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The Three Most Overlooked Marketing Realities For Cultural Organizations

These three marketing realities for cultural organizations may be the most urgent – and also the most overlooked.

This one’s got a Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video, folks! If you’d like to share this message with a team (or you would rather watch a little video than dive into written content), check out the video below or head over to my YouTube channel and dive in.

These are three urgent marketing realities for cultural organizations that, while they aren’t actually new at all, seem to surprise executives when we at IMPACTS underscore them as contributors to diminishing audiences. All three of these realities may be whack-you-in-the-face obvious when you stop to think about them, but many organization leaders seem…not to think about them. And it makes sense. Organizations may turn a blind eye to these three realities because they are inconvenient. They’re real – and they are kind of annoying. That is, they involve evolving the way that leaders and executives think about marketing and communications. Perhaps that is a reason why – however obvious these realities may be – I find myself repeating them many times over. HERE’S THE VIDEO:

There is another reason why they may be repeatedly overlooked: Mastering these realities requires skillsets that heretofore haven’t been prioritized by many organizations. We’re used to traditional communication channels and how to think about communications – and the leaders of cultural institutions have been “doing communications” for years! The thing is, this digital engagement thing keeps us on our toes. It’s why today’s cultural executives need to be more like conductors, and less like the first chairs of instruments. There’s a lot going on! Personalization, transparency, social connectivity, real-time communications, and brand integrity matter more in our digital world then they ever have before, and, thus, we need to change up our more traditional ways of thinking.

Connectivity is king and, within the more financially successful organizations with which IMPACTS works, communications departments function more like strategic partners than bottom-of-the-chain service departments. Misunderstanding the evolving role that marketing and communications play in driving visitation and engagement in our connected world is the reason why some people still say these three stupid things to the marketing department.

I could write a hefty, data-based essay explaining why every person who works for a cultural organization should be showering friendly frontline staff and thoughtful social media community managers with flowers, cupcakes, and (consent OK-ed) big hugs. Data reveal time and time again that staff who engage directly with constituents are our champions of shared experiences. They make-or-break both our offsite reputation and our onsite satisfaction. Marketing and communications are increasingly important in our connected world. And, as Uncle Ben from Spiderman has taught us all, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

While these items may “live in” the marketing or communications departments, the culture required to adapt to these changes may require a culture shift within some entities. It’s the responsibility of the entire organization to create a culture that more than acknowledges these three realities. We’ve got to keep up. We’ve got this! Let’s dive in…

 

1) Meet audiences where they are

Data suggest that communication channels that talk WITH audiences (such social media and the web) are considered more go-to sources of information than channels that talk AT audiences (such television, radio, or direct mail). If we want to engage folks, we need to be masters at reaching them where they are now…not where they were last year. We don’t get to decide where to speak with audiences to be most effective – they do. If we ignore their preference, we won’t be heard.

This is obvious. But even though it’s obvious, old habits die hard. For decades, things that weren’t digital were what worked…because “digital” simply didn’t exist in the way that it does now. And it’s not likely to exist in the next decade in the way it exists today. Things are fast-moving. It’s important to keep tabs on not only where audiences are spending their time, but also what they expect and want to receive in terms of messaging for each communication channel – digital or otherwise. Here’s some data on the power of specific social media channels right now.

One of the reasons why digital engagement (and social media, in particular) is so important for cultural organizations is because these channels facilitate word of mouth endorsement. What other people say about you and the sharing of their own experiences is 12.85 times more important in driving your reputation than things that you pay to say about yourself.

 

2) Target the people and not the place

It’s time to pause and consider that we can identify and target individuals now more intelligently, efficiently, and cost-effectively than ever before. As such, we similarly need to evolve how we think about “targeting.”

Think about it: The ads and endorsements that we see every time we turn on our phones or computers are tailored for us based on various technologies’ algorithmic secret sauces. We live in a world that is increasingly personalized, and personalization is fast becoming the expectation of our audiences. As such, it’s generally a better idea to leverage technologies that serve your content to targeted individuals with specific indicators of interest in your organizations, then it is to advertise more broadly on a “place” such as a single website. The name of the game nowadays is to target digital audiences across the entirety of the Web – not engaging only those who happen to visit the one website where you purchased advertising.

