Market to Adults (Not Families) to Maximize Attendance to Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Marketing to adults increases visitation even if much of your current visitation comes from people visiting with children. Here’s Read more

Why Those With Reported Interest Do Not Visit Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Data suggest that a sizable number of people report interest in visiting cultural organizations…and yet over thirty percent of those Read more

MoMA Sees Reputation Boost After Displaying Muslim Artists (DATA)

Here’s what market research reveals about MoMA’s decision to display artwork from artists hailing from the Muslim-majority nations affected Read more

Five Videos That Will Make You Proud To Work With A Cultural Organization

Let’s pause and celebrate the hard and important work of working with cultural organizations. Talk of defunding the National Endowment Read more

Data Reveals The Worst Thing About Visiting Cultural Organizations

The primary dissatisfier among visitors to both exhibit AND performance-based cultural organizations is something we can fix. What is the Read more

People, Planet, Profit: Checks and Balances for Cultural Organizations

It’s a time of change and evaluation for cultural organizations – and that’s a good thing. The societal current Read more

Community Engagement

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 Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

How to Utilize Social Media to Actually Cultivate Donors (And Why You Need To Do It Right Now)

marketoonist community management

This article is part of 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. 

Conversations involving social media with many fundraisers often result in eye-rolling and a terse, “That’s not my job!” as those tasked with securing an organization’s contributed revenues deflect responsibility to the marketing/PR team. Here’s the thing though: Online engagement has evolved to the point where it is nearly impossible to optimize fundraising efforts and maximize donor retention without utilizing digital communications – and that includes social media.

All signs (consumer motivation data and social media behavioral trends) are pointing toward the need for organizations to look beyond “vanity metrics” like fan and follower count and focus on the quality and strength of varied relationships formed on social media platforms – particularly ones that drive the gate (if you’re a visitor-serving organization) or cultivate monetary support. Simply put: A fundamental shift is occurring in terms of how successful organizations view online fundraising and donor cultivation.

Here are three critical items for organizations to come to terms with that affect how your organization may optimize social media and online donor cultivation:

 

1) Once and for all: Realize that the quality of your fans and your ability to activate them in your interest is significantly more important than the quantity of your fans

Would you rather have 100,000 Facebook fans or 1,000 active donors and supporters? Chances are that your organization is hoping to utilize social media to get something done rather than utilizing social media for social media’s sake. It’s time that we call vanity metrics exactly what they are and break through the noise of social media metrics that misleadingly influences too many organizations. In many situations, it’s an organization’s very desire to utilize social media metrics and data that lead strategy execution astray. Let’s start actually thinking about what these metrics mean.

The problem with metrics like fan and follower count is that they actually mean very little for your organization – especially if the increased reach is falling on ambivalent ears. What matters is not how many people ‘like’ you online but who you are able to activate through engagement online.

The days of “one size fits all” outbound social media communications are officially over. Your organization’s fans and followers are not all of equal value to your nonprofit’s relevance and long-term solvency – and treating every “like” the same way means purposely sabotaging your ability to achieve organizational goals through social media. (1) Members/donors, (2) Influencers, and (3) Evangelists are three categories of fans that have particular payoff to your nonprofit. Intelligent, strategic organizations benefit by creating content that stimulates these particular stakeholders.

A mission-related post may get less general engagement, but your reputation increasingly has a direct correlation to the level of support your organization secures. Securing a content share from a member (thus allowing for personal promulgation of your brand from someone to whom your mission has meaning) is more important than a content share from somebody who just thinks you posted a pretty picture (but doesn’t feel a connection to your organization). The market is the arbiter of your organization’s success, and knowing what makes your high-value supporters and evangelists (not just your overall target market) tick is critical for building the most helpful community for your organization.

 

2) Make online personalization part of your engagement and donor cultivation strategy

Personalization is one of the biggest and most discussed (and arguably one of the smartest) conversations taking place for all organizations and businesses right now. Case-in-point: I’m honored to be a keynote speaker at MuseumNext, Europe’s conference on innovation in museums, in June of this year and personalization is so increasingly critical to organizational success that it is identified as one of the four, key themes of the whole conference. I think they hit the nail on the head: “Our audiences increasingly expect experiences which are tailored to them. How are museums moving beyond one size fits all to accommodate the different needs of individuals?”

Opportunities for personalization (which increases relevance, garnering attention and aiding in building affinity for brands) are being explored for onsite experiences – but this mindset also must be applied to online engagement. Specifically, potential donors/members, influencers, and evangelists increasingly require personalized communications in order to optimize chances for activation (i.e. behaving in your organization’s interest).

How can you utilize personalization to cultivate donors online? A key to online personalization is actively engaging select audience members instead of being passive – or just waiting for them to tweet you or write on your wall. For starters, know who your stakeholders actually are and how they behave online (this often starts with compiling a list of key stakeholders and their social media platforms). This isn’t rocket science: Make a private Twitter list and pay special attention to your key influencers’ tweets, be active, and wish them a happy birthday (for example)! Other ways to create these individual touch-points is through diligent social care, or “social CRM” (responding to individual comments and questions on social media platforms in a timely and thoughtful fashion) – a community management necessity that is too often overlooked.

“Yikes!” you’re thinking if you’re a leader in your organization, “this is going to require a lot more manpower!” Yes. Yes, it is…but the importance of digital touch-points will not disappear any time soon.

 

3) Most importantly: Stop treating online donor cultivation as a separate beast and understand that it is a cornerstone of a broader cultivation and retention strategy

I often get the feeling that executive leaders somehow believe that supporters who give or may be cultivated online must be aliens who exist only online …or that online donor cultivation may be somehow different than offline donor cultivation. Here’s news that should be refreshing and empowering to organizations that are a bit intimidated by digital platforms: It’s not.

As a reminder: A donor online is still a donor “in real life.” Their money is still money, and their support is still support. They have the same motivations as offline donors, expect the same treatment, and expect the same personalization and attention as those who choose to give via a different method. Simply put, they are human.

