Organizations tend to approach trends in one of two ways – but only one makes for greater odds of long-term success.
Many organizations are doing their best to create new programs for emerging audiences. But, while many try, some organizations just do a better job attracting and retaining new audiences than others. So, what gives? The key may be in in how organizations update their strategies.
When it comes to adapting to trends and organizational evolution, most entities fall into one of two camps. This week’s Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video takes a look at these two strategy approaches. While organizations need to both “add on” programs and also integrate cultural changes, the organizations that prioritize and do one of these first seem to have the greatest opportunities for success, in my experience and those of my colleagues at IMPACTS.
Generally, organizations tend to adapt to market changes in one of two ways: They “add on” to incorporate changes, or they “integrate” them. Let’s take a look at each approach with the context of the need for organizations to better engage millennials, for instance. (Oof! Millennials! I picked an example that you’re probably sick of talking about – but it’s precisely for that reason that it is a great example for underscoring the differences between “add on” and “integrate” strategy approaches. Moreover – and just to be a broken record while I have your attention – lack of millennial engagement is a huge problem for the visitor-serving industry.)
Identifying trends is critical for organizations. Trends are not fads. Here’s an overview of the important differences between fads and trends. Trends are data-backed behaviors that “solve a problem” or make life easier for the market – and trends grow stronger over time. In order for organizations to become sustainable in the long-term, it’s critical that they adapt to trends. Web-based engagement, evidence-based medicine, and the use of mobile devices are examples of trends. In order to reach millennials, an organization must be aware of trends in the market and the need to evolve.
Which type of strategy approach does your organization take?
STRATEGY APPROACH 1:
The Add-On Organization
An “add on” organization jumps in and adds on to current operations with things that they think might be on-trend (or, in our example, that might engage millennials). This type of organization may develop an evening program that allows for cocktails after-hours. They might increase investments in spiffy online engagement tactics, build mobile applications, and hire more social media community managers as an add on to the marketing department. From a content perspective, they might make a reference to trigger 90s nostalgia, or put up signs to use a hashtag on Instagram. In the right circumstances, each of these can be a smart idea!
An “add on” organization can often move more swiftly than an “integrate” organization (We will dive into “integrate” organizations more in a moment). After all, this type of organization is not necessarily embracing a cultural shift to reach this audience. These organizations are taking swift inventory, seeing where they can get funding, and creating one-off programs and positions to fill the trend-based need. Because “add on” organizations add on programs, positions, and tactics without generally considering the whole of the organization (after all, we need to reach millennials and we need to do it now), there isn’t often much strategic contemplation that goes into these programs beyond the department deploying the program or hiring the position. Unfortunately, these “add ons” are at particular risk of being the result of Case Study Envy. The success of add on programs is hard to realistically assess, as these types of programs seem to have the highest likelihood of being the visitor-serving industry’s fools gold.
All types of organizations can fall in the “add on” category! Generally, “add on” organizations tend to be those that have larger endowments and more government funding within the world of visitor-serving organizations, such as art museums (which have both the largest endowments and the greatest government support among cultural organization types). While there’s certainly an incentive to “get it right” with programs, mistakes and bad investments resulting from one-off programs or add on initiatives aren’t as immediately felt within the organization as in, say, an aquarium – a type of organization that is generally more reliant on the market for success. (That said, certainly not all art museums are “add on” organizations! This is an industry average example.)
STRATEGY APPROACH 2:
The Integrate Organization
An “integrate” organization, on the other hand, does not necessarily add – they edit first. To reach millennials, an “integrate” organization might look at its content according to trends and make transparency, personalization, and connectivity embedded cornerstones within the organization. This is the type of organization that looks at trends and realizes that “millennial talk” is code for “the way the entire market is increasingly moving and thinking” talk. An “integrate” organization thinks in terms of overall strategy and organizational culture first – and tactics and one-off programs second.
This type of organization might “edit” by taking a deeper look at engagement and maybe moving some social media experts to development instead of marketing. These are the types of organizations that have audience engagement-dedicated leaders that may have a connection to the marketing department, but they know that they must exist outside of departmental silos in order to be effective.
Integrate organizations often appear slower moving than “add on” organizations from the outside. After all, an “integrate” organization may still be getting its programming ducks in a row while an “add on” organization is hosting a themed cocktail event for young professionals wherein it is proud to be launching its newest mobile application. Movement matters – and that often takes a bit longer for “integrate” organizations.
Which approach tends to yield greater long-term success?
At IMPACTS, we have the opportunity to work with a broad range of cultural organizations – and we have noticed the difference in these approaches. We have had enough of both types of clients to know which approach sticks. (Also, a glimpse at the 990s of specific organizations or even loosely following museum and cultural organization-related news regarding those organizations falling on hard times can serve as a spoiler.)
Both the “add on” and the “integrate” strategies can work for reaching new audiences and organizations generally need to do both, but the organizations that integrate first have the greatest opportunities for long-term success. Simply, if organizations do not integrate changes into their culture, then they may face difficulties effectively adding on because there is no foundation for these changes. When the mobile application is out of style and the cocktail event is over, there is no “so what?” for engagement because long-term strategies and cultural shifts have not yet caught up for the organization on the whole. (Here’s an example: Many organizations have cocktail events to get millennials in the door, but few have created the types of membership programs that millennials actually want, so this demographic comes in the door, but may not have a desired next level of engagement available to them.) Organizations are not likely to one-off program themselves to success. It is not a sustainable strategy – it is an onslaught of disjointed, “sounds like a good idea in this silo” tactics.
This is not to say that targeted programs aren’t critical and strategic – they can be, for sure! In fact, they are necessary for cultivating new audiences and increasing engagement! The key is to thoughtfully integrate, and then add on as appropriate.
If you suspect that you are an “add on” organization and you are wondering how to more strategically incorporate change, read this post on a simple framework for cultivating new audiences. Organizations benefit by integrating changing values into their operations and then adding on initiatives and programs that have more sticking power. For an organization to ultimately succeed long-term, there must be a strategic foundation upon which they build their programs.