An arts organization had no better judgment than to ask my advice. Here are excerpts from my comments, in hopes they prove useful to a reader or two. These observations also apply to cause-related marketing. Both seek to better the community, and both rely on getting the community to dig deep to support them.
Art is about personal expression, but marketing is about what the market wants, artistry aside. When you put on your marketing hat, really put it on. Or, to be blunt, think more like a marketer and less like an artist. You can do it without compromising your artistic morals, but it won’t be easy. A self-imagined artist myself who also happens to be a marketer (and who also has a scientific bent — gad, I’m a mess), I fight this inner battle daily. I also fight it with clients. Like when I want to shake them by the lapels and yell, “So what if you don’t like it? Can’t you see that this is GOOD STUFF?” I also find myself fighting the opposite battle: “So what if Design A is more aesthetically pleasing than Design B? Design B outsold Design A two-to-one!”
Focus on the benefits you offer the people to whom you’re selling. (Like the word or not, and artists tend not to, selling is very much what you’re trying to do.) Artists tend to overemphasize what matters to themselves, their craft and their organization, rather than what matters to their target markets. Rarely does what matters to the marketer matter to the market. Whoever engineered the first M&M’s might have been quite proud of pulling off near-perfect round, hard shells emblazoned with a neatly-printed M. But parents — the target market — were unimpressed. Only when a marketer pointed out that M&M’s protected kids, walls and furniture from chocolate smears did sales take off.
Your message may be clear to you. But you’re not the market. Boil the essence of your cause down to one, pithy sentence, and field-test it to ensure it registers even on the average person paying only half-attention. Then you know you have a winner. After that, create a one-paragraph and a one-page version. Then you can haul out one or the other, as circumstance warrants, with greater assurance of making your point. I once made a like observation to the leader of a political group. The irony was lost on him as he bellowed, “I am sick of everyone telling me that my message is unclear.”
You have more than one market: ticket buyers, sponsors, prospective sponsors, donors, taxpayers, and the artists themselves. Not all want the same things. The trick is in finding out and addressing what matters to whom at any given moment. If you see in this a seeming contradiction to my suggestion about coming up with one pithy sentence, you’re right. And wrong. Marketing is about continuums, rarely about black-and-white.
In your internal conversations and your personal reasoning, you need to be rational about what you’re selling, and the benefits you truly offer each market. But you cannot afford the mistake of assuming that the people you’re selling to are rational.
It is not uncommon for artists to level an almost scolding tone at businesses and markets who don’t quite “get it.” You never win by saying or implying that your publics are wrong, or by presuming that they somehow owe you their support. Never mind what you think they should want or should care about. You must deal with what they do care about.