Constituent-Centered Case Study

In Marketing by Karen Buck

Last year I wrote about the tour I took at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico and how it was a wonderful example of an organization being truly constituent-centered. Since the tour, the Ranch has continued to act in a truly constituent-centered fashion as they work to transform a one-time interaction into an ongoing relationship. Here’s what they’ve been up to.

First, It’s All About Me

The first time the Ranch reached out to me following the tour wasn’t with an ask.

As I mentioned in my last post, during our tour the guide talked about the many reasons people visit the ranch: classes, retreats, workshops, etc. It turns out that was one way they laid the groundwork for their first follow up.

The Ranch’s first post-tour touch was to send me their catalog of events. It included lots of beautiful pictures, which reminded me just how breathtaking the place is and sent me straight to the photos I took during my visit. Just seeing those pictures put me right back there. It also included well-written workshop and class descriptions, many of which aligned with my interests. It felt a bit like they were mind readers. I must have circled 4 or 5 sessions I would love to attend. Lastly, it told me where to go for more information (their website) – which I did. I poked around for at least a half hour, reviewing lodging options, reading instructor biographies, and looking at more pictures.

Do You See What They Did There?

They used the understanding of their target market’s needs and interests that they have developed and refined over the years to craft a touch that not only meets the organization’s needs (they need a catalog), but also feels like it was written just for me. How did they do that?

  1. They listened. That amazing tour guide passed on a lot of information, but she also asked a lot of questions during those two hours. It is apparent that someone at the Ranch is gathering all that information and feedback and making smart decisions about how to customize their communications to resonate with their target market.
  2. They evoked a memory and an emotion. In this case, it was the pictures – in the catalog, on their website, and on my own camera. Those images reminded me of the place so strongly because the primary way people connect with the Ranch during the tour is visually. It’s the same reason your alma mater sends you stories about your classmates and faculty; because we often connect with our schools primarily through the people we knew there.
  3. They invited me to engage. The ways I could engage once again where explicitly clear. All my initial questions – when, what, how much – where all answered. And the ways I could re-engage were focused. I was given more than just one option (just one option might not resonate with me), but I wasn’t given 100’s of options either (most people don’t react well to being overwhelmed).
  4. They made my taking the next step easy. I could call or email for more information, or I could go online and get that additional information on my own when it was convenient for me.
  5. They built in a feedback mechanism. They can easily measure the effectiveness of their touch by counting the number of inquiry calls and emails they receive in the weeks following the mailing and by looking at their website analytics (number of hits to workshop pages, average time spent on pages, etc.). This is an easy way to see if their touch evoked a response and what exactly is of most interest to their market.

Learning from Ghost Ranch

There are a number of lessons to learn from the Ghost Ranch case study that can be useful to organizations and agencies of all types.

  1. Ask questions and listen. What is the one thing you would most like to better understand about your target market? Develop some questions then get out there and talk to people. (see this post about creating a listening assignment).
  2. Use emotion to build rapport. What emotion is evoked when members of your target market first interact with you? If you are a natural heritage program that provides endangered species data, perhaps you offer a feeling of relief (whew, I finally have an answer to this question!). If you are a healthy community coalition, maybe you evoke a sense of being empowered to take action. Pay attention to the emotions you evoke and then look for ways to remind your target market about that emotion.
  3. Clearly define the next step and invite people to take it. “If you build it, they will come,” only works in the movies. What is the next step you want members of the target market to take? Get crystal clear on that, and then find at least two or three ways people can take that step. Then, invite them to take that step explicitly.
  4. Make sure that taking that next step is easy. For example, if the next step you want people to take is to volunteer, then you need a system to manage volunteers. That system likely includes an online application, a set of volunteer job descriptions, a way to orient and train volunteers, and a specific point person to serve as prospective volunteers’ primary contact.
  5. Approach it as an iterative process. You’re never done getting to know your target market. You’re never done understanding their needs and interests. Being constituent-centered is a way of life for an organization. Always assume that there is more to learn and build in ways to gather feedback so you can continually refine your efforts.

Now It’s About Us

I have saved my Ghost Ranch catalog in my “travel wish list” file and I look at it whenever work travel takes me to New Mexico. I haven’t gone to a workshop or class there yet, but I intend to.

Oh, and they did send me their end of the year annual appeal. It did a good job of putting the Ranch in a broader context. Whereas my interest was initially spurred by my lifelong interest in Georgia O’Keeffe’s work, their annual appeal letter educated me about the Ranch as a whole. It touched on the Ranch’s paleontological, archaeological, and historical aspects that I had not known about. It is one of the few year-end letters that I read all the way through! (I had already made my year-end giving plans before I got their letter, but they are on my list for this year.)

My relationship with Ghost Ranch started out being all about me and my interests, but as I get more connected, I’m more interested in and open to their needs. That’s how being constituent-centered forges a two-way relationship – and why it is such a powerful tool.

Download our free booklet: Beyond Marketing: Becoming a Constituent-Centered Organization!