After the Stimulus, Now What – Sound Marketing Maybe?

Last Monday I participated in a Broadband Breakfast panel in DC that examined the effectiveness and shortcomings of the broadband stimulus program. It was a pretty good session since there was one person representing a winning project team and one whose team did not come away with an award. Charles Benton, head of the Benton Foundation, and I represented the thought leader crowd.

We each evaluated the program, which yielded a couple of B’s, a couple of A’s and a C. I gave a high grade for intent and good execution considering the near-impossible task NTIA and RUS faced, but C+ for uncertain results in the communities since I’m not sure how many of these awards are going to pan out.

In further Q & A, there were feelings expressed by most of us that the crop of awardees could produce a mixed bag of wins and losses. However, we all offered advice on what communities everywhere can do to move broadband forward, whether or not they won stimulus money or submitted to outlandish craziness in order to snag Google gigabit gold. You can watch the event here. It’s well worth the time.

One crucial “where do we go next?” answer is marketing. Everyone who’s involved in broadband needs to come to grips with this realty – if you can’t mount an aggressive, creative marketing campaign with a strong PR component, you’re hosed.

I spoke with Lori, one of my fellow panelists yesterday, and she had just gotten off the phone with a constituent who assumed the network awarded in Maryland was a fiber-to-the-home project when in fact it is middle mile. Little misunderstandings such as these leads to plenty of heartburn when multiplied across tens of thousands of citizens. Marketing is what enables a broadband project team to set and manage expectations, while creating the type of awareness that drives enough customers through the door to collectively sustain the network financially.

My next two weeks are devoted to the subject of marketing as I address two major conference audiences. In Monday’s kickoff of Broadband Expo (11/1) in Dallas, I lay out the marketing picture for broadband teams. Regardless of how your network is financed, there are some guiding principles of tech marketing that you ignore at your peril. Furthermore, it’s never too early to start marketing. From the first stakeholder gathering or town hall meeting, you’re building consensus and increasing awareness.

The following Monday (11/8) I’ll be in D.C. at the MBC Broadband Network Strategy Day. This is a great opportunity to get broadband deployment survival training for those of you who won stimulus grants. Experts in regulatory and compliance issues, contracts and finances, broadband applications and myself preaching the gospel according to marketing will be on hand. For may part, I’m addressing those marketing issues you don’t hear much about:

  • You can’t have good marketing without a vision
  • Broadband marketing starts long before the network is built
  • Doing effective needs assessment is how you gauge potential market share
  • You woo the media early and often
  • Word of mouth and community pride gives you a competitive edge

If you can, attend one of these events (I don’t know if anyone will be tweeting from them). There’s much work to do before you can kick back and call community broadband a success.

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