Cultivation should happen for individual donors both online and offline. Instead of conceptually carrying out varying initiatives online for “online donors” and offline for “offline donors,” organizations should realize that online donor cultivation is not separate but, instead, an integral aspect of a broader cultivation strategy.

In sum, instead of viewing “online giving” and cultivation as a donation conveyance channel, smart organizations are realizing that it is an increasingly important (and expected) component of a broader donor cultivation and retention strategy, and that it – like all other fundraising communication methods – is more about the people than the platform or giving method.

At the end of the day, fundraising and donor engagement initiatives will continue to evolve in the online space – just as more traditional engagement methods evolve. This evolution will necessitate more informed, personalized donor cultivation leveraging real-time platforms.

 

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 Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

Finding: Museums That Highlight Mission Financially Outperform Museums That Market Primarily as Attractions (DATA)

seafood watch

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

Data suggest a “new” draw to your organization that is now key to engaging both visitation and donor support. Well, actually, it’s not “new” – it’s the reason why your organization exists: Your mission. How credibly the market perceives your organization in terms of your ability to effectively deliver on your mission has a very strong positive correlation with your organization’s financial performance.

An analysis of the recent financial performance of a large and representative number of visitor-serving organizations coupled with the public perceptions of these same organizations reveals an outcome that may not be surprising for those who keep tabs on consumer behaviors: Organizations perceived as “best-in-class” in terms of mission delivery reliably outperform organizations that rely more on their reputations as “attractions” when it comes to their financial bottom lines.  In other words, mission and business are not in conflict – being superlative at your mission is good business!

There are three overall findings relating to the “mission is good business” trend:

1) Organizations perceived as more credible actors in terms of fulfilling their mission financially outperform peer organizations whose reputational equities relate primarily to their roles as attractions

IMPACTS collects and analyzes attitudinal and awareness data for 224 visitor-serving organizations in the US (and that may even include your own). This data and analysis informs the development of key performance indicators that reveal trends and correlations affecting visitor-serving enterprise.  The charts below indicate the relationship between 35 visitor-serving organizations’ financial performance in terms of “revenue efficiency” coupled with the market’s perception of these same organizations’ “reputational equities.”  (In the interest of maintaining appropriate confidences, I’ve “anonymized” the findings)

First, a few quick definitions (with advance apologies for the analytical jargon):

Revenue Efficiency: A composite metric contemplative of onsite-related earned and contributed revenues (e.g. admission, contributions, grants, membership, programs) contemplated relative to the cost to deliver onsite services (i.e. operating expenses) and the number of persons served onsite.  Generally, a more “revenue efficient” organization exhibits more favorable financial key performance indicators (e.g. greater revenues, greater net operating surplus) and reduced financial volatility than does a less revenue efficient organization.  Data informing the IMPACTS revenue efficiency calculation are commonly available in an organization’s financial statements, annual reports, and Form 990 filings.

Reputational Equities: A composite metric contemplative of numerous visitor perceptions such as reputation, trust, authority, credibility, and satisfaction that collectively indicate the market’s opinion of an organization’s relative efficacy in delivering its mission.  As mentioned previously, IMPACTS collects perceptual data from 224 visitor-serving organizations in the US to inform its reputational equities calculation.

KYOB aquariums reputation and revenue

Aquariums are a good place to start because (a) in addition to tackling the mission of inspiring audiences, they are also increasingly engaging audiences on broader conservation issues; and (b) aquariums tend to be more reliant on earned revenues than their museum and zoo brethren who may have greater public funding and/or endowment support. In short, absent the safety net of large endowments and government appropriations, aquariums are among the most market-driven businesses in the nonprofit sector, and translating positive reputational equities has an enormous financial benefit for these organizations (and, in inverse, lessened reputational perceptions bear tremendous risk to an organization’s bottom line).

Generally, revenue efficiency follows reputational equities (so working to increase reputational equities tends to positively affect revenue efficiency). Thus, we can reasonably surmise that year 2014 may bring continued challenges for Aquariums H, I, K and L should they choose not to prioritize remedy for their lacking perceptions as credible actors when it comes to delivering on their missions.

KYOB zoos reputation and revenues

Much like aquariums, the zoos that are perceived as credible actors in regard to their mission achieve the greatest revenue efficiency. Again, in the example indicated by the assessed zoos, the relationship between reputational equities as a predictor of financial success is clear and compelling.

KYOB museums reputation and revenues

Again, when segmented by museums (in the above example, all of the assessed organizations would be rightfully classified as either “art” or “natural history” museums), the trend holds true: Those museums perceived by the market as the most esteemed in terms of fulfilling the promise of their missions achieve the greatest financial performance.

You’ll notice that out of the 35 organizations represented in this assessment, Museum H is the only organization that does not indicate the relationship between reputational equities and financial performance – and, even in this exception to the trend, the difference is very slight.

 

2) Your organization must increasingly be MORE THAN an attraction but it still must be an entertaining destination.

The reputational equity metric is contemplative of overall satisfaction and data indicate that providing an entertaining experience is an extremely important component of visitor satisfaction. To be clear: The data do not support abandoning efforts to deliver an entertaining experience in the hopes of enhancing your organization’s reputation as a credible, mission-related authority. Instead, data support efforts to underscore your social mission and demonstrate topic expertise alongside location-based content to help drive visitation and provide insight into the entertaining and inspiring experiences that you provide.

Simply put, people want to visit organizations that are more than just attractions.

 

3) The importance of underscoring reputational equities is likely to grow as millennials increasingly comprise a greater percentage of museum audiences

The analysis indicating the relationship between favorable reputational equities and financial performance for visitor-serving organizations aligns with multiple findings concerning the influence of social missions (in business-speak, think “corporate social responsibility”) on consumer purchasing behaviors. Namely, people – and especially millennials – are more likely to purchase products that support a mission.

The data has long suggested that millennials are particularly public-service motivated, and as Gen Y has become a more powerful market segment (indeed, millennials are the largest generation in human history), organizations have experienced a “market shift” in support of organizations that support “social good.”

