Case 10.1 Rebranding 4-H Discussion Essay

Case 10.1 Rebranding 4-H

In the late 19th century, more than half of all Americans lived on farms. New farming techniques, based on science, were being developed through university research, but older generations of farmers were slow to adopt them (Joslyn, 2017). Some thought that the only way to achieve implementation of new methods might be to educate young people, who would eventually take over their family farms. In 1902, A. B. Graham started an after-school program for farm kids in Ohio (4-H, n.d.-a). The Cooperative Extension System was established within the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1914 and Graham’s clubs eventually became nationalized as the nonprofit organization known as 4-H, meaning “head, heart, hands, and health” (Stein, 2016). The goals were to advance new farming technology by educating young people and to provide opportunities for growth for rural kids. By 2016, 4-H had become the largest youth development organization in the United States, serving six million young people through a network of 110 public universities and 3,000 local agricultural extension offices across the country (National 4-H Council, 2016). Although less well-known as an organization by many Americans, 4-H was engaging more young people than the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts combined (Joslyn, 2017).

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By 2016, the world had changed since the founding of 4-H and the organization needed to adapt in order to continue its impact and growth. More than 80 percent of Americans were living in urban areas (Joslyn, 2017). Less than one half of American kids ages 8 to 18 were engaged in any youth-development organization at all (Joslyn, 2017). More than one half of 4-H members were white, at a time when African American and Hispanic communities were growing, especially in urban areas (Shapiro, 2016). Even in some rural areas, many young people were of Hispanic backgrounds and most were not involved in 4-H (Joslyn, 2017). Many of 4-H’s 25 million alumni said they had lost their connection to the organization (Stein, 2016).

The organization’s programs had evolved with the changing times, but its brand had not kept pace. Originally established to advance scientific techniques in agriculture, by the 2000s 4-H programs were emphasizing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), including a popular robotics curriculum (Joslyn, 2017). But its plan to increase participation to 10 million young people by 2025 was hampered by perceptions; it was still seen by many people as being all about “cows and plows” (Stein, 2016).

Changing the brand would require reemphasizing the mission of youth empowerment and the relevance of 4-H programs to developing skills for addressing diverse issues in today’s society, not just agriculture (Wood, 2016). It would also require moving beyond agricultural regions and into cities as well as attracting a more diverse membership. “We want to ensure that our program has a welcome mat in every community,” 4-H’s national CEO explained. “We know if we don’t get them ready for leadership, we may have a huge leadership void affecting every industry and sector in the future” (Shapiro, 2016).

Working with an advertising agency that provided pro bono services, the national 4-H office launched a rebranding campaign, focusing on three program areas: STEM, healthy living, and civic engagement (Stein, 2016). A plan was developed for advertising to promote the new themes on TV, radio, and the Internet (Stein, 2016). The messages were developed in consultation with young people and 4-H alumni. Advertising was targeted on Generation X and millennial mothers who were former 4-H members and who had children in the 6 to 18 age range (Stein, 2016). Alumni were another target. Most had grown up in rural areas but now lived in urban communities. The marketing would try to remind them of 4-H’s roots while also informing them about its contemporary focus (Tadena, 2016).

A First-Generation 4-H Families Initiative was launched in Midwestern states to engage Hispanic kids (Joslyn, 2017). A survey of young people had revealed a desire to develop leadership skills and confidence. In response, 4-H launched its “Grow True Leaders” campaign, with a rally in Washington, DC, that featured prominent alumni (National 4-H Council, 2016). New online resources were developed to provide kids with the ability to give a “shout out” to examples of strong leadership and to share their own stories (4-H, n.d.-b).

Writing about the 4-H brand makeover, Heather Joslyn (2017) identifies five lessons that she offers as points of advice:

Be willing to rethink everything about how you operate.
Double down on popular programs.
Tell your story. And give the participants the tools to tell their stories.
Invite alumni to stay involved.
Listen to your staff, your affiliates, and the people you serve.
Andrew Bosworth, a 4-H alumnus who went on to become an executive at Facebook, also offers advice on building a brand in the era of social media. It is just no longer possible for an organization to control its brand as it might have done in the past. Today, Bosworth says, “you really have to empower your community to own your brand, to be its ambassadors. And that means giving up some control you used to assert” (Joslyn, 2017).

