Content Marketing in Local Government – Essential or Irrelevant?

content marketing


There has been some fascinating debate within the current cohort studying for the Association of Digital Business Leadership diploma on the value and relevance of marketing to the public sector. Views have been polarised so I thought it would be worth exploring this in more detail through the lens of a particular digital marketing technique – content marketing for local government. The best place to start – the experts at the Content Management Institute and their definition of what is content marketing.

What is content marketing?

Views vary, even the Content Marketing Institute recognise this. However, they offer a formal definition:

“Content management is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience with the objective of driving profitable customer action

The word ‘profitable’ seems to make some public sector practitioners uncomfortable, so perhaps the CMI definition for ‘non believers’ by Amanda Maksymiw quoted in the same article is more helpful, and goes to the heart of the user centred mindset the digital age requires:

“Your customers don’t care about you, your products, your services … they care about their wants and needs. Content marketing is about creating interesting information your customers are passionate about so they actually pay attention to you.”

This starts to feel more familiar territory for the public sector – we aren’t selling services in most instances but our customers have needs – the benefit claimant wanting to know how to claim, the older person wanting to apply for a blue badge – without good information their customer experience will be the poorer.

Is content marketing well used?

According to the CMI study Content Marketing in the UK 2016 found at 90% of marketers use content marketing – across all sizes of organisation and sector. Budget spend on content marketing is set to rise, though as with many marketing techniques there are question marks about effectiveness. Three key challenges are identified – developing an effective content strategy, producing engaging content and understanding what content makes a difference.

So what kind of content are we talking about?

The prevalence of content marketing is perhaps not surprising given that content marketing is an umbrella approach encompassing a variety of tactics. Newsvend offer a helpful content marketing infographic shown below (an example of content by the way!) that shows the range of content but also relative effectiveness and cost. It is interesting to note that many are digital, others are not – reinforcing the need to select appropriate forms of content to match both the target audience and the message.


What makes great content?

The advice, which applies to all marketing activity in reality

Be clear why we are doing content marketing

  • what do we want the customer to do as a result and how does that deliver the organisation’s priority outcomes?
  • how will we know?

The content must focus on what the customer needs to know, not what the organisation feels the need to say. Here the thinking behind ‘user stories’ that informs digital service design is helpful – for example ‘I am a parent who wants to know how to apply for a school place for my child’ is likely to lead to very different content and tone than a professional publishing statutory guidance

In summary, great content is

  • findable
  • readable
  • understandable
  • actionable
  • shareable

 So what about content marketing in local government?

 Type content marketing in local government or the public sector into your search engine and not a lot comes back. A CMI report about content management for non profit organisations in America, found at echoes the findings quoted earlier – usage is increasing.

There is a view that seems to me to be far too narrow and simplistic, suggesting that content marketing is relevant for public bodies as ultimately it will boost awareness and so deliver votes. Perhaps if I was an elected politician rather than a council officer my perspective would be different!

Another view equates marketing with selling, so concluding that marketing is not core to public service delivery. I couldn’t disagree more. Whilst the CMI study of UK 2016 trends quotes sales (84% of respondents) as the top goal for content marketing, engagement comes a close second (83%). I would argue that for every public service, certainly those provided by councils, high levels of engagement are required as an integral part of service delivery. That applies to personal services like social care where trust is essential, and also place based services – we need people to engage with the information (content) we provide to know how to make a planning application.

Private sector organisations seek to change the behaviour of customers to influence buying decisions. Councils are in the business of behaviour change in a whole host of often more complex ways from increasing recycling, ensuring council tax is paid, getting residents to take responsibility for their own activity levels and so their health. Information giving, that is providing ‘content’ –is key to all of those

The marketing categories of know/go/buy/do apply equally to local government services – they start with the customer and what they want to do. A review of good council websites supports this – many are structured around pay, book, apply, find options – a taxonomy based on customer journeys. Good content from ‘how to’ written guides to videos or blogs supports customers to meet this variety of needs.

In the so called age of austerity councils are focusing increasingly on managing demand – either encouraging residents to use cheaper channels, or to help themselves or each other – so councils can facilitate that by providing good content that supports those shifts.

Takeaway ideas: 10 possible applications for content marketing in local government

  1. A video diary of an adoptive parent going through the selection process to help other would be adopters
  2. A ‘how to’ written guide on the website to help small businesses to do business with the council
  3. A community warden’s blog to show how he is keeping the area safe and to encourage more community action
  4. A video of users of adult social care showing why and how they have benefited from direct payments
  5. A live stream, say on Facebook using the Periscope app (available on your app store) to stream council meetings or important events – the recent opening of a new station in the area
  6. An e-newsletter to subscribers to supplement (and ultimately replace?) the council’s printed magazine
  7. Infographic to show how council tax is spent as shown below
  8. Status updates to keep the community informed during an emergency
  9. Content developed by young people for young people to showcase local activities
  10. Interactive self assessment and guidance to support residents to make healthier lifestyle choices – take a look at Public Health England’s ‘One You’ campaign

content marketing 

Concluding thoughts

So, in the traditional professionally focused bureaucratic council, content marketing may have no role, but in the user-focused organisation that plans and delivers services around customer needs and their journeys, content marketing has an essential part to play.

Can you add to the range of definitions of content marketing offered to us by the Content Management Institute? Do you have a content marketing strategy or content marketing examples to share? Let’s keep the debate going…


Out of the comfort zone

I’m part way through the Diploma of Digital Business Leadership from the Academy of the same name – ADBL. Unsurprisingly, it’s a digitally delivered course, where leaders learn from leaders – across all sectors.

I’ve learnt that digital organisations and leaders think and act differently. That means all of us…

The latest module of the course asks us to create our own blog – a new experience for me, but something that has been on the to do list for some time.

So, out of the comfort zone, I’ve done it!

I’ll be sharing my thoughts and feelings here as I complete the rest of the course.