Mobilize your troops

And by troops, I mean your customer base.

Working for a local authority in the UK can seem increasingly like standing on a piece of melting pack ice. We may have a shrinking payroll but we still have lots of customers.

So when you embark on a marketing exercise, it’s worth asking yourself whether you’re making the most of your greatest asset; particularly when the marketing budget is meagre.

In an age of viral ‘shares’, ‘likes’ and ‘favourites’ it’s never been more pertinent.

It’s something that occurred to me whilst talking to colleagues in Public Health who recently joined us from the NHS. It was clear that they shared some common ground with colleagues in Leisure Services. Both are in the business of making people healthy and both need to motivate people to respond to the call-to-action; but in many cases that call is falling on deaf ears.

So, instead of marketing to ‘everyone who isn’t presently a customer’, could we explore encouraging our current customer base to explain to their friends why they responded to the call? There’s a lot of current thinking to support this approach. Alex Turnbull, CEO of Groove, talks about the power of storytelling in his recent BLOG on boosting reach. It’s well worth a read.  I’d summarise my thoughts using the analogy of a reverse target:


Reverse target

The reverse target represents three audiences:

1 CONVERTED: Our existing customers who have already adopted elements of a healthy lifestyle

2 AGNOSTIC: People similar to ‘1’ but presently not engaged

3 IMMUNE: People who are resistant to key messages – “I hear you but I’m not listening”





Though we aim for the outer circle, we consistently hit the inner circle. So, how do we become counter-intuitive, improve our aim and hit the outer circle more often?

All services produce information about their offer and all services need to find ways to motivate people enough to change behaviour and be receptive to that information. Making converts of agnostics is the quicker win though by no means easy. Ultimately, we want to hit the outer circle which contains what we sometimes refer to as the hard to reach. It’s a well worn phrase though it could be argued that they’re only hard to reach because we simply aren’t communicating with them properly.

The Nudge

In marketing terms, one approach would be to harness the power of peer-to-peer recommendation; a recognised phenomenon in the marketing world. It’s always been an important factor but the advent of social media has increased its range and effectiveness because of the principle of communities of interest as illustrated here:

Communities of interest

These communities are built by people congregating around circles of friendship, shared values and shared interests.

My interactions with services and institutions through social media are also shared with my circle and, indirectly, with their friends.

It is the interleaving of these circles that create the viral nature of social media.



Within a community of interest will be existing customers who would be receptive to a video containing powerful, first-hand testimony on ‘Why I finally gave up smoking’.  A peer-to-peer recommendation from them has the potential to make a convert out of an agnostic. Within the same group, it also has the potential to make someone previously immune to messages to at least become an agnostic. By this means, more people become receptive to the call; and the market for our offer expands.

In essence; never forget that information of itself has no value if you can’t attach a motivation to change.


Images: Feel free to re-use but a credit might be nice.




I recently attended what was billed as a Mini Cake Camp*. Essentially it was a chance to meet informally with local gov comms colleagues from the Midlands and eat cake. The plan was for each of us to take five minutes to describe something that’s worked well for us and five minutes to suggest an opportunity for collaboration in the spirit of last winter’s #wmgrit .

Not suprisingly, with such innovative comms chums in attendance, the topic soon moved to the deployment of social media. Early adopters have spent a great deal of time ‘selling’ the benefits of social media to sometimes sceptical colleagues. We’ve tried using stats and case studies and stretched the potential of PowerPoint to the max. But one idea emerged that afternoon that appealed to me; A Price List of Wasted Effort.

I recall being at a village hall somewhere in Shropshire with a dozen representatives from across the public sector each of us standing beside our table mounted display on the subject of something or other and waiting in anticipation for the doors to open and the grateful locals to rush in and engage in enthusiastic debate around the topic of something or other. It was two hours in, and with only three residents interested enough to step through the portal (Sound familiar?), that I began to imagine what the combined hourly rate of the attending officers would amount to. And whether, once that figure were divided by the number of residents that attended that day, it represented a respectable ROI.

I’m not knocking public meetings or open days per se but I am asking if there’s an argument for engaging in  advance of the event and gauging in some way the likelihood of anyone turning out.

And public meetings are only the tip of the iceberg. There are many traditional forms of communication that we slavishly follow with no means of measuring their success and all of these cost money. So as well as defending/promoting/advocating social media, maybe we could also spend a little time productively calculating that cost; A Price List of Wasted Effort. Just a thought.

* attending the Mini Cake Camp were the excellent @Paulcoxon81 @katebentham@danslee @meljpotter @darrencaveney