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Marketing Vs. Practice. No, Marketing IS Practice

There is a piece on the Forbes website discussing a recent study IBM did on customer satisfaction.

The article title says “IBM Study Finds Consumers Are Disappointed By Marketers.” But as I read the article, what really appeared to be the problem was that the companies weren’t delivering the product or experience the marketers were promising. Either the marketers were promoting something that didn’t exist or the company as a whole wasn’t maintaining the standards it set for itself.

The Forbes author, Kimberly Whitler writes, “I wonder if this is a soft warning bell to marketers—and those that hire them.”

It seemed to me that real issue in this case isn’t hiring the wrong people in marketing, it is that these days everyone in the company needs to embrace the idea that marketing is everyone’s responsibility. If you have been reading the blog for any length of time, you know I frequently return to this theme.

Most of the time, the failure of marketing is that it doesn’t resonate with you in the first place. If marketing leads you become a customer of a company, it generally isn’t the marketing that loses you, it is the disconnect between what the marketing causes you to expect and the the experience you have.

I believe this quote at the end of the first page sums it up best.

I think we’re at a point where the challenge isn’t perfecting the technology or unifying our data. The real challenge now is human,” said Stefan Tornquist, VP, research at Econsultancy. “We want to build long term relationships with people but our thinking is short-term and selfish. Most companies want to differentiate through customer experience, but most will only take half measures because really devoting themselves to what consumers need means rebuilding from the inside out.”

This seems much more an issue of execution and practice rather a failure of marketing.

About the only case I can think of where marketing might lose you as a customer is if they decide to shift the demographic focus of a product. If marketing has brought you to a product or service by positioning it as something that is hip and edgy and then they decide to go after your parents (or if the product starts to appeal to your parents despite the marketers efforts to the contrary), then the marketing can be blamed for losing you.

One thing Whitler wrote that I fascinating was the following (my emphasis)

“The research reminded me of a visit I made to a sophisticated, CRM-based entertainment firm a decade ago. They had state-of-the-art systems and tools to understand behavior. It was quite impressive at the time. They could predict when a customer would defect. The problem was, they couldn’t figure out how to stop the consumer from defecting. Their marketing team was comprised of “quant jocks” who could describe but not sell. Perhaps this research is a reminder that marketing is not just about insight, but the ability to use that insight to create change.”

I take some solace from the fact that a company with the resources to do a lot of data analysis couldn’t figure out how to stave off customer defection. If massive CRM data crunching isn’t the sole answer, then there is hope for non-profit arts organizations that don’t have those resources at their disposal.

Whitler indirectly confirms the idea that marketing is a function for the whole company by noting this company’s team could “describe but not sell.” It shows the importance of having better integration between those doing the analysis of customers and those interacting with customers.

Getting that integration right is incredibly hard. Those interacting with the customers may have a skewed view of what the problem is based on the feedback they are getting and need a dispassionate analysis to show that the real problem lies elsewhere and the complaints received are just the easiest way to express that dissatisfaction.

But if the data is not being collected in the correct way, it may be impossible to arrive at the correct analysis. Given their limited resources, gaining that understanding of a customer base can be a problem for arts organizations.

On the other side, a good analysis can identify the problem, but it requires an effective practical execution to bring about satisfaction and that can be difficult to pull off. Just think how many times you have thought that an intention behind an effort was good but the execution was flawed.

Again, lack of resources can hamper arts organizations.

But putting data analysis aside and getting back to the original idea of this post, an important question to consider is whether the organizational practice is fulfilling the promise of the marketing.

I will leave questioning whether your marketing is resonating with the audience you want to reach to Trevor O’Donnell who address that better than I can. One of his frequent basic themes is that advertising should show the audience having fun rather than focusing on how awesome your organization is.

All art administrators know that if they show people having fun, then people should have fun at your events.

But does the rest of the organization know that? Is that value reinforced? Are they encouraged to point out opportunities to increase fun and decrease disappointment?

Again, marketing is part of everybody’s job. All employees (not to mention board members, audience members and donors) reinforce and embody your brand.

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Will Not Let You Go. (Let Me Go!)

I don’t know if you have been following the story about the planned shutdown of Sweet Briar College, an all-women’s school in Virginia. I have been keeping an eye on the situation for the last month, having initially seen it as a positive example for non-profit organizations. Since then, the situation has evolved to the point where I am not sure if it is a positive example any longer, but can still provide some lessons.

When Sweet Briar College first announced they were going to close down, the news was generally well received. A decision to close had been made before things had gotten particularly dire. The school planned on using its endowment to provide severance packages to employees and assist students in transitioning to other schools.

All in all, it seemed like a responsible move in terms of attempting to soften the blow for employees and students rather than making an abrupt announcement that left people panicking.

Since I have written on the benefits of starting an arts organization with a definite expiration date in mind, I appreciated that they were looking to cease operations in a relatively constructive way with an opportunity to liquidate or pass on assets while they retained some value.

Later, various constituencies came together to try to save the school and called for the resignation of the president and board of trustees for not living up to their responsibilities and not exploring other funding avenues. Non-Profit Quarterly drew comparisons to other recent examples of board action, including the planned closure of San Diego Opera, where the stakeholders said not so fast and changed the outcome.

I am not going to suggest that any of these popular actions were wrong or just delaying the inevitable. However, as I thought about this in the context of the earlier idea about organizations with expiration dates, I wondered the idea were possible in practice.

Essentially, can you quit while you are still on top? When you reach the planned point to wind things down, will there be push back from people suggesting it would be irresponsible to abandon a project that so successfully serves the community? Especially if there is not a similar entity present to transfer resources to which could potentially pick up the work.

