Sunday, March 07, 2010

The Truth About Attracting Younger Audiences

In the past few weeks, I have served on a couple of panels and delivered a few speeches about attracting younger audiences. In doing so I found that many people harbor some misconceptions about attracting younger audiences. I understand that younger audiences are a sexy topic to funders and board members, but there are a few things we all need to think about before launching our assault on the Gen X'ers and Millenials.
  • Product. Of the four Ps of marketing, most will agree that product is the most important. So why then is it the least considered when looking at ways in which to attract younger audiences? If your core artistic product is not appealing to younger audiences, then you will almost assuredly fail to get them to fully engage with your organization. Throwing an after hours party, turning a performing space into a disco or hosting themed young professional events might get targeted demographics into the door, but what we really want is for them to engage with the mission of the organization. If the mission precludes the organization from programming attractive art or an artistic leader isn't sensitive to the programming desires of young adults, you might be able to get them in the door, but they will never be a stakeholder of your institution. Just as location is king in real estate, in the arts, nothing is as powerful as the programming.
  • Price. News Flash -- many younger audience members have money, and are not as price sensitive as some of us assume. Consider this study that reports that the 37 million young adults from 25 to 34 years of age in the U.S. have an aggregate income of more than $1.1 trillion. In an attempt to explain the absences of young people, I think we have jumped to price as the primary issue because it is much easier to change than product. However, I would argue that those who have to adjust tickets to bargain basement prices to attract younger audiences primarily have a problem with the product. Consider that in 2008, Ticketmaster reported that the average price for a ticket to a Coldplay concert was $217. For those lucky enough to have seen Coldplay, you know their events are filled with Gen X'ers.
  • Place. Secondary to product, we should be asking ourselves if our institutions are welcoming to younger audiences. Churches and theaters are both struggling to attract younger members, and I believe are failing for many of the same reasons. Things to ponder: 1) what is the average age of your ushers? if they are the first people to welcome your audience, would someone in their 20s be welcomed by a peer or by someone that could be their grandparent? 2) Gen X'ers can barely remember a life without computers. Millenials have never been without the Internet. Yet we expect audiences to disconnect and remain in a dome of silence when they are at our institutions. Why not provide free wifi? configure our websites to work on handheld devices? 3) Is your organization's virtual presence as inviting as your real world location? can I purchase tickets, get answers to my questions, and engage with you on my schedule?
  • Promotion. Secondary to price, this is the area that most institutions focus on. Video + Facebook + Podcasts does not automatically = younger audiences. You should think of new media tools as just a means of communicating. Nothing more, nothing less. Like any other tool, you have to know how to properly use it, and then use it to put the right message in front of the right audience. Most new media initiatives require two separate, but crucial steps to properly execute a campaign: the building of a communications infrastructure and the creation of content. You can have amazing content, but no friends to connect with. Or you can build a network of thousands of friends, and lose them quickly with the mediocre content. But for new media tools to work, you must have a product, place and price which are all conducive to younger audiences, and then you can concentrate on perfecting your new media skills.

As marketing directors, we have the least amount of control over product and place, and the most amount of control over price and promotion. Therefore we concentrate our efforts in the areas that we can affect, but if you don't get the first two right, you are wasting your time with the last two.


Shoshana said...

Hi Chad,

I do agree that the product needs to be attractive to the audience segment and the placing needs to be as well. We certainly can introduce new elements that will get the younger generations more excited about the art and more comfortable.

Even with changing one or all of the 4 P's, what I feel makes a bigger difference is the use of
good old fashioned audience development, pure relationship building. Reaching out to various groups of people and to individuals that could help out (including the younger demographic) works! Every generation will appreciate it if we go the extra mile to make them feel welcome.

We can work on the 4 P's all we want to try to change the equation, but to me, inviting people to participate in art is more than an equation, it's about relating to all people on a human level.

Karen L. Bystrom, ABC said...

Chad, thanks for this very important post. I'm teaching Marketing and the Arts for Seattle University's MFA in Arts Leadership and will be sharing this with the class. You've articulated something I've struggled with in the past. We've been talking about the "younger audience" for the all of the 25+ years I've worked in this industry and the first place everyone has jumped to is "price." Parts of our organizations are terrified of talking about how "product" and "place" come into play...what if that magic "younger audience" wants different programming in a different place?

