How To's, Lessons from the Field, Strategy

Marketing 3: Some innovative ideas

This month, we’ve been reflecting on the importance of marketing for information dissemination, goal communication, and reputation building. In our final entry, we provide a few brief thoughts on innovative marketing strategies.

Intelligent marketing is essential for information dissemination – getting work out there that you have a service to provide; goal communication – communicating to your city or county’s residents why you’re entering the broadband market; and reputation building – to build your brand.

Private ISPs devote oodles of money to marketing, and while public utilities, non-profits, and co-ops rarely have similarly-sized oceans of funds on which to draw for this purpose, there are a few less expensive strategies that can yield enormous dividends in the medium- and long-run.

Last week, we reviewed a few straightforward, inexpensive marketing strategies being employed by public utilities and their private partners, including word-of-mouth at national conferences (PRTC, Kentucky), and mailings, fliers, and YouTube videos (Westminster, MD, partnering with Ting). This week, I’ll present a few more ideas – most of which I got from a particularly useful panel at April’s Austin, TX, Broadband Communities Summit.

1. Build your city, town, or county a user-friendly website: Nothing turns off potential consumers more than the impression of incompetence, and one way to signal competence is to make sure that your utility is represented by an excellent, beautiful, user-friendly, easily-navigable website. If you can integrate this into a broader upgrading of your local government’s website, so much the better.

The rationale for this is straightforward: If you’re offering broadband, which provides Internet service to businesses and residents, you ought to have a good website to accompany the service. Would you trust an ISP whose website is a mess? I wouldn’t. After all, any company that can afford to build a comprehensive fiber network can afford to hire a competent website designer and administrator.

The rationale for integrating your beautiful, user-friendly website into a broader user-friendly local government website is almost as obvious: By giving your local government’s site an upgrade (or building a site from scratch, if your town does not have one yet), you signal that the bringing of your fiber network to your district has the potential to upgrade all government services. Residents will appreciate easier access to local officials’ and departments’ office phone numbers and email, and will therefore feel better represented. If you can connect the website upgrade to the new fiber service, you can help direct those positive feelings of representation to your service, and potentially increase your take rate.

2. Host networking events for IT professionals, students, and others who may be key early adopters of your network: Help people get to know each other, in a context in which they’re also using your network. Set up a Facebook page and Twitter account for your utility, and use it to get the word out and invite your local tech community – whether they’re employees of local tech firms, or college faculty or students, or IT administrators for non-tech firms – to your office to learn about your service’s benefits. Then let them sit together for a while and use your network. Entice them with coffee, donuts, lunch – or even alcohol, if you can swing it legally. The goal here is to provide such a positive experience to potential early adopters, that they go out and speak positively of your network to their friends, family, and co-workers (word-of-mouth).

3. Enlist your Chamber of Commerce or Economic Development department to do your marketing for you: The purpose of a Chamber of Commerce is to represent local businesses, and also to attract new businesses to your district. Where Chambers of Commerce exist, it’s likely that nobody is better plugged into the business community than these groups, and you can easily present the benefits of your network to their members. Doing so will get the word out.

But you can also recruit the Chamber of Commerce or Economic Development department to include discussions of your district’s broadband service into marketing campaigns and materials geared to encouraging businesses to relocate to your district. With fast, reliable broadband beginning to top lists of relocation priorities for all types of businesses, municipal broadband should be an easy sell.

Municipal and community broadband networks are a great first step toward local economic development, but your ROI will be disappointing if you don’t meet your uptake goals. Intelligent marketing campaigns can help your organization get there, and they don’t have to be expensive: word-of-mouth can go a long way, YouTube videos and mailings can disseminate information to community members who might not otherwise pay attention to local initiatives, and Economic Development departments and Chambers of Commerce can provide much needed support in getting the word out to businesses that are considering relocation.

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