That sounds great for educational, conservation, and cultural organizations such as museums, aquariums, and zoos, right? Well…maybe not…especially because millennials are generally sector agnostic. Millennials tend to support organizations and businesses that appeal to them regardless of whether or not there is 501(c)3 designation involved. (In other words, while the IRS may care about your tax-exempt status, the market increasingly does not!) This means that in terms of securing support, many nonprofits are “competing” directly with for-profits for the market’s time, attention, and resources.

Organizations that have marketed themselves too heavily as attractions without underscoring their mission and social impact have lost a valuable opportunity to differentiate themselves as superlative to a critical demographic. Potentially worse yet, they may have built their reputations based on motivations that millennials don’t care about. Case-in-point: Take a look at what millennials want out of a zoo, aquarium, or museum membership compared to older generations.

Organizations that the market favorably perceives as more than “just an attraction” tend to financially outperform organizations perceived primarily as attractions.  Money follows reputational equities. Zoos, aquariums, and museums that have been trying to “sell” the wrong brand attributes may find themselves struggling even more in the future as emerging audiences emphasize mission and social impact as vital attributes of the relationship that they seek with the organizations that they support.  Year 2013 was only the tip of the iceberg. Perceptions are changing and the data affirms a strong, encouraging trend:

Finally, it’s cool to be kind.  More than that, it’s plain good business.

National Aquarium cleaning debris

National Aquarium

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 Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 1 Comment

What Museums Can Learn From Online Dating (Hint: Touch Really Matters) (VIDEO)

*Accessing this post via email and having problems viewing the video? You can watch it here

Is social media hurting the onsite visitor experience? Data suggest that in today’s world, museums need to be masters of both offsite communication (social/earned media) and onsite, face-to-face communication in order to be successful. Increasingly, a museum’s business strategy cannot thrive without one or the other.

Here’s a handy (pun intended) concept that I recently presented for thinking about the relationship that “digital touch” and “physical touch” play in driving museum visitation and maximizing visitor satisfaction.

Westmusings

I was honored to have had the opportunity to take part in the Western Museum Association’s first-ever WestMusings: Ten Minute Museum Talks in October in Salt Lake City.  What Museums Can Learn From Online Dating briefly traces a museum visitor from the visitation decision-making process through a museum visit and demonstrates how “digital touch” and “physical touch” work together to “seal the deal” of getting folks in the door to experience sparks of informal learning.

Here are those slides about reputation up close (what motivates the visitation decision and the diffusion of messaging).

While I spoke about museums in connection to online dating, I had the opportunity to take part in the WestMusings initiative with three, fabulous museos who imparted their own wisdom regarding museums and their connection to similarly creative topics: Scott Stulen of the Walker Art Center spoke about cat videos, James Pepper Henry of the Heard Museum spoke about culture clashes, and Carrie Snow of the Church History Museum spoke about roller derby (in full roller derby attire, no less)! Intrigued? Check out their WestMusings here.

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 2 Comments

Myth-Busting Museum and Nonprofit Best Practices. Is Your Organization Celebrating its Own Demise? (DATA)

mythbusting

It sounds dramatic, but it’s true: Many organizations still apply “best practices” for short-term wins that data suggest leave them far, far worse off in terms of achieving their long-term goals.

As I’ve recently reported, If I weren’t providing market insight and analysis for museums and nonprofits for a living, I’d want to be a host of the show “Mythbusters.” It occurs to me, however, that in my own profession, I already get to do a whole lot of myth-busting.  And I’ve written a whole bunch of myth-busting posts to boot!

Here’s a myth-busting round-up of my three, favorite situations in which executives and board members most frequently (and cheerfully) celebrate their own decline. Dramatic? I’m channeling my fit-for-TV alter ego.

 

1) The Myth of the Special Exhibition that Permanently Boosts Your Attendance

The hope that visitors to special exhibits will become your regular museum-goers is often where this myth begins (It’s just not true) – but it runs far deeper. Blockbusters are anomalies – NOT a sustainable business plan. Museums that frequently feature these kinds of exhibits find themselves engaged in “death by curation” – a vicious cycle of having to host progressively bigger and more expensive exhibits in order to maintain their level of visitation over time as visitors create connections with transient highlights rather than the museum’s permanent collections. (In my line of work, dependency upon special exhibits is also fittingly called “blockbuster suicide.”)

At best, these special exhibits support an unsustainable, short-term increase in attendance that often leaves executives patting themselves on the back. Next year, when that same executive must pay double for another special exhibit that yields only a portion of the hopeful attendance boon, the executive will usually blame the exhibit instead of considering the short-sightedness of the business strategy.

 

2) The Myth of the Social Media Discount that Helps Your Organization Achieve Its Goals

Offering discounts or giving away your admission for free is generally a bad idea – and it’s an extremely bad idea to do this on social media. Like “death by curation,” offering discounts (even once) via social media channels creates a cycle that is detrimental to your organization’s strategic goals. Specifically, it creates four, huge problems: 1. Once offered and promulgated by your organization, your community comes to expect more discounts. 2. (And perhaps most importantly) your community will wait for discounts. Once so trained by an organization to respond to discounts, the data compellingly indicate that potential visitors will actually defer a full-price visit and, instead, watch your social accounts for a chance to come for less money. 3. The steeper the discount, the less likely the visitor is to come back again. (This is symptomatic of having perceptually devalued your experience to the point that it loses all its hard-earned premium connotations.  In other words, discounts frequently succeed in doing little more than “cheapening” your reputational equities.) 4. Discounts rarely capture new audiences. Instead, they allow folks who would have otherwise paid full-price (that’s moola for your mission!) to come for less money.

 

3) The Myth of Social Media Success Metrics

There are just so many myths here. Here’s some bustin’: Your number of followers on social media channels doesn’t matter because not all social media users are of equal value to your organization.  Thus, smart organizations know better than to rely too heavily on vanity metrics because they are not key performance indicators, but, instead, diagnostic metrics. Website metrics are not immune to these myths as well. For instance, your organization may reasonably aim to get eyes on its website or feet in the door (if you’re a museum). Increasingly, organizations cannot do both.

