Six Reasons Why Content Is No Longer King (And What Now Holds the Throne)

“Content is king” is confusing people and the reign is over. There’s a different ruler in town that is Read more

The Role of Email Has Changed. Here Is How to Evolve Your Communication Strategy (DATA)

The efficacy and best practices related to email as a marketing channel have changed. Data suggest that email is Read more

The Real Reason Some Nonprofits Stink at “Digital” (And Why It Is Getting Worse)

Within some organizations, “going digital” is causing more problems than it’s solving. This isn’t because of the people who Read more

Data Update: Efficacy of Various Marketing Channels (Social Media Still Top Spot)

Data indicate that social media continues to be the fastest growing and most influential marketing channel. Social media is Read more

Is your Nonprofit Living in the Past? Nine Outdated Ways of Thinking That Are Hurting Your Organization

If any of these outdated beliefs still linger within your organization, then your nonprofit may be suffering both in Read more

The Evolution of Marketing from a Service Department to a Strategic Collaborator

If your organization still treats the marketing team as a “service” department instead of a critical, strategic resource, then Read more

Big ideas

Six Reasons Why Content Is No Longer King (And What Now Holds the Throne)

Know Your Own Bone - Connectivity is King

“Content is king” is confusing people and the reign is over. There’s a different ruler in town that is driving successful organizations: connectivity.

“Content is king,” said Bill Gates famously as the chief executive of Microsoft in 1996.  And for a while, there was little reason to disagree with Mr. Gates’s assessment – so much so that this mantra has been used by marketers the world over.  It makes sense: You need content to inspire folks to act in your organization’s best interest (i.e. become a member, purchase a ticket, make a donation, etc.).  But the reign of content has ended and – while still important – the saying is becoming quickly outdated in today’s increasingly digital world. In fact, the repetition of this saying is causing, cultivating, and excusing misunderstandings among organizations’ staff members. 

Let’s clear the air and work together to update the saying so that it can be more effectively applied to the purpose of inspiring action in today’s world. There’s a new king in town. Today, connectivity is king.

 

1) The concept of content as king is causing some problems

Let’s get one thing straight: Content is not unimportant. Compelling content creates the bridge that often inspires connectivity. However, our misbelief that content remains supreme is causing certain organizational problems that risk growing more deeply-rooted each day. Here are some symptoms of the outdated notion that content remains king that may actually jeopardize an organization’s solvency. Each of these conditions are symptomatic of a content-centric organization that deeply believes that what it outputs is more valuable than its outreach.

 

2) Connectivity is about your organization and its relationship with other people (Content is just about your organization)

The marketing channels about which the “content is king” saying may have originated were one-way communication channels. In other words, they were channels that generally gave your organization a “mouth” (e.g. television, radio, billboards, etc.). However, today’s most effective and efficient marketing channels have mouths and ears. That is, they provide a means of supplying feedback for the organization in addition to being soapboxes (e.g. social media, peer review sites, email, etc.).  Thus, it makes sense that the driving force in cultivating a desired behavior may have evolved to be more about linking up with an individual by way of a shared passion or situation than about an organization itself.

In other words, content is not necessarily about your audience. Cultivating connectivity, however, breeds and helps to strengthen a relationship with your brand and organization. Connectivity happens when an organization presents a passion or platform that resonates with a potential constituent. It’s about both the organization and the potential constituent. It’s the passion/subject/topic/mission/sentiment that bonds (or interests) the constituent to what your organization stands for.

 

3) Connectivity is necessarily relevant (Content can be irrelevant)

Connectivity is definitionally personal in that it is depends on something being of personal interest to an individual.  That  means that connectivity is necessarily relevant. Content, on the other hand, risks self-orientation that may not answer one of the most important questions that communicators should ask themselves from the perspective of potential constituents when they put out content: “So what?”

 

4) Connectivity is prerequisite for action (Content can operate in isolation)

Remember (because I mention it in nearly every post): Your organization can sometimes determine importance, but the market always determines relevance. In other words, you can talk…but unless people are connected to what you’re saying, nobody may be listening. Simply put: Without connectivity, nobody cares about your organization.

Connectivity is a prerequisite to action (e.g. signing a petition, securing a donor, summoning support, selling a ticket). Content, however, can easily operate in isolation if it isn’t thoughtful and/or doesn’t inspire connectivity.

 

5) Content can be the bridge that provides a pathway for connectivity (but if connectivity is not present then your content is pointless)

This is where connectivity emerges as the true “king” in today’s environment. Certainly, content is critical. Arguably, there could be no connectivity without content. However (and this is where folks are getting confused), there can be a great deal of content without connectivity.  Not all content is connective.

Connectivity that’s created through a shared interest in a topic, idea, mission, purpose, or sentiment aligned with your organization’s brand and values is powerful.  Otherwise, your content will likely fall of deaf ears…and certainly not inspire engagement and supportive behaviors

 

6) Connectivity is about your whole organization and its mission (Content is viewed as marketing jargon)

Because “content” tends to fall under the conceptual categorization of one-way communication, the idea of “creating content” often falls to the marketing or public relations department. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

But what IS a bad thing is when people “not my job” content creation. Today, communication and content creation is an every-department job.  Worse yet, the problem of silo-ing the important work of creating connectivity is often exacerbated within organizations due to some staff members’ ridiculous associations with the word “digital.”

 

Connectivity can be sparked when the content being communicated communicated is deeply-rooted within your organization and mission. It may seem strange to some leaders, but the ins and outs of your day and your passions matter to your audiences. Often, to audiences, the transparent, unvarnished insights of how and why you do what you do in pursuit of your mission is every bit as important as what you are doing.

There’s a reason why marketing messages increasingly perform poorly in terms of engagement: People want to know what’s really going on…not simply receive your sales pitch (which, frequently, is the charge of the marketing department).  The most connective content often comes from other departments who represent the core of what you do. The marketing team’s best role is strategically making the balance of your organization’s content accessible (i.e. inspiring connections).

 

Let’s stop aiming “to content” and instead aim to connect.

If you supply content, they will come? Nope. Not necessarily.

If you supply connectivity, they will come? It’s much more likely.

At our best, our organizations do more than provide education…even more than provide memorable experiences in the case of visitor-serving organizations.  We provide and facilitate meaningful interaction – connectivity.  By connecting people to people, people to places, and people to ideas, we transcend mere content and provide pathways to engagement.  People – not artifacts – change the world.

Content isn’t dead, but connectivity assuredly is king. 

Long live the king.

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page (or ) Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter  

Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Branding, Community Engagement, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Change, Social Media, Words of Wisdom 2 Comments

The Role of Email Has Changed. Here Is How to Evolve Your Communication Strategy (DATA)

RIP email

llustration by Sam Manchester/The New York Times

The efficacy and best practices related to email as a marketing channel have changed. Data suggest that email is less effective in reaching large quantities of people than it was even a few short years ago. But, can an organization use email to reach the right quality of people? Maybe.

