Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Biggest Marketing Challenge of the Next 10 Years (Part One)

These past two years have been incredibly challenging. As the global economic crisis settled in, we all tried to figure out what that would mean for our organizations. Some organizations failed. Many launched emergency fundraising appeals. And recently, we are beginning to see the questioning of major business practices, from preview performances to selling subscriptions. New technologies are changing the way audiences interact with "art," some major metropolitan areas are showing significant declines in arts participation, and many states are slashing their arts funding.

Even with the recent craziness, it looks as if there might be a light at the end of the crisis tunnel. Many of us have been in the trenches for awhile, making strategic planning difficult as we tend to the fire of the moment. However, as we emerge from the financial crisis, we should start thinking about what lies ahead. As we enter a new decade, I began to wonder what the biggest marketing challenge of the next ten years would be, and it occurred to me that I would love to hear what some of my colleagues thought. So I asked them.

This will be part one in a series of posts where I bring you the thoughts of several leaders in the field as they respond to the question: "What is the biggest marketing challenge the arts will face in the next 10 years?"

Thomas Cott
Director of Marketing, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

I think some of the biggest marketing challenges of the next ten years will be linked inevitably to changes in artistic programming that have already begun. We can expect a disconnect between the more traditional art forms and things like amateur art, participatory art, mixed-media art and site-specific works. Also, the demographic shifts in the U.S – the rise of the so-called ‘minority majority’ -- should have a big impact on programming, and thus arts marketing.

Another challenge is how we deal with younger generations of Americans who did not grow up attending theater, dance or classical music and who didn’t have much (if any) arts education in school. Arts marketers will need to provide ad hoc arts education for these adults.

In addition, as fundraising goals are harder to achieve, there will be more pressure on marketers to make up the difference. But there is a limit to how much we can charge for tickets. And more to the point, while there will probably always be people who will gladly pay for 'premium seats' and plenty of others with an appetite for bargain prices... how do you convince audience members who used to buy in the middle price range to do so when they are worried about affording their basic costs of living? Even if the economy improves significantly in the next 1-2 years, there is a strong indication that some Americans’ buying habits have been irrevocably altered. The widening income gap in this country is deeply worrisome.

Last but not least, a myriad of technological advances – although they can provide wonderful marketing tools – offer big challenges to arts groups, especially those with limited budgets, staff and understanding of technology. Web 3.0 is upon us, but most arts organizations are still grappling with Web 2.0 ideas.

But. Take a big breath, everyone. All of the above challenges notwithstanding, I can’t imagine a better time to be involved in the arts. Look at the incredible opportunity we have. Over the next decade, we as marketers (along with the rest of our colleagues) get to be involved in this seismic realignment of our country. We are the ones who will determine the future of the arts in the country. Who can resist that challenge?

Rick Lester
Target Resource Group

Today may be the good old days for arts marketing. Very good organizations are running against a tide of numbers that could ultimately prove overwhelming. Three decades of selling tickets, raising money and balancing unbalance-able budgets frame this view, but it’s what we see in TRG’s cumulative data on arts and culture buyers that is alarming.

Thirty years ago, a high proportion of subscribers were seriously engaged. In the orchestra world, the audience included avocational musicians. They studied seriously. They performed chamber music in their homes. This generation departed from the scene and marketers successfully made a clever transition of message. To “Subscribe Today,” one could find happiness as a spectator. Participation was no longer required.

This strategy worked. Across the country we added thousands of new subscribers and single ticket buyers. Admittedly, these new folks no longer wanted to attend 24 Saturday night performances. Simple, we said. We’ll sell you twelve performances – or nine. Or six. And it worked. Unfortunately, another force was in play. Demographics.

As theatre, opera, orchestra and ballet companies replaced one generation with another, the new target market came of age -- Baby Boomers. Today marks the best of times for serving Boomers. Right now the target pool is 60 million of us who were born between 1946 and 1964. Any current marketing or fundraising effort need not be as efficient as those programs implemented twenty years ago. There are so many people who fit the current target, one can miss the bulls eye and still be okay.

What happens in 2020? The members of Gen X finally begin reaching the target life stage. Even if we forget the cultural divide that resulted from the demise of public arts education when this group passed through our schools, the arithmetic boils down to one number: 20 Million. That’s how many Americans were born between 1964 and 1981 -- 60 million Boomers will be replaced by 20 million Gen X’ers.

The math is simple - and it doesn’t work. Everything an arts organization does well today must be three times more efficient in 2020 if they are to maintain today’s level of success. We could, of course, wait and see what happens when Gen Y (born between 1982 and 1995) replaces Gen X. These so-called Echo Boomers are almost as big a group as its parent generation. But our data suggests waiting is a high-risk option.

Is there a solution? Yes, but it won’t be easy. The rate of audience attrition today is unacceptably high. Nationally, TRG analysis shows that 80% of all new single ticket buyers never return for a second visit. Unchecked, attrition will continue depressing audience growth and feeding decline. Smart organizations, however, won’t ignore the danger signs or wait for the generational echo. By 2020, the best among us will have long since stopped over-prospecting for new stealth patrons and will retain almost everyone they touch.

Future posts will feature responses by:
Anne Trites, Director of Marketing and Communications, Yale Repertory Theater
Ken Davenport, Producer, Davenport Theatricals Enterprises
Eugene Carr
, President of Patron Technology
Ilene Rosen, Director of Business Development, SpotCo
Jim Royce, Director of Marketing, Communications and Sales, Center Theatre Group
Julie Peeler, Vice President of Private Sector Initiatives, Americans for the Arts

1 comment:

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