As an active activist, I’ve seen this countless times: An effort is being made to bring more people in to the fold. So there is a meeting of some kind and there are new people there. All great so far. Then, one of the new people confesses that they are a “marketing” person, which usually means they have a minor or major in some related area, and work for a big corporation in the marketing department. This is taken by almost everyone else in the group as a signal that this new person is now in charge of the group’s “marketing” by which everyone really means “messaging.” Since some of the most important things a volunteer issue or political activist group can do are a form of messaging (protests, letter writing, speaking to electeds, etc.), this new person, that no one knows, is now in charge of everything. In 98 out of 100 cases this person, who probably understands what just happened better than most of the other folks at the meeting, is never seen again.
One fallacy that this parable exposes is the equivalence between marketing and messaging that many people incorrectly assume. Both do start with the letter “M,” to be sure. And there are certainly overlaps in methodology. But the objectives are very different.
Typically, in activism, messaging has one of two flavors. 1) To convince people to believe something they currently don’t believe. Sometimes this means changing people’s minds, other times it means brining people into a way of thinking in an area where they don’t currently have an opinion. This is very difficult and usually unsuccessful on a person-by-person basis. A blindingly successful activist messaging campaign run over a few months changes a couple-few percent of people’s likely behavior (as in voting for a particular candidate or preferring a specific policy). 2) To get those already in your camp to take some action, like a GOTV (get out the vote) campaign, or a petition drive.*
Marketing has a very different goal. Most marketing can assume the target audience is already leaning towards a decision, perhaps to buy a particular product. Marketing is there to get the person to pick your iteration of the project, as opposed to some other company’s version. Maybe the plethora of car ads helps make more members of the general population want to own a car, but the marketing department at Ford Automotive is mainly trying to get the prospective car buyer to pick an F-100 over a Chevy truck.
If marketing methodology were applied to many messaging needs, it might be like trying to get someone who is about to buy an apple to go to the other side of the grocery store, and instead of buying an apple, pick up some milk. Or, instead of buying the amazing, giant, wonderfully colored, flawless Crispois Wunder-Apple just invented at the University of Podunk and that everybody is eating these days, picking up a bag of locally grown, small, less interesting apples because it is better for the planet.
In other words, marketing is usually getting someone who already wants to do a thing to actually do the thing they want to do, with you instead of with some other company. Messaging in the activist community is often getting someone to act either contrary to, or simply not in accord with, their pre-existing prurient tendency.
Internally, methodologically, marketing and messaging share a lot of research, process, etc. But so do civil engineering and mechanical engineering. But you wouldn’t hire a traffic engineer who would be great at configuring a busy intersection, to design a new helicopter. Just as importantly, that engineer would not want that job. This is why the new volunteer who confesses to be in marketing excuses themselves to go to the bathroom and is never seen again…
- I’m assuming your petition is a legal or procedural step towards some goal, and not just some useless on-line petition somebody made up.