation with myself and other strategists.

Let’s address “Do we have to?” first, as the question gets at the merits. Marketing can help cities up their impact in many ways. If program performance metrics include the number of residents reached, number of signups, the percentage of a community served, or “bang for buck”, or cost-per-participant, marketing is the lever that can make a difference in meeting your administrative goals. Or, you can not do so, and hope that folks find you.

Second, the no-money problem. Of course, most cities and nonprofits have really tight budgets — that’s the reality, especially if you’re a smaller city. It’s helpful to remember marketing encompasses many activities — and not all of those cost money. Does your policy initiative have a public champion? For instance, here in New York, First Lady Chirlane McCray has been on a speaking tour promoting #ThriveNYC since its launch. There is, literally, an uptick in site traffic after she’s made a speech or community visit on the subject. You can also activate supporters to talk about your service on social media; it’s more personal, effective, and creates momentum for your new service or policy to see multiple people advocating its use and impact.

Using target audiences is another way to get more bang for your buck. Even with a limited budget, precise outreach via social media can yield big returns. Remember, different platforms reach different communities especially well. Snapchat may not get you a lot of engagement with seniors, but if you’re looking to reach Generation Z, it’s a great bet.

Regardless of platform, what works best in city services, or any type of marketing, is a personal approach. People pick up on insincerity pretty quickly; on the other hand, hearing themselves reflected in a personal story can make a powerful connection to your service. That’s the approach we took with the New York City Small Business Services outreach campaign, featuring the voices of people of color and women business owners. That campaign leverages newspaper, social media, and subway ads to spread the word near and far about what SBS can do for underrepresented business owners.

It’s also key that your communications team is empowered to use all avenues at their disposal to get the word out. In the fast-moving digital world, that may mean embracing new methods of reaching audiences that you may not personally use — but your audiences might. (“Snapchat?!”) Digital marketing and communications is analytics-driven, and your team can measure your campaign’s impact in order to adjust tactics and even platforms. Meeting folks where they are shows that you’re listening to your constituents.

To sum up, if you want to truly make an impact in your city, make sure you market that great new program.

  1. Doing so will improve your financial bottom line and program performance metrics.
  2. Marketing doesn’t have to cost a lot — or any — money to be effective.
  3. A genuine, personal approach enables your audience to connect with your work well.
  4. Empower your communications team — internal and external — to use cutting-edge digital platforms to reach your audience where they already are.
  5. Measure your results and fine-tune your tactics to make a bigger splash.

Seen any particularly inspiring campaigns lately? Fill us in!

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