Chapter Summary

Marketing, communications, and public relations are related fields, but also have specific definitions that distinguish them. Communications is the transmission or exchange of information; public relations is “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics” (Public Relations Society of America, n.d.). Marketing is a process distinguished by its objective: to influence the behavior of someone else. Marketing focuses on exchanges.

Marketing principles have been widely adopted in the nonprofit sector. Some nonprofits engage in commercial marketing to attract customers to the goods and services that they provide. Others use social marketing to change behavior in order to benefit people and society. Some remain concerned that commercial marketing may not be appropriate to nonprofit values and cultures. This may reflect, in part, an understanding of marketing that is a throwback to earlier mind-sets about the concept, especially the idea that marketing is equivalent to sales.

Contemporary marketing follows a customer mind-set that requires that “the organization systematically study customers’ needs, wants, perceptions, preferences, and satisfaction … and act on this information to improve its offerings to meet its customers’ needs better” (Andreasen & Kotler, 2008, p. 39). This implies that the organization’s programs and services need to be adapted to meet identified customer desires; but this should not be taken as a reason for a nonprofit to abandon its mission or central values. Rather, marketing should be used as a tool for pursuing the mission and achieving mission-related goals.

The marketing mix includes four variables (recall the four Ps of marketing): product, place, price, and promotion. Organizations can adjust the marketing mix to differentiate themselves from others and position themselves in a unique market niche, gaining an advantage over other organizations or alternative activities with which they may compete. Nonprofits may compete directly with other organizations, nonprofit or for-profit, but they also face generic competition from all alternative uses for individuals’ time and money.

Products have tangible and intangible qualities; for example, the latter include the prestige associated with a degree from a well-known university or the environment in which coffee is consumed. Place, or location, determines access to a program or service and is a critical variable in the marketing mix. Some products and services need to be taken to where the customers are—for example, vans that provide mobile medical care. Prices for products and services may be set to provide a break-even result for the nonprofit, to compete with what others are charging, or to reflect the perceived value of the product or service to the customer. Sophisticated marketers practice price discrimination, charging different prices to different segments of their target market. Price discrimination may be intended to match differences in product value, for example, seats closer to or farther from the theater stage; to shift utilization from peak to nonpeak periods; or to maximize revenue by charging the highest prices that some consumers are willing to pay.

Brand is commonly defined as “a name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers” (Burnett, 2007, p. 179), but some offer a broader definition that includes intangible perceptions as a part of a brand. Individuals attribute qualities to a brand, and organizations work to establish a positive brand image, which may help attract both clients and donors. A positive brand has a monetary value, called brand equity, which may form the basis of some partnerships between nonprofits and for-profit companies. Building an organization’s brand requires initiatives at the organizational level, the identity level, and the experiential level (Durham, 2010).

Communications and marketing must be integrated; that is, their goals must permeate all aspects of the organization with consistent messages being delivered to various constituencies. This approach is known as integrated marketing communication, or IMC. It is especially important in nonprofits because their borders are porous, and members of various constituencies, including staff, volunteers, and donors, may communicate with each other. Individuals attribute greater credibility to information they receive through word of mouth than to what they read or see in the public media, especially if the source is someone close to them or with inside knowledge of the organization. This requires that messages delivered both internally and externally be consistent.

Nonprofit organizations should have a plan for risk management that includes both prevention of crises and preparation for communicating, should a crisis occur. Principles of crisis communications include the need to respond quickly, accurately, and consistently, and with expressions of empathy and concern for any individuals who may have suffered as a result of whatever incident occurred.

The development of social media that permit users to create content and join conversations regarding an organization, requires new communications strategies and presents nonprofit organizations with critical decisions about the resources and staffing needed to adapt. It is essential to develop a plan that reflects a logic model leading from the investment of resources in electronic communication to the achievement of the organization’s strategic outcomes. Some have adopted social media policies to guide the way in which volunteers and staff members communicate about the organization and provide training to staff members on the use of online media.

Research suggests that nonprofits that adopt a market orientation or a societal orientation do achieve greater financial support and client satisfaction. Research also has found a relationship between an organization’s online presence and financial viability.

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