Five Truths about Marketing that May Not Be True

Chad M. Bauman, arts marketing expert and managing director of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, looks at some often-repeated “truisms” about marketing. His data-driven advice may surprise you. 

Is It True?

“We have to go after newer and younger audiences.”

Bauman hears this refrain often from performing arts organizations, and he understands the concern. Audiences do appear to be graying and shrinking in numbers, young people are not participating in the arts like previous generations, and performing arts groups are rightly wondering what to do about it.

But a closer look calls into question the conventional notion that audiences are getting older, Bauman says. “If you take a look at the data for the last 50 years you will find that the average age of your consumer is basically the same,” he says. “It is not increasing. It has always been 50 to 60 years old. As soon as the 18-year-olds hit 50, they will like you.”

The data also suggests that younger generations are finding their own ways to get involved with the arts. While, according to the National Endowment for the Arts, the number of people buying tickets to arts events has decreased over the last five years, the number of people participating in the arts thorough activities like playing instruments, taking art classes, and singing has gone up. “That says to me that it’s really important for performing arts organizations to give their audiences opportunities to participate with them in the creative process,” Bauman says. “If they are participating in an experiential activity, it gets them more interested in the art form and they are much more likely to attend in the future.”

Getting new people in the door is costly, Bauman says, so arts organizations should carefully consider where they put their marketing dollars. The Audience Growth Initiative study of symphony orchestras by Oliver Wyman found that, on average, getting a new customer costs orchestras eight times what it costs to retain a customer. And some 86 percent of first-time symphony-goers never come back.

There’s a similar pattern at theater companies, Bauman says. “At Milwaukee Repertory Theater, one subscriber who is also a major donor can have a lifetime value equivalent to 218 subscribers who don’t donate or 1,991 single ticket buyers,” he says. When Bauman was associate executive director at Arena Stage in Washington DC, “two percent of their customer households brought in 97 percent of the revenue.” He says that number is skewed a little due to a large capital campaign, but illustrates the point.

"It’s really important for performing arts organizations to give their audiences opportunities to participate with them in the creative process. If they are participating in an experiential activity, it gets them more interested in the art form and they are much more likely to attend in the future.”

“It may seem counterintuitive, but taking care of your loyal customers should be your first priority,” he says. “They are your bread and butter.”

Try This: Get your audience involved. Many choruses offer a yearly sing-along or community sing, and there may be ways to expand those opportunities. Could your chorus host a weekly or bi-weekly singing club open to all? Could audience singing become a regular part of every concert?

Or This: Pay attention to your loyal customers. Does your chorus offer special events or opportunities for subscribers and frequent attendees, such as talkbacks with artistic personnel, after-concert receptions, or discounted tickets? Personalized thank you notes or calls from a member of the chorus also let customers know they are appreciated. Bauman recommends the TRG Arts website as a place to look for ideas on building and rewarding customer loyalty.

Is It True?

“Tickets are too expensive. We have to cut our prices.”

As a consultant, Bauman regularly hears managers of arts organizations complaining that they need to discount because they can’t sell tickets. “They believe that the reason young people in particular don’t go to the theater is because we have priced them out of the market,” Bauman says.

But is it true? Bauman suspects that a lack of attendance is less about the price than it is about the product. “The last concert I saw at Verizon Center in Washington DC was Coldplay,” he says. “Last year they had the highest average ticket price for their concert: $235. When I looked out into the arena, it was filled with young people with mobile phones taking pictures. They all went out to drink afterwards. These people have money.”

Even people with limited resources will save and spend their money if there’s a product they really want, Bauman says. “But if it’s a stinky product on your stage, you will not be able to give away tickets.”

Bauman concedes that it is possible to have a great product that is only of interest to a limited number of people. “Consider the Metropolitan Opera,” he says. “They raise hundreds of millions of dollars each year, but they need to continue to create audience interest in their product in order to be viable.”

Performing arts organizations need to take a hard look at their product and the context in which they are offering it. “Ask these questions: Who are you? What is your mission? Who is your current customer? Who else could be a potential customer? Who are you in competition with? What are you going to say, to whom, and how?” Bauman says. “Then, and only then, do you think about the cost.”

Try This: Gather your staff and board and brainstorm: What is the product we are providing? Is it a concert? Is it an experience? Is it relevant to people?

Or This: Give people an opportunity to “taste” your product. Asking new people to buy a season subscription—or even a pair of tickets—may be too big a sell. “You can’t ask someone to marry you if you haven’t gone on a first date,” Bauman says. “That’s why opera companies are doing events like Opera in the Outfield or Opera in the Ballpark. They’re saying, ‘Here, you can have it for free and try it out.’” Choruses might try letting people sit in on an open rehearsal or giving a short performance at a festival or community event.

Is It True?

“If you’re shouting the loudest, you win.”

Bauman says he often hears something like this from nonprofit leaders: “We need to go out and get the biggest signs, and the biggest bullhorn, and we need to maximize our resources to get the loudest message out there.” But marketing, he says, is much more about listening to your audience than shouting at them.

“Marketing is a vehicle for demonstrating value to your consumer,” he says. “That value is not so much about entertainment, but about how you bring meaningful experiences to people. Your goal is to attract people in a meaningful way to your venue or program over the long term.

