These three sentences may indicate that your organization is having a hard time coming to grips with 21st century realities.
I specialize in market trends affecting the cultural, visitor-serving sector. The topics that I write about range from admission pricing to onsite experiences to fundraising. That said, I am most frequently asked about millennials (that huge generation symbolically forcing sector evolution) and marketing (the department that is seemingly most affected by this evolution). Interestingly, it often seems like the entire concept of sector evolution is inappropriately isolated as relating mostly to matters of millennials and marketing.
First, millennial changes are increasingly market changes. For instance, millennials may be the most connected of the generations, but all high-propensity visitors to cultural organizations are super-connected to the web, and all generations are increasingly social conscious consumers. I often wonder if we put “millennial talk” in a corner because it feels safer to place necessary change into a subset category than to call “millennial talk” what it actually is: Discussion about our urgent need to become more business-savvy, social-good serving, relevant, and agile right now. “Millennial talk” may be our way of diminishing urgency and compartmentalizing necessary changes regarding external audiences and supporters.
Second, what we think are primarily changes in how the marketing department operates may actually be hints for changes that need to infiltrate our organizations on the whole. Similarly, “marketing talk” may be our way of diminishing urgency and compartmentalizing necessary changes regarding broader internal strategies and operations. It is astounding how much “marketing talk” these days has less to do with marketing, and more to do with shifting cultures, embracing changes, and developing a deeper need to understand and respond to our constituencies.
Here are three, common phrases that I often hear said to leaders of marketing departments by other executives that may be indicative of a misunderstanding of the changed environment in which visitor-serving organizations operate:
1) “Here is what you need to market”
This is the biggest change and the best place to start. In today’s world, marketing is primarily a strategic department – not primarily a service department. Folks within institutions may be used to thinking of this department as the one that simply goes forth and communicates messages to the public. This is no longer true – if it ever was in the first place. The most successful organizations with whom IMPACTS works (particularly in terms of financial solvency) involve the marketing department in top-down strategic decision-making rather than the tail-end of the program or product development process.
The marketing department manages your relationship with your audiences, not the volume of your one-way communications. Because the marketing department spends a good amount of time listening to audiences, it also tends to be more attune to audience wants and needs than less outwardly engaged departments. Initiatives have a much greater chance of success if marketing is involved in their development rather than briefed after their finality. Unfortunately, many organizations are still accustomed to thinking of marketing solely as a service department…and they risk doing so at their own slow descent into lessened relevance.
2) “Increase our Yelp and Tripadvisor ratings”
Alrighty folks. Yes, peer review sites live in the online world and it makes sense that the “task” of increasing ratings on these social websites may fall to the marketing department. Indeed, your organization should sometimes respond to both negative and positive reviews on these sites! But peer review sites rate your organization’s onsite experience (and combined brand perception, mission execution, programs, initiatives, and the like) – not how well your organization “manages” TripAdvisor.
There’s no amount of typing “Thank you for your review, Jessica. We’re sorry to hear that our admission staff was rude to you…” on a computer keyboard that actually makes the onsite admission staff less rude to visitors. Peer review sites generally shine a light on OPERATIONAL issues and those run much deeper than the marketing department. The problem isn’t that you haven’t written a sufficient number of “We’re sorry to hear about your experience” comments – it’s that people may be having a less-than-awesome experience in the first place. The best way to increase ratings on peer review sites is to collectively perform better at our jobs as an entire organization. (And, even then, you are still bound to get a few strange reviews.)
Folks say things like, “Raise our TripAdvisor ratings” to marketing departments when they think that social media is about technology and web platforms, and they forget that it is actually about the experiences of living, breathing, visiting human beings. Like much online feedback in our world today, it may take place on a social media channel, but the messages are important and they are usually messages for the organization at-large and not simply the marketing department. Would feedback about programs and experiences given onsite be directed solely toward the marketing department? No. (Unless the complaint was truly a branding or marketing issue.) So why do we think that feedback that comes from social can be “fixed” solely through responses on social media?
If you want people to report that they are having better experiences, then listen to their feedback and start creating better experiences! Here’s a much better way to increase visitor satisfaction than getting frustrated with the marketing department.
3) “Why isn’t social media fixing this problem?”
We’ve all heard it, haven’t we? And yet it still happens in the most important of conversations. It might be said during a conversation with staff, executive leaders, or even among board members. An organization will finally be in the midst of having a serious, “We need to get real about fundraising and look at our strategies” talk and someone (usually someone high up on the ladder and who is generally unfamiliar with social media…which is a problem in and of itself) will totally pull this move in real life and say, “Why isn’t social media fixing this problem for us?”
This is usually code for, “I would like to blame my lack of time strategically thinking about this huge issue until this very moment on something that I totally don’t understand and yet fiercely believe should have magical powers that shall overcome my own inability to handle this topic.”
Social media is absolutely critical for organizations in terms of building an organization’s reputation – which meaningfully contributes to attendance and support. The problem here’s isn’t about using social media for fundraising purposes (or anything else – smart social media can help an organization do great things), but that social media is often used as a scapegoat for thinking critically about more integrated strategies. This sentence can be used to avoid ‘fessing up that board contributions need to increase, that staff need to take a time out and rethink their overall strategy, or that departments need to stop “not my job-ing” connective communications.
It’s like needing to build a house and saying, “Why isn’t the hammer fixing everything for us?!” Perhaps it’s because the hammer is a tool, not a strategy. You can use social media to help your organization do a whole host of things, but only if you have the blueprint for the role it should play. Also, building a house usually requires more than a hammer. You might need a wrench and a screwdriver, too. Like all other tools, social media can stand on its own for specific tasks. If you’re talking big things, though, it’s best to put on your thinking cap and create an integrated game plan and decide the size of the role that you need social media to play and what can realistically be achieved.
A lot of big changes are taking place in the world today – and, for better or worse, much of that change management is being tasked to marketing departments. Visitor-serving organizations tend to have hierarchical structures that lend themselves more easily to “tacking on” responsibilities to single departments than integrating deeper cultural changes throughout organizations. Perhaps by holding onto these old ways of doing things, we’re letting the tail wag the dog.
Sometimes, when organizations think they are talking about marketing, they are actually talking about sector evolution that needs to be fully embraced throughout the organization. This may mean that our organizational structures will need to evolve to lend themselves more easily to the real-time, dynamic world in which we now live. Our hierarchical houses are not performing very well anymore, and we don’t always get to decide how we live in this world. Our ability or inability to meet market needs will decide for us, so perhaps it’s best that we pick up our tools and get to work building structures that work better for the 21st century.