Audiences Should Accept No Substitutes

Seth Godin had a post this week that serves as a good reminder to arts organizations to make your brand and experience distinctive so that audiences can’t substitute another’s experience for yours without knowing the difference.

If a jacket is made by Patagonia or a piece of hardware is made by Teenage Engineering, you can probably tell who made it the first time you see it, even without a logo. A painting by Sonia Delaunay doesn’t need to be signed to know who it’s by.

On the other hand, AppleTV streams shows that could have come from any streaming service.

When your brand has fingerprints, don’t do things that require you to wear gloves.

It’s The Mission, Not The Money That Keeps Them Coming Back

Earlier this month, Colleen Dilenschneider’s team at IMPACTS released some interesting insights about what features of memberships and subscriptions most appeal to different groups. (subscription required)

For instance, people born before 1980 prioritize: free admission, priority access, members only functions, advance notice of upcoming activities, and member subscriber discounts, in that order.

Those born after 1980 prioritize: free admission, belonging to the organization, supporting the organization, supporting the mission/program, and making a positive impact toward the mission.

I immediately jumped to a conclusion that Colleen and team cautioned against. They note that while it appears that younger groups might be focused on mission related benefits, that just may be a result of the fact they haven’t been marketed to for as long as the older generation.

However, consider that a person born before 1980 has a bit more experience being marketed to by cultural organizations. These folks have simply been around longer! Maybe they’ve been a member or subscriber to more cultural organizations!

Either way, when we ask a person who’s been in market longer about their top membership benefits, they may be more likely to think before responding, “What have I been told are the top benefits of membership?” These folks may have more opportunities for recall, while a younger Millennial or adult member of Generation Z may have fewer marketing data points to draw on. They may be better able to answer the question based on their own experiences and what they value rather than what they’ve been told to value as a top membership benefit.

This said, since a younger segment of the population seems drawn to mission related benefits, that is what marketing for them should be oriented toward. Later in the article they show why people motivated by mission related reasons tend to have stronger relationships with organizations than those motivated by transactional benefits.

They list a similar distinction between those identifying as BIPOC and those that don’t. However, they include a caveat that there are a lot of flaws inherent to the limitations of racial self-identification questions on surveys that blur nuance.

From the data they do have, membership benefit priorities for non-Hispanic whites are free admission, priority access, members only functions, supporting the organization, supporting the mission/program.

Priorities for BIPOC identifying are: free admission, belonging to the organization, support of organization, support of mission/program and priority access.

Similar to the generational comparison, they suggest there is a possibility that since many arts organizations have only recently begun to focus on marketing to BIPOC communities, the group has been predominantly getting messaging focused on belonging and other mission driven goals and not transactional benefits.

Colleen and team transition into talking about why mission driven members are better than members driven by transactional benefits. Among the charts they feature which breaks out responses for exhibit (museums, zoos, gardens) and performing arts based organizations, people who are mission driven tend on average to spend more on their membership/subscription than transactionally motivated members. (i.e. purchase a higher tier subscription/membership).

Those motivated by mission related benefits tend to perceive their membership as more valuable than those tranactionally motivated, even though they spent more money than the latter group. And the mission driven folks tend to renew memberships/subscriptions more reliably.

Excitingly, research shows that younger and more diverse members are generally more mission-motivated than members who fit the more traditional profile. The takeaway may be simple: Highlight supporting the organization and its mission as a primary benefit of membership. Not necessarily instead of transaction-based benefits, but alongside them.

At the very least, it may be helpful to stop underestimating the importance of your mission in securing attendance and cultivating supporters. Your mission need not be the kale hidden within the sugary fruit smoothie of discounts.

Marketing Storytelling Is All About The Timing

I recently saw this TED talk by Kelly D. Parker, a marketing professional who calls herself a storytelling strategist.  Her talk was on the power of storytelling and there were a number of points in her presentation which sounded very familiar.

For instance:

You know, I believe the worst story of all is the one that is told too soon. And truly, this is a very common mistake that aspiring storytellers make. We launch into a story and don’t know the first thing about who we’re talking to. Before you’re qualified to tell anything, you must deeply understand your audience’s problem and pursuit

This is very much in line with Ruth Hartt’s Jobs to Be Done practice which Ruth talks about in terms of identifying a target audience’s problem and offering a solution to it. She worked up a quick draft customer-centric video with stock images/video to illustrate classical music programming as a solution to hectic life.

Kelly Packer cites a similar example in a Nike ad where she discusses how the ad is very specific while being focused on customer need rather than product features:

Now specific doesn’t mean long and drawn out, it just means you want to include some distinguishable characteristics that your audience can relate to. It’s the reason why Nike’s ads with LeBron James don’t include a bunch of close up shots of shoes they’re selling. They don’t need to. They found the perfect person in LeBron James to represent a specific, relatable challenge, namely overcoming obstacles to beat an opponent. Then they utilize specific imagery to represent a specific progression of feelings, like defeat and discouragement, to hope and victory and resilience. And once you’ve been gripped by a story like that, doesn’t it almost go without saying that you want to wear the same sports gear LeBron James does?

Packer goes on to discuss the stage where marketing storytelling proposes the next step to audiences. Although she doesn’t mention it specifically identifies a practice which is often called out as being problematic in the arts – expecting commitment too soon which often takes the form of asking people to subscribe or donate after they attend one show.

But too often, we expect our audiences to commit too soon. Well-placed stories slow down the process just enough for you to build credibility and trust…. Good stories position us to be givers before we expect to receive. Not only that, stories make proposals irresistible because they allow us to build connection. Stories masterfully infuse a human element into our businesses, our brands and our programs that draws people in. So much so that by the time you do go in for the ask, like any good proposal, it simply feels like the next logical step.

It is interesting to think that despite being told that people’s attention spans are so short that an ever decreasing window of opportunity exists to make a connection, telling your story well can slow things down and create the space needed to develop a connection to a point where commitment is a foregone conclusion. I am fairly sure she isn’t expecting one ad to do all this work. It likely means different types of stories presented in different formats experienced in different contexts.

When The Marketing Department Is Expected To Do A Lot Of Heavy Lifting

I know I have been citing Seth Godin a lot lately, but he has had a lot of posts that seemed relevant lately. One of his recent ones addresses how marketing is expected to do a lot of the lifting for a company.  In his post, he suggests that it is because no one has clearly defined the boundaries of what marketing is supposed to be doing.

This is just an excerpt of the full list of roles he identifies:

That’s the first part of the confusion. It’s a group of people who can’t decide what the thing they do is supposed to be.

Is it:

Making the logo pretty
Maintaining the status quo and not screwing up
Keeping the website running
Community engagement
Customer service
Customer delight
Branding (whatever that is)

And seven other things we could name and argue about…

If people are confused about what they do, perhaps that’s why it’s hard to move forward. What’s this meeting for? How do we know we’re working on the right things? What’s important?…

I have been preaching that marketing is everyone’s responsibility on my blog since the early 2000s. Apparently, I have been preaching it a lot in real life too because one of the marketing staff at my job named the folder in which all staff members can place images, videos, stories, etc they collect during events “Marketing Is Everybody’s Job.”

While there should be clear boundaries about what the marketing staff is expected to accomplish, the concept of who contributes to the accomplishment of those goals shouldn’t be siloed. If the message being broadcast via different media channels is that You are the audience we want, the all members of staff need to know they have to reinforce that message when they encounter the potential audience.