“So ask yourself, ‘What does our audience want to see? How do we find out what they want to see and experience?’ That is where the art and science of marketing comes in.”

Your audience is not a monolith, Bauman says. You need to pick who you want to talk to and find a targeted way to talk to them. “You can market to all of the people some of the time or some of the people all of the time, but you cannot effectively market to everybody all of the time,” he says. “And you will run out of money doing it. By segmenting your audience, you are saying something to somebody instead of saying nothing to everybody.”

The data backs up segmentation, Bauman says. At Arena Stage, he tried a new approach to marketing the theater’s season. Instead of mailing a fat, costly booklet about all of the productions to the entire database, the marketing team sent 24 smaller brochures, each aimed at a different slice of the audience. For example, people who usually attended all musicals got the mailing for musicals. Those who generally attended dramas got the drama mailing.

“We mailed more than a million of these 8½ by 11 fold-over brochures,” Bauman says. “At the end of the year, we had spent $400,000 less and increased revenue by $1.2 million.”

The take-away is,” he says, “as much as possible, you need to send the right message to the right person at the right time.”

Try This: Think creatively about segmenting your audience. There are many ways to do this: by preferred genre, by price categories, by zip code, or by preferred venue to name a few. Send a special pitch for a choral program featuring contemporary music to people in your database who have attended similar performances in the past. Or for an annual Messiah concert that is likely to have mass appeal, consider purchasing a list of potential ticket buyers who aren’t in your database but live close to the venue.

Is It True?

“If butts are in the seats, we don’t need to know who they are or why they came.”

“If you’re spending money to get new people in the door, but you’re not tracking them, you have wasted your money,” Bauman says. “If something is important, we need to measure it. If we don’t measure it, we won’t have success.”

Capturing basic demographic information about audience members, such as age, gender, and race, is a start, Bauman says. You can learn about your audience members through ticketing platforms, credit card transactions, and paper receipts. You must make sure you collect contact information as well—ideally emails, phone numbers, and mailing addresses. “Unless you have that, you will never be able to market back to them, or communicate with them again. And you want to be able to talk to these people for many reasons—to survey them, ask them for money, sell them a ticket, or send them an annual report.”

Next, decide what information is most important to your organization and find a way to track that, even if it is only on an Excel spreadsheet. Perhaps you want to know how many first-time ticket buyers purchase tickets to another performance or how many events your highest donors attend each season. “Don’t track 40 things and not use any of them,” Bauman says. “That is analysis paralysis. Track two or three things that will inform your marketing decisions for the future.”

"Marketing is a vehicle for demonstrating value to your consumer. That value is not so much about entertainment, but about how you bring meaningful experiences to people."

Try This: Enlist the help of someone who is as passionate about data as you are about conducting or creating choral music programs. “There are people out there that just love their spreadsheets,” Bauman says.

Or This: Find ways to capture people’s emails, whether directly when they order tickets or through giving away tickets or other merchandise at concerts or on social media. With group sales, offer the group leader a 10 percent discount if he or she provides contact information for everyone in the group.

Is It True?

“Good branding is all about having a memorable logo and using the same font on every marketing piece.”

“People often obsess about logos, right down to the typeface used,” Bauman says. “But unless you are the size of Apple, no one cares about your logo. Unless it is truly awful, move on.”

People often confuse their logo with their brand but the two are very different, Bauman says. “Your brand is a trusted promise and a big idea,” he says. “Your brand isn’t what you tell people. It is what people tell you. You have to align what the customer thinks and what the organization is saying. In the age of social media, authentic communication rules.”

Your brand needs to communicate four things, Bauman says: your reputation (how well you are known), your esteem (how people think of you), your relevance (why people care), and your distinctiveness (how you are different than other similar organizations).

“When thinking about your brand, think about who you are targeting, what you are good at, and what differentiates you from your competition,” Bauman says. “And don’t be afraid of your brand. If your brand is to do nothing but traditional choral music, for example, you are probably pushing away as many people as you are inviting. But that’s okay. You are making a promise that will bind a group of people together.”

Brands are not permanent though, Bauman says. There needs to be an ongoing two-way conversation. “When you craft an experience you are always thinking about how it is going to play out in your customer base,” Bauman says. “You need a feedback cycle, so that you can fine-tune your customers’ experience.”

Try This: Create a reliable feedback loop. At least every couple of years, pick a group of 15 people that includes subscribers, donors, and single ticket buyers in the mix. Find time to have a conversation with them either in person or over the phone and ask them about how they perceive your organization’s strengths, challenges, and overall brand.

This article is adapted from The Voice, Winter 2014-2015.
It is drawn from a presentation by Chad M. Bauman, managing director of Milwaukee Repertory Theater, at Chorus America’s 2014 Conference in Washington DC, and a follow-up interview. Previously, Bauman was associate executive director of Arena Stage, the founder of the Technology in Arts Management program at American University, and the director of marketing and communications at Americans for the Arts. As a speaker and consultant, he has worked with a wide variety of clients including City Theater Company, Carnegie Hall, The Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, the Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, St. Louis Regional Arts Commission, ArtsMidwest, the Arts & Business Council, and the National Arts Marketing Project.

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