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. We’ll see 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?
School’s out for the summer, but it’s not always a happy time for kids. For students participating in the federal free and reduced lunch program, summer time can mean going hungry. Many schools continue to offer subsidies meals during the summer, but not all students can trek to school during the summer when buses are no longer running.
Infrastructure in the United States is in disrepair. In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers graded the country’s infrastructure as D+ and estimated $3.6 trillion needed to be invested by 2020. How can a marketing mindset help governments address this problem? Better designfor infrastructure is one possibility.