Putting a banner ad on a local newspaper’s website may have been considered “targeting” in the past, but it isn’t anymore. The world has gotten smarter about targeting and personalizing messages to effectively reach audiences. It’s time for cultural organizations to make sure that they are smart about it, too.

 

3) Adequate marketing investments matter

“But we got a great deal on the banner ad on the local newspaper’s website!” Awesome. Getting a “deal” on a possible misuse of funds is strangely a thing that too many nonprofit organizations brag about regularly. A “deal” simply isn’t a sufficient motivator for a suboptimal ad spend – or any marketing effort – that isn’t strategically determined to be the best for the organization. The problem here is the chronic nonprofit misunderstanding that an organization can “save its way to prosperity.” That’s not a thing. It costs money to make money.

Instead of following market realities, some organizations still invest “last year’s budget plus five percent.” Some simply reinvest last year’s budget. Unfortunately, that’s not how audience acquisition investments work. Budgets need to be contemplative of the true costs of new technologies and evolving marketing best practices.

Not sure how much to invest or which channels to invest in? IMPACTS uncovered a data-informed equation for determining optimal audience acquisition investments. Remember that it’s not only about spending the proper amount and budget allocation to each channel – it’s also about spending those funds thoughtfully and strategically. Knowing appropriate spending lets you know the size of the frame. To be successful, your organization still needs to paint the picture.

 

Do these three marketing realities sound obvious to you? Excellent! It’s probably because these “new” realities are simply 2.0 versions of tried-and-true ways to think about marketing: Target the right people, in the right place, with the right amount of investment. It’s not rocket science. But we do need to remember that these things change. It’s not a fancy-sounding, simplified, marketing best-practice that you can frame and put on your wall and always understand exactly what it means. We need to be constantly asking ourselves:

 

Are we doing the best thing to target the right people?”

“Are we targeting people where they actually are and not simply where would be most convenient for us?”

“Are we investing the amount that we need in order to succeed in today’s environment?

 

Sometimes, it’s a matter of asking the right questions and not just the questions that are convenient. And yeah – that can be annoying – because folks working within cultural organizations are already working hard with limited budgets to educate and inspire people. It’s a labor of love that you are doing out there, reader! But I’m going to bring this one back to Spiderman again because, indeed, we have a great responsibility.

 

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. 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 for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 2 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 Colleen Dilenschneider in Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on The New Realities of Advertising Costs (Hint: You Are Getting Less Than You Think)

The Viral Oreo: A Social Media Lesson for Nonprofit Organizations

Let’s be honest: Some people watch the Super Bowl for the game, others for the commercials, and others still – though this may be a new phenomena – for the social media buzz. (Enter: Me…glued to the Super Fish Bowl and refreshing the #MuseumSuperBowl, only looking up to watch commercials and all the while totally unaware of my beautiful real-life surroundings.) In the aftermath of Super Bowl XLVII, one particular happening (aside from the Ravens win) keeps coming up as a reliable conversation starter in my circles – the timely image that Oreo posted during the blackout that received over 15,000 retweets and 20,000 likes on Facebook:

Oreo

Buzzfeed quickly posted about how Oreo was able to get this ad up in a timely manner, but why this image has received so much attention is arguably more important. Moreover, there seem to be two, broad misunderstandings regarding the success of the tweet: that it was all about timing, and that this is an exemplary, stand-alone social media win. There’s a bit more to it…

Here is why Oreo scored a touchdown with this image and what nonprofits and businesses can learn from this marketing/PR play:

(…both puns intended).

1) It was a carpet bombing

We were carpet bombed, folks. Oreo grabbed us through multiple media outlets with a string of advertisements and the timely image sealed the deal, crossing marketing outlets in a way that seems to have blown our minds. We had all just seen the $4 million Oreo Super Bowl commercial on our television screens. This ad alone crossed the realm from television (generally low overall weighted value as a marketing channel) to social media (generally high overall value) because it enticed audiences with a brand participation opportunity on Instagram (“chose a side”). Oreo gained tens of thousands of new Instagram followers from its Super Bowl commercial alone.

