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Bright minds discuss what our Society has got and how to market it

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It’s waaaaaaay to early to see what the Membership Growth Task Force is going to come up with — they are keeping their minds open and their options open while they study the sources of our membership decline and guide us toward remedies. Suffice it to say, we’ve got some really bright minds working on this issue.

Case in point. I got a copy of the below email exchange today between Clark Abramson and Steve Morris. Clark has a 30-year background in corporate marketing for companies like IBM and Exxon and is also a past Society PR/Marketing chairman. He was at April’s Membership Summit with Steve, who is a member of the MGTF.

Again, I emphasize that this is raw, background thinking that hasn’t been formalized in any way. With their permission, I invite you to look at some of their current thinking about what we have that you can’t get elsewhere and how we tell that story to the world. A lot to chew on here.

Clark’s original email:

I learned very early in my marketing career that one of the strongest motivators is “withholding” something that people desire. Put another way, people inherently want what they can’t have.

I also view our current motto, “Enriching Lives through Singing” proper – and noble – and correct – but not exciting.

So -

Rather than imploring prospects to join, leaders to lead, volunteers to get involved, what would happen if we were to take the approach that what we offer is something that is highly desired – something not everyone can have?

I think it’s true – what we offer is valuable beyond the perception of many of our prospects, members, and leaders, but my impression is that we’re all too often on the defensive. In fact, I perceive a downright apologetic, defeatist attitude in many chapters I visit. Who would want to join and sustain a membership in such an organization?

What if, in attracting/sustaining members, we adopt the following personifications:

1. Prospect marketing: We dangle the “are you good enough?”, “snob appeal” carrots – include them in our branding like:

“Be somebody! Sing!”

“Wanna be famous?” Sing!”

“Be a chick magnet – sing!”

“The Barbershop Harmony Society – Where Singing Happens”

“Wanna know who sings Barbershop?”: (list some high-profile people (Doctors, Lawyers, CEOs, etc), as well as some “ordinary “Joe Barbershoppers” – list their professions.

“Make somebody love you – sing!”

“Wanna be macho? Be singing!”

“Not everyone can do it – can you?”

“Be part of the magic!”

- or something that appeals to the challenge.

2. Member fortification: Remind them of our strengths – our uniqueness – our magic.

The largest male vocal organization in the world

One of the original American musical genres

“Ordinary guys, making extraordinary music”

Lifelong friendships

A proud tradition of family-friendly entertainment

“Pride – performance – pleasure”

- things that remind members why they’re members.

3. Leadership development:

“Make a difference”

“Exceptional challenges – exceptional leadership”

“Earn your stripes”

“Do you measure up? Find out!”

“Proud men. Proud music. Proud leaders’

- this is the tough one. How do we attract great leaders, challenge them, and reward them?

I’m certain that keener minds than mine could come up with stronger, more compelling statements/stances.

Anyone out there agree with any of this?

Clark Abrahamson

Steve’s reply:

Clark, I think you are right on the money. There is a perception problem in Barbershop which is undeserved. Barbershop has somewhat of a reputation of being silly and unimportant but I think that is not only undeserved, it is also less of a problem than Barbershoppers think it is. We make it worse by giving in, “being defensive” as you say.

On the MGTF, I have agreed to look into internal cultural barriers to growth that can potentially be fixed. While our society as a whole has a general cultural problem with declining membership in fraternal organizations, Barbershop is doing better than most organizations. Number wise (I always look for numbers), this means that we started our decline later and the rate of decline is slower. It is hard to draw conclusions this early, but I think it is because our members just get more out of Barbershop. It adds more to their life than other organizations. In market speak, Barbershop is a high value activity. We need to understand that better and sell it to potential new members. From inside, as we deal with out internal problems, it is easy to get lost in the details of poor chapter meetings and the like. It is important to remember that while there is much room to improve, and it is important to make those improvements if we are to survive, we start with a high value product that would improve the lives of potential members.

I’m off into personal opinion here and this is much covered ground but comparing our organization to others I think we provide three powerful values that together support each other. Other organizations may provide one or the other, but this combination is what makes us unique.

  • The first value is obviously singing. We know that singing is fun and rewarding, however many of us underestimate the value of singing generally. We personally like it but may suspect that is just our own bias. However, on this list, people (I forget who) have posted studies that show that singers are on the average healthier than non-singers. Singing is a basic instinctual activity. It fills a basic need. Singing isn’t just casual fun, it is a powerful thing to have in your life.
  • The second value is local fellowship. By this I mean that most barbershoppers make friends because of their involvement. I think this one is also bigger than we realize. I’ve been in community singing groups all my life and typically it is something you do one evening a week and leave behind when you leave rehearsal. People do make friends in other singing groups but it is accidental and secondary. It is not part of the mission of a typical singing organization. I was surprised by the difference when I first came to a barbershop chapter meeting. They wanted me to join the social life of the chapter. People made a point of talking to me after meetings, making sure I was having fun. I was welcomed at the door when I came in. I was dragged off to afterglow. People taught me tags. Getting me bonded in was their first priority. Getting me to sing well and learn the repertoire was only second. This is just what we do as Barbershoppers. It is part of our culture. And it is very different.
  • The third value is the organization itself. Most singing groups are stand-alone. The are usually created by a music professional trying to have fun while padding their resume. For example sometimes they are educators trying to gain performance credentials. Since the director created the group, the director is treated as god. This is appropriate because many of these groups would disappear if the director quit. Clearly this is not true of the big semi-professional groups that have been around a long time but it is true of most local community choruses I have seen. In barbershop, this is flipped. In Barbershop, the chapter is the center and the Society provides the infrastructure for the chapter to exist, starting with the charter and spreading out through leadership manuals and training. Built into the culture are coaching resources, a pool of potential directors, an extensive library of appropriately arranged repertoire, training tapes. Anyone off the street can create a chapter if they have enough friends that want to sing, using the documentation and help provided by the Society. Continuity doesn’t depend on any one director. In fact chapters have been known to survive quite a while without a director.

Of course this isn’t what you say to prospective members. For them you need to punch it up with fun and compelling slogans like you suggest that get the message out without being too pedantic.

So you are totally right. We need to first realize that we have a pretty good story and then go out and shout it proudly to the world.