December 1995 // Volume 33 // Number 6 // Research in Brief // 6RIB1

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Marketing Extension in Louisiana: Image and Opportunity

This image survey supports a marketing Extension strategic plan of the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service. Samples of rural and urban publics were surveyed by telephone and compared on key variables. The general public was somewhat aware of Extension, a majority of users were satisfied, and nine Extension programs were perceived to be potentially useful. The rural audience had a more favorable image than the urban audience. Specific recommendations to boost Extension's image include complementary mass media and grass-roots identity strategies, and capitalizing on recognized programs.

Satish Verma
School of Vocational Education
Internet address:

Alvin C. Burns
Marketing Department

Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


In the mid 1980s, "marketing extension" was a popular initiative among several state Cooperative Extension Services. New York was in the vanguard of this initiative. Referencing private sector marketing practices, New York determined that a unique organizational identity was crucial to successful marketing. They developed a new name, logo, outreach materials, and staff training programs to project a unified, consistent, and cohesive image (Boldt, 1988). Other states--Georgia, Oregon, Montana, Minnesota and North Dakota, to name a few--followed suit, developing marketing strategies that involved their personnel, focused on need-based programs, and stressed key relationships with external stakeholders.

Faculty of the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service (LCES) implemented scattered marketing efforts for local audiences in the late 1980s, but there was no comprehensive and coordinated statewide marketing plan. The need for a strategic marketing plan was identified by faculty who were surveyed for their opinion regarding the relative importance of marketing tools in use and their suggestions for strengthening existing marketing efforts (Coreil & Verma, 1992). The notion of a strategic plan was revived in mid-1994, when the "Marketing Extension to Louisiana" project was initiated. A faculty task force, established to lead this project, identified an immediate need for a survey of the public's image of Extension. Warner and Christenson's (1984) national assessment of the Cooperative Extension Service had shown high levels of public awareness (87%) and satisfaction (95%), but low use (27% lifetime, 14% yearly). Their work was used to guide LCES' survey design and compare results. The survey was intended to determine public awareness, user satisfaction, and potential usefulness of Extension and Extension programs, and to compare rural and urban audiences on these factors.

Survey Procedure

A telephone interview survey instrument contained questions on public awareness, user satisfaction and potential usefulness of Extension and Extension programs, user contacts with Extension, and selected demographic characteristics. It was developed by LCES collaborating with Louisiana State University's marketing department. Rural and urban populations were purposefully identified. Twelve parishes (counties) representing major cropping patterns and family audience groupings formed the rural population. The urban population comprised four parishes in the New Orleans metropolitan area.

Students in an undergraduate marketing research class conducted the telephone interviews. Instruction was provided on sampling and interview techniques. Telephone books were randomly sampled for primary and alternate interviewees, and the data were collected over a two-week period in the fall of 1994. A total of 1,077 telephone calls were made resulting in 727 useable interviews (67.5%). Long distance calls were charged to a special LCES account, and the average charge per completed interview was about $2.

The rural sample comprised 343 respondents, and the urban sample 384 respondents. To adjust for response bias, race and education were weighted to reflect their distribution in the 1990 census using a statistical routine in the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS-X, 1988). This procedure adjusted the rural sample downward from 343 to 201, and the urban upward from 384 to 532. Rural-urban comparisons are reported for these adjusted sample sizes.



In addition to race and education weighted for rural-urban comparisons, the respondents were visually compared with 1990 census data on other demographic characteristics. No meaningful differences were observed between the sample and the population on these characteristics. Therefore, it was assumed that the weighted findings for the weighted sample could be generalized to the state population.

Profile of respondents

The average age of respondents was 49.5 years. Racial makeup was 62.9% white, 36.0% black, and 1.1% Hispanic. Nearly 60% had grade/high school education, and 20% had a college degree. Reported income of one-third of the respondents was $20,000 or below, one-third between $20,000 and $40,000, with the remainder reporting income greater than $40,000. One-half of the respondents were employed, one-fourth were retired, 10% were homemakers, and 6% were unemployed. Nearly 70% owned their home, and 30% were renters.

Awareness, Contact, and Receipt of Extension Information

Over 40% of the respondents were aware of Extension (LCES). Awareness of the 4-H youth program was greatest (49.6%), followed by agriculture (27.2%), community development (19.8%), home economics (18.8%), and leadership development (12.3%). Rural respondents were more aware of LCES and all five programs than urban respondents, and these differences were statistically significant (p = .0001 for all programs).

A followup question revealed that nearly 15% of respondents who were aware of Extension had contacted an Extension agent or an Extension office. An average of 2.7 contacts took place in the past year. Rural respondents made twice the number of contacts as urban respondents. This difference in number of contacts was statistically significant (p = .03).

Between one-fifth to one-third of the respondents who were aware of Extension had received information in the past year through bulletins, newsletters and publications (34.0%), radio (28.8%), and television (22.7%). Significantly higher proportions of rural respondents than urban respondents indicated receiving information by the above channels (p = .0001 and p = .04, respectively).

Knowledge of Parish Extension Office

It is noteworthy that 40.6% of all respondents knew there was an Extension office in their parish, but 51.8% were unsure, and 7.6% did not know. Twice as many rural as urban respondents knew there was a parish Extension office (p = .0001).

User Satisfaction

Over 90% of users indicated they were very satisfied or satisfied with Extension and its programs. From two to three times as many rural as urban respondent users were very satisfied with all programs. These differences were statistically significant for Extension overall (p = .05), agriculture (p = .0195) and 4-H youth (p = .007).

