As Taylor describes the situation, “Retail really suffered after September 11. The new cosmetics line that I was heading up [for Ann Taylor] no longer made sense to pursue. It wasn’t part of their core business and it no longer made sense to spend millions of dollars launching a side business. So if 9/11 hadn’t happened, I’d still be happily marketing cosmetics at Ann Taylor.”
Undaunted by the loss of her job, Taylor says, “I didn’t see it as earth-shattering… I saw it as a time to reassess. Because I was enjoying Ann Taylor so much, I certainly would not have left [on my own]. That was a great opportunity to launch a new line of business with a great company. I wasn’t going anywhere. But since that did happen, I was able to say ‘well what’s the next thing?’ Was it a big corporate job or was it something else?”
Although she still loved marketing, Taylor realized it was going to have to be “something else.” She says, “I really got to a point in my life, where I thought, I could continue along this path, which is rewarding, but it was beginning to leave me a little flat in terms of what I was actually marketing. I mean I love marketing -- finding out what it is I need to say to get people to buy whatever or think a certain way. But at the end of the day, what was I marketing? If a person buys another lipstick, or doesn’t buy another one -- who really cares?
“I thought: wouldn’t it be nice to be able to tell people -- which is really what you’re doing in marketing, you’re telling them about your brand or service -- wouldn’t it be nice to tell them about an opportunity or service that can really help them personally make their lives better -- things that are really going to make a difference. So you know, the next big corporate marketing job just didn’t hold that much appeal.”
Originally from Chicago, Taylor began to see that the next job would also likely determine where she would be living for much of the rest of her life. Being far from her family was always a compromise and the opportunity to move closer to them was a big factor in her plans. “I wanted to really put down roots and make some more final decisions. [I wanted to] make some meaningful changes not just in my professional life. Something more meaningful and more rewarding.” She moved back to Chicago and accepted a position with the YMCA.
Asked what she learned from corporate marketing that she feels would benefit the Y, she immediately brought up the value of consumer research. “At a consumer package goods company, [consumer research] would be at your fingertips, or it was soon going to be, because you were going to be building this or that study to find out the information. There’s not a lot of that information [at the Y]. What I’m finding is that there is a lot more information at the local Y level, but that depends on how savvy they are about collecting it. If I knew X, Y and Z about my membership or surrounding population, I might be able to appeal to them better. And then to the extent that [local branches] do have research, none of it is aggregated up here to national headquarters.”
Tracking customer preferences would allow the Y to actively address issues or respond to interests of its base. The value of better understanding the customer would lead to growth and strengthening of the overall Y offering. “So many people have so many positive experiences [at the Y]. We just talk about the wonderful things, but that might not be the only thing we should be talking about to really strengthen the movement. Maybe our childcare programs. Certainly childcare is a huge issue in the US for dual income families. So maybe the way to educate the public is to tell people about our childcare programs. And then they’d have something concrete to latch those positive feelings to,” says Taylor.
Overall, however, Taylor doesn’t think nonprofit marketing is all that different from marketing in the for-profit world. “I’m a firm believer that if you’ve got solid marketing skills you can sell a lead pipe, and you can sell chocolate, and you can sell a wonderful service.”
The key, she suggests, is in knowing what is appropriate for your organization. “Like any organization, you need to understand culture and what fits. The YMCA would never be caught dead advertising or being anywhere associated with MTV’s spring break. That would be diametrically opposed to everything the Y stands for. Whereas if Mr. Rogers were still around and doing his program,” she said, referring to a popular children’s television host in the US, “that would be a perfect environment for a YMCA spot. Every organization has norms and things that fit. I think you have to understand your organization’s sensibilities and priorities and then you work with that.”
Understanding the organization will probably be an ongoing process. However, with Taylor’s educational background and experience at great corporate brands, the Y certainly stands to benefit immediately from her expertise and perspective.
The new arrangement seems to be a mutually happy event. Asked if she had any regrets about her decisions, Taylor emphatically said no.