If I had a quarter for every time I have been asked in my career how I planned on attracting new audiences to an organization, I would be a rich man. On the flip side, I am almost never asked about customer loyalty or retention. The quickest way for an organization to get in trouble from a marketing perspective is to ignore audience retention problems in favor of attracting new audiences.
Some common misconceptions:
1. In order to grow, you must attract new audiences. This statement is only true if you are attracting more new audiences than you are losing the audience members you currently have (and even if this is the case, it can be much more expensive...more to come on that point). Many of us are so captivated by the allure of attracting new audiences that we concentrate much of our attention on getting the new ones in the front door while the old ones are running out the back door. A recent study of nine of the most prominent U.S. orchestras conducted by Oliver Wyman showed that these orchestras were great at getting new audiences, attracting on average 57% additional new households in 2007, but had significant issues in retaining current audiences with 55% of unique households not returning in the same year.
2. New audiences are great for the fiscal bottom line. This simply isn't true. The only thing that new audiences are on their first visit is a losing proposition. New audiences only become financially beneficial to an organization over a significant period of time. The money invested in bringing in new audiences only pays off when looking at lifetime value. And to determine lifetime value, one must ensure the new audience member sticks around for more than one visit. A study conducted by Katy Raines in the United Kingdom showed that first time attendees spent on average half as much as their returning buyer counterparts. When looking at the Oliver Wyman and Katy Raines studies, one truth comes to light: first time attendees will spend half as much as regular attendees and on average 83% of them will never come back.
3. Spending money on programs specifically designed to bring in new target audiences is a good investment. The holy grail of new target audiences is the revered "young" audience. So, to get them in the door, organizations spend a lot of time and resources on developing young professional societies, throwing parties, putting together after hours events, and other similar tactics. But if your programming isn't of interest to the target demographic you are focusing your efforts on, you might as well just throw money right out the window. Having a late night club scene in your building might attract young people, but it won't convert them into experiencing your organization's central product. If you are truly invested in cultivating any specific target audience, you must find ways of making your core product attractive to them.
By nature, humans are attracted to what is new and hip. The grass is always greener on the other side, that is, until one reaches the other side. Don't be sucked into a strategy because it is shiny and new. Before digging new wells, make sure that your existing ones don't have any leaks.
So the next time someone asks how you plan on getting new audiences into your organization, you might want to begin the conversation with the status on your current audience. Are they loyal to you, or do they run for the hills after their first visit?