If your organization still treats the marketing team as a “service” department instead of a critical, strategic resource, then it’s time to catch up.
Audiences now expect organizations to operate from the outside-in (the market determines the relevance of your organization), and no longer from the inside-out (internal experts attempt to declare the market’s preferences). If you’re making major decisions without first contemplating the market, then your organization may be doomed to fail.
Before the social media revolution, marketing often played a “service” role in organizations. That is, it was a department tasked with delivering the messaging that originated from other departments. The exhibits team decided to bring in an obscure exhibit about so-and-so’s this-and-that? The marketing department was at their service to get people to visit the exhibit. The CEO decided that he wants to take up a public-facing initiative of interest to him? The marketing team would have to find a way to deliver the news. This is what I mean by marketing playing a “servicing” role in the organization. In an outdated way of thinking, departments would make decisions and say, “Okay, Marketing – market this.”
It doesn’t work like that anymore. The most successful organizations with which I have the opportunity to interact consider the marketing team before the organization solidifies even minor public-facing plans. Why? Think about it…
1) The marketing department is now the ears of your organization and not just its mouth
Gone are the days of the marketing team playing the role of a one-way megaphone for an organization. Thanks to the 24/7 nature of the web, organizations that do not actively listen to their audiences, provide ongoing transparency, or engage in social care (that is, provide real-time responses to online inquiries within the organization’s community) suffer from a decline in reputational equities (and reputation is a driver of visitation and also plays a role in philanthropic decision-making). In short, the marketing department is no longer your organization’s way to talk at your audience, this department provides the opportunity to listen to and connect with your audience.
2) Connecting with audiences every day forces your marketing department to become expert in the wants of your constituents
Have you ever really looked at some of the interactions on your organization’s Facebook page that your marketing team nearly always seems to respond to with tact? Those responses are necessarily considered and thoughtful. I very rarely see a marketing person write something that illustrates what they may actually be thinking at times (“Sir, this basic information is all over our website, is extremely findable in a Google search, and is addressed in the comment below… but sure, I’ll respond during my dinnertime to supply this answer to you in a timely fashion and I’ll even thank you for asking!”) In other words, communicating on social platforms often takes time, skill, and consideration. By interacting with your audiences every day and successfully managing online communities, a good marketing team member necessarily becomes expert in your market’s wants, confusions, desires, hold ups, and preferred methods of communication.
3) Organizations sometimes determine importance but the market always determines relevance
This is an absolutely critical concept for modern-day nonprofit organizations to grasp in order to achieve financial solvency (and, thus, why I mention it in several posts): If audiences that truly matter don’t consider what your internal experts declare as important to actually be important, then you won’t succeed in garnering support. Your organization may claim that something is important, but that does not make it so to your audiences. The marketing team may be able to tell incredible stories, but if “important” content is not innately relevant, the job is much harder – and may be impossible in some cases.
4) Initiatives have an infinitely greater chance of success if marketing has been involved in their development rather than briefed after their finality
Because the marketing department knows your market and because the market determines your success, it’s unwise to treat this team as a “service” department rather than a strategic department. We currently live in a very connected world and we no longer have to “guess” what our audiences want or need in order to support our missions (see point #2). Thus, it makes almost no sense that a department within an organization might arbitrarily pick an initiative or exhibit (determining importance) without considering the market (ensuring relevance).
Although the role of marketing is changing and, in turn, the way that organizations think about their marketing departments has changed, that does not mean that this is the single most important department by any means. Marketing is an every-department job that only works with the help of others to bring expert content to potential supporters through the filter of how audience are best engaged.
Digital engagement provides an incredible opportunity to get to know audiences, break down ivory towers, engage in open authority, and build greater personal connections to nonprofit missions. In order to achieve success, organizations must listen to their audiences, relate to them, and provide value to individuals – and community management should be contemplated before an organization makes public-facing decisions.
If an organization is in the woods shouting its own importance and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Who knows…but, more importantly, who cares? Our organizations have both mouths and ears. It’s time to use them both.
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About the author
MPA. Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS Research & Development. Nonprofit marketer, Generation Y museum, zoo & aquarium writer/speaker, web engagement geek, data nerd, marathoner, nomad, herbivore