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Industry Insights

Interview With Strive! (Part 3)

The following is the third and final part to the interview between Ralph Kikkert, Strive!, and Jason Bouwman, Compass Creative. In this segment, the conversation turns to the need for clear definition and direction as Ralph poses questions from the interview audience. Part One and Part Two are available if you missed them.

PART III: Organizational Clarity and Good Marketing

Ralph: Hank asks: Are there any differences between not-for-profit and for-profit organizations related to strategic planning?

Jason: The only thing that I'm seeing as the difference is the way the profit gets used – who benefits from the profit at the end. Not-for-profit is actually a bit of a misnomer, because they are in fact looking for profit. They want to grow their revenues, they want to grow donations, they want to grow the impact that they can have. It's just that at the end of the year, if there's anything left over above their expenses and their benefactors being taken care of, it typically just gets reinvested back into the organization.

There's also a need for not-for-profit organizations to be far more entrepreneurial to deal with the competition that's been introduced through technology and the Internet.

And I think you'll see people demanding more from for-profit companies. “Why should I buy their products and support them?” They're asking for transparency around what’s done with profits and how they help others. So, for-profit companies are being challenged to be more altruistic and caring, and not-for-profits are being challenged to be more entrepreneurial and business like.

Ralph: It sounds like the two are coming together somewhat.

Jason: Yes. The market's gone through some shifts that way.

When a new type of product is introduced, the marketing message is: Here's this product. You need it. Come and buy it here.

Then as competition comes into play, the message changes to: Here's how ours is better. Its functions and features become the story line. Then as the quality standards go up – and in today's marketplace we've got very high quality standards – the prices become so similar, it’s very difficult to make a choice.

So we introduced stories that said: "Well, when you buy from us, this is how it's going to feel. You're going to feel this way." And we ran that course for a little bit. And now, the story's changing to: Here's what our company believes. And customers are asking: Well, what do you believe? Who are you? What's your world view?

Ralph: Concerning the environment, concerning social justice.

Jason: All those things, yes. So now, those questions that organizations have to answer bring them back to: What's your purpose? What's your mission? Who are you really?

It's more of a spiritual need that tomorrow's organizations are going to need to fill, in addition to what their products and services serve. So, it's a very interesting world in marketing right now.

Ralph: Fred asks: If we have more clearly defined mission and vision statements, are you saying that they need to be revisited on a yearly basis and continually evolved?

Jason: I would say that it should be communicated daily. The language of the mission and vision should be expressed daily in all sorts of different ways. And yes, revisit it monthly, biannually, always being familiar with it, I think.

Ralph: I totally love that. I was working with an organization, and I thought they had such a great vision and mission statement that I just kept using it all the time, again, because it directed staff. So, it’s something I talked about, but revisiting is another question.

Jason: Yeah. If by revisiting you mean changing it or tweaking it, that's going to depend on the size and type of organization, the amount of progress that you've made toward the goal, the types of things that have happened in the industry, outside events that are beyond your control. There are many different times when you go back to the mission and revisit it.

Ralph: When we do strategic planning with organizations on, I'd say, a three-year basis, we re-look at the vision and mission statement to see if we need to change them. Vision doesn't change quickly. Typically, we would say every five to ten years, but there can be exceptions. Mission, needs a little more tweaking. But, what we do is have them tell us what they love about the statements, even a word or phrase of it, because I want them to be always thinking about it, always thinking about the purpose of the organization, always thinking about where they want to go. So, that we then set the direction for the organization when we do the rest of the plan. That's how we tackle it.

Here's another question. Jennifer asks: Our not-for-profit board has members who are focused on their own and separate association interests rather than on the national board association mission and vision. How do you re-structure the board to be more streamlined?

Or how should board governance change come first before real strategic planning can occur? It feels like a chicken and egg scenario.

