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Six Ways Personalization Trends Are Affecting Museums and Cultural Centers (DATA)

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Visitation to Increase if Cultural Organizations Evolve Engagement Models (DATA)

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Community Engagement

Six Ways Personalization Trends Are Affecting Museums and Cultural Centers (DATA)

Personalization trend in cultural organizations

The personalization trend is here. And it’s affecting nearly everything visitor-serving organizations do.

 

Once in a while – usually when considering topics for a trend meeting with clients – I look over collections of recent IMPACTS data and glaring patterns emerge. Sometimes these trends are obvious – like myth-busting traditional ways of thinking that data suggest are now largely irrelevant. Sometimes they come together to tell a story about sector evolution and solvency. And other times – like today- they represent a connection so glaringly apparent (because it is already in the broader business media spotlight) that I’ve mentioned it only in passing.

Personalization has been an increasing and unrelenting theme in much of the data collected regarding visitor-serving organizations – and it is begging for more attention in the world of cultural centers. Typically, conversations about personalization within these institutions are interpreted as a need for crowd-sourced exhibits/programs or more creative, online initiatives. And those can be excellent ways to actively incorporate personalization into an engagement strategy! What’s decidedly NOT excellent is assuming that personalization doesn’t affect nearly everything in regard to operations and engagement these days. This goes way beyond new exhibit development and social media stunts. 

Personalization is one of the most important trends for brand evolution today and is predicted to continue to emerge as a hard-hitting trend. And, if you haven’t heard, 2015 is the year of personalization. Personalization has been sited – alongside transparency – as an increasingly required brand attribute and a prime example of how the Internet has changed the world in which we live.

From the Share a Coke initiative to the secret sauce of Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Spotify, and Pandora, personalization initiatives are everywhere. Most of all, personalization serves as a helpful lens through which to consider initiatives and the evolution of engagement practices.

Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all communications online and offline. Personalization is actually playing a role in nearly all aspects of visitor-serving organizations – beyond the creative development of new exhibits and programs. Personalization has lead to the emergence of the following trends:

 

1) An increased need for onsite personalization to increase satisfaction levels

Data suggest that personal interactions between staff and visitors significantly increase overall satisfaction, improve value perceptions, and contribute to a more meaningful overall experience. IMPACTS data has uncovered that a single personal facilitated experience (PFE) during a visit can have a major impact on satisfaction levels. A PFE is a one-to-one or one-to few interaction that occurs between an onsite representative of the organization and a visitor.  And not only do PFEs increase satisfaction levels, but they also increase perceived value for admission, education value, staff courtesy, and entertainment value. See the data here.

IMPACTS satisfaction by daypart PFE

Organizations may even deploy PFEs as a mitigation strategy to minimize the impact of crowding perceptions on overall satisfaction! The chart above shows data points from a representative organization with whom IMPACTS works. Keep in mind: The experiences represented by PFE and non-PFE visitors are largely the same (same facility, same content, same basic experience) – except for the opportunity to have a personalized experience with a staff member.

 

2) A growing disinterest in group tours and standardized experiences

Your organization isn’t imagining things: It’s harder to attract leisure tour groups today than in the past. This mass, standardized experience business has been in decline – and the data suggests that it’s not because the salespeople suddenly got bad at their jobs.  It’s because people do not want to go on the same old, standardized group tours.  This makes sense: During a time in which audiences are leaning toward more personlized experiences, many group tours are currently the precise opposite – every experience is commonized.

IMPACTS group tours are fun way to visit museums

The Y-axis in the chart above indicates the mean scalar variable response so as to indicate the level of agreement with the statement on a 1-100 scale.  Anything much below 60 tends to indicate a level of disagreement (i.e. “not fun”).

Perception of the enjoyment of museum visits through group tours not only started out at less-than-impressive levels when IMPACTS began tracking the metric in 2008, perception has since been in steady decline. This is also the case in regard to group tours to zoos and even cities, suggesting that it isn’t the museum group tour that’s “broken” – it’s the group tour concept itself. Similar data exists for sporting events, aquariums, theme parks…you name it. Again, the personalization trend is at odds with the standardized experience of group tours – regardless of the venue. More on this here.

 

3) The expectation of social care on digital platforms

When organizations consider social media and personalization, they often think about creative initiatives. However, this may be missing the boat. There’s an ongoing expectation for personalization that may be more critical to your organization than more creative, additive endeavors.

The buzz term for personal, customer service-like community management issocial care” and it is hugely important for all organizations. Why? Online audiences expect engagement from organizations.

Consider this data by Lithium Technologies: 70% of Twitter users expect a response from brands they reach out to on Twitter, and, of those users53% want that response in less than one hour. The percentage of people who expect a response within the hour increases to 72% when they’re issuing a complaint. And there’s more: 60% of respondents cited negative consequences to the brand if they didn’t receive timely Twitter responses. That said, it isn’t only negative comments for which audiences seek interaction…

Lithium expect response within hour of tweet

This may all sound doom and gloom, but according to the same survey by Lithium Technologies, there’s a benefit to interacting with folks on social media sites:

Lithium positive response data

 

4) Promulgating connective content with personal meaning

By now, organizations likely understand that an organization’s number of followers on social media doesn’t matter. The quality of followers is more important than having thousands who do not promulgate your messages and are disinterested in acting in your organization’s interest.

Content is no longer king. Connectivity is king. Content can operate in isolation, but connectivity requires a kind of “passion match” between the organization and the potential supporter or advocate. This “passion match” is personal, and – while indeed many exhibits or specific programs are being developed for more unique audiences – the understanding that personal connection is the goal is driving the content strategies of intelligent organizations to post not what the most people on social media will like, but what actual, potential supporters will find most meaningful.

 

5) The availability of more diverse membership structures

The concept of personalization may begin with allowing for alternate gateways to engagement and understanding that the “one-size-fits-all” approach to membership simply isn’t optimal anymore. One data-based example of this can be seen in IMPACTS work with a large (over one million visitors per year) visitor-serving organization with a mission related to conservation. More on this finding here.

IMPACTS- Benefits of membership

Adults under thirty-five provide a sneak-peak into the need for organizations to create alternate programs to cultivate new and emerging audiences. Extant data indicate that members of Generation Y are public service motivated and appreciate a feeling of belonging and connectedness with one another and with a cause. This is consistent with the responses gathered from millennials in the data above. Instead of being interested in the more “transactional perks” of membership, this generation desires a feeling of connectedness with a broader social good. Creating a range of membership programs that engage different audiences allows for more personalization in approach. Is the primary “passion match” between members and your organization actually transactional? For some it may be. But what about the increasing majority that care about impact and connectivity?

 

6) The evolution of digital platforms and technology usage

Thanks to the personalization trend, the role of email has changed. It is no longer effective for “spamming” groups of people, but rather for cultivating individual audience members based on their “passion matches.” Personalized emails deliver six times higher transaction rates, but seventy-percent of brands fail to use them.

Moreover, data suggests that static websites and homepages are no longer the digital platform motivating visitation decisions.  Increasingly, social media plays an important role in this process thanks to the personalization and perceived transparency that it provides. Simply put, folks can log onto social media sites and see how well an organization actually “walks the talk” of its mission by way of the content that it posts – and make decisions about the organization on their own.

There is buzz about the importance of utilizing mobile devises to hone in on personalization opportunities. This is a particularly good idea right now because Google has announced that there are now officially more searches taking place on mobile devices and tablets than laptops and desktops. Let the personalization trend continue!