 

There are loads of busted myths all over Know Your Own Bone – but these three are my very favorite.  I think that is because they are extremely prevalent and seem to be deeply engrained in the way that many executives view success.

Runners-up include the fact that what people see at the museum is less important than who they are with, and entertainment is more important to visitor satisfaction and long-term solvency than education. For nonprofits looking to hire social media positions, here are some counter-intuitive tips: don’t hire for Klout score and absolutely skip someone with long-term, formal schooling in social media…and scratch that “professional writing experience” requirement. Someone too focused on this may not be your best bet for an accessible tone on social media.

In fact, Know Your Own Bone may be an entire blog about data-informed nonprofit and museum myth-busting and future-proofing. Hmmm…I like that. It makes me feel a bit like a superhero defending the honor of visitor serving organizations! Now, back to the action-packed task of dominating PowerPoint slides for this week’s Meetings of Myth Devastation! (Wait…Not cool? Did I lose you? Oh well…It was fun while it lasted.)

 

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

 

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Myth-Busting Museum and Nonprofit Best Practices. Is Your Organization Celebrating its Own Demise? (DATA)

3 Market Changes That Have Completely Altered the Role of Marketing in Nonprofit Organizations

Word of mouth cartoon

 

Gone are the days of marketing from the inside-out…When the exhibits teams would decide on the new attraction and leave it to the marketing team to get folks in the door. Now, in order to remain relevant and solvent, nonprofit organizations must market from the outside-in.

The increasing importance of the role of technology in our lives has brought about several changes in how the market interacts with organizations, raised the stakes in brand communication (with a new emphasis on accessibility and transparency), and even altered how we maintain our own personal relationships. This era of stakeholder (donor and constituent) empowerment has also changed the way that smart, sustainable organizations operate on the whole…not just how they “market.”

The old, inside-out method of marketing: Nonprofit boards of directors, exhibits teams, program executives or other content gatekeepers decide on the next, big feature or program for an organization – often based solely on “experiential intuition” and supported by little or no market data.  In other words, the “Someone Important – a would-be expert – just decides” method of content development.

Once the decision is made, marketing teams are notified of the content and charged with the task of bringing people in the door to see/experience the content that this important person/committee likes. It’s a self-protecting system for higher-ups and other departments: If people didn’t come, it was the marketing department’s fault.

The new, necessary outside-in method of marketing: Organizations actively listen to their audiences and collect market data to determine what kind of content the organization’s visitors and supporters want. Instead of marketing and PR teams responding to executive committees alone, things are increasingly the other way around: Marketing folks are the experts on your audience and they work with decision-makers to determine which programs will engage the maximum audience (and, in turn, attendant revenues). Instead of being informed of what to “sell,” marketing teams within the most successful organizations that IMPACTS works with (nonprofit and for-profit clients alike) are brought on board in the earliest phases of the content development process to lend voice to the market’s preferences.

Here are three, critical evolutionary changes that serve as key reasons why organizations benefit by “marketing” from the outside-in:

 

1. There is an increased emphasis on product and experience (mostly, because you cannot hide it if people do not like your product or service)

How many times have you looked at your on-staff social media pro and asked urgently, “How can we increase our Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews?!” (Some CEOs even ask me this with the assumption that the answer lies in somehow “mastering” social media sites!) Your social media pro can’t increase your peer review ratings on their own because peer reviews are a result of audience experiences with your product or service. Marketers can frame the experience, provide critical clarification, and manage customer service on public platforms after the event, but you cannot sweet-talk your way out of several already-posted negative peer reviews harping on the same product or service downfall. In today’s world of transparency with the increased importance of word of mouth validation, smart organizations increasingly understand that sometimes maintaining support and affinity is dependent upon listening to audiences and then changing the product.

Increasingly, organizations are finding that they should not just have special exhibits – they should aim to have special exhibits and permanent collections that people want. (I’ll put extra emphasis on permanent collections because we can trace “Blockbuster Suicide”  to many of the financial perils currently faced by many museums).

 

2. Welcome to the age of the empowered constituent/supporter (and the increased need for audience interaction and participation)

Thanks in large part to the real-time nature of social media and digital platforms, today’s audiences are armed with vast amounts of real-time information. So much information, in fact, that audiences prefer to make decisions on their own or with the help of peer review sources (the value of which is on the rise). Indeed, if your organization isn’t particularly attune to the market (or chooses to selectively ignore potentially negative feedback as “anomalistic”), then there is an excellent chance that your audience may have more “visitor intelligence” than you do.

The role of the curator is evolving, and people now prefer to experience and interact rather than to be told what to do/think. We are seeing an increase in audience participation and crowdsourced exhibits. With these trends possibly re-defining the staid reputation of museums and other visitor-serving organizations, the “come to this because I told you so” method of thinking about marketing doesn’t work as well. It’s an outdated, inside-out approach to cultivating visitors. Today, organizations build stronger affinity when they articulate the value for the visitor (i.e. “What’s in it for the audience?”) rather than messages wherein the only apparent “gain” is the admission revenue (i.e. “What’s in it for the organization?”).  And, really, the “Because I say it will make you smarter” rationale doesn’t cut it as a major component of the value proposition.

Simply put, in order to articulate value to your visitor, you have to know your visitor now more than ever before.

 

3. Nonprofits sometimes determine importance, but the market always determines relevance (and organizations that misunderstand this now experience expedited financial strife)

I’ve written about this before, but it’s worth repeating: As highly-credible topic-experts and trusted authorities, nonprofits often are able to declare “importance.” However, if the market isn’t interested in your area of expertise or does not find it salient in their lives, they may deem your “importance” to be irrelevant. All too often, nonprofits generally misunderstand the role of the public as the ultimate arbiters of an organization’s relevance…and how much they need supporters and diversified revenue streams simply to stay afloat.

When we forget this, we get caught up and sidetracked by things like Judith Dobrzynski’s recent “High Culture Goes Hands-On” article in the New York Times. We forget that at the end of the day, we need to attract attendees, members, donors, and supporters…and that a museum that is closed cannot serve its social mission.

