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Digital Strategy

Part One: The Case for Mission-Driven Digital

Exploring the reasons for adopting a mission-driven approach to your digital strategy.

August 14, 2018

Adapted from a talk delivered at the Arts Marketing Association Conference in Liverpool, July 2018.

At Made we work with leading arts and cultural institutions around the world. All of the organisations we work with — in the UK, US, Canada, and Australia — are non-profits, and with a few notable exceptions, a significant amount (if not a majority) of their revenue is contributed or grant income.

Despite that, I’ve found that usually, when we work on digital projects, we spend the vast majority of our time working with, and around, the marketing and ticketing teams. When we kick off new web projects, we are lucky if we get a fly-by meeting with education and development teams, usually to talk about group bookings or membership purchases. While we love the time we spend with our marketing and ticketing colleagues, I think there’s more we can do as a sector to engage more deeply with other departments on digital projects.

While we love the time we spend with our marketing and ticketing colleagues, I think there’s more we can do as a sector to engage more deeply with other departments on digital projects.

I have two messages: if you’re a marketer, I want to make the case for taking a more mission-focused approach to what you do. If you’re not a marketer, I want to make the case for thinking more intensely and effectively about unexplored digital opportunities.

And with the words “not a marketer”, we bump into our first problem. How do you describe the people who work on the mission of the organisation, but aren’t part of the marketing or sales team? Maybe they work in development, or in the artistic team, or in education and learning. Regardless of their department, they are all interested in engaging communities or groups with the mission of the organisation.

So I want to coin a phrase to describe these people: they’re our missionaries. How might we help them become digital missionaries? That’s the question I want to explore.

Why is it so rare for us to have time with these digital missionaries on new website projects, when we work so extensively with marketing teams? Sometimes it can even feel like we’re being kept away from them. Some thoughts:

  • There can be a perception that digital equals consumer, and consumer equals marketing. It’s easy to see how this perception might have developed historically, with marketing teams taking responsibility for early deployment of digital technology in arts and cultural organisations, from introducing online ticketing to opening social media accounts. In practice this assumption means that digital teams are still largely embedded in marketing teams, even when the use of digital technology has expanded beyond the realms of marketing and sales.

  • Marketing outputs are often more tangible than those generated by other teams. They can be measured by sales figures and tickets sold. That’s true in the digital world as well. Marketing outputs are usually more immediately measurable too, with community partnerships, donations or other mission-focused activities taking much longer to come to fruition.

  • ‘Digital’ is a young person’s game. One other thing I sometimes hear: there are still some development teams who assume that because their supporters fall into a particular demographic, they are much less digitally engaged. We’ll come back to this point shortly.

Why does any of this matter? Well, for starters, when you look at your Google Analytics dashboards, I bet you are seeing only a tiny number of visits to any pages called ‘Support Us’, ‘Donate’ or ‘Join Us’. No-one visits them, because they’re so focused on the needs of the organisation rather than those of the user. I expect most organisations keep these pages when they redesign their websites, simply because other organisations have them too (cf. Unintentional Collusion).

One of the complaints I’ve heard most frequently over the last year from people who work within arts organisations is that their website acts mainly as a ticketing or sales path, to the almost total exclusion of the rest of the work that they do. When this happens, the online brand of the organisation suffers, especially in terms of telling the story of their mission.

Finally, if you take a look at the social communications of most of these organisation, they’re really lacking mission-related content, abdicating an opportunity to build support and tell their ‘good news’ stories in social media. This really is a missed opportunity, as social media is perfectly suited to this kind of mission-related content, focused as it is on community, and the conversation between brands and individuals.

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I think we can be better at all of this, if we take a mission-driven approach to our digital activity. My argument is split across three blog posts. In this post — part one — I want to make the business case for taking a mission-driven approach to digital. In part two, I sketch out a roadmap for how we make our digital strategy more mission-driven. Part three will look at the core themes we need to think about when it comes to mission-driven digital.

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Before we get into how organisations can pivot to a mission-driven digital strategy, I want to discuss some of the reasons why we should be doing this at all.

I think we can look at this in two ways: first, what are the opportunities opened up by making your existing digital strategy more mission focused? Second, what are the opportunities created by making your mission-related activity more digitally-enabled?