Is it in human nature that we have an easier time accepting the need to buy a new car before the current one falls apart than we have deciding to dissolve an organization? Basically, does the organization have to be further along in its decline before we will give it up?

This was what was on my mind as something I might write a blog post about until the most recent twist in the Sweet Briar College situation. It seems that the college accepted a million dollar estate gift about two weeks before they decided to close the school. The letter accepting this gift is being used in a lawsuit against the school.

This struck a real chord with me because December 23, 2013, I received a letter soliciting a donation from the Trey McIntyre Project. Then in January 2014, there came the news that the dance company was being disbanded as of June 2014. At the time, I wondered at the timing of the solicitation since they surely knew they were moving toward this decision.

Yet the letter read,

“As we look towards the new year, we are driven to educate more minds and heal more bodies through the vehicle of Trey’s art and the talent of our dancers. We need your financial support to make it happen.”

While the organization technically hasn’t closed, but rather has shifted its focus in other directions that doesn’t include the dance company, that solicitation email implies the dancers will be part of the future.

I have frequently praised the company in my blog entries, including praising them for quitting while they were still on top. That solicitation email has obviously stuck in my mind as a false note. But I think it goes to illustrate that every organization is going to make its missteps.

As to how big Sweet Briar College’s missteps ultimately end up being, that remains to be seen. There are likely more lessons to come that one can derive lessons from so the situation will bear watching.

The title of this post is, of course, inspired by one of the greatest songs of all time. Which you now long to listen to-

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Dynamic Pricing Backlash

I learned today via a post on Twitter from TRG Arts that the University of Michigan will stop using dynamic pricing at their football games as a result of protests from the general public.

The article talks about negative feedback from alumni and students as well but much of that relates to a separate issue with season and student tickets which were more expensive, but not subject to dynamic pricing.

Living as I am in Ohio, I am obligated to suggest that this only goes to illustrate the inferiority of the Michigan football program.

What really interests me about the policy change was that two years ago I wrote about how University of Michigan and the Cincinnati Reds were going to be using dynamic pricing for their games. I took a quick check of the Red’s website and they will continue to use dynamic pricing during their 2015 season.

My post two years ago emphasized that value is not price presenting some thoughts on that concept. As I looked into University of Michigan’s decision to eliminate dynamic pricing, my effort to determine where the balance between price and value became further complicated.

If you look at the bottom of this article, you will see students protesting with signs invoking tradition over money and the university brand. But if you read my original article, I note at the time tickets were already on sale on the secondary market for far more than the published price, prior to single tickets going on sale. At that point, the only ones who had them were season ticket holders and maybe some students.

While not everyone is going to try capitalize and sell their tickets to hot games on the secondary market, it is clear that some of the tickets are more valuable than what you paid for them. Shouldn’t you be happy about getting such a great deal?

As much as you may want to complain about students and alumni being malcontents who want to maintain the status quo rather than acknowledge increasing costs and value, there really isn’t any difference between them and the people who comprise your audiences.

Except maybe they are much more passionate about football than your programming. (Which is why I can’t have shows on Saturdays in the Fall.)

I suspect one of the biggest factors in whether people will tolerate dynamic pricing or not is the level of investment they have in the activity and how strong the sense of community is. The Cincinnati Reds and Broadway shows can probably get away with it because people expect to pay more or less dependent on the popularity of the event.

College football isn’t just a sporting event, it is entwined more deeply with personal identity. For students and alumni, it is directly associated with your occupation for four plus years. You didn’t just live in a locality with sports teams, all the buildings you occupied all day in were owned by the entity that owned the team. All the people you worked, ate and played with everyday were members of that entity.

There is going to be so little distinction between value, price and identity that change to any one of these will result in a strong reaction.

It probably doesn’t help that the university was requiring $150 donation to be considered for season tickets with no guarantee you would get some and no refund if you don’t. (And this is a very common practice among larger university sports programs, even ones that don’t perform very well.)

I don’t think University of Michigan’s decision should dissuade an arts organization from considering dynamic pricing in itself. I think it points to the fact that you need to consider the level of investment your potential audience has in your work and what the tenor of that investment is.

For some, a higher price may only increase the sense of investment as it indicates a greater level of personal prestige. Not surprisingly, for others it will be a sign of exclusionary elitism. Other communities may barely notice the prices changed since they weren’t paying attention to begin with.

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Clyde Fitch Report Wants To Be Bigger And More Bad Ass Than Their Namesake

Just wanted to make a quick shout-out today drawing attention to the Clyde Fitch Report’s (CFR) Kickstarter campaign.

I have been checking out CFR on a weekly basis for a number of years now, getting a lot of art news and opinion. Sometimes what I learn there has served as the basis for post of my own. Oklahoma City Ballet Executive Director Shane Jewell’s post encouraging arts organizations to use shirtless men in advertising being one of the more recent examples.

If you are wondering who Clyde Fitch is, you probably aren’t alone. He was an incredibly famous and successful playwright in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. If you read the “Who Was Clyde Fitch” section of the website, you will wonder how the heck he ever faded into obscurity. The guy was making $250,000 a year in 1900s dollars.

The Clyde Fitch Report unfortunately can’t claim the same level of resources. Founded by Leonard Jacobs, it is definitely a labor of love. But like Clyde Fitch, when you watch the Kickstarter video, you will be surprised to learn how many people from across the country contribute to the site.

Essentially, Jacobs is trying to scale up the quality of what the site offers and do a little better by the contributors by paying them a pittance instead of nothing.

Everyone is probably well aware that arts journalism is suffering greatly these days. Just yesterday I spoke before the local Rotary Club and was asked why there wasn’t more post-performance coverage in the local paper.

Leonard Jacobs and the CFR crew isn’t going to solve that problem overnight, but they are looking to experiment with some alternative approaches.

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