I recently shared updated data from a Media Consumption and Usage Study conducted by IMPACTS that demonstrated a trending decline in the overall, weighted value of email as a marketing channel.There’s been some additional buzz about the decline of email, and worries about this changing platform seem to be lingering – especially in light of the big data I recently shared at MuseumNext. “I see that there’s a decline in email,” one attendee noted. “Email is working just fine for my organization.”

Indeed, organizations shouldn’t give up on the platform – especially if it is helping their organization achieve its goals – but it’s important to recognize the changes taking place that alter your market’s perceptions and usage of email:

IMPACTS Public sources of information 2011 - 2014

 

1) The overall efficacy of email as a communication channel for reaching mass audiences has dwindled

It used to be all about email lists – buying them, swapping them, getting people on them – and then “spamming” folks with marketing messages. It was about quantity of people more than the quality of people. Not anymore. Thanks to the increasing and massive trend toward personalization in marketing messages (due, in large part, to “touch points” made possible via social media), email is now a less effective method for engaging large quantities of people. The data indicate that mass messaging holds lesser value to audiences…and we observe people “opting-out” and unsubscribing to content that is not particularly relevant to them.

And folks can afford to opt out because – unlike the earlier days of email – there are much more personalized, real-time information channels promising greater connectivity readily available to them.

 

2) Email may now be better utilized for cultivating current audiences that already have an affinity for your organization

Email’s relative stability in terms of trust and amplification potential indicate that while it may not be wise for it to be your organization’s primary engagement or audience acquisition channel, it may still offer value by adapting its application to better serve current constituencies. Email should be approached as an “opt-in” opportunity for those who are budding brand evangelists. In other words, this communication method may be better suited for moving potential stakeholders through an engagement funnel instead of as a means to engender general awareness of programs, events, etc.

 

3) Your organization should not necessarily stop sending emails

Just because a channel’s weighted value is changing doesn’t mean that it’s wise to abandon the platform – especially if it is working for you in terms of helping to meet your financial and mission-related bottom lines. What this does mean is that your email strategy should not be stagnant – when it comes to email, a sound strategy may be to “ride the wave until it crashes.”

Obviously, people still use email; however, they are using it in different ways and expect more personalization than email typically delivered in the past. Know this. Adjust. Watch the market. If something is still working, then, hey, it’s still working! That said, (and as is true with all communication channels) sending email for email’s sake without understanding how or if it is contributing to your goals remains an unwise idea.

 

4) Start exploring other channels that will help achieve your goals

While it’s not a bad idea to keep “riding the wave [that is email] until it crashes,” it would be advisable to concurrently cultivate engagement on other platforms in preparation for the inevitable crash. Heretofore, if your organization has been relying heavily on email, then it may be a good idea to consider building communities and strategies on other platforms so that you aren’t stuck with antiquated outreach tools that the market deems obsolete. Alternative channels and platforms that capitalize on real-time, ongoing, personalized communication generally involve social media or other web-based platforms…now is the time to start developing capabilities and capacities in these arenas before it’s too late.

 

5) Understand that email has changed and will keep changing.

Email has maintained its perception in regard to trust (i.e. how trustworthy it is perceived to be as a communications channel) and amplification values (i.e. how easy it is to share the message). You can see the data broken down by reach, trust and amplification here. It makes sense that amplification has not changed as it’s just as easy to hit “forward” today as it was in 2011. As other platforms evolve, how people view and use email will evolve as well. It is not used for the same purpose as it once was thanks to new information channels. The roles of organizations’ websites have also recently changed due to the presence and capabilities of social media. Know that things are changing and the relative strengths of communication channels are certain to keep changing, too.

 

An exciting aspect of leading an organization in today’s world is the incredible access provided by web-based platforms and how digital assets (and how the market perceives and interacts with them) constantly evolve. Wise organizations realize that the world is moving and it is unwise to maintain the same strategy for communication platforms year after year without considering changes in the market.

In sum, email is not dead…but it has certainly evolved. Many organizations have not caught up. If they don’t then, well, you know what Darwin had to say on such matters…

Darwin on change

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page (or ) Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter  

Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Media, Technology, The Future, Words of Wisdom Leave a comment

The Real Reason Some Nonprofits Stink at “Digital” (And Why It Is Getting Worse)

Dilbert vagueness plan

Within some organizations, “going digital” is causing more problems than it’s solving. This isn’t because of the people who work in digital. It’s because of the people who don’t.

I’ve posted briefly on the dangers of separating “digital” and “marketing,” but this topic arose quite explicitly on the very first day of the annual MuseumNext conference last month and was inspired by a presentation from museum pro, Koven J. Smith. (Sidenote to make good on a promise:  the slides from my keynote at MuseumNext are available here.)  Though the seeds of this article blossomed at a museum-oriented conference, the threat is relevant for many nonprofit organizations and businesses in general.

“Are you saying that ideally nobody in museums should have “digital” in their title?” one person asked in regard to a point in Koven’s talk. He paused for barely a moment. “Yes,” he stated simply.

This idea was a small part of his argument (check out more of his rich thought-fuel here), but I think he’s onto something big…something that I observe everyday in my work with well-intentioned nonprofit organizations: We are breeding a culture of misunderstanding around the important role of “digital” in the future of our organizations and, frankly, it imperils the vibrancy of the very future that we are trying to ensure. “Digital” has been allowed to become an “other” (i.e. “not within my scope of work” and/or “something I don’t ‘get’”) for certain individuals in certain organizations, and, like most “others,” digital (as a concept) is misunderstood, abused, and used as a scapegoat for an organization’s cultural and structural shortcomings.

Dramatic? Maybe…but until we solve this issue, how can organizations steeped in these misunderstandings remain relevant and thrive in the future? Here’s why conceptually separating “digital” – as the rest of the organization understands it – is a problem that is making it harder for nonprofits to succeed.

 

1) It constantly reaffirms that “digital” is about platforms or technological skillsets and not about people (and it actually IS all about people)

Digital marketing and marketing are one in the same – they are both about people and behavior. Likewise, digital fundraising and fundraising are synonymous in successful organizations. Again, they are both about people and behavior. Digital touch can be as powerful in inspiring audiences as physical touch.  “Digital” is a way of communicating and connecting, not “knowing java” or “mastering Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm.” Sure, those skills may have value in the digital world, but they aren’t the point of “being digital.” Communication goals on real-time, digital platforms should serve the exact same purpose and mission as the rest of the institution.

An online donor is still a donor. For visitor-serving organizations, a website visitor is still a visitor (a person connecting with your brand and mission). The difference is the platform (“connection point”), and the goal is the same as “in real life.”  Digital – when it is used with audiences – IS “real life” and organizations will benefit from treating it as such.

