In my ongoing effort to imagine arts management structures/practices/programs in a community engagement context (what I call mainstreaming engagement), I’m in the midst of several posts attempting to do that with marketing. In the beginning (Engaged Marketing: Introduction), I discussed (with myself) what marketing is–a task not without its own difficulties. (My conclusions, grossly oversimplified, were that 1) Marketing included but was not limited to sales, er, results (thank you Trevor O’Donnell-see comment following Engaged Marketing: Introduction); 2) Marketing has a long-term responsibility for relationship building; and 3) Marketing–like everything in a nonprofit organization–was in the service of mission.) Here, I want to discuss a critical element of marketing–research–and how the research process can become an engagement tool.
(NB: In posts on mainstreaming engagement, I am addressing only those individuals or organizations that want broader and deeper relationships with their communities but are uncertain how to begin or even whether it is possible to do so without completely reinventing the organization.)
Katya Andresen, a nonprofit marketing guru (her book Robinhood Marketing and Katya’s Nonprofit Marketing Blog are industry standards), recently wrote about How to research your audience if you have no budget for consultants. It has very good suggestions, but it also makes points that are valuable in this context. She says, “If you have no research budget at all, try to glean what you can from those around you in your daily work. . . . ” She goes on to discuss staff and volunteers simply talking to or observing constituents (beneficiaries, donors, other volunteers), often in contexts where they would be doing so anyway. I particularly enjoyed her principal advice, “[W]e should listen as much as we talk.” along with her observation, “Asking ‘why’ will not tell us ‘why.'” We can understand “why” by listening to their stories and getting at their feelings. . . . The person who tells the story, in turn, benefits from that attentiveness and may see life in a new way through speaking about it.”
As I discussed in Focus Group or Story Circle, simply adding a new perspective to a marketing research technique can enhance engagement. Following Ms. Andresen’s advice, if pursued with the thought of building relationships as a bonus, provides an efficient engagement tool with little or no extra expenditure of resources. The storyteller she sees as a research subject is also brought into deeper relationship with the organization through the telling (and reflecting). Seeing their observations as valued by the organization (or more specifically the interviewer), they are being “engaged.” A relationship is forming or deepening.
So, if (some) marketing research can be made an engagement tool, what cannot be?