Group Speak

By: Troy Nottingham
August 8, 2017

Strength … or Weakness?

“Your greatest strength may also be your biggest weakness” – has its application in business.  Recognizing the potential for collateral damage that can result from something you do really well can make a difference in your business’s bottom line.  We learned this first hand in a place you might not expect.

Museums preserve, protect and promote culture and a better understanding of that culture.  One of the reasons they are so successful at what they do is their approach.  Curators operate at the crossroads of science and scholarship – and stake their credibility on strict adherence to these two disciplines in all facets of exhibition selection, acquisition, assembly and display.

Yet, this scholarly approach does not always translate well in marketing.  And here’s why.  Typically, there are few funds left over (after paying for the exhibition and curation) to market the exhibition itself.  So, in addition to some billboards and banner ads, people’s experience at the exhibition and resulting word of mouth is critical to the overall success of the exhibition.

On the heels of a less than optimal start for a museum’s recent exhibition, we were brought in to figure out why and what to do about it.  So, we spent time with museum goers – sharing with them all the “didactics” (text interpretations of the art located on the walls throughout the exhibition) and getting their reactions.  We asked them to mark in red anything that was confusing or that they would not feel comfortable explaining to someone else.

What we found in the midst of all the red ink was…scholarly explanations that art appreciators – who are not aficionados – do not understand leave them feeling, well, not very smart.   Seemingly obvious, after we raised it as an issue, but an “aha moment” to the museum staff at the time.  The way most of the information was presented within the exhibition required one to have a base of art expertise that simply did not exist.  And since the experience left people feeling not so smart, they were not likely to encourage their friends to attend – rendering a core component of the marketing strategy ineffective.

Sometimes we are so close to an issue that it’s difficult to take on the perspective of the different segments of the audience.  So, while the curators thought they were presenting straightforward and understandable perspectives, it didn’t come across that way to many of the attendees.   The collateral damage was low exhibition attendance.

This same issue is present regardless of the business – manufacturing, retail, education, finance, healthcare, etc.  Unless we keep our finger on the pulse of our audience, we have to make assumptions about what they do / do not know and how that knowledge or lack thereof expands or limits our potential.  If you’re not sure what your audience knows about your category, your company or your product…or how your marketing strategy comes across, we can help.