August 1994 // Volume 32 // Number 2 // Feature Articles // 2FEA5

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Marketing Planning for Extension Systems

The purpose of marketing planning is to develop marketing strategies that will help organizations attain their overall objectives. Effective marketing planning requires a marketing orientation based on three propositions: client orientation, coordination of client-related activities, and goal direction. The author suggests a four-step marketing planning process that guarantees a marketing orientation that improves the chances for choosing the best marketing strategy for Extension programs.

V. Glenn Chappell
Associate Professor
Business and Economics
Meredith College
Raleigh, North Carolina

Recently, Extension specialists in the state of Washington used direct mail methods to attract young homemakers to conferences on family businesses. Florida Expanded Foods and Nutrition Program (EFNEP) specialists employed the principles of salesmanship to help EFNEP paraprofessionals recruit homemakers for nutrition education. A community leadership program in Georgia used billboards, t-shirts, balloons, and buttons to promote a leadership training program. The 4-H program in North Carolina has used a television advertising campaign to build awareness of its "product line."

These are just a few examples of the many Extension programs around the country which have successfully applied marketing ideas (Topor, 1988) during the past few years. As Extension personnel respond to the problems facing America in the 1990s, many will increasingly turn to marketing for help with such issues as attracting leaders, volunteers and clientele, increasing client satisfaction with Extension, designing excellent programs which carry out Extension's mission, and enlisting financial and political support as well as enthusiasm of clients, government officials, and other stakeholder groups.

Effective marketing does not just happen, however. There are no magical formulas or secrets to marketing. Nor will Extension professionals be able to adapt business marketing ideas to Extension's programs without some difficulty. Like all managerial activities, marketing must be planned, organized, and controlled. It involves designing Extension programs to meet the needs and desires of target clients and using effective pricing, communication, and distribution to inform, motivate, and service clients.

The purpose of this article is to provide Extension professionals with an introduction to marketing planning. The process of marketing planning will help Extension professionals develop and maintain a viable fit between Extension's objectives, resources, and marketing opportunities.

A Marketing Orientation

Before discussing the role of marketing planning in the management process, it is important to review briefly the philosophy that guides effective and responsible marketing. While many Extension programs are using some marketing tools, they are not necessarily marketing oriented. Instead, many Extension professionals are pre-occupied with their program, with efficiency, or with pushing clients to select Extension's current programs. Extension professionals must recognize that an emphasis on programming, production, and selling is only part of the task of becoming truly marketing-oriented. What distinguishes an Extension program with a marketing orientation? As applied to Extension, a marketing-orientation is based on three major propositions: client orientation, coordination of all client-related activities, and goal direction.


Meeting the wants and needs of constituencies is the key to a marketing orientation. Extension professionals must shift from an internal organizational perspective to the client's viewpoint. Successful marketing of Extension's programs requires a complete understanding of Extension's clients - their needs, attitudes, and buying behavior. For instance, Extension specialists who design programs for the elderly in rural communities must know exactly what the needs of the elderly are and must develop programs which meet these needs. Thus, a marketing orientation holds that the main task of the Cooperative Extension System is to determine the needs and wants of target clientele groups and to satisfy them through the design, communication, pricing, and delivery of appropriate and competitively viable programs and services (Kotler & Fox, 1985).

Satisfying targeted clients does not, however, mean that the Extension System ignores its mission and its distinctive competencies to provide whatever programming happens to be "hot" at the moment. Rather, Extension seeks clients who are or could be interested in its offerings and then adapts these offerings to make them as attractive as possible.


The second facet of a marketing orientation is coordination. There must be close cooperation among all components of an Extension organization. All participants in policy and strategy formulation, as well as programming, must take a market-oriented view of Extension's clients and other constituencies. Extension must take steps to become more responsive to its clients, such as conducting studies of client satisfaction and of clients' needs and preferences, as well as developing appropriate ways to respond to complaints and suggestions. Furthermore, marketing needs to be introduced to various groups in an Extension organization. Internal marketing training should first be made available to top Extension administrators and advisory groups because their understanding and support are essential if marketing is to be successfully applied by Extension. Additional training sessions should be directed at Extension specialists, county directors, agents, and support personnel. Finally, new employees should go through a training program that emphasizes the importance of creating client satisfaction. In short, coordination requires that everyone in Extension understand clients' needs and then be willing and able to work together to satisfy these needs. As one management expert put it, the "aim of marketing is to know and understand the client so well that the program or service fits the client and sells itself" (Drucker, 1973).