 

2) Believing “digital” is about technology instead of people and behavior breeds a desire to simply translate real life to the digital realm (and that is generally a bad idea and waste of resources)

This, too, was a very popular topic of conversation amongst the thought leaders at MuseumNext: The very real-time nature of digital platforms necessitates different behaviors online than would take place in similar offline situations. For instance, a businessman may not check out your collections (if you’re a museum, for instance) at 10am in his pajamas “IRL.”  But, he can do so digitally…and that changes how we need to think about collections, engagement, social care, image rights, accessibility, membership retention, donor cultivation, and donor discovery. It’s not a one-way track wherein we simply “copy and paste” what’s onsite onto the web. That’s not engaging and it misses opportunities. If we didn’t deeply believe that “digital” was aligned more closely with technological skillsets than brand strategy, then we probably wouldn’t still be making these mistakes (i.e. posting our collections to the web or starting a simple blog, patting ourselves on the back for it, and wondering why nobody engages with it.)

 

3) It excuses leaders for being out of touch with the market (which is a glaring sign of bad leadership)

To paraphrase another point made at MuseumNext: It’s okay (and maybe even cute) if your grandmother doesn’t know what Twitter is or how exactly it is used. It’s absolutely NOT okay for today’s leaders, fundraisers, curators, and administrators to not be minimally facile with Twitter, Facebook and basic platforms or means of modern day engagement. Ignorance isn’t cute. It makes you less qualified for your job.

A basic facility with engagement platforms doesn’t mean everyone needs to be tweeting up a storm 24/7 – but if someone claiming a position of influence or leadership doesn’t understand what Twitter is, its benefit as a social force, or how people use it, then you’re dealing with a willfully ignorant, disconnected person. Good tip for organizations whose solvency depends on making connections with the market: Don’t hire people who live in holes.

Tough love moment (which I’ll admit may be funny because I’m an energetic, camp counselor type): I’m talking to you, people who say “digital just isn’t my thing” and write it off as something that isn’t worth your time to minimally understand. You sound stupid. Personally, finance isn’t my innate passion – but I’m a professional, functioning adult and, as such, I make an effort to understand the basics of how the world around me works.   There are no excuses for choosing ignorance and disconnection – especially for people in the nonprofit realm who often claim “education” and “engagement” as their raisons d’être.

 

4) It makes digital teams a dumping ground for nebulous projects

Koven Smith MuseumNext It’s difficult to read, but Koven‘s slide references a quote that was made jokingly, but may be indicative of a larger point: “If my co-workers say, ‘I don’t get this,’ it’s automatically in the digital department.”

When the digital department becomes a dumping ground for all things tech-oriented, an opportunity is lost. “Digital” is not necessarily the same as “IT.” Again, it’s about people, strategy, engagement, and utilizing new platforms in creative ways. When “digital” devolves into a language that certain employees cannot speak or a thing that they’re allowed not to understand, they become more removed from the world that we live in. That excuses and further cultivates an out-of-touch team… and that could be deadly for the future of your organization.

Does this mean everyone needs to run out and learn code? Again, no. Not even a little bit. But join the conversation and start thinking more strategically about organizational goals and creative engagement. It’s okay if you don’t know CSS (of course), but understand what the CSS is trying to achieve.

5) It silos marketers from content (which makes it harder to make connections to audiences)

“Digital” often resides somewhere around marketing within organizations – and that’s good! But if “digital” is considered too much of an “other,” then it forces web engagement teams to operate on their own. Social media is an every-department job, and often, creative engagement is as well. Marketers have no connective content without the aid of other departments. Basically, if we conceptually divide “digital” from the strategic functions of the organization, then we lose the very benefit of being “digital” – creating connections to people and creating meaning that will inspire a desired behavior (e.g. donation, visitation, participating in a beach clean-up, etc.).

 

Basically, when people in organizations stubbornly section out “digital” as something associated simply with technological skillsets, they are admitting to being out of touch with the very people that they are trying to serve. (P.S. Museum visitors and most bigger nonprofit donors for other kinds of organizations profile as “super-connected” with broadband access at home, work, and/or on mobile). When it comes to the inevitable pace of innovation, there is no comfort in yesterday.

If you don’t care to “get” digital, then get out of the way. Your organization is trying to effectively serve a social mission and it has important work to do.  

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page (or ) Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter  

Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Community Engagement, Education, Leadership, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Public Service Motivation, Social Change, Social Media, Technology, The Future, Words of Wisdom 4 Comments

Data Update: Efficacy of Various Marketing Channels (Social Media Still Top Spot)

DIlbert Social networks, games, and phones

Data indicate that social media continues to be the fastest growing and most influential marketing channel. Social media is an enormously important component of your overall marketing and communication strategy. In fact, data support it as one of the most efficient and effective channels to engage your users and constituents.

IMPACTS tracks data regarding the reach (i.e. the relative efficacy of each channel in terms of its ability to deliver a message within any defined duration), trust (i.e. the perceived credibility of various sources), and amplification (i.e. the re-distribution potential) of various information channels. I originally posted baseline tracking data in 2012, along with an analysis of the reach, trust, and amplification measurements – all of which collectively contribute to the “overall value” metric.

 IMPACTS Overall Value of Information Sources

Having trouble seeing the data? You can open it here:  IMPACTS Updated Overall Value for Sources of Information – 2014

This data derives from a Media Consumption & Usage Study with a sample size of 13,584 adults from North America and Western Europe, and was most recently updated courtesy of a project with Stanford University.  The grace of time has solidified trends suggesting the ascendancy of certain information channels that are increasingly vital to an effective communications strategy. Below are a few notes on the updated findings. Mostly, the findings echo and reaffirm suggestions indicated from previous years.

1) Social media delivers the greatest overall value as a marketing channel and information source

Thanks in large part to the reach (i.e. the ability to reach audiences during a defined duration) and amplification capabilities (i.e. the re-distribution potential) of this platform, social media continues to grow in terms of its overall value as a marketing and communications channel. Digital “touch points” continue to play bigger and bigger roles in cutting through online noise – especially because of the real-time nature of this platform and the ability to have and view more personalized interactions.

 

2) Data do not currently support a finding that word of mouth is suffering because of technology

While word of mouth (person-to-person interactions) experienced a steep decline in 2012, its value has remained relatively stable since. This indicates that, indeed, people are still communicating beyond of the web (e.g. SMS and phone calls fall within this category of communication). While this may be shocking to… well, no one…it is interesting to monitor this channel – especially as it relates to the weight of peer review sites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor.

 

3) Mobile web and peer review sites remain on the rise

Mobile web continues to represent a growing channel. IMPACTS data contemplate “mobile web” separately from “web” so that we may both follow this trend and also assess if the platform (e.g. smartphone) plays a role in the perception of the channel. (In other words, does the market attribute different levels of trust to the web when accessed via smartphone or another method?) Peer review sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor remain influential. This finding underscores the importance of third-party endorsements when contemplating potential behaviors. In fact, channels that represent paid endorsements (e.g. direct mail, television, radio) exert relatively little influence on the market when compared to their testimonial-based counterparts.  [According to the model of diffusion, the coefficient of imitation (i.e. what people say about you) is 12.85 times more important to building reputation than the coefficient of innovation (i.e. what you say about yourself).]

