Tag Archives: Cooperative Extension

Marketing Critical to Extension’s Future in the Digital Age, Says Marketing Director

Emery Tschetter

Emery Tschetter, who heads Alabama Extension’s Marketing and Communications effort, says effective marketing will be a critical ingredient of success in the digital age.

Emery Tschetter is one of a growing number of Cooperative Extension administrators who not only perceive the digital revolution taking place around us but also how it will transform Extension work.

Tschetter, who leads the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Communication and Marketing effort, not only acknowledges this challenge but also stresses that it could be the most daunting one Extension has faced in its 100-year history.

And, yes, he is the first to concede that it’s a thoroughgoing revolution that will affect Extension educators and professionals at all levels.

He’s especially struck by how quickly this revolution is unfolding among younger generations, having observed his own teenage daughter, who exhibits a level of digital literacy that eludes many older people.

“It’s so pervasive, and if we don’t come to terms with it, if we ignore it, we’ll no longer remain relevant,” says Tschetter, whose manner is as direct and straightforward as the prairies of South Dakota, where he grew up.

New Technologies No Panacea

But he’s not one of those change advocates who points to a comprehensive list of new technologies as the solution.

Tschetter, who initially cut his professional teeth as a broadcasting professional with South Dakota State University Extension, is old enough remember how the initial enthusiasm for Betamax videotape eventually soured — one reason why he’s unwilling to hitch Extension’s fortune to any emerging technology, no matter how promising.

Coming to terms with these new digital demands will not involve embracing a clutch of emerging new technologies.  No, as Tschetter sees it, the solution lies in cultivating a new understanding of an old practice — marketing, something that only a few decades ago distinguished Cooperative Extension as the gold standard of educational outreach.

A New Approach to Marketing

It’s about a acquiring a new approach to marketing, one that should start with a thoroughgoing and effective analysis not only of who is served by Extension products but also how they expect to be served.

As Tschetter likes to say, “Going digital has to be a process grounded in data.”

“Good data drives good analytics.  We’ve got to understand our users in the same way companies like Apple strive to do — for instance, to understand how long people stay on our pages and which products they find most useful and enduring — and we’ve got to learn how to use that data to make adjustments along the way.”

Tschetter is an optimist.  He is confident Extension will rise to this challenge, though he acknowledges that it will present Extension professionals with some acute challenges along the way.

“We’ve done some aspects of marketing exceptionally well in the past,” he observes.  At one time, we cornered the quality end of the market and we told our story extremely well.”

Conceiving and Designing within a Crowded Marketplace

But all of this has gotten harder within the last few decades, partly because Extension is having to conceive and design products within an increasingly crowded marketplace. Everyone is dealing with products that must be distinguished from many others — all the more reason why effective market analysis will be a paramount concern for Extension in the future, Tschetter stresses.

“We find it difficult to talk about competition, but the truth is, we’ve competed with other players from the very beginning.”

In spite of all these challenges, Extension still has several critical factors working decidedly in its favor, Tschetter says.

One of them is the close collaboration of its specialists and its grassroots educators — one of Extension’s greatest assets and one that Tschetter perceives will acquire even greater significance in the future.

Ignoring Reality at Our Peril

Despite these advantages, he says Extension professionals ignore the realities of the 21st century at their own peril: Products must be sold within an unusually dense landscape, and only those carefully conceived and developed based on an effective data collection and marketing strategy will succeed.

“We got to borrow a page from Hollywood, which has a history as almost as old as Cooperative Extension,” Tschetter says. “We’ve not only got to make good things, but we’ve got to keep making them.”

“And we’ve got to design and develop the products that people expect.”

A 12-Point Recovery Plan for Extension?

Internet Map

A map illustrating the dense network connections of the Internet.

I’m an unrepentant movie buff.  I can’t get enough of old movies, virtually all types of movies, and I catch myself every day mentally replaying scenes from some of my favorite flicks, much as one would an endearing old tune.

One film that will remain deeply etched in my mind is “I’ll Cry Tomorrow,” starring Susan Hayward, an exceptionally well-acted biopic about the late singer/entertainer Lillian Roth.

Through a series of unusual misfortunes, beginning with a psychologically domineering and manipulative stage mother, Roth developed a debilitating alcohol addiction.  The movie depicts the horrific downward spiral that followed until Roth finally summoned the courage to follow AA’s 12-Point Recovery Program.

Oddly, that movie popped into my mind in the course of reflecting on Cathann Kress’s very considerate and thoughtful reply to a piece I posted last month titled “The Coming Extension Extinction,” which has ignited some impassioned discussion within Cooperative Extension ranks in the weeks since it was posted.

Dr. Kress’s response eloquently expressed a theme reflected in many of the other critiques I’ve received within the last few weeks.  She contends that the digital imperative does not present Extension with any sort of existential crisis.  We can have our cake and eat it too.  We can still do what we’ve always done so well — reach people with meetings and workshops, even as we gear up to address the digital challenges.

Addictive Extension Behavior?

With all due respect to Dr. Kress’s thoughtful comments, that’s the part that not only worries me but also reminds me of Lillian Roth’s perennial struggle with addiction.

In some respects, our fixation on traditional delivery methods resembles a self-destructive addiction. My fear is that this pattern of thinking amounts to a kind of psychological entrapment. It presents too many of us with the excuse to stick with business as usual — in many cases, to lapse into what my father often described as “Let George do it-style” thinking.

“I’m already past the midpoint my Extension career,” says the typical forty-something Extension professional.  “I’ve built a strong program reaching my people through workshops and field days. Let the younger agents worry about all this digital stuff.”

And considering that the median age of Extension professionals is likely well past 40, this kind of entrenched mindset will exert even more corrosive effects in the future.

Extension Needs a 12-Point Recovery Program

This brings me back to AA and the Twelve-Point Recovery Program.  In a real sense, Extension needs to flesh out a series of systematic steps toward recovery — some strategy to break us of this ironclad commitment to older delivery methods.  And along with this, we need to conceive ways to reach the growing numbers of younger clients for whom face-to-face encounters are not considered as convenient or as valuable as virtual interactions.

And allow me to raise once again the added challenge of generative capacity. The massive sharing and social collaboration made possible by networking enables information to be generated at vastly accelerated volumes.

The Golden Rule of Success

That is why success in the 21st century is succinctly expressed in this corruption of the Golden Rule: He who builds the most adaptive, fluid and generative networks rules.  Success in the digital era is all about who builds the most fluid and adaptive digital networks, the most highly reciprocal and generative networks — networks that are responsive to the needs of contemporary learners, especially younger ones.

We can’t secure this kind of generative capacity through old delivery methods.  Why? Because they are not generative enough — they no longer generate adequate volumes of information. To put it another way, the networks constructed via these older delivery methods simply aren’t scalable for growing numbers of people, especially younger people.

Yes, as I’ve said before, there is a place for traditional one-to-one delivery methods.  Even younger people occasionally want to enhance their virtual interactions with one-to-one engagement.

But make no mistake, the future is digital.

The future belongs to those who not only appreciate the awesome power of generative capacity but who actively harness it.  The future belongs only to those who build highly fluid, highly generative, digital networks.

‘Nuff said.

Have a nice day.