Usefulness of Basic Extension Programs

A majority of respondents indicated that each of nine basic Extension programs was very useful, useful, or somewhat useful in making their family's life better. Usefulness ratings ranged from 75-86% for seven programs--nutrition and food safety, family and economic wellbeing, leadership and volunteerism, community development, economic development, youth development, and public policy education. Rural respondents ratings were higher than urban respondents and the rating differences were statistically significant for all nine programs (p-value ranged from .05 to .0001).


The survey results indicate that while the general public is somewhat aware of Extension, only a small percentage of Louisianians used LCES' programs in the past year. However, it is significant that a majority of the users are satisfied with these programs. An important finding of the survey is that practically all Extension programs are perceived by Louisianians as potentially useful in improving their family's lives.

As expected, compared to urban audiences, the rural audiences are more aware of Extension and its programs. In addition, they use programs more and are more satisfied with them, and more of them believe the programs will be useful to their families.


The survey proved insightful in general. Specific marketing implications for LCES arising from a few of the findings are illustrated below. In addition, some marketing strategy principles that are useful in translating survey findings into marketing actions are described.

In this study, public awareness of both LCES and its programs was about one-half that found in the 1984 national study by Warner and Christenson, whereas use and satisfaction were about the same. This awareness deficit implies that LCES needs to develop a marketing strategy to increase its visibility among the general public and, particularly, those groups targeted by Extension's mission statement, its work, or its specific programs. Awareness is typically accomplished by mass communication media such as television, radio, and newspapers. The low awareness finding implies that LCES should increase its efforts with these media.

At the same time, good marketing practice requires that these impersonal, mass communications messages be dovetailed with a grass-roots strategy in which Extension agents and local offices have unified, distinct, and readily identifiable features such that prospective users can make the connection. Virtually all private sector promotion campaigns create a tangible bond between the mass message and local signage, employee uniforms, or insignia such as lapel buttons (Kotler, 1991).

Differences in awareness of Extension's programs are not surprising. These arise from differences in funding, resource allocation, program emphases, and past and present mandates. For example, the 4-H Youth program, which had the highest level of awareness, enjoys a substantial share of LCES faculty resources, is closely affiliated with Louisiana school systems, and receives considerable assistance from parents, volunteers, and leaders. From a marketing standpoint, the high visibility and good will associated with LCES' 4-H programs is a logical cornerstone of future efforts to increase awareness of other LCES programs and to promote their use by Louisiana residents. Such "shirttail" or "piggyback" strategies are often successful in private sector marketing (Lamb, Hair & McDaniel, 1992). A good example is McDonalds, which has leveraged its strength of fast service many times over with the addition of menu items that are consistent with customers' perceptions.

Taking this strategy a step further is warranted by the findings. An opportunity exists in the high perceived usefulness of community-based programs. This finding reveals latent demand for leadership, volunteer, and community development programs. Such programs spin logically out of the 4-H model, so LCES stands to gain synergy by redoubling its efforts to refine, develop, and launch these programs both in rural and urban parishes. When private sector marketers diversify, they normally expand around their core businesses (Kotler, 1991). This approach ensures that they use their expertise and talents to develop markets that are similar to those where they have been successful rather than dashing into radically different marketing environments where they cannot easily transfer their learning or skills.

Continuing the emphasis on LCES' agricultural programs highlights the principle of building on organization strengths. Historically, agricultural programs have been the primary focus of Extension work, especially in rural areas where LCES' agricultural programs enjoy relatively higher awareness and high satisfaction levels. Interestingly, the survey revealed that both home gardening and agricultural programs are deemed useful by over one-third of the urban population. A clear opportunity exists for LCES to adapt these programs to shifting population dynamics and urban life styles.

Implications from marketing research such as that conducted by LCES abound, but it is necessary to use caution in interpreting the findings and deciding strategic thrusts. Granted, every specific finding can be addressed with a marketing tactic to capitalize on it if the finding is positive or to fix it if a deficiency is revealed. For example, LCES could work to create a stronger presence across all of its programs. It could simultaneously introduce new programs in those areas voted for by the survey respondents. However, while a wholesale increase in the number of Extension program users would be seen as a positive trend, it could very well place LCES in the dilemma of trying to cater to increased clientele demand in the face of shrinking budgets and diminishing manpower. Private sector marketers long ago learned that service quality typically suffers when customer counts escalate (Lamb, Hair & McDaniel, 1992). To forestall this problem, they have adopted a strategic marketing planning orientation. This approach is advocated for LCES or any state Extension agency to methodically sort out the most appropriate marketing strategies and to schedule developments in a master Extension marketing plan to manage growth and to maximize service quality. Survey results and especially the marketing strategies that are born from these results should always be integrated into a master marketing plan.


Boldt, W. (1988). Image: Creating a unique and unified one for Extension. Journal of Extension, XXIV(Spring), 27-28.

Coreil, P., & Verma, S. (1992). Utilizing evaluation to develop a marketing strategy in the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service. American Evaluation Association, Extension Education Evaluation Topical Interest Group Proceedings, 109-114.

Kotler, P. (1991). Marketing management: Analysis, planning, implementation, and control. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Lamb, C., Hair, J., & McDaniel, C. (1992). Principles of marketing. Cincinnati, OH: South-Western.

SPSS-X Users' Guide. (1988). Chicago: SPSS, Inc.

Warner P., & Christenson, J. A. (1984). The Cooperative Extension Service: A national assessment. Boulder, CO: Westview.