 

Ours is an era of personalization – every experience is increasingly tailored. And data suggest that more standardized experiences suffer in comparison. It’s time that cultural centers ingrain this brand attribute into overall organizational strategy in order to future-proof their experiences and offerings, and better attract and retain donors and supporters.

 

Like this post? Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 2 Comments

Visitation to Increase if Cultural Organizations Evolve Engagement Models (DATA)

Tipping pointAttendance to cultural centers is on the decline, but data suggest that forward-facing organizations may see improvements by 2020. Here’s why.

Overall, data suggest that attendance to visitor-serving organizations is in a general state of decline relative to population growth – and this may suggest a problem with the current visitor-serving organization business model. For organizations that fail to adapt their engagement strategies to respond to emerging audiences, there’s abundant reason to believe that their attendance levels may continue to stagnate or decline. However, data suggest that those organizations willing to evolve their thinking about emerging audiences and access programming stand to benefit by overcoming the negative substitution trends that are currently depressing attendance. There is a reasonable expectation that evolutionary, agile organizations will experience sustained increases in attendance as this century enters its second decade.

Here’s what your organization needs to know about negative substitution, acculturation, and access programming opportunities…and how they are shaping the future of visitor engagement:

1) Negative substitution of audiences is affecting attendance (and it is happening NOW)

While the US population continues to grow, the historic audiences of visitor-serving organizations (i.e. those audiences with the demographic, psychographic and behavioral attributes that indicate a propensity to visit) have been in a state of general decline. One of the reasons for this circumstance is the negative substitution of audiences. Negative substitution is quantified by a deficiency of “replacements” for the historic visitors who exit our markets. For every one person who exits the market, there is fewer than one person to replace him/her.

Currently, for every one high-propensity visitor to visitor-serving enterprise that leaves the market (through death, relocation, or migration), only 0.948 similar high-propensity visitors are entering the market (typically via birth or relocation). When people leave the market without a sufficient number of “replacements,” we have negative substitution.

Why is this happening? For one, affluent, educated white people (i.e. historic audiences) are having fewer children and/or getting older and/or relocating to emerging markets, and visitor-serving organizations on the whole have yet to sufficiently cultivate the engagement of a newer kind of high-propensity visitor. In other words, on the whole, we’ve done a relatively poor job becoming places where emerging audiences (e.g. millennials, Latinos, etc.) feel comfortable declaring “This place is for people like me.” We refer to this as attitude affinity – a perceptual measurement of if a particular market segment believes that an organization is welcoming to them.

Incidentally, emerging audiences (most commonly Latino and other historically underserved populations) are playing a major role in population growth. Historically “underserved” audiences are increasingly the mainstream audiences of the future…and failure to cultivate their engagement may risk a generational alienation from our organizations.

Ultimately, this downward trend demonstrates the failure of access programming within visitor-serving organizations. If the past few decades of access-motivated initiatives had been successful, then we would not be experiencing negative substitution. Instead, we would have cultivated these audience members to become our current visitors. Demographers and researchers have been writing about this inevitability for some time.  If our programming had proven responsive to this opportunity, then we would be experiencing audience visitation that increases alongside population growth. That’s not what’s happening.

 

2) Misunderstanding access programming jeopardizes long-term sustainability

Many organizations incorrectly consider “access” primarily in terms of affordability.  If simply offering a reduced admission was a cure-all to access issues, then very few organizations would still have underserved audiences at all.  The presence of a continually underserved audience indicates the failure of an organization’s access programming.  In the past, organizations could perhaps put access issues on the back burner and get it away with it – there were enough traditional high-propensity visitors to support the organization.  However, as the traditional market shrinks and historically underserved audiences grow to become an increasing majority, the issue of access can’t be de-prioritized any longer.  The future well-being of many visitor-serving organizations hinges on their ability to connect with these audiences. The reality is that effective access programming engenders trial and usage by cultivating new audiences as eventual regular visitors – an organization’s lifeblood.  Access isn’t primarily about price. It’s about eliminating every barrier to engagement.

Do the data suggest letting everyone visit for free?  No.  Of course not.  The data indicate that time is more valued than money for the vast majority of audiences.  A person thinking about visiting a zoo on a Saturday in June is very unlikely to delay their visit until a Tuesday in November simply because of cost.

Access programming is significantly less about affordability than strategic sustainability. This is where organizations are being inappropriately emotional about business matters, and misguided ideas about “affordability” are lessening the solvency of some organizations. Today, there exists compelling, data-informed science that suggest that cost is overstated as the primary barrier to engagement (schedule reliably trumps cost). Think of it this way: If $34.95 proves unaffordable to select audiences, so will $24.95 or $29.95…or any other realistic “discount” from the general admission basis. In terms of true affordability, nearly any price diminishes the visitation potential for our most affordability challenged audiences.

Price is not panacea when it comes to affordability. And affordability is not antidote for access. Price is a revenue optimization tool that provides organizations with the resources to support access programming that, in turn, cultivates the engagement of future audiences.

If you want to be relevant to the audience of tomorrow, you better be working to engage them today.

 

3) Acculturation improves future outlook (provided organizations update engagement models)

IMPACTS- HPV substitution ratios

But there’s hope! Check out this graph from IMPACTS. It demonstrates substitution ratios derived from a predictive modeling process for US visitor-serving organizations. The Y-axis indicates the antecedent term (the first value) in the substitution ratio.  Thus, an antecedent term <1.00 indicates negative substitution – for every one person exiting the market, there is less than one person to replace them.

Why does the trend improve in the future?  Acculturation. Emerging audiences tend to adopt “mainstream” behaviors over time – including, potentially, engaging with visitor-serving organizations such as museums, zoos, aquariums, performing arts centers, etc.

Think of the observed differences between first, second, and third generation immigrants to the US. For example, the first generation of immigrants may not speak the language, may have gone to school overseas, may tend to live in clusters of like ethnicities, etc. The next generation was born and raised in the United States – and may be more acculturated than their parents…but still retain certain behaviors due to household customs (English as Second Language, etc.). However, the third generation tends to be even more acculturated, with fewer traces of “old country” behaviors.

Because population growth is being driven by births of second and third generation Americans, acculturation represents a tremendous opportunity to engage these emerging audiences – provided, of course, that organizations have cultivated a relationship with these audiences before they enter the mainstream. Significant research indicates that relationships with brands are often cast during a person’s early, formative years – a failure to cultivate the engagement of a less acculturated first or second generation audience member may effectively preclude the future engagement of a fully acculturated third generation audience member.

The good news about this data? Organizations that intelligently and diligently evolve their engagement models during this critical time stand to benefit from the positive impacts of acculturation in the near future. The perhaps challenging news? Organizations will need to be thoughtful and actively evolving before 2020 (i.e. the predicted “tipping point” in the audience acculturation projections) so as to cultivate the support of these future audiences before they enter the mainstream market.

This isn’t a “Let’s just wait until 2020 to get serious” situation. This is a “If you start thinking strategically and work hard now, then you’ll see a payoff in 2020” situation.

Interestingly (and unsurprisingly), technology accelerates acculturation. This means, of course, that utilizing digital platforms and cultivating real-time communications with emerging audiences is critical for organizations. This is also another compelling reason for leaders to listen to PR and social media staff members throwing around the word “innovation.” In many ways, the industry doesn’t need to “pivot” (that mindset created many of the challenges that visitor-serving organizations are facing today) – it needs to reset.

Organizations that invest in cultivating more strategic “access” models today will be able to take advantage of the engagement benefits suggested by the predicted acculturation trends. Yet again, the time-proven lesson proves true: You reap what you sow.