This is a key factor in the consequent virality of the Tweet Heard ‘Round the World.  Oreo had already prepped the market for consequent communications and engagement. They were top of mind to all of us and primed for a win. Oreo knew this, as they were extremely prepared to create a timely ad at some point during the Super Bowl. The virality associated with the Oreo image isn’t just about social media. This is about marketing strategy and understanding the benefits of respective marketing channels and how they can work together to achieve a goal.

The Take-Away: Consider how social media plays into your own goals and overall marketing strategy so that it may be used most efficiently. Social media efforts are generally stronger with support from efforts on other marketing/PR channels and should not operate independently.

 

2) It was an ad on the one day when we are excited about ads

Audiences generally do what they can to avoid excessive advertising in day-to-day life. However, the Super Bowl may arguably be the single day of the year when we actually look forward to commercials. The fact that our tolerance may have been higher for advertisements on Sunday may have contributed to the Oreo image’s virality. It was clever. It played the game. It gave us exactly what we expected from one of the businesses promoting themselves during the Super Bowl – a smart advertisement. And, critically, it retained the genre classification…it just changed the marketing channel. Would this kind of ad have gone as viral on any other day (provided it was just as timely)? Maybe…but probably not.

The Take-Away: Be aware of what your audience is doing and thinking, and what they expect from you. Not all social media general best practices apply all the time (“Beware of posting blatant marketing messages”). In fact, success may come in finding the appropriate exceptions.

 

3) It was an all-in-one image

According to Pew Research, we increasingly suffer from A.O.A.D.D (Always-On-Attention Deficit Disorder). This may contribute to the trends we are observing of a movement toward a more visual web.  Images are quick and easy. They generally don’t require any additional clicks or even very much time to digest. Most importantly, however, images are easy to share.  The sandwich cookie’s PR and marketing team were smart not to divorce the image from the message as this allowed for easy amplification. In other words, they made sharing fool-proof for us.

The Take-Away: Make it easy for online audiences to promulgate and amplify your message.

 

4) It had perceived effort

It’s one thing to take what is in our digital back-pocket and repurpose it for a timely initiative. This has been wildly successful in garnering online attention before (even when it’s only passive). It’s another thing to think of a quick message and create a professional, branded image in the midst of a “hot moment” on social media. Perhaps that’s what is most impressive: not only did Oreo post something timely – they posted something new and clever. Like the most memorable lines of an improv comedy show, it was quick and it was created for the occasion.

The Take-Away: You want folks’ attention? Show them that you are working for it. Just because you are operating on social media doesn’t mean that it is necessarily low-cost or low-energy to do it right. Sometimes it takes good old hard work and preparedness.

 

5) It was relevant and posted quickly

This is undeniable. It was an image posted at the right time, and it was relevant to audiences (i.e. we all saw the blackout and we all experienced the stalling of the game). While being quick and timely may have be the most discussed takeaway of the initiative, “timeliness” was hardly the sole factor in the ad’s virality. In fact, organizations like the Getty and the National Museum of American History tweeted timely social media gemstones regarding the blackout whole minutes before the Oreo tweet was posted. While they certainly garnered attention, they did not achieve the level of recognition that the Oreo blackout ad realized. What arguably impressed us most is that all of the elements mentioned above were incorporated in a witty ad that came out quickly.

The Take-Away: Find a way to make your brand relevant when it counts. Aim to promulgate messages at times when they may hit a shared understanding with audiences. Timing matters.

 

No doubt, the Oreo ad was a big success with regard to online engagement and amplification. This kind of virality is helpful in making brands top-of-mind and (hopefully) sparking affinity for a product or business. While the story and virality of this ad offers significant lessons for nonprofit organizations on social media, the true outcomes of Oreo’s collective Super Bowl efforts will not be truly realized until we know if the ads were successful in strengthening the company’s bottom line and increasing sales.

At the end of the day, social media success pays off in elevating reputation and aiding in achieving organizational goals. If a “like” does not inspire a desired behavior, then – really – it’s just a “like.”

 

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 Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends Comments Off on The Viral Oreo: A Social Media Lesson for Nonprofit Organizations