Why Should the Customer Care? – By Jason Shriner

City of Manassas Park, Department of Parks and Recreation staff volunteer at the Special Olympics held at Manassas Park Middle School.
City of Manassas Park, Department of Parks and Recreation staff volunteer at the Special Olympics held at Manassas Park Middle School.

When it comes to marketing, my philosophy has three guiding principles: reflect the community, meet people where they are at, and be involved in the community. Did you notice a recurring theme? People. If your social media, your advertising, your outreach – if your marketing efforts don’t focus on people, then honestly you’re just wasting your time. One thought exercise is to reframe your mindset from “What do I have to offer the customer?” to “Why should the customer care?” Can you hear the difference?

There are so many different areas of marketing that it’s literally impossible for one person, maybe even one agency, to specialize in all of them. Mix in the intricacies of different industries (e.g. business, not-for-profit, government) and marketing can become complex and overwhelming. However, you don’t have to be an expert in all fields of marketing to still be successful. My favorite area of marketing? Outreach.

Outreach to me is many things, but generally speaking, I believe outreach is any time a representative of your organization is out in the public meeting people face-to-face. Outreach can also mean an all-encompassing targeted marketing effort to reach a particular audience, but I’m going to focus on the most human aspect of outreach. These face-to-face interactions include resource fairs, community events, special events, networking, business meetings, board meetings, and committee participation.

Why is outreach my favorite area of marketing? These human interactions create real, lasting personal connections. When I’m out at a resource fair telling parents about our school age programs, they aren’t reading a generic description in a catalog. They’re engaging with somebody who knows the instructors personally and can answer specific questions about a class. When I’m at the Suicide Prevention Alliance of Northern Virginia’s LGBTQ Committee meeting, I’m connecting with other organizations looking to pool together resources for a common goal in a meaningful way. Plus, outreach is a lot more fun than sitting behind a computer all day coming up with quirky Facebook posts.

It is important to remember that your goal for outreach should not solely be about making a sale. As an employee of Parks and Recreation, one might feel that it’s very easy for me to be dismissive of the value of making that sale. Hear me out.

  • Sometimes your goal is simply visibility. What’s an area of your business nobody seems to know about, but so many people can take advantage of? Make that singular concept the focus of your outreach. If you try to list out every service you offer, your message will get drowned out, people will stop listening, and you won’t achieve even the most basic level of visibility.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of making a connection even if it doesn’t seem important right away. I can’t tell you how many times I have connected with a new person at a networking meeting where we seemingly had nothing in common, and then months later we were able to work on a project together. Sometimes a connection is a reliable vendor in a service industry you know very little about. Other times a connection may know several people who could use your services, even if that individual doesn’t hire you directly. The most important thing to remember is fostering relationships means you don’t immediately make money.
  • Outreach can also help you fulfill your organization’s mission or values. Have you read your non-profit’s mission statement recently? When was the last time you lived your business’ values with intention? Can you be doing more? For example: if your non-profit is focused on the unsheltered homeless population, are you involved on a food security council? If your business values the environment, do you and your employees volunteer with a local environmental non-profit? Outreach can keep your organization authentic.
  • Face-to-face interactions with potential customers helps you learn more about your business. When you’re talking about your products, you’re getting instant feedback. Are the people interested in what you’re selling? Why? Why not? Listen to your audience. You’re trying to meet their needs, not create a want.
  • Outreach is a great opportunity to combine your various interests. How often do you set aside your hobby or passion in order to get work done? Maybe you love the arts, but it isn’t clear how your business can directly contribute to the local arts community. Join a local arts board and see what the board members need. Even as an accountant sitting on an arts board, you could offer pro-bono accounting services – an invaluable in-kind donation.
  • Yes, being human does help you land that sale as well. If you meet a print and copy person you really get along with at a networking meeting, how likely are you going to google print shops when you need copies made? Aren’t you more likely to just call that person you met and like? If you’re likeable, personable, and customer service oriented, you’re going to stand out. However, it’s much tougher to stand out when nobody has met you.

So, why is outreach important for Parks and Recreation? Simply put, we have a lot of services available, and it’s my goal to find people who need what we offer. We, as a Department, also have many needs while also having service gaps we need help filling, but what’s most important to all my coworkers here at Parks and Recreation is that we are able to provide the services the community needs and that these services are well taken advantage of.

Have you figured out why people should care about you, your organization, and your services? If not, why not try some outreach? While you’re coming up with your strategy, tell us what you care about here at Parks and Recreation! Our 2017 Patron Engagement Survey is available until 2/28/2018. Your answers could influence where I direct my outreach efforts for the next 12 months.

Jason Shriner is the Marketing Manager for the City of Manassas Park, Department of Parks and Recreation. He can be reached at 703.335.8872 or via email at J.Shriner@ManassasParkVA.gov.

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