When I was in the early stages of my marketing career, I was a regular reader of Marketing and Campaign. I was both keen to grow my understanding of what constituted brilliant marketing and at occasional points in my life, look at what was happening in the job market. As I browsed the news and the jobs pages I was regularly struck by how short the tenures of some high-flying marketers seemed to be. Within less than two years, some were claiming astonishing successes and moving on to their ‘next big challenge’…and their next big salary too.
As I grew older and wiser, I began to realise that in many cases these people were just moving on while the going was good and they had a couple of years of a big name under their belt. The chances of them actually achieving anything, in such a short period of time were remote. It may be possible to win an award on the back of one season’s creative new advertising campaign, but the wheels of product development, pricing, process, distribution and people strategies tend to move a lot slower.
I can illustrate this in micro fashion through our involvement in our chosen good cause: our local fireworks event, which seeks to raise money to support sport in Tring and the surrounding villages. Let’s begin with some context and some history.
The first fireworks night at the club took place in 1964. By the start of the new Millennium the fireworks night was a firm fixture in the local calendar and in an operation, that turned over around 80k per year, was making a contribution of around 10% of those revenues. It had become increasingly difficult for traditional income streams from membership fees and match fees to support the running of the club. The bar income and the fireworks income were critical to sustaining the facility and the ground.
The event at the time was run alongside the fair that came to town and the format of the night involved two fireworks displays. One early evening for the families with young children and one a little later for the teenagers. The fairground provided additional entertainment and useful lighting. It also hoovered up a tidy profit from the good families of Tring.
Around 2010 we realised we had a problem. Things were changing. To be specific, our income from bonfire night was in steady decline. The numbers of people coming to the event were going down. The reasons for this were both obvious and not so obvious. Another local event, which charged no entry fee, was pulling some of our customers away. We had a competitor on our doorstep with a similar proposition and, if you were happy to make a short trip out of town you could enjoy some great fireworks for nothing.
The less obvious issues began to materialise as we started to do the thing that all successful operations do, which is talk to your customers. We did a survey and this is what we discovered:
There was a sense that our event had not moved on. The town of Tring was getting used to a new level of quality in entertainment through initiatives such as the Get Stuffed Comedy Club and the Chilfest summer concert. We also discovered that many families – our core target market – were being put off coming to the Fireworks because of the fairground. We also realised we had got complacent. Not everyone in the town was aware of the event – the town’s population does change through the years – and our core message, that every single penny from ticket sales, went to sustaining a facility that exists for the benefit of the community, was not getting through.
So, over the four years 2013-16 we made some changes. Here are the main ones:
Product: we set the fireworks off to music, introduced high quality food stalls, live entertainment from local acts, a couple of small rides for children and a controlled area for sparklers
Pricing: we introduced early bird ticket discounts
Place: we put tickets online via Facebook and in year four created a website
People: we created an operating manual for the volunteers that ran the event and set about getting the right people in the right places
Process: we began measuring feedback every year through an online survey
2016 was a record year both financially, and just as importantly, as far as we can tell, from a customer satisfaction perspective. Key stats from the post event survey included:
• Excellent or Good Value for Money = 78.5% (v 65% last year)
• Definite or Very Likely to attend next year = 82.5% (v 79% last year)
• Would definitely recommend = 76% (v 66% last year)
• 76% of customers who completed the survey rated the Fireworks themselves as ‘fantastic’.
This success was not powered by one individual rocket that lit up the sky for a few brief moments. It was four years of teamwork, good solid marketing, listening to the customer, testing new ideas and building on what we realised was working. Something tells me this is a more realistic pattern for successful marketing that some of the stories I used to read, all those years ago.