The third cornerstone of a marketing-orientation is goal direction. A marketing-orientation stresses that the only way Extension can achieve its own goals is by satisfying the needs of its clients. For example, an Extension program wishing to increase the level of funding provided by the legislature for community resource development must demonstrate to legislators that it is meeting the community resource development needs of the state. This may require the development of special educational programs and activities for local community leaders and public officials. Thus, the main task of Extension is to determine the needs, wants, and interests of its clients and to adapt Extension programs to deliver client satisfactions that preserve or enhance the clients' and society's well being and long term interests.

Planning and Marketing Management

It has been said that, "If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there" (Enis & Cox, 1985). The implication is that an Extension organization first needs to decide what it wants to accomplish. Next, it must consider carefully which path, in terms of strategies and programming, it should follow to achieve its desired ends. Thus, strategic marketing planning provides a road map for meeting marketing goals.

Marketing planning is the systematic process of developing and coordinating marketing decisions. Because marketing decisions are made at two major levels in Extension--top administration and county operations--the marketing planning process in Extension must operate at two levels. Central administration marketing planning provides overall direction for the Extension program by specifying the programs and services the Extension organization will provide and the clients and constituencies it will pursue, and by establishing the objectives to be achieved by individual programs. County planning specifies the details for implementing Extension's overall marketing plan on a program-by-program basis. Note that the central administration's marketing planning process should provide the basic direction for county programming, and the county planning process should integrate the various specialized marketing decisions made on behalf of each program. In other words, all marketing decisions should be made in the context of marketing plans. Only in this way can a state Extension System coordinate the specialized county management roles and achieve its objectives.

Although marketing planning for Extension takes place at both the state and county level, four basic steps are involved at each level:

  1. Conducting a situation analysis. Before developing any action plan, Extension decision-makers must understand the current situation and trends affecting the future of the Extension System. In particular, they must assess the problems and opportunities posed by clients, competitors, costs, and government funding changes. Additionally, they must identify the strengths and weaknesses possessed by the state Extension System.

  2. Establishing objectives. After completing the situation analysis, Extension decision-makers must then establish specific objectives. Objectives identify the level of performance Extension hopes to achieve at some future date, given the realities of the environmental problems and opportunities and the Extension System's particular strengths and weaknesses.

  3. Developing strategies and programs. To achieve the stated objectives, Extension decision-makers must develop both strategies (long term actions to achieve the objectives) and programs (specific short run actions to implement strategies).

  4. Providing coordination and control. Extension's comprehensive plans often include multiple strategies and programs. Each strategy and each program may be the responsibility of a different Extension decision-maker. Thus, some mechanism must be developed to assure that the strategies and programs are effectively implemented. Extension organizational structures (state, district, and county) and budgets are the primary means of coordinating actions. Control is also essential because the success of strategies and programs can never be predicted with any certainty. The purpose of control is to evaluate the degree to which progress toward an objective is being made and to pinpoint the causes of any failure to achieve objectives so that remedial actions can be taken.

One further point about marketing planning should be noted. Marketing planning is a process. State Extension systems operate in complex and dynamic environments. Therefore, marketing plans cannot be cast in stone. Each Extension System must look ahead and develop long term strategies to meet the changing conditions it encounters. No one strategy is best. Each Extension System must find the game plan that makes the most sense given its situation, opportunities, objectives, and resources. The difficult task of selecting an overall strategy with sufficient flexibility to insure long-run survival and growth is one of Extension's most important planning functions.


Developing a marketing orientation serves as the basis for applying marketing management techniques in an Extension system. Without giving effective attention to client needs, marketing and the other management functions will lack the direction needed for success.

However, implementing a marketing orientation in an Extension system is not a simple matter. Extension systems are faced with many alternative markets and clients, and a vast array of alternative policies and programs for meeting client needs. Extension cannot pursue all possible clients, and all possible actions cannot be taken, because human and financial resources are limited and do not permit such extravagance.

Consequently, this article has suggested the use of a planning approach that guarantees a more client-oriented Extension program. Conducting a situation analysis, setting objectives, and then developing strategies and programs improves the chances for choosing the best marketing policies.

In summary, the application of marketing planning techniques by Extension decision-makers will give Extension a strong competitive advantage among its target clientele and constituencies. The use of marketing analysis, planning, implementation, and control will improve Extension's ability to watch and adapt to the many forces in its marketing environment. As a result, Extension will be in a better position to sense, serve, and satisfy all of its target clients.


Drucker, P. (1973). Management: Tasks, responsibilities, practices. New York: Harper & Row.

Enis, B., & Cox, K. K. (1985). Marketing classics (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Kotler, P., & Fox K. (1985). Strategic marketing for educational institutions. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.

Topor, R. S. (1988). Your personal guide to marketing a non- profit organization. Washington, D.C.: Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

Author Notes

The work for this paper was completed while the author was employed as a visiting associate professor at North Carolina State University. The author thanks Robert C. Wells, John G. Richardson, and Loren A. Ihen for their constructive comments.