August 1998 // Volume 36 // Number 4 // Commentary // 4COM1

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Integrating a Marketing Mindset: Building Extension's Future in the Information Marketplace

Extension professionals must adopt corporate marketing strategies to be competitive in the information marketplace. Integrated marketing helps boost brand recognition and lead consumers to repeated use of the Cooperative Extension System. Although research is needed to learn more about loyal Extension clients, we can take the first step toward marketing Extension in the twenty-first century by targeting specific audiences and developing an integrated mindset.

Deborah J. Maddy
Regional Director
Oregon State University Extension Service
Corvallis, Oregon
(Formerly with Cornell Cooperative Extension)

Laura J.M. Kealy
Former Communication Intern
Cornell Cooperative Extension
Ithaca, New York

2001 is not the year nor the movie but the number of marketing messages the average consumer sees each month in the United States, according to the Advertising Research Foundation (Reitman, 1994). It is in this highly cluttered environment, with consumers suffering from sensory overload, that all communications -- including information about Cooperative Extension's educational programs -- exist.

In the late 1980s, the term "integrated marketing" seemed to enter the vocabulary of many Madison Avenue marketers and advertising agencies overnight. Integrated marketing means becoming involved in the client's entire strategic planning process and then providing communication solutions and executions. An understanding of how consumers get information about products and services and how marketers can manage that information for maximum effectiveness is the heart of integrated marketing (Rose & Miller, 1994).

As Extension professionals, we have to wonder if an education-based, not-for-profit organization like Cooperative Extension can compete with the corporate world in the information marketplace. Can Cooperative Extension capture the attention of consumers bombarded with marketing messages developed through seven-figure advertising campaigns?

While our marketing budget will never be plush, the Cooperative Extension System can benefit from an integrated approach, focusing on marketing communications that are strategic to the program development process. Bette DeGraw, dean of the College of Extended Education, Arizona State University, suggests that professionals in the field of continuing education should adopt the corporate communication model and learn from Madison Avenue experts.

"Today, continuing education institutions must establish a corporate image that promises quality and accessibility to the consumer. The corporate image reflects the way your institution is perceived, including the emotions and associations evoked in the mind of the consumer, and adds value to any product line that you offer," said DeGraw (1995) at the University Continuing Education Association's Third Annual Marketing Seminar (1995).

Branding With The Best

The corporate model begins with branding (Murphy, 1987). As a consumer of goods and services, you're familiar with the concept. Branding is used to create memorability, preference, and loyalty in consumers' minds. It creates a platform to build a relationship between product and user. Whether it is the toothpaste you used this morning or the car you drove to work, you have established a relationship with a particular brand name and are more likely to use other products developed by that company because of a positive brand identity.

A brand is a promise of value. Because the effects of image marketing -- and therefore branding -- build over time, consistency is critical. Every piece of communication should support the brand and be consistent over time.

The idea of accumulating a reservoir of good will and good impressions is called brand equity (Christiani, 1995). This concept is as critical to the Cooperative Extension System as it is to for-profit organizations. If the consumer has a positive learning experience with one of our educational product lines, he or she will be more likely to be a repeat customer. But, if Extension educators don't do a good job of communicating the Cooperative Extension brand, the consumer may not know how to become a repeat customer.

Because consistency has proven to be essential for building corporate images and establishing brand equity, Cornell Cooperative Extension invested time, commitment and dollars during the late 1980s to gain greater name recognition and improve visibility. A name change to Cornell Cooperative Extension unified the system's diverse capabilities with, and emphasized the linkage to, Cornell University, New York's Land- Grant institution. A mission statement and a slogan were developed, a standard description of Extension was crafted, and graphics designed, in an effort to project a positive corporate image and help consumers establish brand loyalty.

Today, consistent verbal and graphic images remain important to our brand identity. The Cornell Cooperative Extension Marketing Manual and Style Manual are important references in every Extension county association, college department, and campus unit.

Making The Brand Connection

Remember, marketing integration is a strategy for giving consumers information about our products and services. Marketing professionals use a model called brand connection path (Watras 1995), representing ways in which consumers begin an experience with a brand. The model starts with experience and includes exposure to traditional media-based advertising. It also includes exposure to competitors' advertising, word-of-mouth, shopping trips, family reaction to the product, direct marketing, and so forth. Extension educators can identify similar examples of a consumer's experience with Extension's brand.

The brand connection path is different for different people. Knowing how to effectively integrate communications along that path for a specific group of consumers is the key to marketing success in the 1990s and beyond, whether the organization is selling goods or offering educational programs.

In the early 1980s, John Naisbitt, author of Megatrends (1982) said, "The key to marketing in the future will not be primarily distribution, but information" and using information to market more successfully. He went on to explain that this means marketing on the differences among people, not their similarities; in an increasingly diverse population, one message or one medium for all consumers just won't work anymore.

To think of consumers as a mass market suggests a homogeneity that does not exist. You and I, as consumers, have different names, ages, addresses, educations, and incomes. Besides these superficial differences, we also have different aspirations, experiences, family structures, motivations, personalities, and emotional makeups. Consumers are as unique as snowflakes.

According to Jerry I. Reitman, executive vice president of Leo Burnett Company, a Chicago-based advertising firm, and author of Beyond 2000: The Future of Direct Marketing (1994), integrated communication is, "The process of managing all sources of information about a brand to which a customer or prospect is exposed along the brand connection path which behaviorally moves that person toward a sale. At the cornerstone of true integrated marketing is integrated thinking!"

Although education is different from most consumer products, integrated marketing can build and extend brand equity in the information marketplace. Education is a high-involvement decision. It is not an impulse or often - repeated buy. It is expensive in time, commitment, and often in hard dollars; the decision is personal and emotion-laden.

What we know about Cooperative Extension customers is that super heavy users account for a disproportionately large amount of all users. But we don't know why these people are loyal Extension customers, how they receive information about our products and services, or most importantly, how they would prefer to receive information about our products and services.

Integrating for 2001

Long ago we learned that program success means involving the target audience in the decision-making process. Good marketing is no different. In fact, good marketing is part of the program development process, not a special event.

It is possible to have a variety of forms of communication work in harmony; to have them equal in quality and production values; to have each reinforce brand equity while time promoting a particular product line. An integrated, strategic marketing focus has substantial advantages for the Cooperative Extension brand.

If Cooperative Extension is to successfully address the critical issues of wide public concern arising out of complex human problems, then we must increase our ability to target increasingly fragmented audiences with increasingly relevant messages, for increasingly tailored products. Certainly, part of our future lies in integrated communication and integrated thinking.

Now think about 2001, the year: Cooperative Extension is a household brand name associated with quality and accessible educational programming that helps people put knowledge to work.


Christiani, A. (1995). Exploring brand equity. New York: Advertising Research Foundation.

DeGraw, B. (1995). Internal marketing: What does it entail, what is it designed to achieve? Panel discussion, Highways, Byways, and Pitstops: A Complete Atlas to Smart Marketing. Third Annual Marketing Seminar, University Continuing Education Association, Albuquerque, NM.

Murphy, J., ed. (1987). Branding: A key marketing tool. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Naisbitt, J. (1982). Megatrends: Ten new directions transforming our lives. New York: Warner Books.

Reitman, J. (1994). Beyond 2000: The future of direct marketing. Lincolnwood, IL.: NTC Business Books.

Rose, P., & Miller, D. (1994). "Merging advertising and PR: Integrated marketing communications," The Journalism Educator 49(2), 52.

Watras, M. (1995). "Potential pitfalls on the road to integrated marketing," Communication World, 12(9), 22.