 

4) Web is affected by the real-time nature of social media channels

While this is an interesting metric to continue to watch, the decrease in web may be affected by the preference for more real-time, ongoing, “living” communication such as the type of communication provided by social media. The role of your website has changed – and this data underscores that it continues to change. Increasingly, the role of your website may be to facilitate and support communication on social platforms, which data suggest may play a more important role in motivating a desired offline behavior.

 

5) Print media and more traditional channels remain in general decline

This may also relate to the model of diffusion (see #3) and an emerging market preference for “personalized” communications (i.e. the perceptual opposite of “mass” media). Moreover, these traditional channels are more difficult to access in today’s world. A strong caution: These numbers do not intend to suggest marketing fund allocation or an advertising plan. Television or print may play an important role in a campaign and should be contemplated as a component of an integrated strategy.

 

6) Email is losing ground

While email retains its place as a reliable communications tool, its overall value is decreasing (which has been predicted and reported even a few years ago). When it comes to email, it may be a good idea to “ride that wave until it dies”…but be ready to catch a new wave as soon as it does! In other words, it’s a good idea to be thinking about and cultivating other methods for retaining constituents if email is currently your primary method.

 

This data serves as yet another reminder of the recent, rapid evolution in the ways that people communicate, spread information, and find value in marketing messages. This is more than just anecdotal word on the street; it is compelling evidence of the way that our society behaves. It remains true that CEOs and managers slow to “believe” in the power of online platforms and social media may need to lower the printed brochure in their hands, put away the flyers, and move their communications into the present.

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page (or ) Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter  

Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Community Engagement, Generation Y, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Media, Technology, The Future Leave a comment

Is your Nonprofit Living in the Past? Nine Outdated Ways of Thinking That Are Hurting Your Organization

Where complacent brands go

If any of these outdated beliefs still linger within your organization, then your nonprofit may be suffering both in terms of finances and mission delivery. It’s time to retire these obsolete practices once and for all:

 

1) You separate marketing and digital marketing because you think they are different

This is generally indicative of an organization that thinks “digital marketing” is more about mastering tools and platforms (e.g. Facebook) than mastering a long-term engagement strategy to strengthen your organization’s brand and mission.

Symptoms may include:

  • Digital initiatives that may appear cutting edge but don’t actually contribute to your organization’s mission or financial bottom line
  • An inability to activate online communities to behave in your organization’s interests despite having numerous fans on multiple platforms

 

Treatment: Certainly, organizations benefit from having a team that excels in online community management and maintains a thorough understanding of social media tools and digital engagement opportunities. That said, it is critical that these team members maintain constant involvement with the broader marketing and public relations leadership so that they may be empowered to integrate a strategy for ongoing engagement that yields returns rather than simply utilizing social media tools for social media’s sake.

 

2) You identify online donors and you treat them differently than offline donors

A donor is a donor. The means of conveying funds to an organization is irrelevant…it’s like treating a donor differently because they used a check for a gift instead of a credit card.  Basic courtesy and “real life” donor cultivation techniques should prevail regardless of how a person chooses to give. A donor who gives online shouldn’t be any less deserving of a personal thank you than a person who gives face-to-face, yet, somehow, the reliance on automated gift acknowledgments remains a practice for many organizations. Similarly, because a donor gives onsite may not mean that the individual does not expect the organization to recognize them when they interact on social media.

Symptoms may include:

  • A general lack of donor retention
  • An even greater lack of donor retention for those identified by the organization as “online donors”
  • Difficulty transitioning donors to the next level of giving

 

Treatment: Gather information and cultivate “online donors” just as your organization would cultivate “offline donors.” Similarly, if a “real life” donor engages with the organization online, acknowledge them and value their digital endorsement and communication. Treat donors online the same way that you would in person – just because something can be automated online doesn’t mean that it should be! Personalized touch points and cultivating the relationship are still critical practices.

 

3) You think marketing and fundraising serve independent functions

Marketing no longer serves as simply the megaphone for an organization. Today, marketing often provides critical touch points that serve to create meaning for audiences and connect them to the organization. This isn’t very different than fundraising.  A failure to recognize the importance of marketing and fundraising working in concert to achieve an organization’s goals may have negative consequences.

Symptoms may include:

  • Inability to identify new, potential donors
  • Few donors actively engaging with your organization online
  • Difficulty transitioning persons with interest in the organization into meaningful donors

 

Treatment: From an org chart perspective, marketing and fundraising departments certainly need not be one entity. However, it is critical that these departments (and the organization as a whole) recognize that the path to success in terms of donor identification, member retention, and donor cultivation lies in an intimate, real-time relationship between marketing and fundraising experts. The fundraising team (next-level meaning-makers) needs the input of the marketing team (and their real-time touch-points with audience members) to identify potential donors and aid their cultivation through an engagement funnel. In fact, social media is the new force empowering giving decisions.

 

4)   You think marketing performs a service function for the organization

If you still think that marketing plays a service role within your organization, then it’s time to catch up.  The role of this team has evolved from being the one-way voice of the organization (i.e. its mouth) to being its eyes and ears as well. More than ever before, it is the job of the marketing department to know, listen, and build relationships with your constituents. By necessity, successful marketing teams are increasingly expert about your audience.

Symptoms may include:

  • Low interest and engagement in initiatives and programs
  • Perceived irrelevance of your organization by the market
  • Difficulty getting attention from audiences
  • General lack of general success of new initiatives

 

Treatment: Consider the input of the marketing team before moving forward with initiatives instead of demanding that they “market this” (maybe not-so-great idea) after its actualization.

 

5)   Your social media managers operate in a silo 

Social media is an every-department job so access to the rest of the organization – especially experts – is critical for creating compelling content. A bad idea: Hiring an outside company to run your social media if you are an organization that builds reputation based upon being “expert” or builds affinity by telling powerful stories that are best communicated with the passion of an insider (which is basically all good stories).

Symptoms may include:

  • Several marketing-related messages on social platforms (which generally do not perform well)
  • Lack of audience engagement on digital platforms
  • Inconsistent social media posting
  • Lack of compelling stories that adequately communicate the passion of your nonprofit
  • Social media posts that demonstrate mission drift

 

Treatment: Make sure that folks working within your organization embrace the importance of sharing stories and are open to aiding social media managers in creating compelling content. Also, do your social media yourself or with a partner that has ongoing access to your entire organization. Your stories are your lifeblood.

 

6) You think the more followers, the better

This one is no surprise by now: The number of social media followers that you have is not necessarily indicative of the strength of your online community. It’s far better to have 1,000 followers with a genuine passion for engaging with your organization and sharing your message, than 100,000 fans that don’t help your organization reach its goals. In fact, having a lot of inactive followers dilutes your community and makes it appear as though you have bad content because not many people are interacting with you, despite your high fan number.

