These three marketing realities for cultural organizations may be the most urgent, and also the most overlooked.
This one’s got a Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video, folks! If you’d like to share this message with a team (or you would rather watch a little video than dive into written content), check out the video below or head over to my YouTube channel and dive in.
These are three urgent marketing realities for cultural organizations that, while they aren’t actually new at all, seem to surprise executives when we at IMPACTS underscore them as contributors to diminishing audiences. All three of these realities may be whack-you-in-the-face obvious when you stop to think about them, but many organization leaders seem not to think about them. And it makes sense. Organizations may turn a blind eye to these three realities because they are inconvenient and they are kind of annoying. That is, they involve evolving the way that leaders and executives think about marketing and communications. Perhaps that is a reason why however obvious these realities may be, I find myself repeating them many times over. Here’s the video:
There is another reason why they may be repeatedly overlooked: Mastering these realities requires skillsets that heretofore havent been prioritized by many organizations. We’re used to traditional communication channels and how to think about communications - and the leaders of cultural institutions have been doing communications for years! The thing is, this digital engagement thing keeps us on our toes. It’s why today’s cultural executives need to be more like conductors, and less like the first chairs of instruments. There’s a lot going on! Personalization, transparency, social connectivity, real-time communications, and brand integrity matter more in our digital world then they ever have before, and, thus, we need to change up our more traditional ways of thinking.
Connectivity is king and, within the more financially successful organizations with which IMPACTS works, communications departments function more like strategic partners than bottom-of-the-chain service departments. Misunderstanding the evolving role that marketing and communications play in driving visitation and engagement in our connected world is the reason why some people still say these three stupid things to the marketing department.
I could write a hefty, data-based essay explaining why every person who works for a cultural organization should be showering friendly frontline staff and thoughtful social media community managers with flowers, cupcakes, and (consent OK-ed) big hugs. Data reveal time and time again that staff who engage directly with constituents are our champions of shared experiences. They make-or-break both our offsite reputation and our onsite satisfaction. Marketing and communications are increasingly important in our connected world. And, as Uncle Ben from Spiderman has taught us all, With great power comes great responsibility.
While these items may “live in” the marketing or communications departments, the culture required to adapt to these changes may require a culture shift within some entities. It’s the responsibility of the entire organization to create a culture that more than acknowledges these three realities. We’ve got to keep up. We’ve got this!
1) Meet audiences where they are
Data suggest that communication channels that talk WITH audiences (such social media and the web) are considered more go-to sources of information than channels that talk AT audiences (such television, radio, or direct mail). If we want to engage folks, we need to be masters at reaching them where they are now…not where they were last year. We don’t get to decide where to speak with audiences to be most effective – they do. If we ignore their preference, we won’t be heard.
This is obvious. But even though it’s obvious, old habits die hard. For decades, things that were not digital were what worked – because digital simply did not exist in the way that it does now. And it is not likely to exist in the next decade in the way it exists today. Things are fast-moving. It’s important to keep tabs on not only where audiences are spending their time, but also what they expect and want to receive in terms of messaging for each communication channel – digital or otherwise. Here is data on the power of specific social media channels right now.
One of the reasons why digital engagement (and social media, in particular) is so important for cultural organizations is because these channels facilitate word of mouth endorsement. What other people say about you and the sharing of their own experiences is 12.85 times more important in driving your reputation than things that you pay to say about yourself.
2) Target the people and not the place
It is time to pause and consider that we can identify and target individuals now more intelligently, efficiently, and cost-effectively than ever before. As such, we similarly need to evolve how we think about targeting.
Think about it: The ads and endorsements that we see every time we turn on our phones or computers are tailored for us based on various technologies’ algorithmic secret sauces. We live in a world that is increasingly personalized, and personalization is fast becoming the expectation of our audiences. As such, its generally a better idea to leverage technologies that serve your content to targeted individuals with specific indicators of interest in your organizations, then it is to advertise more broadly on a place such as a single website. The name of the game nowadays is to target digital audiences across the entirety of the Web - not engaging only those who happen to visit the one website where you purchased advertising.
Putting a banner ad on a local newspapers website may have been considered targeting in the past, but it isn’t anymore. The world has gotten smarter about targeting and personalizing messages to effectively reach audiences. It is time for cultural organizations to make sure that they are smart about it, too.
3) Adequate marketing investments matter
”But we got a great deal on the banner ad on the local newspapers website!” Awesome. Getting a deal on a possible misuse of funds is strangely a thing that too many nonprofit organizations brag about regularly. A deal simply isn’t a sufficient motivator for a suboptimal ad spend - or any marketing effort – that isn’t strategically determined to be the best for the organization. The problem here is the chronic nonprofit misunderstanding that an organization can save its way to prosperity. That is not a thing. It costs money to make money.
Instead of following market realities, some organizations still invest last year’s budget and add five percent. Some simply reinvest last year’s budget. Unfortunately, that’s not how audience acquisition investments work. Budgets need to be contemplative of the true costs of new technologies and evolving marketing best practices.
Not sure how much to invest or which channels to invest in? IMPACTS uncovered a data-informed equation for determining optimal audience acquisition investments. Remember that it is not only about spending the proper amount and budget allocation to each channel – it’s also about spending those funds thoughtfully and strategically. Knowing appropriate spending lets you know the size of the frame. To be successful, your organization still needs to paint the picture.
Do these three marketing realities sound obvious to you? Excellent! It’s probably because these new realities are simply 2.0 versions of tried-and-true ways to think about marketing: Target the right people, in the right place, with the right amount of investment. It’s not rocket science. But we do need to remember that these things change. It is not a fancy-sounding, simplified, marketing best-practice that you can frame and put on your wall and always understand exactly what it means. We need to be constantly asking ourselves:
- Are we doing the best thing to target the right people?
- Are we targeting people where they actually are and not simply where would be most convenient for us?
- Are we investing the amount that we need in order to succeed in today’s environment?
Sometimes, it’s a matter of asking the right questions and not just the questions that are convenient. And, yeah, that can be annoying - because folks working within cultural organizations are already working hard with limited budgets to educate and inspire people. It is a labor of love that you are doing out there, reader! But I’m going to bring this one back to Spiderman again because, indeed, we have a great responsibility.