 

Like this post? Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

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Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Leave a comment

Audience Acquisition: The Cost of Doing Business for Visitor-Serving Organizations (DATA)

Visit us v2

Here it is: the data-informed equation for how much money organizations should be spending in order to maximize opportunities for financial success.  

Data suggest that approximately 70% of visitor-serving organizations are not investing optimal funding in acquiring audiences.

Marketing budgets seem to be an unnecessarily emotional topic for many nonprofit organizations. Optimizing marketing investments – like admission prices – are increasingly a product of math and science (read: decidedly not “intuition” or “trial and error”). They need not be based on fuzzy-feelings and inappropriate loyalties to failing business models that ignore the realities of the outside world.

We live in a pay-to-play world where organizations have to spend money to make money. When it comes to budgeting for audience acquisition costs, many organizations seem to have fallen into that familiar trap of “last year plus 5%” that lazily assumes the continued efficacy of the same old platforms and strategies. Of course, such a strategy completely ignores shifting advertising cost factors, evolving platforms and channels, and technological innovation. Say it aloud: Nonprofits do not operate in a vacuum and cannot afford to ignore the changed economies and technologies of the world around them.

Several organizations that have made this realization have asked IMPACTS if there is an equation to inform their audience acquisition costs so as to maximize their opportunities for financial success. And, the findings of a three-year study suggest: Yes, there most certainly is!

 

The key equation for acquisition costs

Let’s first establish a few definitions and “same page” this conversation:

Audience acquisition costs are the investments that an organization makes in advertising, public relations, social media, community relations…basically, anything and everything intended to engage your audiences.

Market potential is a data-based, modeled outcome that indicates an organization’s potential engagement with its audiences. For most organizations, “market potential” primarily concerns onsite visitation. In other words, it answers the question, “If everything goes well, how many people can we reasonably expect to visit us this year? (NOTE: Market potential may not match an organization’s historic attendance – organizations “underperform” their market potential all the time…for reasons that we’ll soon explore.)

Earned revenues are the product of admissions, memberships, merchandising, food and beverage, facility rentals…basically, all revenues attendant to the onsite experience that are supported by audience acquisition investments. These revenues exclude annual fund, grants, endowment distributions and other sorts of philanthropy.

Here’s the equation to maximize your market potential (as suggested by the recently completed three-year study):

 IMPACTS audience acquisition equation

Expressed another way: Optimal Audience Acquisition Costs = 12.5% of Earned Revenues. For example, if your organization generates annual earned revenues of $20 million, then this would suggest an annual audience acquisition investment of $2.5 million.

Further, additional analysis would suggest that 75% of the audience acquisition costs should be earmarked to support paid media (i.e. advertising). So, of the $2.5 million suggested above for audience acquisition, nearly $1.9 million should support paid media.  The remaining 25% (or, in this example, approximately $600,000) would support agency fees, public relations expenses, social media, community engagement – all of the programs and initiatives that round out an integrated marketing strategy. Forget to invest that 25% at your own peril. Earned media is critical for success and many social media channels are also becoming pay-to-play.

And now the other side: Why such a large percentage allocated to paid media? Again, ours is an increasingly pay-to-play world. Rising above the noise to engage our audiences frequently means investing to identify and target audience members with the propensity to act in our interest (e.g. visit our organizations, become members, etc.). There is tremendous competition for these same audience members – from the nonprofit and for-profit communities alike.  Think of the most admired and successful campaigns in the world – do Nike and Apple rely on 3am cable TV “bonus” spots that they get for a reduced rate and that don’t hit target audiences? Nope. While earned media plays a major role in driving reputation, paid media plays an important role in a cohesive strategy – and doing it right costs money.

 

The equation in action

How does the study suggest this equation? Check out the chart below. It indicates the relationship between performance relative to market potential (i.e. how well the organization actually performed when compared to its market potential) and the audience acquisition investments made by 42 visitor-serving organizations (including aquariums, museums, performing arts organizations, and zoos) over a three-year period:

IMPACTS - Audience Acquisition

The data strongly suggests that there is a correlation between an optimized audience acquisition investment and achieving market potential. It also indicates the perils of “underspending the opportunity” – a modest investment intended to achieve cost-savings may forfend exponential revenues. (Though the data never has – and likely never will – support it, many organizations seem to foolishly hold dear to the notion that they might somehow “save their way to prosperity.”)

Additional analysis indicates that the studied organizations invested an average of 7.9% of earned revenues toward audience acquisition…but only achieved 76.0% of their market potential. However, the organizations achieving ≥95.0% of their respective market potentials invested an average of 12.7% of their earned revenues toward audience acquisition.

In no instance did an organization investing less than 5.0% of earned revenues on audience acquisition achieve greater than 60.0% of its market potential.

Overall, the data suggests that the “sweet spot” for audience acquisition investment is in the 10.0-15.0% of earned revenue range. Splitting the difference (and further supported by the findings of organizations achieving ≥95.0% of their market potential in the study) gives us our 12.5%.

NOTE: Before we start parsing the nuances of media planning and creative approaches to advertising, let’s baseline the conversation by acknowledging that each of the studied organizations were led by competent persons operating with the best of intentions. Yes – “great creative” matters – but it doesn’t offset an inadequate marketing investment. Sure, a viral social campaign helps…but it doesn’t negate the importance of other media channels. In other words, there aren’t exemptions from the need to invest in audience acquisition for visitor-serving organizations that rely on earned revenues.

If your organization is struggling to meet its market potential, it may have less to do with all of the usual suspects such as parking, staff courtesy, special exhibits, pricing, etc. and more to do with an antiquated view of the necessity of meaningful marketing investments. Can your organization overspend? You bet. However, that doesn’t seem to be the problem confronting most visitor-serving nonprofit organizations. If your organization is struggling to meet its market potential, then it may be that in today’s pay-to-play world, you simply aren’t paying enough to play in the first place.

 

Like this post? Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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 Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 15 Comments

The Four ‘R’s of Brand Credibility for Nonprofit Organizations

4 rs of brand credibility with title

When it comes to inspiring engagement, there are four criteria essential to creating and maintaining meaningful connections with potential supporters, donors, members, and visitors.

During a recent meeting with executive leaders (the “Chiefs” – or, affectionately – the “Cs”) of a mission-driven visitor-serving institution with which I am involved, I was asked, “What makes us [our institution] seen as a credible actor by the market?”

It’s an excellent question – and information from several KYOB posts came flooding to me all at once. Fortunately, there’s sufficient analysis about what informs positive brand perceptions and relationships to pull out four, key factors that contribute to sustained, meaningful engagement in the digital age. Combine these factors with the more tactical four Ts of digital engagement, and you’ve got a good basis for a successful organization’s public-perception strategy.

Considering how your organization approaches its audiences within these four realms is likely critical for the successful achievement of your mission and financial goals alike:

 

1) Relevance

Being relevant isn’t just about being active on Facebook and (although that can help). Being relevant means connecting with audiences though mission-based content. In today’s world, content is no longer king. Connectivity is king. Connectivity happens when an organization presents a passion or platform that resonates with a potential constituent. Therefore, connectivity is about your organization and its relationship with other people, while content is only about your organization. Connectivity is necessarily relevant, while content risks operating in isolation if it fails to engage its hopeful audiences. Connectivity – or sharing an implicitly understood “So what?” with a potential supporter – is prerequisite to action. Simply put: Without connectivity, nobody cares about your organization. Don’t just aim to be “important,” aim to be relevant.

 

2) Resonance

Resonance occurs when an organization “walks its talk” and actually shows the values that it tells. Resonance is about creating meaningful impact – and successfully communicating that impact – so that the shared passion that makes an organization relevant (see #1) can be justified and solidified by supporters. We live in a world in which the market – and especially potential donors and supporters – make decisions based on their own perceptions of how an organization achieves its mission. Studies reveal that demonstrating impact is a key driver of giving decisions. Right now, it’s cool to be kind and many organizations are sinking or swimming based on their perceived abilities to actually carry out their missions. Visitor-serving organizations that highlight their mission outperform organizations marketing themselves primarily as attractions for a reason: They do what they say they are going to do and people can see it, thus, reaffirming their decisions to support the organization. It all boils down to this: An organization must be continually delivering on its promise of relevance in order to resonate with supporters. As mission-driven organizations, this is our sweet spot. Nonprofits are increasingly competing with for-profits and we may risk relevance as an entire industry if we fail to deliver on resonance.

 

3) Reputation

Certainly, all of these points may play a role in providing the foundation for an organization’s overall reputation. However, “reputation” – or, what other people say about you (in marketing parlance think, “third-party endorsements”) – plays a particularly important role in driving success. In fact, data suggest that an organization’s “reputation” is a primary motivator for engaging high-propensity visitors (i.e. those who demonstrate the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral characteristics that indicate a heightened likelihood to visit a museum, symphony, historic site, or other visitor-serving organization). So, what comprises an organization’s reputation? Good question. Regular KYOB readers know that I talk about this…a lot. The answer is a little bit of paid media (e.g. promotions and advertising) and a lot bit of reviews from trusted sources (particularly word of mouth and earned media – both of which are often facilitated by social media). In fact, reviews from trusted resources are 12.85 times more influential in terms of your organization’s reputation than is the advertising and promotions that likely make up the lion’s share of your media budget. If you’re really good, other people will talk about you…and the things that other people say about you (i.e. reviews from trusted sources) play a bigger role in enhancing reputation than does anything that an organization pays to say about itself. In order to achieve favorable reviews, an organization will benefit by first aiming to be relevant and resonant.

 

4) Responsiveness

“Social care” is a term for carrying out relationship building and customer service practices on communication platforms (digital and otherwise). Social care is expected by audiences in today’s world. Social media isn’t a one-way communication channel like a television ad or print ad or direct mail brochure – which data suggest are decreasing in overall marketing value when compared to the web and social media. In order to successfully execute engagement strategies, organizations must be “real-time” responsive to their online audiences. While social care and nurturing audience relationships composes one of the three key elements of social media success, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. The “responsiveness” goal is to be an active listener and display transparency in order to elevate levels of trust in the organization. Being responsive demonstrates that the organization cares about its community of fans and supporters. Most importantly, it demonstrates trust in audiences – and that trust has the potential to be returned to the organization.

 

Think about how you engage with your favorite nonprofit organizations. You may find that these four Rs of brand credibility play an important role in your own perceptions of organizations. It’s funny that so few nonprofits take a moment to step back and consider how they want to be viewed by their target audiences and supporters, isn’t it? How an organization is perceived in this digital world of heightened noise – wherein every type of organization seems to have a social mission – is neither the cause of success nor the outcome of an organization’s success. It’s both.

The four Rs of brand credibility move in a cycle. It’s important that organizations realize that they play an important role in making their own cycle ascend upward instead of spiraling downward. It’s time to step in and maximize our opportunity for success – and that means understanding the important role that we play in driving it

 

Like this post? Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

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

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The Critical Role of Reputation in Nonprofit Success (DATA)

KYOB Even clean hands damage surfaces

A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well. – Jeff Bezos

The reputation of an organization drives its impact and solvency. Or, is it those things that create a good reputation? Reputation is neither the cause of success, nor the outcome. It is both. It’s a chicken-and-egg issue, and that may be why some organizations tend to focus on only one side of the equation.

 

Organizations can – and should – keep tabs on and aim to influence their reputations in order to experience greater success in terms of both solvency and mission-impact. If your organization is like most, you don’t have a single position devoted to managing reputation…and likely think that this responsibility should rest somewhere fuzzy within the marketing department. Today, with an ever-increasing emphasis on transparency and potential supporters wanting to make their own assessments on the worthiness of organizations, an organization’s reputation plays a more important role than ever before.

Managing reputation isn’t an issue of structure, skillset, or tasking – it is an outcome of a successful workplace culture. Here are five reasons why your organization will benefit by integrating discussions concerning reputation management into its culture:

 

1. A good reputation shows why your organization exists (and naturally attracts people who share a passion for your mission)

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it…The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.” –Simon Sinek

This was said by Simon Sinek during his TEDx talk on how great leaders inspire action that has been viewed over 20 million times. (It’s 18 minutes long, and is one of those inspiring, change-your-thinking videos that makes you want to send it to everyone with whom you’ve ever worked…or even marginally talked shop.)

If your organization is doing its job correctly, then the reason why staff members come to work every morning should be apparent. Your mission messaging should trump marketing as an attraction if you are a visitor-serving organization. In essence, your reputation is a reflection of your organization’s character and culture – and organizations will benefit by making sure that their reputation is strong, consistent, and, thus, without need of “hard selling.”

“If I take care of my character, my reputation will take care of me.”- Dwight L. Moody.

 

2. Reputation drives success (by way of donations, relationships, attendance)

A good reputation means greater odds for the long-term financial sustainability of your organization (provided that you remain true to your values and address “crisis” with expediency, sincerity, and transparency).

For visitor-serving organizations, reputation plays a particularly important role in driving visitation. Data suggest that an organization’s “reputation” is a primary motivator for visitation for high-propensity visitors (i.e. those who demonstrate the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral characteristics that indicate a heightened likelihood to visit a museum, symphony, historic site, or other visitor-serving organization). (Regular KYOB readers are likely rather familiar with the data below!) Because museums are currently suffering lower attendance as an industry, the importance of understanding this relationship is especially urgent.

IMPACTS decision making utility model

A strong and stable reputation based on what you do best plays a logical role in building stronger relationships with other organizations, sponsors, politicos, and supporters.

 

3. Reputation conversation necessitates acknowledgement of the importance of online engagement

What makes up an organization’s reputation? Good question. Regular KYOB readers know that I talk about this…a lot. The answer is a little bit paid media (e.g. advertising) and a lot bit of reviews from trusted sources (particularly word of mouth and earned media – both of which are often facilitated by social media). In fact, reviews from trusted resources are 12.85 times more influential in terms of your organization’s reputation than is the advertising that comes out of a media budget.

IMPACTS -Diffusion of messaging Repuation

 Because real-time, online platforms play such a critical role in both cultivating and maintaining reputation, it is nearly impossible to intelligently discuss reputation without also contemplating (online and offline) engagement strategies. It means that organizations will need to talk about social media as it relates to organizational goals and the behavior of breathing human beings instead of reducing the conversation to “likes” and technological skillsets…and that’s a good, necessary thing.

 

4. Understanding your reputation requires understanding your audience (another best practice increasingly necessary for success)

In order to understand the strength of an organization’s reputation, that organization actually needs to listen to people outside of the organization. No, a person inside of the organization cannot determine current reputation. Create an image and build a culture to create a desired reputation? Sure. But nobody in the organization can talk about the organization’s reputation without first listening to feedback from your audiences. Only your market can lend insight into current perceptions of your organization.

Paying attention to the market is critical and it’s one of the main reasons why marketing has evolved from a service department to a strategy-oriented department.

 

5. Reputation management falls to everybody (because it falls to nobody)

Most organizations do not have a Chief Reputation Officer (aside from, perhaps, an overworked CEO), but there is budding conversation about why some organizations may want to consider it.

Reputation management is fundamentally different than a role that might be found within a marketing and communications department. It involves strategically managing and monitoring relationships with distinct constituent groups – including groups related to development, visitor services, community outreach, and government relations functions.

 

Even if an organization does appoint a committee or a position related to reputation management, we live in a time when not having the whole organization on board with your vision (or your “why” – see point #1) can lead to a fragmented reputation. Today, Benjamin Franklin’s words have never been truer: “It takes many good deeds to build a reputation and only one bad one to lose it.”

In sum, an organization’s reputation is one of its most valuable assets, and, as such, it’s time we start actively talking about it within every department.

 

We would all like a reputation for generosity and we’d all like to buy it cheap.

–Mignon McLaughlin

 

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Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 1 Comment

How Nonprofits Use Language as a Barrier to Progress

Inigo Montoya - You keep using that word

Want to be a relevant, digitally engaging, and future-facing organization? You may be starting out on the wrong track. While it seems like a no-brainer, the first step is to actually understand what those words mean…because it seems that many executive leaders and staff members may not.

Before you skim ahead and chalk up these issues to “semantics,” consider that when a term is used incorrectly by leadership within an institution, other members of the organization begin to use it in the same way. When these important – and, definitionally, misunderstood – terms become “cheat” words for industry evolution, problems emerge. At the very least, the organization (if not the industry) is destined to be laggard until we either get the meanings right or someone creates a NEW word to represent the thing that the original word should have meant in the first place.  These matters of “semantics” are misguiding our industry.

Misusing (or perhaps unintentionally “redefining”) important concepts for strategic evolution happens constantly. I see it in my work every day – not to mention in public communications from nonprofit CEOs. Perhaps it’s because I’m a digital native myself, or because I work primarily with Baby Boomers to whom these words may seem relatively new in a contemporary context, or because I’m constantly in the thick of conversations regarding strategic change with my clients…but I find myself consistently feeling like Inigo Montoya (without the cool ‘stache) when words like “relevant,” “digital,” “engagement,” and the “future” come up. Interestingly, it seems that the meanings of these four important words have been jumbled together.

Cheating ourselves by not truly considering the meanings of these words may be playing a role in declining attendance to visitor-serving organizations and their increasingly grim business models. It’s certainly not helping us correct the effects of negative substitution facing the industry.

Let’s dive into these examples. Here are those four words that nonprofits often “cheat” themselves out of by (knowingly or unknowingly) redefining their meanings. In no particular order, ladies and gentleman…

 

1) Relevant (vs. current)

It seems that when someone asks, “How can we make our organization more relevant?” the proposed solutions involve tactics that are current (e.g. utilizing social media, providing analysis of a current event on a blog, or adding a widget to a website). But what if the question was phrased, “How can we make our organization more meaningful to our constituents?” (That, folks, is the true opportunity embedded within the word “relevant.”) When we use or interpret “relevant” to mean “current,” we miss the boat on more important conversations with greater potential to elevate individual organizations and the industry at large.

Being relevant is about connectivity, not content. Connectivity is king. Being current can certainly go a long way in making your organization more relevant to individuals, but promulgating the use of “relevance” to instead imply “current” shortcuts important conversations about how to actually connect with constituents and inspire them to act in the interest of your organization’s mission.

 

2) Engagement (vs. social media interaction)

Without a doubt, fostering engagement is critical for securing support in the information age. The more folks feel a connection with your organization by whatever means, the more relevant (yes, the real meaning of the word) an organization may become. Like being “relevant,” “engagement” is about connectivity. It heightens an organization’s ability to foster feelings of affinity that motivate a desired behavior.

Engagement actually means “to become involved in.” Engagement does not mean, “create a moment of semi-detached, low-level maybe-interest on a trackable social media platform”…so let’s stop using it that way. We miss out on important discussions about impact and strategy (and confuse ourselves by further  contributing to the social media data dilemma) when we reduce “engagement” to simply mean something like “Facebook likes.”

 

3) Digital strategy (vs. technological skillset)

I’ve saved the two most important for last. Industry misuse of the word “digital” may be the entire reason why many organizations aren’t very good at translating it into visits, membership, financial support, or even lasting engagement. Here’s a truth bomb: “Digital strategies” are actually real-life, human-being engagement strategies. As much as many folks working in organizations want to write “all things digital” off to the IT guys (or even the marketing department alone), humans do not think in HTML. Technological skillsets come in handy when deploying tactical, isolated aspects of these strategies. In other words, “digital strategies” are not necessarily about platforms, but about people. So executives should really stop saying, “I don’t understand that” as an excuse for digital illiteracy. This actually translates into, “I know nothing about how to engage our audiences – particularly on their preferred platforms – and I probably should not continue to hold my current position given how remarkably unqualified I am relative to the moment.” The data is pretty unassailable on this front.

Want to dig deeper into this dilemma? Here are five reasons why conceptually separating out “digital” is a problem that is making it harder for nonprofits to succeed.

 

4) Future (vs. present)

Talking about the “future” of organizations may be holding them back. Many industry resources supposedly focusing on “the future” are actually communicating about emerging trends that are happening right now…and when we call them “the future” we do ourselves a grave disservice for several reasons. (For a full run-down, check out this article.) Among those is the fact that calling things that are happening in the present “the future” excuses putting off critical issues, implies uncertainty (even though the data is anything but uncertain), and this misuse of the word also fosters a false and undeserved sense of “innovation” when many organizations are not even keeping up with the day-to-day realities of the world that we live in.

 

These “matters of semantics” are playing big roles in the progress (or lack thereof) of nonprofits and visitor-serving organizations. My hope is that by identifying these “cheats” we may open our minds (and our mouths) to having bigger, more meaningful conversations about the future of our own organizations and nonprofits at large.

 

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Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Leave a comment

Signs of Trouble For The Museum Industry (DATA)

Main Hall and Stairs Mational Museum Warsaw

As the US population grows, the number of people attending visitor-serving organizations is (still) in general decline. And this is a very big problem for sustainability without a digital-age shift in our business model.  It’s not just museums. Many visitor-serving organizations – science centers, historical sites, aquariums, zoos, symphonies, etc. – are failing to keep pace with population growth.

Consider: In the five-year duration spanning 2009-2013, the US population increased by 3.5% from 305.5 million to 316.1 million. The majority of this growth occurred in major metropolitan areas – the very population dense regions where many visitor-serving organizations are located. Indeed, nearly one in seven Americans live in the metropolitan areas of the country’s three largest cities – New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

However, during the same duration, data indicate that attendance at many nonprofit, visitor-serving organizations has declined. In fact, of the 224 visitor-serving organizations contemplated in the 2014 National Awareness, Attitudes & Usage Study of Visitor-Serving Organizations (NAAU), 186 organizations (83.0%) reported flat or declining attendance. And this is neither a regional nor curatorial content-specific finding – the study representatively contemplates visitor-serving organizations of every size, type, and area.

Many organizations are hesitant to acknowledge attendance challenges…especially when they have historically cited being the “most visited” as an indicator of their expertise and effectiveness. I sense that pressure from governing boards also plays a role – particularly as many organizations have been tasked to maximize earned revenues (often inevitably linked to visitation). Perhaps most concerning of all are attempts to blunt the challenge by proposing half-measures as remedy – you’ll no doubt recognize the “don’t worry, we’re going digital!” excuse and the related practice of sending mid-level staff to innovation conferences as attempted evidence of progress. (This last excuse may be especially worrisome as it seems that many staff members tasked to “innovate” may not actually be empowered to carryout their plans for advancement.)

But, regardless of the excuse, the numbers suggest that our industry risks becoming less relevant to future audiences. What does this mean to visitor-serving organizations? Let’s look at a few examples. (Note: To keep this from being a huge, overwhelming chart, I pulled out major metro markets and a few areas cited as “up and coming.”)

KYOB VSO attendance - IMPACTS

To illustrate, the population of the Atlanta, GA Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) has increased in the past five years by 9.4%. During the same duration, visitation to the Atlanta-area organizations contemplated in the NAAU study indicates an attendance decline of 4.6%. Think about that – if engagement were keeping pace with population growth, an organization with an annual attendance of 1,000,000 in year 2009 would reasonably expect to welcome 1,094,000 visitors in year 2013. Instead, on average, the studied organizations saw attendance decline from the theoretical 1,000,000 visitor level in year 2009 to 954,000 visitors in year 2013. Measured against the expectations of population growth, visitor engagement underperformed by 140,000 visitors!

The expectation would be for attendance to increase alongside population growth – otherwise, it is indicative of underperforming the opportunity.  Again, the findings are stark and concerning for organizations in the engagement business:

KYOB VSO Performance against expectations - IMPACTS

In most any other business, if you saw the market steadily increasing in size and your product’s usage in steady retreat alongside it, you’d likely think, “This business model sucks.”

Well, our business model sucks.

Confronted with this evidence, I’ve heard leaders recycle tired strategies of securing larger donations from an aging donor base, and plans to gain more grant funding from governments and foundations. Generally, they aim to “pivot” from a reliance on earned revenues to (hopefully…fingers crossed!) additional contributed revenues. Except no. The visitor-serving industry doesn’t need to pivot. It needs to reset.

Here are three behaviors we need to adapt to reset our current condition:

 

1) Stop citing poor previous efforts as evidence that something will not work

Some visitor-serving organizations will declare that they “already tried” something after investing only the most minimal of resources necessary to claim effort. This is a surefire recipe for failure …yet, it happens all of the time. Here’s a quick example: Many organizations will offer options to buy tickets online and simply invest enough to create a webpage for it. Then when nobody uses that method to buy tickets they say, “Look! We tried that and nobody bought tickets that way!” Actually, nobody bought tickets that way because your site wasn’t mobile friendly, it takes 10 different screens to buy a ticket, it requires several pages of personal information, it’s confusing and time consuming, and it costs more. Often it’s an organization’s own fault when data-informed things don’t work, but organizations frequently take a half (or maybe a one-tenth) approach to something and basically (knowingly or unknowingly) set it up for certain failure. This is just one, basic example.

“Our crummy product failed, ergo everything related to this project won’t work” justifies stagnancy by masking it with false wisdom. Organizations think that they are cutting-edge for trying something without any conviction, and that the wisdom they received from their inevitable failure justifies closing the book on really big things like digital engagement. How does this even make sense? This type of excuse-making is a shortcut to irrelevance. Just stop doing it.

 

2) Stop defending past decisions

This seems to be a particularly hard one for many leaders to embrace. After all, it may be human nature to defend one’s past decisions as “right” and “good.” And, at the time when they were made, they probably were. But times change. Today, we are witnessing incredible changes – many borne of technological advancement – accelerating progress at a revolutionary pace. By what rightful reason do we think that we’re exempted from the prevailing changes affecting the rest of the world?

Just because you spent thousands and thousands of dollars on print material doesn’t spare you from the necessity of hiring an online community manager. On a more substantial investment scale, those millions of dollars that you invested in a new entrance to facilitate faster put-through times doesn’t exempt you from developing a mobile ticketing platform that may make ticket counters increasingly obsolete. This is a lesson to learn in real-time (as opposed to retrospectively): Repairing and updating past decisions is often more time-consuming and, ultimately, more expensive in the long run than starting anew. It’s OK – heck, even encouraged – to approach the current condition untethered to the past. That was then, this is now.

 

3) Embrace the inevitable path of progress

Max Anderson, CEO of the Dallas Museum of Art, gave a short ignite talk at the most recent Museum Computer Network conference. The topic of his talk was how to “persuade your museum director to help you” (i.e. how to get him/her to invest in “innovation”). From the beginning of the video it’s easy to see one of the biggest, most glaring problems in our industry: He begins his talk by asking how many museum directors are at the conference. Very short awkward silence ensues…followed by laughter. Really?! Are even our conferences about innovation and new ideas attended primarily by middle managers?!

The reason for the lack of executive decision-makers at many conferences is not necessarily the fault of museum CEOs (as the conferences aren’t always adequately geared toward Directors). But it’s not wholly the task of middle managers to communicate and justify the imperative to remain relevant to CEOs either. There’s a messed up barrier to betterment here, and it has more to do with a flawed structure than simple lexicon within an antiquated museum hierarchy. His talk is absolutely true, probably staggeringly helpful, and thus amazingly messed up at the same time.

We’ve developed this detrimental idea that “digital” has to do with “tech” (not people), and “innovation” isn’t necessary for survival. Max Anderson’s “primer on the psychology of museum directors” underscores that the status quo (and, of course, legacy!) is what museum directors are primarily interested in…but the status quo isn’t working to bring in more people by creating crowds OR buzz. Efforts to abide the current condition fundamentally ignore the challenges imposed by a broken model. Changing lexicon is a pivot. Pivots sound pretty. Pivots sound agile. After pivoting, however, you may be facing in a different direction but you’re still standing in the same place.

Millennials – the largest generation in human history – may necessitate an update to the visitor-serving model in the information age. These “kids” will soon have kids, who will eventually have more kids, and if we continue to ignore the reality of negative substitution in our attendance, then we may soon have no museums, aquariums, or symphonies for those “kids” to go to at all. (OK – perhaps some hyperbole. We likely won’t have zero museums. Just more empty ones.)

 

The forces of change that propel the world forward are not going away. If we don’t change our model to one that is more sustainable, then we risk going away. This is a moment when our biggest barrier to engaging emerging audiences is holding dear to our increasingly irrelevant plans and practices. We need a reset. And it’s up to all of us to put our heads together and make it happen.

 

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Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

Why Using Social Media For The Sake of Using Social Media Hurts Organizations

social media symbolsConducting contests that none of your online audiences are interested in, spending copious time on the newest social media features (that none of your audiences are using), measuring success by vanity metrics, and building out features that nobody is asking for…why do organizations do these things? They don’t help support bottom lines like getting folks in the door, building affinity, increasing donor support, or sharing knowledge if they aren’t relevant to your market or strategically integrated into an engagement plan…. and yet organizations brag about these useless endeavors to their boards and at industry conferences.

Many organizations seem to be feeling so “peer pressured” to be utilizing social media that they are using it to do stupid, time-consuming things for audiences that don’t matter (often, so that they may secure “innovation” points within the industry. Many museums, in particular, are guilty of this one). Your audience that does matter, however, is often left thinking something like this.

Using social media for social media’s sake is dumb. Let’s quit it. Want to impress the nonprofit next door (and also your donors and supporters)? Actually be good at running your organization and using social media to do so. A big reason for this problem is deep-rooted in how organizations view “digital” engagement. Specifically, many view social media as a tech skillset and not a strategy for building relationships with living and breathing human beings.

Doing social media for social media’s sake is like being expert at hammering a hammer but not knowing how to use it to build a house. You purposefully become expert at using the tool…but you forget that the whole reason that you have the tool is to actually build something. Hammers (social media) can help us build bigger and stronger houses (organizations) if we do something more than bang the floors with them.

Here’s why the rampant bad practice of using social media for social media’s sake is (at best) a distraction and, more likely, a stupid and capricious waste of time, talent, and resources:

 

1) It does not accomplish anything

Several questions should be considered before carrying out a digital initiative (or any initiative, for that matter). Some of those questions may be:

  1. Who will this initiative serve/who do we want it to serve?
  2. What do we want this audience to do in the near and long-terms?
  3. How does this initiative help us achieve our stated goals?
  4. “So what?” Or rather, what is the reason why this audience would be interested in this initiative? How is it relevant to them?
  5. What need does this initiative help serve?
  6. How will we capitalize on gains from this initiative with this audience (i.e. what will be the next step in the engagement process for them)?
  7. Does this initiative have value to our desired audience?

Only after contemplating these questions can one determine if an initiative is worth the required effort. If your organization has trouble answering any of these questions – or if the answers are too broad or inconclusive (e.g. “targeting all social media audiences” rather than a subset), consider altering the initiative so that it meets a strategic engagement need or opportunity. Know exactly who you are talking to with the initiative, why it is helpful/relevant to them, what you want them to do, and how you’ll keep them engaged. Most stupid initiatives have only resolved one or two of these things.

 

2) Providing the opportunity to participate does not mean that people will participate

The “If you build it…” mentality is categorically false. Just because you launch an initiative does not mean that people will take part in it. I don’t know why some organizations still overlook this fact. If you’re asking people to take an action that just has too high of a barrier/requires too much effort or doesn’t fulfill a relevant want for them, then they probably won’t do it.

I’m often asked things like, “How can we get more people to participate in our photo contest? We’ve done everything!” The answer depends on what you had hoped to accomplish by launching that specific contest. If you’re targeting the audience and they aren’t biting, chances are your specific initiative is just not going to provide the value you’d hoped because, well, the market has spoken and they are saying, “Nope. Not interested in doing that thing.”

 

3) It wastes resources

Resources can be tight for nonprofit organizations – and time is money. You may as well dedicate your time to spinning in circles in your office instead of carrying out social media for social media’s sake. In fact, that might even be better because it may cause you less stress than having to answer the question, “So…why was that strategically beneficial for us in the long term?”

 

4) It makes social media buy-in harder in the long run

On that note, carrying out several initiatives that aren’t strategically integrated into an engagement plan may make executives wonder what your engagement plan even is! Carrying out social media “bells and whistles” can be like crying wolf. How can executives (let alone your audiences) know which initiatives are important and which are for vanity? These types of initiatives may be especially difficult to reconcile if you don’t even have baseline practices down like social care.

 

5) It misses the point of social media

I refer again to my opening analogy about how social media for social media’s sake is like becoming really good at hammering, but not knowing how to use a hammer to build a house.

 

If you don’t know how that new, “cool” thing that you are doing on social media supports and enhances your organization’s bottom lines, then it’s probably a waste of time, money, and energy. Utilizing social media to strategically engage audiences is not only a good move – it’s increasingly critical.

Lest the signal be lost amidst the noise: The important word in the preceding sentence was “strategically” – not “social media.”

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, Digital Connectivity, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends Leave a comment

The New Trickle Down Effect: Why Nonprofits Are Innovators for Industry

teaching innovation

The company for which I work annually invests millions of dollars to help nonprofit organizations better understand and engage with their donors and visitors… and nonprofit leaders should know why.

It’s been a while since I wrote about myself, so I hope that you won’t mind my taking a moment to point out a trend: Inevitably, after talking shop with readers of “Know Your Own Bone” (but who may not know much about IMPACTS), there’s an awkward moment of silence before I’m asked, “So, why do you do what you do, and how does it…work?”

It sounds like a strange question, but I’ve come to understand exactly what they are asking.

Here’s a bit more about my “day job,” but, on “Know Your Own Bone,” my mission is to make accessible “big data” and data-informed analysis to nonprofit organizations for free (i.e. no advertisements, promoted opinions, sales pitches, etc.) Of course, this response often begs a few follow-up questions: How can I do this and feed myself? And how is this not detrimental to IMPACTS?

It’s no secret that there isn’t generally a massive pile of cash associated with helping nonprofits, and yet I work with a for-profit company that invests millions of dollars to help organizations better understand their market opportunities. It almost risks sounding like an example of “Do as I say, not as I do” – except, it’s decidedly not.

Nonprofit organizations are infinitely complex, and helping to understand how the market engages with that sector has proven incredibly valuable to the other sectors that IMPACTS serves. Indeed, when it comes to innovation, some of the best R&D happening in our space is being pioneered by nonprofits. For once, the “Next Practices” are trickling down from the nonprofit sector to the corporate world.

Here’s why:

1) Motivating visitation and/or giving decisions relies on understanding a series of complex behaviors

While it’s true that nonprofit organizations are not always the quickest to evolve, they rarely get the pat on the back that they deserve for working in an industry that can be exponentially more complex than that of most private enterprise.

Consider this visitor-serving organization example: Getting someone to visit a museum (or theater, symphony, science center, botanic garden, aquarium, historic site, etc.) requires an understanding of many multi-faceted, high-barrier motivations and behaviors. To get to a museum, for instance, a family would need to decide the visit would be worthy of their time, prioritize that experience over every other leisure time pursuit (including staying home and relaxing!), find an open day in everyone’s schedules, get the family dressed and into the car, drive to the museum, park, pay for that parking, play real-life Frogger hustling across a busy street, pay for admission, explore the facilities with the kids until they get tired, stop for snacks (if the kiddos get cranky), avoid (or embrace) the gift shop, then return to the car and fight traffic on the way home…

(Pant, pant…) There is a lot about consumer behavior to understand there…and we haven’t even yet begun to consider the philanthropic motivations that play an important role in helping nonprofits thrive. Perhaps now one can start to understand how – when compared to motivating engagement with nonprofit organizations – getting someone to buy a car, go to a movie, or even vote for a political candidate seems downright simple!

 

2) Understanding those behaviors and motivations informs other industries

Contrast the task of motivating the behavior of visiting an organization with the task of, say, motivating that same small family to enjoy a specific television show in pajamas in the comfort of their own home. If you are a member of the entertainment industry trying to get folks to watch a show – or even sign up for an “on demand” entertainment delivery platform, there is much less to understand and far fewer barriers to engagement.

Understanding why folks behave (or, for that matter, do not behave) in the interests of nonprofit organizations provides IMPACTS with incredible data and insight attendant to extremely complex behaviors, the transitive applications of which frequently inure to the benefit of comparatively less-complex behaviors such as, say, watching television.

Yes. What you work hard to understand and do in your day-to-day jobs at your organization actually informs how other industries do business…because the behaviors that nonprofit organizations motivate are complex and understanding them sheds light on the “hard to measure” aspects of human behavior and motivation. Unlocking the key to complex human behaviors and motivations is the secret sauce in many a corporation’s recipe for success…and the pioneers in this research are often nonprofits.

 

3) People. Planet. Profit. (You actually have THREE bottom lines)

Nonprofit, visitor-serving organizations must not only sustain themselves (some more than others), but they must also serve their communities (people) and social missions (planet). That’s a whole lot to think about compared to private entities – which, generally, are primarily obligated to the single bottom line of profit.

At the risk of some simplification, “profit” is relatively simple to figure out. People and planet – ostensibly selfless business motivations – are a little more inscrutable. And, yet, in our modern era where corporate social responsibility is increasingly good business, there is a growing need to better understand the more intricate aspects of human behaviors.

Again, this doesn’t even touch upon the topic of philanthropy – the motivations of which defy traditional utility curves.

Most simply put, nonprofit organizations are metaphorically juggling three balls at once…while many corporate entities are consumed by the one ball that they have up in the air. Add to this circus the fact that, well, two of your juggling balls are rather strangely shaped. (I love bad metaphors.) Understanding the expertise that goes into juggling three balls at once helps make the work of those with only one or two balls a whole lot easier.

 

4) Nonprofiteers are better than they think (but the imperative to evolve remains urgent)

Visitor-serving organizations, like many nonprofits, can get a bad rap. They are sometimes called slow-moving or culturally antiquated. Negative substitution of audiences is making increasing attendance difficult and long-siloed structures impede abilities to be agile and adaptive. CEOs of nonprofits are generally paid less than their for-profit peers, and retaining talent in a highly-competitive market can be a struggle.

However, consider again that visitor-serving organizations work every day to motivate a series of complex behaviors intended to inspire folks to act in the best interest of not only themselves, but of their larger communities. While some organizations have become accustomed to patting themselves on the back for achieving mediocracy, it’s important to keep in mind that, in many ways, the continued relevance of nonprofits and visitor-serving entities in the face of many challenges is quite a remarkable feat!

I think people who work in nonprofits are the best kinds of fighters. That’s why I’m lucky to get to work with them and that’s why I feel passionate about hounding my company to continue to help them.

 

5) Much of the data conceptually belongs to you

Providing data and insight in a transparent, open-fashion feels like a good practice. Doing the right thing is a reward unto itself. And, in terms of the means of effectuating knowledge transfer, “giving away” information for free is the very nature of blogging.

I don’t think it’s fair to gather information about human behavior regarding visitor-serving organizations and simply sit on it for monetary purposes. Luckily, the company for which I work doesn’t think that either. So I get to share some of it here. I am grateful for that.

The more information I share, the more I hope that I can garner your trust and provide aid as a valuable resource. If I can do that, the data will be more helpful…and the changes we are seeking will have greater impacts in our communities.

Leaders of nonprofit organizations: pat yourselves on the back. What you’re doing is hard, important, and paving the way. 

Data proves it.

 

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Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

The New Realities of Advertising Costs (Hint: You Are Getting Less Than You Think)

Budget expenses

Many nonprofit organizations misunderstand the increasing costs of advertising – and it’s costing them dearly.

It’s that season when organizations are preparing their budgets for the upcoming year. For many of us in the communications space, tis the season of spreading tough-love  in the hope that nonprofit organizations don’t hamstring themselves with a flawed “save one’s way to prosperity” approach to budgeting for marketing expenses – especially social media and advertising. Increasingly, advertising is not an optional expenditure – it is a basic cost of doing business for any organization that relies on the time, engagement, or concern of audiences (…which happens to be most organizations).

When it comes to budgeting for a necessary advertising investment, a tremendous challenge confronting many nonprofit organizations is a reliance on precedent behaviors to inform our future planning efforts. The advent of digital technologies amplified by an increasingly platform agnosticism market have rendered many of the traditional “rules” of advertising obsolete. The communications world – and, in turn, the advertising world – is in a period of significant revolution and reinvention. A dogmatic beholdenness to the past is likely to leave an organization forever behind.

Here are two important points that your organization should keep in mind when it comes to the basic cost of advertising:

 

1) The cost of advertising has increased dramatically in recent years and many organizations are not keeping pace with inflation

Though you may be spending more, you are probably getting less return on your advertising investment than you were a few short years ago. The few percentage points that organizations add to their advertising budgets each year is simply insufficient when contemplated in the context of the escalating costs of advertising.

For instance, in my experience, even forward-thinking organizations keep their annual ad budgets relatively stable (“Hey, this is how we’ve always done it!”) and will sometimes add 5-10% if there’s a special program or campaign taking place that they’re trying to promote. The thing is, while organizations think that they are spending more (because they are actually spending more), they are increasingly getting less.

Take a look at the chart below. The chart indicates examples of observed advertising costs during the last five years.  For relativity purposes, the escalating cost factors have been standardized and charted as index values.

 IMPACTS cost of advertising

“Blended CPM” indicates the growth in costs “blended” across all media types (i.e. broadcast, radio, print, digital, outdoor, etc.) as observed by the actual media plans of twelve IMPACTS clients.  CPM is an acronym representing the Cost per One Thousand impressions.  Thus, the average observed costs to advertise have increased by 41% in the five-year duration ranging from years 2010-2014.

As additional examples of advertising costs, within the same five-year duration, the chart indicates that the costs of a 0:30 second advertisement during the Super Bowl and Grammy Awards broadcasts have respectively increased by 60% and 105%.

We are living in an increasingly personalized world that emphasizes speed and convenience. We can simply TiVo, Apple TV or On-Demand our way out of most ads on our favorite television shows because we watch these shows at our convenience. Because of this, programs that folks watch live (e.g. sports, news, award shows, etc.) command premiums when compared to the costs of similar programming a relatively few short years ago.

In the simplest terms: Yes, on average, your organization will need to have increased its advertising budget by at least 40% in order to match your advertising efforts of five years ago. If you’ve added less than 40% to your budget, then your organization may actually be achieving less advertising impact than you were in 2010.

In the end, it’s a lesson in business and economics: You cannot just throw a bit more money at something year over year and get mad when you don’t get correspondingly “more” in return. If you’re not increasing the budget at the rate of what things cost, then you’re actually getting less. This lesson seems particularly challenging for nonprofit boards to understand when they are confronted with a proposed increase in the advertising budget. “So, if we spend more money on advertising, how much more support will we get?” is a perfectly reasonable question posed by many a board member. However, the question from board members probably ought to be, “If we don’t sustain significant investments in our audience acquisition strategies, how many visitors will we lose…and what will be the costs of trying to re-acquire them in the future?”

 

2) The first thing that organizations often cut is marketing (despite the increasing importance of funding in this area)

Compounding matters is the fact that – despite an abundance of the well-publicized reasons why it is a terrible idea – many organizations trying to balance budgets still seem to cut the marketing budget first.

This may be particularly relevant for visitor-serving organizations (museums, theaters, symphonies, gardens, aquariums, zoos, etc.) as these types of organizations are having a rough time meeting attendance goals. The anxiety associated with this causes organizations to deny data and do a lot of dumb things (and maybe some more dumb things) that will hurt them even more in the long run, and cutting marketing budgets in the Information Age is another one of them.

It’s a tough pill to swallow for traditionalists and specialists within organizations, but marketing is increasingly important for the survival of your organization. For many of the most successful organizations, marketing is at the center of strategic conversations. It’s a big change for many entities! And, organizations aren’t solely deciding that this should be the case…the market is deciding for them. As I say in nearly every post: Organizations can sometimes determine importance, but the market determines relevance.

Mix one part “not keeping up with the cost of advertising” with one part “cutting your marketing budget” and watch your audience awareness dwindle to record lows. For those persons in the nonprofit sector who may continue to balk at the idea that they need to spend more to acquire, engage, and communicate with their audience than they did five years ago, I ask you: What makes advertising exempt from the most basic laws of inflation? Again, these cost increases are the most basic costs of doing business.

 

For marketers, it is a tough road ahead: The “This is how we’ve always done things” and “Last year plus five percent” approach to budgeting and media planning that permeates many organizations is an increasingly doomed strategy. In a way, this post isn’t exclusively about marketing or advertising. It’s about a new way to think about the constantly evolving world that we live in. The world waits for no one. We need to keep pace or risk being left behind.

 

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 Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Leave a comment
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