Symptoms may include:

  • An inability to activate fans to act in your organization’s interest despite high fan numbers
  • Distraction from achieving the organization’s true goals due to fixation on unimportant metrics
  • An inability to retain true fans due to superficial content that yields more “likes” than real affinity

 

Treatment: Quit focusing too heavily on fan count (and certainly do not dilute your community by buying fake fans). Pay attention to metrics that matter, and share content that inspires true evangelism. Instead of “the more followers, the better,” think “the more meaningful engagement related to our mission, the better.” If and when those ambitions cross, then that is great.

 

7)   Similarly, you think your number of website views adequately measures online success

It doesn’t. In fact, data suggest that online audiences are more likely to carry out desired behaviors (like making a donation, buying a ticket if you are a visitor-serving organization, etc.) if they are sent to social media platforms or peer review sites (TripAdvisor, etc.).

Symptoms may include:

  • Distraction from actual, meaningful metrics
  • Preoccupation with a metric that is not indicative of success
  • Directing audiences to platforms that are less likely to result in a desired behavior

 

Treatment: The role of your website has changed. Consider website views in the greater context of your overall digital engagement strategy. Understand that this number does not show the folks who are engaging with your brand or researching it on other sites.

 

8) You deny the necessity of brand transparency

This means purposefully leaving your key evangelists out of the loop in regard to big decisions and happenings – it’s always a bad idea. Thanks to the web, we live in a “show and not tell” world and potential constituents make decisions about your brand based upon what you “show.” In sum, transparency is a critical value for successful online communications

Symptoms may include:

  • Negative sentiment or reactions from audiences on social media channels
  • Audience misunderstanding of or disbelief in an organization’s goals or objectives for a given project
  • Lack of trust in organization
  • Constituents “opting-out” of involvement with the organization

 

Treatment: Question someone who tells you to purposefully hide critical information that may aid audiences in understanding your brand or internal thought-processes (whether it is an internal or external person). Times have changed. As is the case in real life, organizations are consistently finding that, indeed, honesty is the best policy.

 

9) You need an industry example before carrying out an initiative that may help you meet your goals

Web engagement best practices are constantly evolving – and so are the platforms upon which engagement often occurs. This means that – from time to time – your organization may come up with an idea for online engagement that may help your organization better reach its goals…but your idea hasn’t been tried before. Far too many organizations prefer not to invest time and resources in a new opportunity unless there is an extant case study available for analysis and consideration. Invariably, it is the laggard organizations – ever fearful of innovation – who are left behind while admiring others’ bold inventions.

Worse yet, some organizations would seemingly move forward with very bad or detrimental ideas simply because they’ve seen other organizations launch a similar initiative.  If your organization is more comfortable copying mediocrity than innovating success, then prepare to soon be irrelevant.

Symptoms may include:

  • Lack of original engagement ideas
  • Lack of superlative perceptions of your organization among audiences
  • Missed opportunities to build affinity and cultivate evangelists
  • Execution of initiatives that do not match the goals of an organization

 

Treatment: Just because an organization carried out an initiative doesn’t mean it was successful or that it is a surefire win for your organization.  View the initiatives of others with due scrutiny or admiration and act accordingly with regard to your own organization’s goals and values. Also, if your organization has an idea for a new initiative that hasn’t been done before, perform a SWOT analysis and if the strengths outweigh the weaknesses, consider giving it a shot. You just might end up being an industry leader.

 

If these old notions still permeate your organization, it’s time to change.

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page (or ) Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

 

Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Media, Technology, The Future, Words of Wisdom Leave a comment

Announcing: Student Sponsorship Opportunities to Attend MuseumNext Conference 2014

MuseumNext3

Know any upcoming museum leaders? IMPACTS wants to help museum-and-innovation-loving students attend MuseumNext’s 2014 conference in NewcastleGateshead, UK by offering sponsorships to ten attendees…and applying is simple!

I almost never utilize Know Your Own Bone as an announcement board, but this opportunity is near and dear to my heart. An important part of “future-proofing” organizations is investing in the people who will someday be leaders.

Now in its sixth year, MuseumNext  is a “must attend” event for anyone interested in museum innovation.
The 2014 conference will take place June 18-20 in NewcastleGateshead, UK and will offer more than 40 presentations, workshops and sessions.
MuseumNext attracts delegates from across the globe and offers a unique chance to network with those shaping the future of museums.

IMPACTS is offering ten students the opportunity to attend the conference with a bursary which will cover conference attendance and two nights accommodation in NewcastleGateshead.

Applying is outrageously simple: To apply for an IMPACTS bursary, please email izzy@sumodesign.co.uk with your name, university, and relevant coursework by May 18th 2014. MuseumNext will then select 10 students at random to receive this support.

As many of my readers know by now, I am thrilled to be a keynote speaker at MuseumNext’s 2014 conference. I’ll be digging deeper into one of my favorite topics: The relationship between digital and physical “touch” and the important role that it plays.

Please pass this information along to any ambitious up-and-comers who may be interested in the possibility of attending the event!  So many amazing people supported me when I was a student, and I am grateful and delighted that IMPACTS will be paying it forward in this way. Please help spread the word!

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page (or ) Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Posted on by colleendilen in Generation Y, Graduate school, Leadership, Museums, Technology, The Future Leave a comment

Personalizing the Onsite Experience Increases Satisfaction in Visitor-Serving Organizations (DATA)

volunteer harvard museums Data suggest that personal interactions between staff and visitors significantly increase overall satisfaction, improve value perceptions, and contribute to a more meaningful overall experience. Here’s how.  As many of my regular readers already know, I’m captivated by the relationship between “physical touch” (old fashion, face-to-face communication) and “digital touch” (digital communication) in visitor-serving organizations – and how these forces work together to make these organizations more relevant and financially stable.  The data regarding how these forces work together is rather compelling…and I’ve even spoken about it before. Digital touch increases reputation and aids in driving attendance – but physical touch provides the “there-there” in a way that technology has yet to supplant. We monitor both reputation and visitor satisfaction for numerous visitor-serving enterprise at IMPACTS, and we’ve found one type of “physical touch” to be extremely potent in increasing visitor satisfaction: When attendees have a personal facilitated experience (or, as we affectionately call them, a PFE) remarkable things reliably occur.

What is a personal facilitated experience?

A PFE is a one-to-one or one-to few interaction that occurs between an onsite representative of the organization and a visitor. This representative could be a docent, volunteer, or any other organization-associated individual who has a direct interaction with an individual visitor, family or couple. A traditional museum cart experience provides a PFE. A volunteer showing you your seat at the theater provides a PFE. An entryway greeter provides a PFE. So does a stationed volunteer, a wayfinder, or even a particularly attentive clerk at a museum store. Shows, talks, or tours – while certainly providing value to one’s overall experience – do not constitute a PFE, as the market considers PFEs powerful due to the personalized attention and one-on-one nature of the interaction. While we’ve found that these other types of encounters provide an efficient density of interaction, they do not always provide the kind of personalized experience often prerequisite for a steep increase in overall satisfaction.

