Getting to the Root of Your Communications Challenge

A few weeks ago I teamed up with the Delaware Art Museum to deliver a presentation at the Annual Meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Museums. The museum hired us to help them identify ways to reach their goal of becoming more relevant and financially sustainable for the future. But previous attempts at attaining this goal often left them simply trying to do more for everyone. And they were ready to make some long-term changes.

Every organization faces obstacles on the path to its optimum existence: “We’re not reaching our goals.” “People aren’t hearing us.” “We have an awareness problem.” “Nobody’s sharing our stuff.”

The difference between the organizations that thrive and the ones that don’t is their approach to surmounting the obstacles.

All sorts of reasons can underlie any one marketing and communications challenge—from your visual look to the frequency of your communications to your actual programming. But people often rush into making tactical adjustments rather than asking the deeper questions that might lead them in the direction they desire.

For example, undertaking a complete visual overhaul is frequently seen as a panacea to an organization’s communication woes. But once your new look and logo are complete, filtering your new visual branding throughout your entire organization—from your stationery to your signage to your website—can take two to three years and represents a serious commitment. Before you start, you want to be certain that you’re fixing the right problem. Because if you’re not, things won’t be any better when you’re finished this three-year journey, and you’ll have robbed other important endeavors of valuable staff time and resources in the interim.

Over time, we’ve found that the best way to ensure that you’ve uncovered the true root of your communication challenges is to start with a strategy session. And that’s where we started with the Delaware Art Museum.

When we conduct strategy sessions, we bring in representatives from all your major constituents—board members, donors, patrons and others—to undertake a SWOT analysis. This exercise often uncovers some of the deeper-down issues and helps guide the path forward.

A few of the solutions your strategy session might uncover include:

Visual Rebrand – We never said a visual rebrand is a bad thing! Often a strategy session will reveal that things truly are working smoothly and your 1970’s look really just needs a refresh. But the reassurance you’re tackling the right problem saves lots of headaches in the long run.

Strategic Rebrand – A strategic rebrand involves more than just your look; it’s an effort to make sure your complete brand—image, message and experience—serves as a bridge to your mission and your vision. When these things aren’t aligned, your brand won’t be effective for engaging your community and will impact your ability to reach your goals. Your next step on the path to a strategic rebrand would be to conduct additional research into your identity, your audience, and your messaging.

Revamp of Programs and Services – A strategy session might uncover challenges that extend beyond marketing and communications, revealing that in order to remain vibrant, your organization needs to revisit who your true audience is, what they want, and what you’re best suited to offer them. Like a strategic rebrand, your next step would be a deeper dive into your offerings and your audience.

Our strategy session with Delaware Art Museum concluded that research in preparation for a strategic rebrand was in order. While each organization’s needs and challenges are different, a typical research endeavor like the one we completed with the museum would include:

  • Meeting with leadership to uncover financial, personnel and operational issues.
  • Conducting a communications audit to develop a baseline understanding of your current marketing and communications endeavors.
  • Learning from a small group of your most critical audiences by interviewing members, donors and other important stakeholders; conducting a staff focus group; and conducting a community focus group.
  • Testing assumptions on a broader audience using an online survey.
  • Reviewing the market through competitive online research and calls with peers in other markets.

While the process may seem daunting at first, this type of research is essential for making informed and strategic decisions for the future that move beyond Band-Aid fixes to long-term solutions.

For help figuring out your next strategic step for your marketing and communications program, give us a call at 267-468-7949 or drop us a line at