April 2001 // Volume 39 // Number 2 // Ideas at Work // 2IAW3

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Developing a Simple Four-Step Marketing Plan for Extension Programs

To develop an effective marketing plan, you must match the needs of the various audience subgroups with the attributes of whatever you are trying to promote. We are all familiar with the benefits of advertising, but advertising is only part of a promotional plan. The idea behind marketing is to lead the consumer through the four stages that lead to purchase: awareness, interest, knowledge, and behavior. To successfully do this, you must (1) conduct an audience inventory, (2) define your goals and specify your objectives, (3) decide on the nature of your message, and (4) decide on the appropriate media.

James M. Nehiley
Associate Professor
Department of Agricultural Education and Communication
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida
Internet Address: jmn@gnv.ifas.ufl.edu

Would you like to improve the public's awareness of your Extension program? Would you like to have more people attend your meetings? If the answer to either of these questions is "yes," then what you need to do is create a marketing program designed to inform and motivate the audience you wish to reach. A marketing effort is designed to change the audience's knowledge, attitude, or behavior as it relates to your program.

How? Where would you start?

Step One: Conduct an Audience Inventory

Conducting an audience inventory (Entine & Ziffern, 1980) will help you determine which media you will use and how you will conduct your campaign. Break your audience into components because each will have to be treated differently. For instance, if you wanted to reach older people, how would you do it? Would you use mass media? Would you do it in the middle of the day because they go to bed early? What do older people have in common? To find this out you have to break the audience down by something other than demographics. "Psychographics" (Berkowitz, Kerin, & Rudelius, 1994) is the term used for grouping people by psychological tendencies–what they need, what they like, and how they live.

After you have divided your population into groups, list answers to the following questions next to each group on a big piece of paper.

  • What does this subgroup know about Extension?
  • How do they feel about Extension?
  • What they are currently doing that is related to Extension?

To learn more, you could use the following audience analysis techniques.

  • Focus group research entails small-group interviewing among persons who presumably represent characteristics of the target audience segment or segments (Wimmer & Dominick, 1994).

  • Survey research uses questionnaires to interview large numbers of persons who usually are selected at random, using scientific probability sampling methods. When a sample is done correctly, these persons are perfectly representative of the population in general. That is, if 10% of the population is over 60 years of age, 10% of the sample will be over 60 years of age. Because individuals in a randomly selected sample have the same characteristics as the general population, their attitudes and opinions reflect the attitudes and opinions of the targetaudience perfectly. Survey research lets you know a little bit about many different people.

Step Two: Define Your Goals and Specify Your Objectives

After you have determined what your audience wants, you should develop goals and objectives to meet those needs: a goal is a broad statement of your intentions, an objective is specific and measurable (McElreath, 1997). A goal would be something like "increasing public awareness." An objective would be "increase public recognition of the county logo by 5%." Then, when you do a survey and 5% more people recognize your logo, you know that you have met your first objective.

Why have objectives and goals? Because without them there is no REAL progress. You can produce a lot of messages and get them transmitted by the various media, but until you specify your objectives, you aren't likely to achieve specific results. To develop goals and objectives, review your audience analysis and conduct some type of strategic analysis.

An easy-to-do, but still useful, strategy for developing goals and objectives is the SWOT analysis. This approach allows a group or organization to pull its people together and have all of them make up a list of the organizations ten greatest strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats from competitors. Then, the total group reviews and analyzes each person's list, and the group then makes up a new list–a unanimously agreed-on list–of the organization's 10 strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. A SWOT analysis can be done by the directors of the organization, or it can be done by the people in one part of the organization.

For instance in an Extension office, the review can be done by just the Extension director and the faculty agents. Or a single program can do it by completing the SWOT analysis with the participating agents, their advisory group, and possibly some of their leaders or volunteers.

