Critics of government spending claim that building quality infrastructurefor the social good is not affordable. Focus on utility and low cost, they say. No need for grand stone building with imposing facades. Their concerns touch on two core marketing topics, designand pricing.
As U.S. cities grow more gridlocked and Millennials adopt mobility services like Uber out of desperation, transit becomes a crucial social good. Without the ability to easily move people and goods, cities become paralyzed. We need a way of designing better transportation systems.
In their recent report card, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave US infrastructure a grade of D+. ASCE also said bad infrastructure costs U.S. households $9 per day in higher prices, poor service, repairs, and wasted time. For just $3 per day, they say we could fix the problem. Those numbers sound small, but they add up. Multiple that household-per-day number by 125 million households and 365 days a year, and you get an annual infrastructure bill of $137 billion. Paying for infrastructure is a big decision. How to pay for things is a marketing decision regarding pricing. What are the options?
The terms we use matter when designing and promoting public and social goods. I don’t like the term “subsidy” when applied to government programs. It lacks the related themes and ideas that I think we want associated with public spending. The term has also taken on negative connotations that further hinder strengthening our communities through the marketing of social goods. I prefer to think about government investments.
I’ll illustrate my point with a personal story from my early career at Microsoft.
Sidewalks are infrastructure and infrastructure is a reflection of our social nature. Sidewalks are, or can be, important public spaces. They might, or could, be the public space with which we’re most familiar. Sidewalks build community and promote the healthy lifestyle and walkable neighborhoods that many people say they want.
Consider what happens on sidewalks: chalk drawings, tricycle rides, dog walks, hopscotch, jump rope, lemonade stands, neighborhood conversations, holding hands.
This blog needs a definition of “social goods.” That’s a bit difficult, though. Even economists don’t have a clear and agreed-upon definition. So by way of definition, let’s discuss the characteristics and problems of social goods, and how those characteristics pose problems for traditional marketing activities such as design, distribution, pricing and promotion.
Honolulu will convert retired city busesinto facilities for homeless people. Some will be made into hostel-like sleep quarters, some into shower and bathroom facilities, and some into recreation areas. Hey, doesn’t everyone want a living room?