It can be challenging to make the business case for investing in digital development in parts of the organisation’s business that don’t relate directly to earned revenue from the public. When the business case is based purely on the bottom line, it can be hard to make the numbers stack up. But when we think about the other opportunities that are opened up by digital investment, the business case becomes much clearer:

  • Dollars spent on mission-related promotion results in contributed revenue. If your arts organisation is a non-profit, you need to shout about it in order to attract public support. This has a direct impact on revenue: it’s hard to make a case for support if the organisation’s mission is not wrapped into its brand. But if you get it right, a case for support that is intertwined throughout an organisation’s online and offline presence can result in fundraising growth and success.

  • Investing digital spend in the mission is an investment in future audiences. A lot of mission-related activity focuses on young people, through formal or informal learning programmes. This makes this activity, and the expansion of it through digital tools, a vitally valuable form of investment in future arts audiences.

  • Putting mission at the forefront of your digital strategy builds resilience. By weaving mission into your online brand, you build a larger group of supporters and advocates for those moments when you need them most.

  • Your mission can feed you digital content strategy. There are tons of great stories on the mission side of what your organisation does, and they’re a great source of marketing and brand inspiration. At a time when we are constantly battling to generate enough relevant content to feed all of our channels, mission-driven stories can be a great source of highly impactful content.

From another perspective, we should consider the opportunities opened up by digital technology. These are familiar to all of us: digital gives us the tools we need to reach people in large numbers; technology provides a shopfront that is always open; digital enables convenience for the people who want to interact with us; and digital technology gives us an opportunity to connect with people in completely new ways.

Digital’s role as an enabler of mass engagement is not limited to buying and selling things. As marketers, we know that technology has revolutionised how we communicate with, and sell things to, our audiences. But there are many encouraging statistics from other disciplines as well, including education and fundraising. On the education front, the rise of Massive Open Online Courses over the last several years is fundamentally changing the way that people learn, and there are now plenty of platforms where you can set up your own courses for the public. Last year, 81m enrolled in MOOCs globally, and although the majority of these focused on career-related content like finance or computing, around 5.5% of these students enrolled in art and design courses. Similarly, online giving rates are rising rapidly, becoming an ever bigger proportion of overall donations. And we’re not just talking about small-fry donations. Of all online donations made in 2016, 10% were £800 or more, and 40% of nonprofits received at least one online donation of £800 or more (figures include US nonprofits, and come from a broad range of nonprofits, not just arts and culture).

Those figures aren’t surprising, because we are always online. We spend 5 hours a day on our phones, checking them an average of 80 times a day. Despite what I spend most of my day talking about, we don’t just use them buying tickets. In fact, we hardly use them for buying tickets at all. We use them for creating communities, telling our own stories, and connecting with the world around us. Which — to me — all sounds highly relevant to the missions of arts organisations.

There are loads of ways that digital technology is enabling convenience for end users. I wanted to pick up on one that isn’t so talked about in our sector: the demise of cash. While this trend has been reflected in ticket sales for a long time, we are increasingly seeing it hit the donation side of the equation, especially for museum clients who rely on donations from visitors as a key income source. By 2026, it’s estimated that only 21% of transactions will use cash, down from 62% in 2006. This has big implications for environments in which we depend on cash transactions. Buskers in London are now collecting contactless donations through a partnership between the Mayor of London and iZettle, the mobile payments solution. And in March 2018, the Church of England announced it was going to set up 16,000 contactless donation points to collect donations after services in its churches, as a direct result of the decline in people carrying cash.

Finally, digital technology enables us to create community, especially among donors and supporters. Despite the persistent myth that some demographics are digitally challenged, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence to back this up. Over 55s are the fastest-growing demographic on the platform, and will become the second largest age group (after 16-34s) later this year. If you care about reaching these people, these inherently social channels are great for building the context and case for support. Social media platforms also provide opportunities to expand reach through tools like lookalikes, advertisement targeting etc.

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Digital technology is still under-utilised as a tool by our missionaries. But I think there’s a case for a greater alignment of the missions of our organisations with the use of digital technology, both in making our existing digital activity more mission-focused and in moving some of our mission-related activity into the digital world.

In the second part of this blog post, I will discuss how we approach mission-driven digital in our projects at Made, and discuss some examples from outside the sector of good practice. Some of these are digital tools which can be used by missionaries, and others are mission-based approaches for digital marketers.