Indulge me a paragraph or two while I set the scene. My assignment was to teach a class of 50 students as much as I could about arts marketing in two hours. The class makeup? All musicians and vocalists who perform hundreds of times each year, all over the world. To get there, each had to complete a four-year performance degree in music, endure several months of intense physical and mental training, and make a multi-year commitment to joining one of the busiest organizations in the country. They take on various forms: fine concert and marching bands, choirs, chamber ensembles, jazz quintets, rock bands… you name it; and they travel for months at a time, mostly by bus. Sounds like a cool gig, right?
Here’s where things get tricky: besides a grueling travel and performance schedule, they’re also in charge of the “business” side of things. Without any formal training or experience in arts administration, they are responsible for booking, marketing, and promoting their own performances. Furthermore, they’re expected to do all of this without collecting any personal information from their audience (including email addresses). Still sound great? Did I mention that they are also full-time, active duty members of our military?
It was my privilege last week to meet with the dedicated men and women serving in the United States Air Force Bands at their annual marketing summit at Scott Air Force Base in Shiloh, IL. It was one of the most rewarding sessions I’ve ever led, and I want to share with you what I told them.
If I could reduce everything I’ve ever learned (and combine it with everything I know right now), about arts marketing into four big ideas, here’s what they would be:
Digital media has replaced conventional media.
We have sixteen years of survey data from our PatronManager Arts Patron Survey which tells many stories, but chief among them is that arts patrons prefer digital media by a margin of 3 to 1. Even more importantly, this margin holds across ALL demographic sectors, including, most notably, wealth and age (meaning this preference holds across rich and poor, and young and old).
The majority of Americans have smartphones and are on them constantly.
Again, this is across demographic sectors. The smartphone has combined every aspect of our lives into a single device that contains all of our channels of communication: voice, text, e-mail, social, financial, and locational. It’s great that we as humans now can have all of our channels on one device, but this hasn’t reduced the need for marketers to be on all channels! And for users, all of these channels (plus an always-on connection) means there’s a lot of noise.
Personalization beats noise.
For marketers, the way to rise above the noise is to make users feel that you know them personally. We know this from surveys, focus groups, and conversations with professionals both in the arts sector and elsewhere. This is particularly true with arts patrons, who highly value organizations that make them feel this way. They don’t just read or watch: they engage!
Patron journeys are the best way to engage.
The easiest method to meet the challenges of personalization and channel diversity is by leading patrons on a journey that will increase their level of engagement with the organization. We do this by creating a specific map for each audience segment that aligns touchpoints and channels together. Each step on the map includes a random act of kindness or a random ask for help which is designed to propel their actions and move them to the next step.
It’s essential for arts organizations to be as resourceful as they can, particularly those hamstrung by too little funding, or in my students’ case, too much bureaucracy. All the evidence suggests that focusing your time and energy on crafting meaningful patron journeys is the most effective way to maximize those resources while increasing engagement with your audience.
(And if you ever have a chance to see these great folks perform, do not miss it! They are spectacular.)