Due to the speedy share rate of vast amounts of information, we now live in a time when irrelevant messages are easily drowned out by other priorities – and even more-relevant “noise!” This may possibly expedite financial woe for organizations unwilling to consider the wants and needs of their audiences.

We must keep up or get left behind. We must evolve (like every other being, entity, or industry that has ever existed) or risk extinction. Increasingly, a big part of our evolution is discontinuing old habits of marketing from the inside-out, and instead keeping tabs on the market so that we may contemplate the best ways to operate from the outside-in.

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 5 Comments

Entertainment vs Education: How Your Audience Really Rates The Museum Experience (DATA)

museum experience flickr

When considering the overall satisfaction of visitor-serving organization (VSO) attendees, data indicate that not all aspects of the experience are created equally. In fact, the individual components that collectively comprise a visitor’s onsite experience may run counter to many VSO’s differentiation and engagement strategies. In terms of maximizing visitor satisfaction, VSOs may not truly understand “where their bread is buttered,” and this misunderstanding may result in serious financial repercussions.

IMPACTS gathers data to inform the development of key performance indicators concerning 224 visitor-serving organizations (zoos, aquariums, museums, theaters, symphonies, etc.). One of the key performance indicators that we regularly quantify for specific organizations is “overall satisfaction.”  Overall satisfaction is a composite metric (i.e. a metric informed by a multiplicity of data inputs yielding a single output) that contemplates 10 source evaluation criteria (e.g. employee courtesy, admission value, retail, etc.)

In developing the overall satisfaction metric, IMPACTS doesn’t weight each evaluation criteria equally because the market isn’t influenced by each criterion equally. As indicated in the table below, the market determines the “weight” of individual criteria based on each criterion’s relative contribution to the visitor’s perception of overall satisfaction.  (The formula to calculate the respective weight of any individual criteria contemplates such factors as frequency of mention and strength of conviction.  The overall satisfaction metric updates in “near real-time” based on the most contemporarily available data so as to accurately reflect seasonal influences on the visitor experience.)  Perhaps most interestingly, in my observation, the weight of any single evaluation criteria tends to vary very little between organizations.  In other words, please don’t make the mistake of assuming that your organization is somehow indemnified from the implications of this data because you’re a symphony…or an aquarium…or a museum.  The data simply doesn’t support any notion of “exemptions” for certain types of VSOs.

IMPACTS Overall satisfaction by weighted criteria

These weighted values may be used to inform resource allocations to maximize overall satisfaction (which data indicate are critical for securing positive word of mouth, repeat visitation, etc.). The values may also inform marketing strategies for museums so that they may best communicate the educational experiences that they…oh, wait…

Well, this is awkward.

 

1. Museums may overvalue educational assets as a differentiating factor positively contributing to visitor experience.

Unfortunately for many museums’ social missions, visitors indicate that the quality of an organization’s “educational experience” matters relatively little to overall satisfaction. Many of you may have – at some point or another – heard of/been involved with a museum leadership team that is convinced that it cannot fail because of the number of academic minds at the helm that are working to further the museum’s superstar educational opportunities. Regardless of the organization, I’ll bet that they are either strapped for cash and/or rely disproportionately on public funding or grant and contributed income – which means that in the world of “Museum Darwinism” (or heck, according to the plain old rules of economics), these museums may be at financial risk.

Data suggest that museums may not be looking in the mirror clearly when it comes to understanding the value of their educational assets. Will you be a successful organization (in terms of market relevance and long-term solvency) if your greatest experiential asset is your mastery of first-rate, dissertation-worthy, you-get-a-master’s-degree-equivalent-in-a-visit content? Sadly, no. The market is the ultimate arbiter of your organization’s success, and the data suggest that even the most educational VSO risks relevance if the experience isn’t entertaining…

Oy. I said the other “E”-word…

 

2. Deny being an entertaining entity at your own risk.

As nonprofit organizations with valuable social missions, we can get rather feisty when someone compares our entity to Disneyland…and museums aren’t Disneyland for all of the important reasons that drawing that comparison probably makes nonprofit stakeholders squirm. That said, the market attributes a higher value to “entertainment experience” than any other criteria – even the overall satisfaction summary (“sum of its parts”) metric!

Organizations that try too hard to promote education at the expense of providing an entertaining experience are truly missing the mark. Remember: your organization only has the opportunity to communicate what is important after the market dubs you relevant. If nobody wants to visit, then nobody is going to participate in the educational experience that you are trying so hard to perfect.

 

3. Education and entertainment are not mutually exclusive. Aim to be BOTH but understand how each aspect individually contributes to your reputational and experiential equities and strategize accordingly.

Knowledge is power, right? If you didn’t know it (or at least suspect it) already, you do now: the market at-large cares comparatively little about the super-specialness that is your educational experience. And that’s sad for museum leaders…but the weighted value of “entertainment experience” isn’t necessarily bad for museum leaders. The knowledge of this data may make VSOs more prepared to serve both functions effectively or, better yet, make educational experiences more entertaining.

The trick may be to understand the role that each of these aspects plays within the market – and what that means for your organization. On one hand, many VSOs are nonprofit organizations with a mission to educate and some research has shown that seeking an educational experience may justify a visit for some. However, the market considers “educational experience” a relatively small piece of the overall satisfaction puzzle when visitors actually have their onsite experience.

Considered collectively, I think that it may prove worthy to further parse the differences between motivation and justification.  I observe a compelling abundance of data that suggest that entertainment is the primary motivation for a visitor experience, whereas education is often cited post-visit as a justification for having visited.  In other words, all being equal, the public will often choose an experience with an educational component over “pure entertainment” – provided, of course, that all is actually equal!  Education will not compensate for a deficiency of entertainment.

Henry David Thoreau (a personal favorite who receives a hat tip for my blog title, Know Your Own Bone) advised, “When a dog runs at you, whistle for him.” The power of this data comes in embracing the findings rather than trying harder to deny them.  Let’s strive to be the most entertaining educational entities possible.

After all, who decided that “entertainment” was the enemy of “education” anyway?