PFEs increase metrics that are critical to overall experience

Take a look at the data below from a representative organization with which we partner at IMPACTS. The column on the left quantifies visitor perceptions of an organization based on specific evaluation metrics (e.g. admission value, education experience, entertainment experience, and employee courtesy), while the right side indicates the same values for visitors reporting at least one personal touch-point. Visitors who had similar experiences onsite – with the exception of a PFE – report very different perceptual outcomes. 

PFEs generally increase the perceived value of admission.

In other words, those who have a PFE believe that they got a better bang for their buck after paying admission to visit an organization.

 IMPACTS Admission PFE

PFEs also increase perceptions of entertainment experience, educational experience, and employee courtesy.

However, these metrics don’t all contribute to overall satisfaction equally. Here’s  the data on the breakdown.

 IMPACTS Entertainment PFE

Educational

IMAPCTS employee courtesy PFE

 

PFEs can be utilized to increase visitor satisfaction by daypart

If your organization is in the midst of a construction project or simply gets crowded during certain peak times of day, an organization may deploy PFEs as a mitigation strategy to minimize the impact of crowding perceptions on overall satisfaction.

 IMPACTS satisfaction by daypart PFE

Digital and “physical” touch work together to secure the financial futures of visitor serving organizations and keep folks coming in the door so that organizations may march steadily toward accomplishing their missions. I write about the increasingly critical importance of personalization on digital media for visitor-serving organizations, but we must remember that people online and people offline are still people – in fact, we want them to be the same person! Personalization – a trend that is getting a lot of buzz in the online space – is just as important onsite. Facebook and other social media sites are getting smarter about personalization –  ads are more intelligent, and millennials expect personalized experiences. Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all communications and “touch” points… online and offline.   Want to hear more about the data-supported relationship between digital and physical touch as they relate to satisfaction in visitor-serving organizations? Check out my WestMusings: Ten Minute Museum Talk or join me at MuseumNext in the UK where I’m thrilled to dive deeper in a keynote in June.  Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page (or ) Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter *Photo credit: Harvard Museums of Science and Culture

Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Education, Exhibits, Management, Museums, Nonprofits, Words of Wisdom 5 Comments

Sharing is Caring: 4 Reasons To Focus on Facebook Shares (Instead of Likes)

facebook meaningful communication

Forget the number of “likes” on your Facebook posts for a moment and look at “shares” instead. Shares are more indicative of an effective Facebook community and will result in greater ROI from your social media efforts.

Facebook is decreasing organic reach for organizations in an effort to become more “pay to play.”  As organizations scramble to adjust to this change, it is essential to remember that the quality of your fans is more important than the quantity of your fans – especially when it comes to utilizing social media to drive visitation or secure donations.

Speaker and author Sam Davidson reminds folks that “what matters is not the amount of people in your community, but the amount of community in your people.” Sure, that sentiment makes us feel good as organizations trying to foster connectivity with our many constituencies, but Sam’s words hit the nail on the head for the very practical matters of engaging visitors and raising funds as well. Organizations will likely struggle with issues of vitality and solvency if they aren’t relevant…and relevance is a beneficial outcome of focusing on “the community in your people.”

Likes on Facebook are seductive but represent a relatively meaningless “vanity metric” when taken out of context (as they often are). Boasting about your number of fans is also a common (and dangerously misleading) practice among those organizations that have difficulty quantifying the efficacy of their respective social media efforts. Now, organizations are rightfully worried about decreasing reach…but organizations should actually be worried about Facebook decreasing reach to the right people.

Let’s take a very simplified look at how Facebook decides what to show in someone’s newsfeed (with a hat tip to Techcrunch):

Techcrunch

While this tactical information is certainly relevant, I challenge smart organizations to take this one step further by focusing on their strategyor, rather, focusing on “news feed visibility and engagement with the right people” instead of simply “news feed visibility.” After all, what good is thousands of people seeing a post that does not serve to actually elevate your reputation or build affinity for your organization?  (And P.S.- Reputation helps drive donor support and visitation.)

As your organization plays with boosting posts and other promotional opportunities on social platforms, be particularly mindful of the “shares” on posts that you promote. While “likes” indeed increase reach in Facebook’s algorithm, a “share” suggests four terrific things that other metrics do not:

 

1) A share is generally more indicative of quality content than a like

Take a look at your likes and your shares. I’ll bet that you have a lot more “likes” and that makes sense: a share is often harder to achieve than a like because it is much less passive. It takes a higher level of perceived interest for an individual fan to share your content with his/her broader network – an explicit act of endorsement – than to simply click the “like” button. In short, a share is significantly more indicative of active engagement with your community (potential patrons) than a like – and should be weighted appropriately in your assessment of your social media engagement efforts.

 

2) A share is indicative of a quality fan

The person who shared your post cared enough about your content to promulgate it on their own page as part of their virtual identity, and this can be used as a diagnostic metric to help measure how well you are cultivating affinity. Check out these findings from a recent The New York Times Customer Insight Group study:

  • 73% of people process information more deeply, thoroughly, and thoughtfully when they share it
  • 68% of people share to give others a better sense of who they are and what they care about
  • 84% share because it is a way to support causes or issues they care about

 

If your content sparked a share, then that individual is more deeply processing your content, making that content a part of their individual brand identity to others, and more actively supporting your brand. In other words, the people who feel this way may be exactly the people that you want to further engage. Arguably, this is why you are on Facebook.

 

3) Shares have a higher word of mouth value than likes

When people see your content shared in their newsfeed from somebody else, this counts as a credible endorsement. What people say about you is 12.85x more important than what you say about yourself when it comes to driving reputation, and reviews from trusted sources make a big difference in the market’s decision-making processes when it comes to visiting a museum, zoo, aquarium, arts performance, etc. In other words, when you secure a share, you generally amplify your message. However, there is a catch: Just as there are folks with high imitative values, there are some people with low imitative values. We all have a friend or two whose recommendations we truly value…but most of us generally know (and let’s be honest) a person who, if they recommend a brand, you’re just NOT going to touch that brand with a ten-foot pole.  A way around this issue of word of mouth backfiring? Target market makers and early adopters to help make your message stick. These are the people we want to share our organization’s message.

 

4) Shares increase reach directly to potential fans that may have similar values with the high-quality sharer

Sharers help do some intelligent targeting for you as they increase reach. Let’s go back to that The New York Times study on the psychology of sharing: 73% of people share information because it helps them connect with others who share their interests. Let this work to your advantage. Also, 94% of people carefully consider how the information that they share will be useful to others, and 49% say that sharing allows them to inform others of products they care about and potentially change opinions or encourage action. In the end, people share with thought to the actions and perceptions of folks with whom they are sharing. Yes, Facebook offers targeting for posts, but social connectivity may be more valuable than a demographic-informed algorithm. For as much as things are digitized, there’s still something to be said for real-life relationships and loyalties.

In my observation and experience, organizations focus disproportionate attention on “likes” because shares are often harder to achieve…and nobody wants to look bad. But when utilizing social media, it is important to consider why you are using these platforms. My guess is that your organization isn’t simply investing in social media for social media’s sake. You want donors, a strong community, and to generally increase your impact, relevance and, in turn, overall sustainability.