The other thing that comes to mind is that we've got to figure out how to include regular, meaningful research ALL of the time (not just when we can get it for free or get a grant for three years worth...) We must better understand why the current audience is with us, as well as why the people we think should be there, aren't yet.



Tim Roberts said...

I agree with you Chad. It has to start with the Product and Place over which arts marketers more often than not have least immediate influence.

This article I came across in The Times raised similar issue for me.

"How to sell classical music to the masses" - The cream of British talent suggest how they would transform the traditional concert for a new audience.

It has that word "sell", yet most of these discuss Product or Place, not Promotion.

Bob said...

Hello Chad,

Interesting discussion--want to support the idea of staying true to your mission in the midst of developing programs for younger audiences. One important data point from our recent in-venue surveys here at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is that younger audiences have a clear preference for popular Shakespeare titles (Romeo & Juliet, The Tempest, As You Like It) over more contemporary or classic work. And this is accentuated even more in first-time younger attendees. Sometimes there seems to be a myth about how to program for younger audiences--our evidence suggests that staying close to our mission, and doing those productions well, is the most attractive kind of art for younger audiences.

susanopera said...

Hi Chad,

When Tom O'Connor was doing PR @ Arena Stage he really got into building a younger audience base and that was, WOW, so, so many years ago.

I am glad to see your post and Blog, keep on top of it!

Anonymous said...

Hi Chad, great article. I just wanted to share something that fits into your thoughts about programming.

Interestingly enough I went to a 'Video Game Orchestra' concert with my boyfriend last year-- it was his idea. As a marketing professional at a performing arts college, I had never been to an orchestra concert where the audience majority was made up of young men. They were so engaged in the program and excited to be there! The event included live orchestra music set to video of old games.

It was too funny to see all these young boys and men playing on their Nintendo DS systems in between intermission. These are the same people it would be extremely difficult to get into a traditional orchestra concert.

Just thought I'd share. -Jen

Unknown said...

You raise powerful points here -- for me, especially the third point about the need to connect. I have a post up on it at the Clyde Fitch Report:

Would love to be on your blogroll, by the way. Thanks as always.

Leonard Jacobs
Editor, The Clyde Fitch Report

Claudia said...

Having worked for a community theatre trying to attract younger audiences for years (their season ticket audience is dying out) - is also the culture. 20-somethings do not buy season tickets. They buy singles. Sometimes. And they think "concert and music" rather than theatre as a destination. It's more than product - it's also changing their mindset.

Unknown said...

Hi all
great posts!
As Shoshana said "We can work on the 4 P's all we want to try to change the equation, but to me, inviting people to participate in art is more than an equation, it's about relating to all people on a human level." However to me tis is only true in a certain degree. Lets pretend that product and price are not to appear in the 4P's. It then become possible to create a whole new list of more people centered P's.
Have a look at

Alton said...

Hilary Hahn tells a story about her first violin recital. Her program featured music by Bach. She invited all her friends from elementary school. Naturally, it was the first taste of Bach for many of them. They came out and experienced this music not because the name Bach meant anything to them, but because the name Hilary Hahn did. They had a relationship with this person, they knew she was excited about this music, and for this reason they were interested in finding out more about it.

The lesson Hahn takes from this is that relationships are the key to expanding the audience. It's not about ego or celebrity. It's awareness that, when people feel they have a sense of you as a human being, have come to trust your know-how and your taste, they will let you share what you have to offer. From that day to this, Hahn has never been a blow-out-of-the-hall-as-soon-as-the-concert-is done performer. She goes out to the lobby after a concert and meets the people who came to listen.

In the mid-1990s Yo-Yo Ma did something few artists can do: he filled the Academy of Music in Philadelphia for multiple concerts of new music by composers whose names are not (yet) household words. And he did it with a blizzard howling outside. How? The same way Hahn did for her first recital. People feel they know Yo-Yo Ma. They trust him enough that, if he's excited about some music by people whose names are unfamiliar, they want to find out why. They give him the chance to share it.

Terry H Hill said...

Sometimes there seems to be a myth about how to program for younger audiences--our evidence suggests that staying close to our mission.