Jason: Well, this is why we love Strive and why we keep pointing people to the planning. I don't have the answers on how to re-structure a board, but I can tell you that problems that exist in that area will manifest themselves farther down the line in the marketing. And then it becomes very difficult for us to deliver work at the quality level that we want when there are bigger, more fundamental issues with the organization. So, that's a brilliant question, and I'm sorry that I don't have the answer, but Ralph, this is your bailiwick.

Ralph: You know that we don't like large boards, number one. We love to see boards between five and nine, because we want to have a lot of discussion and dialogue. How you get there, I think, just like you said, is truth telling. Open discussion on vision, open discussion on how can we be effective, honesty about ourselves and our role. I think you're so right with those comments.

Jason: Right. I just saw a quote this morning from a strategic coach, "All progress starts by telling the truth."

Ralph: Wow. And honesty. Honesty with a relationship. And that's the challenge that you always need to have – the relationship first and then the ideological discussions and conflicts after that. And coming back to vision and mission with, "How effective are we?"

Jason: And here's where you can see why having a clearly articulated mission and vision is important. If it's too generic, if it's too ambiguous and everyone could come on board, you're side-stepping the hard work of defining that thing. You're going to end up with a room of people that all kind of agree to what's been said, because nothing's really been said. And then you're going to end up with the reality of ten people wanting to run their own show.

Ralph: Another question. Cheryl asks: Do we always include all stakeholders in determining the direction, or are there times we shouldn’t? Can the leaders set us on the wrong path?

Jason: The way our own process works is that we typically include everyone. I mean, everyone has a slightly different view or perspective, and that all adds to it. But, yes,

I think the risk is that people can set you on the wrong path. But that's why we typically have discussions and that's why you include other people. You want perspective. So, I would encourage discussion, but ultimately at some point, someone has to make decisions. And that's typically someone with leadership qualities that says, "Okay. I've heard it all, and this is what we're doing." And that's the point where people need to get on board or get off board.

Ralph: David asks: Are your industry competitors also understanding that their clients need to link vision/mission/values to key public messages? Or is it business as usual – push what sells without reflection of values? Frankly, your approach seems unique when we look to most media messages today.

Jason: I would say that the good ones are. But yeah, there are definitely people out there that would not have our approach. Sure. I mean, there are people doing good work and there are people doing mediocre work, and there are people doing bad work. I would say that, as a result, the marketing industry as a whole is grappling with a very poor perception. People look at marketers and advertisers with about as much respect as they do, you know--

Ralph: Car salesmen?

Jason: Yes. We're just above. And we are so thankful for car salesmen for that.

They've done recent Gallup polls, and marketers are looked at very disrespectfully because of manipulations that they've crafted and the poor values that they've trotted out there. Right now, companies are asking, "Does it really work? Give me something that's going to give me results." And this is why our own approach is not going to give you the results. It's a tool.

What's going to make it an amazing tool is if it's got some amazing ideas behind it, and that's why we back up and go through: Who are you? What do you do? Who do you do it for? What's compelling to them? It's about that insight piece. How are we going to help someone else? And then we can craft really compelling messages that resonate. That's ultimately the kind of space and the kind of environment that we want to use our creativity and skills in.

Just in closing, I would say, your mother was right. Think before you speak, and when you come to a marketing firm, be prepared to answer some of those deeper questions about your organization. And if you don't have answers to them, then maybe the time isn't quite right to go out and talk to people. Maybe there's more work to be done internally. And there's certainly help for that as well.

Ralph: We need to articulate and provide clarity about who we are and who we are to serve. It's interesting when we see the evolution of our society and how things are moving from that perspective. Thank you for joining us, and have a great afternoon.

This version has been edited for brevity, but you can hear the full interview in the audio version. Part One and Part Two can be viewed in our previous blog posts.

If you have any thoughts on anything you’ve read here, we encourage you to join in the discussion on the comments thread or contact us directly. Thanks for your interest.

Written by Carol Classen

March 14, 2012