JANUARY 2018 ISSUE: Do Good. Be Great. Shift from Marketing to Storytelling

Museum of Design Atlanta

By Maria Royal, Museum of Design Atlanta

After attending the AMA Nonprofit Marketing Conference this year, I learned that it takes defining the “why” to set yourself apart and it takes human-powered stories to inspire others to care.



As Simon Sinek puts it, “most organizations know what they do. Some know how they do it. But very few know why they do it,” or what their larger purpose is. Using Apple as an example here – the iPhone gives users a lens through which to capture the world, their products enable innovative design work, and on top of having good products that work they choose to market user stories to reveal a kind of empathy and reverence for their audience, positioning the device as the enabler and the user as the pioneer. This realization altered my entire approach to marketing the MODA brand and building the museum’s audience. Nonprofit marketers must begin to think of their brands as people with human voices in order to move audiences from event-loyalists to brand-loyalists.



AMA’s overall conference theme this year, Do Good.Be Great, brought some of the best story tellers in the nonprofit realm to Washington DC. Among many compelling presentations, the following three speakers stood out and spoke in some ways directly to MODA’s mission – to use design as a force to inspire and create positive change in the world through exhibitions, education, and programming for visitors of all ages. Here are a few game-changing tips I took away:



For Martha Adams, the goal of the Girl Rising campaign was to inspire audiences with real stories that would create lasting emotional connections. Why? In order to highlight the critical role that education plays in life. The Girl Rising team created nine chapters with nine different girls to reveal nine unique stories that distill a sense of trust, authenticity, and consistency with the audience. In her words, “if you know how to nurture a human relationship, you know how to build a brand” and in some cases, it’s an emotional connection to a brand’s mission that matters more than customer satisfaction with a particular product. Since brand status is something that must be earned, it’s the user who gives a brand its value. For Martha, promoting Girl Rising was not about driving sales but about building a strong community of like-minded individuals to back a movement for education.



John Vranas began his presentation with a statement that tickled his audience of nonprofit marketers, “No money, no mission,” making a compelling argument for how crucial it is that marketing and development to dovetail. John explained that the need for funding to support the Make-A-Wish program always existed but in the organization’s early years, it turns out they were telling the wrong story.

Historically Make-A-Wish focused their marketing efforts on showcasing the end result –wishes made possible by their organization. After years of sub-par returns on their marketing investments, they realized they were telling the wrong story because they had identified the wrong hero. The real heroes in this story were the people who actually made the wishes possible – the donors, fundraisers, volunteers, social workers, and the doctors working together for a cure. Flipping their model completely and adapting their why to showcase funders and doctors as the heroes yielded tremendous success that allowed the organization to eventually scale up to 102 individual foundations in the US.



With the idea that “cultural shifts precede change,” Jennifer explained that YBCA exists to serve as a creative home for civic action – a place for people to carry change forward. Under new marketing leadership YBCA put new programs in place to actively support and celebrate San Francisco’s change-makers. Their team started the YBCA 100, their own award program to highlight their city’s top change-makers, inviting as many honorees as possible in to speak on one question – what’s the question that keeps you up at night and how are you addressing it? Their team launched a Think Tank for prototyping new city improvements complete with a Culture Bank that selects risky organizations and artists who can’t get grants to fund as long as the artists are designing for good in their city.



Re-inspired by the incredible work of the above organizations, I returned to Atlanta to restructure the MODA marketing plan for 2018 with an overarching marketing goal of building a brand-loyal MODA community that understands the power of design to change the world and that believes MODA is essential to doing it for Atlanta. I worked with my team to create an internal and external marketing plan to help turn this goal into a reality.

On the internal side, we are working to build an army of radically friendly, cohesive brand ambassadors to drive membership up by 20 percent year over year, capture data, and push patrons to brand loyalty organically. We are finalizing a brand voice guideline to ensure message consistency and to better define our why when conversing with patrons in our exhibition space, at our events, and in our camps and classes.

On the external side, we are aiming to increase patron brand loyalty and donation amounts by 20 percent year over year. There are a number of strategies that support this objective including better defining our why to set ourselves apart in external communication pieces, choosing the right hero in development pieces, and taking a human-centered approach to both our paid and earned marketing efforts.

We are creating real campaigns around MODA’s mission-centered work including exhibitions, Design Conversations, and summer camps. We are focusing our social communications on celebrating the people in Atlanta and beyond who are living our mission of using design to make the world a better place. And once we ramp up these specific MODA initiatives, our blue-sky dream is to move from event-marketing campaigns to brand marketing campaigns at the end of the 2018 calendar year.

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