 

*Photo (and cute kid) credit belongs to Flickr user Jon van Allen

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution 11 Comments

A Cure For Point of Reference Sensitivity: Why Visitor Satisfaction For Your Nonprofit Is Lower Than It Could Be

opinion_of_our_productIMPACTS data indicate that visitors to zoos, aquariums and museums (and other visitor-serving organizations such as historical sites, theaters, symphonies, etc.) who have never previously visited any other like organization rate their experiences 18.1% higher in terms of overall satisfaction and 14.8% higher in terms of value for cost of admission than visitors who had previously visited any other zoo, aquarium, museum, etc. Further, as the number and frequency of one’s visits increases, a visitor’s level of satisfaction and perceived cost for value of admission tends to decrease.

This is just fine if your art museum (for instance) is the first art museum that your every guest has ever visited, but it has a host of potential repercussions on your organization’s bottom line (like tackling a social mission and achieving long-term financial sustainability) if you’re the second art museum someone visits. Or third, or fourth, or fifth….

This phenomenon is known as “Point of Reference Sensitivity” and suggests that the market’s expectations are being constantly reframed by recent experiences. In short, as the market gains familiarity with an experience, it becomes increasingly harder to “impress” the market.

So, what can be done to minimize the deleterious effects of Point of Reference Sensitivity? [I will henceforth refer to Point of Reference Sensitivity as “PoRS” because a) that’s just the kind of relationship that we’ve developed and b) it sounds a bit like a disease, which may be appropriate.] PoRS is an important consideration for visitor-serving organizations with regard to key performance indicators, and not even the very best visitor-serving organizations in the world are immune to its negative effects. The commonality of PoRS, however, does not mean that it is unimportant to your own organization’s reputational performance. Just because many other organizations suffer from PoRS doesn’t “even the playing field.” The market – not other organizations – are the ultimate arbiters of your organization’s success…and data suggest that despite your best efforts (great exhibits, well-trained staff, thoughtful access programs), you are still likely to experience a decline in satisfaction over time from a sizable portion of your audience simply because folks visited other organizations before they walked in your door.

The good news is that strategic prioritization and effective PR/communications practices may provide both prophylaxis and remedy against even the most stubborn case of PoRS.

What causes PoRS in visitors?

Qualitative research related to these findings suggest that PoRS may be due, in part, to a “been there, done that” mentality that tends to accompany repeat visitation to “like” organizations. The research suggests that this sentiment stems from a perceptual belief that “like” organizations (think of one zoo compared to another zoo, or one art museum compared to another art museum) share an elemental “sameness” that challenges the market’s ability to differentiate the unique attributes of individual organizations. Further exacerbating PoRS is the premium that we tend to psychologically ascribe to “firsts” – first love, first car, first baseball game, first kiss. When someone first visits a zoo, it may be the first time that they have ever seen live animals up close, but upon visiting a second zoo, there is a loss of “newness of experience.” There may be other factors that contribute to PoRS: Perhaps the first zoo visited is in an individual’s hometown and is a point of civic pride. Perhaps the newness of the experience is matched with a memory of sharing the experience with a favorite friend or family member, thus creating a unique, personal remembrance that is difficult to duplicate and impossible to top.

How is PoRS hurting your organization?

Reputation is a leading driver of visitation, and reviews from trusted resources (such as word of mouth recommendations from friends, peer review sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor, and even social media) are the strongest contributing factors to building your reputation (12.85x greater than any paid advertising channel). Aside from the more obvious impacts of lower guest satisfaction metrics and potential declines in the likelihood of repeat visitation, PoRS may also affect your organization’s word of mouth value. This may result in securing fewer visitors, fewer opportunities to cultivate donors with affinity for your organization, and fewer evangelists to amplify and promulgate your organization’s mission.

How can your organization overcome PoRS?

Data based on visitor feedback suggest that the solution may be very simple in theory: Be more unique. One way to do this is to utilize social media and other communication resources to underscore what differentiates your organization as a unique experience. Focusing more on your mission – as opposed to your existence as a “destination” – may help. An emphasis on mission-related content may allow your organization to increase its relevance beyond being a visitor-serving destination on real-time, online platforms by more actively defining the public perception of your museum. If your organization can cultivate a reputation as “more than just a visitor-serving organization” prior to a guest’s arrival, then your organization may also improve its satisfaction-related metrics.

It seems that our mothers were onto something – “You’re judged by the company that you keep.” PoRS is particularly insidious amongst the perceptual middle ranks of visitor-serving organizations – those places that are so “destination-focused” in their communications that they end up positioning themselves as “just another museum” (or zoo, or aquarium, or botanical garden, etc.) The overcome may be in elevating your organization from the sameness of a sector by differentiating not only your experience, but by the means by which you achieve your mission (the impacts that you have and the differences that you make).

As stakeholders for visitor-serving organizations, we tend to believe that the entities that we serve (or support, or visit) are unique and superlative.  Our challenge – and, indeed, our opportunity – is to similarly articulate these differences to our visitors so that they, too, consider us as more than a place. What makes your organization unique is probably not the artifacts that you house, the collections that you keep, or the building within which you keep them. What makes you unique is the outcomes that you achieve by fulfilling your mission… and communicating these outcomes is the best defense against a nasty case of PoRS.

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

Information Overload: How Case Study Envy Stifles Nonprofit Success

whatever competition does

Between numerous conferences, written reports, podcasts and other resources, nonprofits should have no problem accessing an abundance of industry case studies. And smart organizations actively seek them out in order to appropriately consider precedents. However, too many nonprofits seem to distract themselves from opportunities by making inappropriate comparisons between other organizations and their own. They risk the loss of their own identity when they become too easily seduced by the (alleged) successes of others.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the nonprofit industry – one with an innate value for transparency and a culture that celebrates collaborative knowledge transfer – is so often easily misled by these “success studies.” Arguably, nonprofits are the most communicative of any business sector.  Due to a culture of sharing, organizational risk aversion, and a very mature business model, there isn’t a lot of “secret sauce” in the nonprofit space.