Facebook is trying to get smarter about making money. Let’s get smarter about how we use ours by remembering that in the end, social media is less about raw numbers and more about people, identity, and connectivity.

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page (or ) Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Media, Technology, The Small Stuff, Words of Wisdom Leave a comment

The Relevance Test: Three Key Concepts to Future-Proof Nonprofit Organizations

Ivory tower

Ivory towers are proving fragile.

Many visitor-serving organizations benefit from “outside-in” thinking and have ceased depending solely on experiential intuition and other “inside-out” ways of thinking that have previously – and perhaps alarmingly – allowed a kind of Ivory Tower mentality to infiltrate many museums.

The dawning of the Age of the Internet has brought about many necessary changes in the way that people think and behave, and, thus, what people have come to expect from the organizations that they support. Digital, real-time tools now allow for transparency, the ability to communicate ongoing impact, and the ability to personally connect with organizations 24/7. Indeed, the market now expects – demands, really – transparent insights from organizations.

These changes shape the way that we interact and connect within our communities, create meaningful experiences, manage new demands for open authority, and inform our overall expectations of visitor-serving organizations.

While recognizing the progress that has been made, here are three new conflicting perceptions that visitor-serving organizations must internally resolve in order to remain relevant in our ever-evolving era:

 

 1. Prescription vs. Participation

What does your organization offer? Stale, outdated organizations offer a form of prescription. Today, however, if your organization believes that it is offering a form of treatment (i.e. to “teach” something, or to get people to believe something), then your organization is prescribing its experiences to folks who haven’t asked for a diagnosis. In short, if you haven’t first proven your relevance to people (let alone your unique relevance) then it’s hard to be relevant.

Offering participation and exploration encourages visitors to be active and uncover their own “truths”…for themselves. Thanks in large part to the amount of information available on the web, people expect to explore and make decisions for themselves. This is a big reason why open authority (basically, organizations finding ways to “open” their authority to the public) is increasingly important for visitor-serving organizations – and all other organizations for that matter.

This may trace back to the mission statements of visitor-serving organizations. Organizations aiming to “inspire” or “cultivate” may manifest themselves more dynamically than organizations aiming to “educate,” “demonstrate,” or “present” (exhibits, for instance). The former examples empower visitors; the latter examples remove this power. Many of our nation’s most prominent visitor-serving organizations’ mission statements are still self-oriented (and innately less relevant and impactful) rather than people or community-oriented. This may deeply affect how your organization functions…and, more critically, how your constituencies relate to your organization.

 

2. Tuition vs. Admission

Why are visitors paying to visit you? Most organizations call it “admission” – but is that how your organization internally considers the transaction?

When it comes to the overall satisfaction of a visitor’s experience, entertainment plays a leading role, and education is often used as a secondary or post-visit justification for visitation. Organizations that prioritize providing an educational experience may benefit by ensuring that it does not come at the cost of an entertaining experience.

Believing conceptually that your organization offers a form of “two-hour tuition” also demonstrates a misinformed viewpoint as to what makes a visit meaningful to your audiences. Namely, data demonstrate that who you are with and the memories folks make are more important that what they see at a visitor-serving organization. If you think that the thing that truly matters is the nuance of your unique collection of Monets, then you’re missing a bigger, data-supported benefit of what you offer your visitors: memories, experiences and opportunities for personal interaction.

 

 3. Institution vs. Community

What do you work to strengthen? Imagine how it would affect internal perceptions of your organization if you replaced every mention of the “institution” with the word “community.” Board members would sit at meetings and question, “How does this support our community?” and “What do we need to do to help our community prosper and grow?”

Because the market is the actual arbiter of your organization’s success (And, yes, I have been reminding you of that in nearly every single post), you need your followers infinitely more than they need you. Though it’s difficult to remember at times, your visitors could survive without your organization (though, yes, the world would be a little more drab and your mission more underserved)…but you cannot survive without your stakeholders. You need donors, visitors, supporters, evangelists…if you’re not cultivating them, then you aren’t serving your institution at all.

Ignore your community (both onsite locally and the potential national communities that you may serve digitally), and you risk ignoring the lifeblood of your institution. In other words: If you misunderstand or underestimate the deep connection between your institution and the socially-motivated community that you’re cultivating, then you risk rapid irrelevance.

 

Visitor-serving and other types of organizations must evolve – but this need for change extends beyond the obvious technology-enabled issues related to digital engagement. Perhaps the most important ways that organizations are evolving are more fundamental, more systemically pervasive than tactical: Ivory towers are proving fragile.  Instead of protecting and insulating an organization, they imperil and isolate its advancement.  Our opportunity comes not from on high (read: “in the tower”). It is born on the frontlines and lives at eye-level.  The organizations that thrive will connect and merge with the outside world.  “Inside-out” is yesterday.  “Outside-in” is tomorrow.  You choose where you want to be.

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page (or ) Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Branding, Community Engagement, Education, Exhibits, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Words of Wisdom 2 Comments

There Is No Mission Without Money: Why Cultural Organizations Need To Get Smart About Pricing Practices

museum admission line

This article concludes a four-part series intended to help visitor-serving organizations understand and respond to emerging trends that will impact their financial and mission-related goals. Learn more about the series here. 

Austerity measures and the loss of heretofore “reliable” funding mechanisms pitched many European cultural organizations into a tenuous financial state and catalyzed a conversation concerning the sustained solvency of visitor-serving enterprise worldwide. In an increasingly competitive market where volume-based strategies (such as an ever-increasing attendance) are less likely remedies to the new economic reality that emphasizes earned revenues, 2014 will mark the year when organizations will need to “get smart” about leveraging data to develop intelligent, efficient price indices. In turn, analysis of an organization’s pricing structure will likely – and necessarily – foster additional discussion concerning the creation of more effective affordable access programming.

Nonprofits are increasingly competing with for-profit organizations as private companies capitalize on shifts in market behavior toward supporting social causes. The market – and especially millennials – are also increasingly sector-agnostic, meaning that simply being a nonprofit doesn’t necessarily indicate to audiences that your organization is providing more social value than a private company.   This is one of the reasons why visitor-serving organizations that highlight their mission outperform museums that market themselves primarily as attractions. 

It’s time to pause and think about your organization’s relevance – and relevance is determined by the market and the support that your organization is able to summon. In short order, museums that cannot survive a “natural selection” and appeal to audiences will sink due to lack of support (relevance), while those that remain solvent and vital (while also pursuing their mission), will enjoy sustained success.

 

1) Here’s why your organization needs to think about revenue and pricing right now (and more than ever before):

 

A) In general, fewer people may be attending your organization because of negative substitution of traditional visitors so increasing attendance may prove challenging in the near-term.

