Can You Hear Me Now?

On Friday, I went to a forum by the Arts Learning Xchange and I've been thinking about it all weekend.

The basic premise was "How to Stand Out In a Crowded Consumer Climate." General Mills' Vice President of Marketing Mark Addicks discussed their brand-building and promotion, and Fred Haberman, CEO of his own marketing firm, discussed cause-related promotion; this was followed by a brief Q&A and an interactive exercise.

As unprofessional as it is, I have to admit to ignoring the final interactive exercise and discussing with some colleagues how the topics discussed applied to their organization instead. And, though I am certainly thinking a lot more about CSR marketing, that presentation was a little more diffuse, though I do think the trends Mr. Haberman discussed (ranging from "I'm overwhelmed!" to "I'm in control!") bear further reflection, and the firm seems to be tops at what they do. (Also, a tip for Mr. Haberman — it took me 3 more and more refined Google searches to find the link above, though I did get MPR and bizjournal stories about his form on the first two hits.)

However, the presentation really sticks with me, admittedly mainly because of the presentation from Mr. Addicks. I think he got me right at the beginning when he said "You are what we work toward. Your theatres, your galleries — we work hard all week so we can attend them on the weekend." I have to admit I had never thought of the arts like that, as a reward people work to get to. Talk about uplifting!

He had a lot of other important points as well. His division at General Mills has a "brand champion" for every product, someone who they know a lot about that they base each product on — a tween girl named Sasha, a mid-thirties first time dad named Dan, etc., each with their own profile. I've long been told to have a certain specific person in mind for your marketing efforts, but this is the first time it clicked for me. I still think, though, that for a theatre it might work best to have an overall champion in mind and then one for each show, much as General Mills has one for each product. Trix is as different from the Lara Bar as a musical is from "Waiting for Godot" (though I suppose this is where we ignore the fact that "Spring Awakening" gave dramatic new life to Maeterlinck...).

He also encouraged us to consider "Is there a bigger box?" Does more competition actually help rather than hurt, especially if the issue is reframed?

Finally, he encouraged really listening to people, in everything from focus groups to Twitter. Again, this is not rocket-science advice, but looking at this through the filter of finding ways to engage, enhance, and deepen the experience gives it a whole new light.

I'm going to the National Arts Marketing Conference next weekend in San Jose, and I am sure I'll have a lot more to say on this topic by then. But right now, I'm really fascinated by how just slightly spinning your marketing approach can give you a whole new angle. Is this what I'm looking for?

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