Why marketing a famous master is like building your customer base
For Bob Tarren, marketing Pablo Picasso meant big money and big pressure.
Tarren, marketing director at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, was charged with creating a $750,000 campaign that would draw a national audience while maximizing local attendance.
Your business may never launch a campaign as big as the VMFA's, but there are plenty of lessons to learn from the museum's campaign, lessons Tarren shared in a July 26 breakfast meeting at the Creative Change Center.
"The evangelists were already on board," Tarren said about the museum's members and longtime supporters. So he focused his efforts on a "younger, tech-savvy crowd" that maybe hadn't ever given the museum a detailed look. He called this crowd the "persuadables."
Because the VFMA carried a slightly stuffy reputation, Tarren said there was a special emphasis on making the exhibit open and friendly. Guards took a more relaxed approach, letting people get as close as they wanted to the art (but not letting them touch it, obviously). The vibe he wanted, Tarren said, was one where people felt comfortable "coming and hanging out. You can't do that when things are really formal."
But the marketing strategy also had to avoid alienating the VMFA "family" of longtime supporters. So Tarren started with traditional ad components, like billboards, street-light hangers and posters.
Then he got creative, striking a partnership with Starbucks that led to posters on the door of each of the coffee giant's stores in Richmond and Williamsburg. These weren't ordinary posters, though. The image of Picasso's face was made entirely of QR codes.
These codes can be scanned by smart phones and send the user to a website in this case the VMFA's Facebook page about the exhibit. Building an image entirely from QR codes sent a subtle message to "people in the know," Tarren said, primarily the young, tech-savvy "persuadables" he wanted to reach.
Tarren's campaign led to more than 1.2 billion impressions (yes, that's billion with a "b"). And though plenty came through traditional avenues, he said more than 675 million were driven by activity on Facebook and Twitter. The VMFA seeded the social media landscape, then let social networks help carry the torch.
So what's the takeaway for a small business looking to spend $7,500, rather than $750,000? Make sure you keep your loyal evangelists happy, but focus your marketing on those "persuadables," the folks who aren't visiting you now but are open to the right pitch. Find out as much as you can about that group and tailor your advertising to whichever medium they use most. Remember that social media, used correctly, can deliver huge buzz at a low cost.
And if you can display a few pieces by one of the world's most famous artists, that probably wouldn't hurt.
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