Visitor-serving organizations’ (VSOs) “historic” visitors are leaving the market at a faster rate than new high-propensity visitors are entering the market, creating a negative substitution phenomenon that does not paint a bright future (or present, for that matter) for VSOs. In fact, for every one historic HPV that leaves the market, they are being replaced by 0.989 “new” high-propensity visitors. That may sound like a small difference, but these people add up! Keep up your hard work reaching your traditional audiences and – for no fault of your own – negative substitution factors would suggest that an organization currently serving one million annual visitors will attract 946,000 visitors five years from now (that is 54,000 fewer people, and a likely corresponding decline in membership and program participation). This troubling “glide path” also considers that you’ll be doing everything that you can do to meet your current audience’s needs, and continue to market to them like exceptional rockstars! This data suggests that the key to long-term organizational solvency is to evolve our engagement strategies to include your emerging high-propensity visitors.

The good news: If museums begin to target and cultivate new audiences now, we should start to observe a broad attendance turnaround in year 2019 as emerging audiences (such as English as Second Language households) continue to acculturate into the “mainstream” market and if millennials (who will dominate the market in terms of number and purchasing power) have been engaged by VSOs. But the attendance trend still stands: In spite of overall population growth and even if your organization does its very best and starts evolving right now (as you should in order to get things back up when the market is ripe around 2019), there’s a good chance that your attendance numbers may flatten out these next few years.

 

B) Expensive special exhibits are often financial drains when compared to the potential alternative uses of these same funds.

Despite clear data that utilizing special exhibits to cultivate visitation is an ineffective long-term strategy and has particularly costly and detrimental consequences for organizations, many VSOs (and museums, in particular), get wrapped up in this bad, bad practice when times get tight.

In my world, we refer to organizations that prioritize special exhibits over building affinity for permanent collections as committing “blockbuster suicide.” And – though I won’t throw any organizations under the bus by mentioning their names – I’ll bet that you can think of an organization or two that has “committed suicide” in this way and is now in quite a financial pickle.  These museums train even their closest constituents to wait for expensive exhibits in order to motivate a return visit. Not only is this plan ineffective and ridiculously short-sighted, but it’s also very expensive.

In an economy that increasingly relies on maximizing earned revenues from a finite audience, the margin of financial success is very small. Many organizations cannot afford expensive vanity projects that do little to improve net revenues but add significant costs to their financial model.  Alternative uses of funds that focus on improving the visitor experience frequently realize better returns than the costs to actualize a “special” exhibit.  While many organizations have become very astute at calculating per capita revenues, it may also be wise to similarly calculate the per capita operating costs attendant to serving your visitors.  We reliably observe that exhibits increase per capita operating costs at a level that exceeds any short-term increase in per capita revenues.  In other words, there is little evidence to recommend the viability of special exhibits as a sustainable revenue maximization strategy.

 

C) Visitor-serving organizations that discount to increase word of mouth and drive attendance experience the backlash of negative reputational equities.

What about social media? Can’t we use that to drive attendance? Yes, data suggest that utilizing social media to increase reputation in order to drive attendance is effective and indeed you should! However, when times get tight financially, we see many organizations resort to offering discounts via social media…and offering discounts via social media is a big mistake. This practice cultivates a “market addiction” that has long-term, negative consequences on the health of your organization.

Moreover, the more steeply you discount, the less likely visitors are to return. (Here’s the data again). People also tend to value what they pay for. Those who visit your organization at a discount are also statistically less satisfied with their experience and report more negative reviews than those who come in at full price (Hey, you devalued your brand first!). So much for crossing your fingers for better word of mouth as the result of a discount…

 

 

2) Now look at how most organizations decide how to price for admission:

Many organizations price their admissions based on what we at IMPACTS have termed “unintentional collusion.” Take a look back in time to your most recent conversation about pricing. The origin of your pricing framework probably went something like this:

IMPACTS unintentional collusion pricing

This happens because organizations misunderstand a fundamental principle of pricing.

Museums actually have different reputational equities and thus differing values that the market is willing to pay for a unique experience. If you’re a zoo that is charging the same admission as a nearby children’s museum (or vice versa), then your organization may be ignorantly “leaving money on the table” by relying on the comparative price of a neighboring or “like” organization. Each museum actually has an optimal price index (often best derived as the result of data-based price analyses) wherein the optimal price to visit an organization maximizes revenues without demeaning attendance potential. Along these same lines (and for the reasons stated above), I’d like to offer up a concept that is increasingly critical for the long-term health and vitality of many VSOs:

The amount of revenue that your organization secures is more important than the amount of attendees that walk through your door.

Many executive leaders and board members have a shockingly hard time understanding this necessary – and completely pragmatic – evolution in visitor-serving “business” practices. Many have been hardwired over time to think of success as the number of people that walk through the door. (Why do we even think this way anyway?! It’s an outdated preoccupation with a relatively meaningless nonprofit output.)

The most direct and savvy way to reap the benefits of your labors cultivating evangelists and working to increase your reputation?  Utilizing it to increase your revenue. And when attendance plateaus at the time that your brand is at its most premium, the most efficient way to do this is to adjust your admission price accordingly.

 

3) Optimized pricing will necessitate conversations about affordable access programming that serves lower-income and other underserved constituencies (in other words, programming that actually works)

If your organization has been value-advantaged (“leaving money on the table”) when it comes to your admission price, then raising the price of tickets may, indeed, increase the barrier for low-income households to attend your organization. Because affordable access is often a key part of many organizations’ missions – or even required in order to be eligible for certain grants and government funding opportunities -  getting smarter about pricing will mean getting smarter about affordable access programs as well.

Experience at IMPACTS has shown time and time again that many affordable access programs are extremely inefficient. Specifically, many affordable access programs achieve startlingly little in terms of providing targeted benefit to low-income households and, instead, allow discounted access to those who would otherwise be able and willing to pay full price. These programs are neither capturing low-income households, nor are they increasing revenues so that museums may more effectively and efficiently fulfill their missions. They are glorified discount programs that organizations offer so that they may check off a symbolic box of “affordable access.”

As visitor-serving organizations realize the need to pay attention to pricing and maximize their investments, there will be incentive to re-evaluate affordable access programs so that they actually work. Namely, that they provide an opportunity for low-income households and other targeted underserved audiences to visit the organization without concurrently discounting admission for those who would be willing to pay full price for your unique experience.

All of this is a long way of saying that nonprofit organizations are finally going to have to think about money and stop defending outdated nonprofit dogmas that tend to demonize revenue as a “necessary evil.”  Museums, zoos, aquariums, performing arts and other cultural organizations are big business – accounting for $135 billion in annual economic activity and more than 4.1 million jobs.  Instead of considering volume of visitation as a key performance indicator, we ought to instead focus on meaningful outcomes and recognize that our collective ambitions to achieve social good require revenues.  In other words, there is no mission without money. 

 

*Photo credit: Telegraph, AP (The photo choice has nothing to do with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s pricing!)

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page (or ) Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Posted on by colleendilen in Arts, Big ideas, Branding, Community Engagement, Exhibits, Management, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Public Service Motivation, Social Change, Social Media, The Future, Words of Wisdom 2 Comments