Once the four lists are completed, the participants should discuss each of the elements, reorganize the list for priority (most important is number one, second most important is number two, and so forth), and reduce the list to seven elements. The final and most important part of the analysis is to plan to use the strengths to offset the weaknesses, and the opportunities to weaken the threats. When you do this, you create problem/solution statements that become your goals.

Step Three: Decide on the Nature of Your Message

Once you have analyzed your audience to determine what you should say, and once you have decided on your goals and objectives to determine what you do that would attract this specific audience, you have to decide what your message should contain (Seiden, 1990). What is it you want them to do, and what would the audience find persuasive?

To answer these questions, you should review your audience analysis and your goals and objectives. After you have reviewed this information, you should do a message inventory to determine the "nature" of your message. To conduct a message inventory for your subject matter, you should analyze your intended message by the following criteria so that it has the impact to change their attitudes. Four factors affect the length or design of your message.


How complex will your message be? The more complex the subject, the more detail you will have to use in each of your messages and the more you need to use different messages for each audience subgroup. In each case, the audience subgroup will be willing to listen to, and be capable of understanding, only one specific message.


How long will it take you to reach and persuade your audience? Some messages are simple enough that the audience can understand them and immediately begin to change their behavior. Other messages will require a longer learning period.

For instance, take reducing trash to save your town money on waste control and collection. You could probably get people to start crushing aluminum cans in just a few months. But what about convincing them to switch to products that have less paper and plastic wrapping?


Messages that stand out from the others are more recognizable and, therefore, more effective. If you can separate your message from other messages, it will be more memorable, and you will have to send fewer messages.

In advertising they say that if your program is unique you should stress its uniqueness (Roman, 1976). If your program is not unique (the community college or other government agencies carry similar information), you should find some aspect of it that is unique and make this the main theme of your message.


Should they already want to do it? For instance, if your message is about recycling, don't they already want to save money? Sure, and they already hate to take out a big pile of trash, too. And they also want to help preserve the environment. Take advantage of the things that they already believe in. Give them specific, detailed messages that they can relate to their needs without having to change too many of their opinions or behaviors. Stress what you know they will find appealing.

Step Four: Decide on the Appropriate Media

Which media should you use to convey your carefully constructed messages to the specific audience subgroup you have decided to reach? The only way to be sure is to conduct an audience analysis. Use the media that works with that targeted subgroup of the population.

If your audience is large and widely dispersed, you could use mass media. However, remember that mass media has little impact other than to make people aware.

If your audience is small and centrally located, you could use direct mail or telephone calls (cheaper AND more personal).

If your audience tends to be very private, don't use direct mail or telephone contact with them–it won't work. Within your audience are people who are influential in the lives of others. Reach them first. How do you reach them? They use different media from the others, so use a focus group, and find out which media they use. Then, use that media to start your campaign (Simmons, 1990).


To develop an effective marketing plan you must match the needs of the various audience subgroups with the attributes of whatever you are trying to promote. We are all familiar with the benefits of advertising, but advertising is only part of a promotional plan.

The idea behind marketing is to lead the consumer through the four stages that lead to purchase:

  • Awareness,
  • Interest,
  • Knowledge, and
  • Behavior.

To successfully do this, you must:

  1. Conduct an audience inventory,
  2. Define your goals and specify your objectives,
  3. Decide on the nature of your message, and
  4. Decide on the appropriate media.


Berkowitz, E. N., Kerin, R. A., Hartley, S. W., & Rudelius, W. (1994). Marketing (4th ed.). Illinois:Irwin.

Entine, L., & Ziffern, A. (1980). Getting the word out. A handbook for planning a public information campaign. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin-Extension.

McElreath, M. P. (1997). Managing systematic and ethical public relations campaigns (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Roman, K. (1976). How to advertise. New York: St. Martin's Press

Seiden, H. (1990). Advertising pure and simple. New York: AMACOM

Simmons, R. E. (1990). Communication campaign management. New York: Longman.

Wimmer, R. D., & Dominick, J. R. (1994). Mass media research an introduction. (4th ed.). California: Wadsworth.