“So how can nonprofits be considered laggards when it comes to building effective ‘business’ strategies?! We’re in constant dialogue. We listen to one another!”

Well, maybe that’s the problem.

Having a lot of information is good. Not taking the time to develop a culture of thinking about it critically is bad. While sharing experiences certainly has undeniable advantages and can positively inform organizational strategies, I’ve noticed a detrimental trend in how nonprofit organizations discuss the operations of perceived industry leaders whom they’d like to emulate. Namely, nonprofits seem increasingly less able to differentiate between models and examples, and this confusion creates unrealistic expectations that may hinder the success of organizations.

When considering case studies and the operations of other nonprofit organizations, it may help to keep in mind the following four items:

1) Many singularly successful organizations are terrible models

IMPACTS collects intelligence concerning 224 visitor-serving organizations in the United States. Data indicate that the US public overwhelmingly considers the Monterey Bay Aquarium to be the “best aquarium in the world.” Increasingly, we hear organizations (and not just aquariums) attempting to emulate the Monterey Bay Aquarium in the hopes of similarly increasing their own reputations, securing their financial futures, maximizing audience engagement, etc.

(I am exploring the category of aquariums (again) because the aquarium industry has a clear, defined market leader. Museums, symphonies and zoos have tighter “line ups” with greater variance in public opinion concerning which is the “best.”)

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a wonderful example of a world-class organization achieving enviable business and mission successes…but, as far as being easily replicated, it is a terrible model. Consider: The Monterey Bay Aquarium is the dominant – and near exclusive – major attraction in a very popular coastal destination.  It is led by one of the most influential leaders in the global conservation community.  It opened its doors unburdened by debt or other financing obligations. The lists of singular superlatives associated with the Monterey Bay Aquarium could go on…but, I think that you get my point. While it is easy to identify the attributes and practices that make the Monterey Bay Aquarium an acknowledged market leader, it is very difficult to duplicate these conditions.

Do other organizations also have some of these things? You bet. Do they have all of them? No. Similarly, your organization likely has its own, unique conditions. (Monterey is the example I am using here to make a point. It is not the only organization with unique conditions and the promise or potential of a successful enterprise).

(Uh oh! I feel a bad analogy coming on…) Other organizations cannot reasonably expect to copy the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “recipe for success” because they aren’t working with the same ingredients (or, for that matter, the same kitchen and same executive chef). Organizations have their own unique ingredients (and kitchens and chefs), and they have to optimize those to best respond to their own unique opportunities.

 

2) But organizations can provide helpful examples

Continuing with my horrible “recipe for success” analogy, if you spot an admired market leader that shares some of the same ingredients as your organization, noting how they successfully utilize these ingredients may help your organization cook up an equally tasty dish. In fact, if you add on to the case study by contemplating and incorporating your own unique advantages, you may end up with something even better (for you) than your would-be model.

For instance, although Monterey Bay Aquarium is a terrible model (again, in the sense that they – like many other organizations- aren’t replicable), their ability to experiment and take on unique initiatives in creative ways provides several examples that may benefit the balance of the museum and nonprofit industry. Examples may be broad and deal with the evolution of best practices, or serve as case studies for engaging the market.

As an aside: Question case studies. Sharing case studies (especially in conference settings) is frequently a way that organizations pat themselves on their own backs, but just because a case study was shared doesn’t mean that the initiative aided in securing donations, getting people in the door, or increasing brand reputation. There are some gemstones, but there’s also a lot of hot air out there. Be wise enough to tell the difference.  (People regularly ask me what are some of the biggest differences that I observe in my work with both for-profit and nonprofit clients.  Easy!  Whereas the nonprofit case studies presented to industry colleagues are invariably sunshine-filled, self-congratulatory success stories, the vast majority of case studies that I observe being presented in the for-profit world are cautionary tales of woe, struggle, and failure.  I don’t know what to make of this dichotomy, but I think it is interesting).
 

3) If you aspire to replicate a model, you jeopardize your relevance

If a similar organization with the same brand equities that you strive to achieve already exists (i.e. if you have a true model), then your organization is probably less relevant and you may be cannibalizing the market and unnecessarily dividing the resources needed to efficiently tackle the shared social mission.

However, a “conceptual model organization” that exists in another market could be a valuable tool – provided that two conditions are met: 1) You understand how this organization (its positioning, reputation and resources) differs from yours and you create a plan for optimizing these same areas uniquely for your own equities; and 2) You understand that successful organizations evolve to meet market needs and opportunities. What was true and a “best practice” yesterday may not necessarily serve as a suitable precedent for tomorrow. Your model will change its operations over time (especially if it is a good model), and you will likely need to change yours, too. Frequently, the best things that a “conceptual model organization” can be are thought provoking and inspirational – its practices may not be transitively applicable. 
 

4) Making nonprofit best practices the basis of your business strategy is a bad strategy

Another disadvantage of the “sharing” nature of the nonprofit industry is that organizations often become more caught up with what other organizations are doing than paying any attention to their markets – which (decidedly unlike the behaviors of other nonprofits) is directly correlated to their financial and social success. (Read: It doesn’t matter at all how many other nonprofits are utilizing social media. What matters is that the market is utilizing social media as its single most influential, go-to source of information.)

Think it’s great that your nonprofit is almost at the industry average for email open rates? Congratulations on being almost mediocre. (Tough love? Maybe. But think about it: You won’t catch successful for-profit companies celebrating benchmark victories…so why do we allow ourselves to frame averageness as “achievement?”) We can do better than simply keeping up with the Vastly-Underperforming-And-Almost-Broke Joneses. It’s important to be marketing your nonprofit and creating programs for the folks that actually matter – not to keep company with peer organizations (a large portion of which may be flailing).

My advice to nonprofits with one eye on their neighbors: Take what you can from case studies as applicable, but don’t get caught up in becoming another organization.  Gosh darnit:

Be yourself oscar wilde

(Full disclosure: As the Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS, I work with the Monterey Bay Aquarium…and, for that matter, with a number of other aquariums, museums, performing arts organizations, zoos and similar visitor-serving enterprise. The reason that I reference the Monterey Bay Aquarium as a specific example is two-fold: (1) Data compellingly indicate its public perception as “best in class,” and thus a natural topic for case study; and (2) It is a frequently cited aspirational “model” suggested to me by other aquariums – as well as several other types of visitor-serving organizations – when they reference a third-party entity.)

