The benefits of understanding “the market” extend far beyond the marketing department.
Last week I wrote an article about how engaging millennials within cultural organizations increasingly means engaging audiences of all generations. I wrote, “Millennial talk is everybody talk.”
This week, I’d like to propose a similar mental shift to unravel some common confusions that may also be holding organizations back:
Market talk is every department talk.
When organizations seek information about the behaviors and preferences of the market (by way of audience research or market research), they are uncovering realities that can beneficially impact all departments.
Too often in my work with cultural organizations (e.g. museums, performing arts entities, zoos, and aquariums), I observe the misconception that gathering, internally communicating, and implementing any actionable intelligence about visitor behaviors and preferences starts with the marketing department. Or, worse yet – that it’s the sole responsibility of the marketing department!
A related misconception: That the department that collects any data will magically reveal only opportunities and urgent action items related to the data-collecting department. (“The education department uncovers information that aids the education department!”)
As if respondents have in-depth, insider knowledge of the specific department collecting information…
It doesn’t help that the word “market” is in the word “marketing.” Certainly, the marketing department benefits by knowing about potential visitors, members, and donors… and marketing departments have terrific access to audience insights by the very nature of their position. But it’s generally not helpful for professionals outside of the marketing department to allow their eyes to glaze over and think, “That’s not my job” when talk about “the market” arises.
Becoming a data-informed cultural organization demands having all hands on deck.
1) Being an “outside-in” organization involves everyone in an organization
In my work with IMPACTS and in monitoring the public perceptions of 224 visitor-serving organizations, it has become clear that organizations that take an “outside-in” approach to strategic decision-making generally outperform those still taking “inside-out” approaches.
In other words, it pays to pay attention to the market and listen to its expectations, perspectives, and behaviors and let that inform an organization’s strategies (“outside-in”). Traditionally, visitor-serving organizations may be more used to the opposite strategy of essentially bestowing upon themselves the responsibility of determining for their audiences what these audiences should care about (“inside-out”). Remember: Your organization may declare importance, but the market determines relevance.
This kind of approach doesn’t only mean “using the right marketing channels to reach potential visitors.” It’s much deeper. It’s more strategic. It is a way of thinking that influences all departments because, after all, cultural organizations are about educating and inspiring people.
2) Understanding audiences positively impacts all departments
Need examples? I have many and you can poke around this website to find those that best suit your organization or department’s goals and objectives. Here are a few in the form of Know Your Own Bone Fast Fact Videos.
Grab a cup of tea and settle in for a little video tour of departments impacted by the behaviors and perceptions of the market…that are not the marketing department.
A) Onsite experience
Data suggest that understanding the thoughts, behaviors, and preferences of visitors impacts nearly aspect of the onsite experience. It helps us understand the relationship between education and entertainment, how to leverage education value to drive visitation, how onsite social media use impacts visitor satisfaction, and the worst thing about the onsite experience for both exhibit and performance-based organizations.
My favorite of the data uncovered by IMPACTS is the impact of personal facilitated experiences (PFEs) on visitor satisfaction. A personal facilitated experience is a one-to-one or one-to-few interaction between a representative of the organization and an individual, couple, or small group. The benefits of deploying PFEs are huge, and though the findings come from market research, the implications of this information stands to favorably impact other departments.
The realities of fundraising today are so closely tied to marketing that it’s a surprise to me that the two departments are so conceptually divided within some organizations.
Consider this: The top three reasons why annual donors stop giving are communications issues. The top reason is that the donor was not thanked for their gift, followed by not being asked to donate again, and a lack of communication about the gift and the organization’s impact. Yikes!
In a way, this information is about marketing…but it’s arguably more important for the development department to consider (if categorizing its relative departmental importance is even necessary in the first place).
Market research allowed IMPACTS to uncover what millennials want from memberships to cultural organizations. From there, we dug deeper and found that mission-based members are more valuable than transaction-based members. This information is a game-changer. (Or, rather, a potential program changer!)
Because the ongoing communication of events, happenings, benefits, and organization impact are considered so important for member acquisition and retention, it makes sense that some information about communicating with these audiences may come in through marketing departments. Taking this information into account can help membership departments make sure that they are not inadvertently annoying their most valuable members.
D) Access and reaching new audiences
Oh boy, can market research make a big impact in this area! It helps us uncover frameworks for reaching new audiences, the efficacy of programs for engaging income-qualified audiences, and just how much admission cost influences visitation. (Hint: It’s not as much as one might think).
It’s easy to think of attracting new audiences as a “marketing problem,” but it’s an every-department problem. People who profile as historic visitors to cultural organizations are leaving the US market faster than they are being replaced – a phenomenon called the negative substitution of the historic visitor.
Not only that, emerging audiences do not always feel welcome at museums, performing arts organizations, and other cultural organizations.
Market research can hit on many aspects of this challenge, and shine a light on important things for all departments to consider – such as how to be worthy of a visit for those who report interest in our organizations, but haven’t actually attended.
3) Organizations miss opportunities when they consider discussion about the market to be owned by the marketing department
To think that understanding “the market” is a marketing department task may miss opportunities for an organization to maximize its potential. Simply put, this type of thinking may draw organizational lines that impede progress.
Loic Tallon, the Chief Digital Officer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, authored an article last week that considers how organizations “do” digital engagement. He wrote, “The end goal is not to have a digital department, but for an institution to use digital effectively to achieve its mission.” The article is a good one, and it raised a distantly-related question to me: If we replace the word “digital” with any important market trend that may reside within any department, doesn’t the argument still stand?
Marketing success depends on knowing an organization’s market – but so does the success of many other departments and the institution on the whole.
Becoming a data-informed cultural organization seems to be a goal on the minds of many cultural leaders. Like other trends that impact an organization’s solvency – such as transparency, personalization, integrity, and social mission execution, to name a few – integrating audience and market research may work best when all departments and staff members work together.
Today, there is arguably no reason to say, “Knowing the market is not my job.” More than ever before, it’s the job of nearly all cultural professionals.