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 6 Comments

5 Key Reasons Why Social Media Strategies Are Different Than Traditional Marketing Strategies

Company achievements

Social media and web-based platforms function differently than “traditional” marketing/PR platforms. While this may be obvious to some, I work closely with many experienced executive leaders who have been formally trained (and then formally practiced) more traditional marketing and communication methods. Perhaps the differences between digital and other forms of communication is something that some leaders are hesitant to acknowledge because the dramatic changes hearkened by the digital revolution might suggest that years of experience are somehow suddenly less relevant  – but I know several brave leaders who have spoken up on behalf of their years of experience doing what has historically worked…until now.

Why IS marketing and communications on social media and web-based platforms so different than marketing on NON-web-based platforms? Why don’t the same rules apply as they have for decades? Why are the lessons from the classic MBA canon (like the Harvard Business Review staple of Chester Burger’s How To Meet The Press) so outdated?  And how could key aspects of entire marketing curricula at the prestigious universities that were attended by our best and most accomplished nonprofit leaders be considered increasingly irrelevant? Surely, marketing is still marketing…

Indeed, marketing is still marketing. But times have changed (and are rapidly changing). The importance of social media in an organization’s business strategy is undeniable. We have a new platform that didn’t exist in the past – and it has changed a whole heck of a lot about how organizations “do” Communications…  perhaps because it has so drastically changed how the market views Communications.

1) Social media is not advertising. It is a different, more effective beast.

Social media is more influential than other forms of “traditional” communication when it comes to spreading your message. To explain, reviews from trusted resources (including channels such as social media and word of mouth testimonials) have a value 12.85 times greater than paid media (broadcast, radio, and other types of traditional advertising). Therefore, there’s no amount of paid advertising that can realistically overcome a deficiency of earned media. Thanks to the real-time, public nature of the web, marketing and PR have been supercharged and we are now able to maximize this other half of the messaging model. Though this model has always existed, word of mouth tended to resist scale and relied largely on one-to-one or one-to-many interactions.  The dawning of the digital age has introduced unprecedented scaling capabilities to many of our communications – where once we had Siskel and Ebert (two people speaking to many), we now have Rotten Tomatoes (many people speaking to many). Because of the introduction of scale – borne largely of digital technologies – earned media and reviews from trusted sources have never been so accessible, obtainable, contemporarily relevant, and critical for an organization to succeed.

 

2) Social media disproportionally influences market behavior

Digital platforms like web, mobile, and social media currently have the highest efficacy among marketing channels in terms of overall, weighted value (contemplative of the market’s perceived trust, and reach and amplification capability of various communication channels). This is especially true compared to more “traditional” channels such as radio and printed materials. In fact, the weighted values attributed to these channels have experienced dramatic decreases even in the last year! Instead, folks are looking to social and web-based platforms to acquire the intelligence to inform their decision-making processes – and these platforms play a significant role as the go-to source for information on leisure activities (salient if you are a museum), especially among those most likely to attend a visitor-serving nonprofit.

 

3) Social media involves evolving technologies and platforms

Unlike largely “fixed,” static media such as print and radio, the mechanisms by which digital messages are delivered and the context within which individual members of the market receive these messages is constantly in-flux. Social media and digital communications depend on rapid innovation, changing platforms, and evolving social mentalities that sink or swim in real-time. They require a strategic flexibility to succeed, and often necessitate experimentation in order to understand how to best reach particular audiences through online engagement. The classic marketing texts of the past remained relevant for decades because – arguably until now – organizations could have one spokesperson, they did have the time to prepare responses before meeting the press, and they could leave a lot more behind closed doors.

 

4) Online engagement necessitates perceived accessibility in order for organizations to succeed

The alarmingly condescending-in-hindsight, stilted tone of past marketing and PR campaigns has gone by the wayside in the age of social media. In essence, the world has become more transparent and people want to know more about the brands that they support – nonprofits included! In the past, organizations could often divulge only what they wished, but now organizations must answer straightforward questions posed on public platforms in real-time, or watch their reputation and consumer-base shrink… also in real-time. In short, this change challenges the way that many in the past have been taught to “communicate with the press.” In today’s world, organizations communicate directly with the public. And they need to be likeable and relatable.

 

5) Social media is real-time and 24/7

Though it was historically done more passively, brands have always been building relationships in real-time – even while the CEO or other appointed spokesperson was off the clock. People have spread valuable word of mouth messages at cocktail parties and talked shop on the back nine of a golf course for generations. However, from a broad public perspective, it was generally understood that an organization’s “real people” were not accessible outside of the historic “nine to five” workday. Today, the real-time nature of digital platforms have made organizations accessible at all hours and in all situations. And the public especially utilizes these platforms during moments of crisis – the very times when organizations in the past may have been particularly grateful for the ability to remain silent as they got their PR ducks in a row.  Moreover, organizations are expected to respond to inquiries on social media platforms in real time. 42% of individuals using social media expect answers to questions that they ask online within one hour. Unlike traditional media that runs as per a schedule and a plan, social media requires active management and necessitates the implementation of real-time PR strategies…all day. Every day.

 

Are all of the marketing (and even broad strategy) baseline best practices taught in MBA courses of the past and cultivated for decades becoming completely irrelevant? Of course not. However, societal and technological evolution may find these long-time graduates and folks “with X years of experience in the industry” challenging themselves to re-purpose their experiences to better apply to today’s marketing environment.  In fact, I’d propose that perhaps those seasoned individuals willing to embrace social media and digital engagement may be our greatest industry assets in adapting strategies to best suit evolving technologies. Many of the marketing best practices of the past are directly at-odds with today’s practices, and leaders who can evolve their own thinking may be the most successful in leading their organizations into the future. 

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments