The series continues as more experts weigh in on what they believe will be the biggest marketing challenge arts organizations will face in the next 10 years.
Director of Marketing and Communications
Center Theatre Group
"Word of Mouth is Just Too Important to Ignore"
This is an economic time when every business and arts organization needs to look intently at its core audiences, ask yourself: what can I do to bring customers closer or more frequently to our product? How can I leverage their experience to generate more word of mouth or get it going faster and wider?
Oscar Wilde’s famous remark, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about,” is even more relevant in the age of social networking and ten-second sound bites. And the rules of spreading chatter have not changed: ya gotta have something interesting to spread around, it must be easily talked about, credible, respectful and satisfying.
People love to talk and when they have information or an opinion they think is worth sharing; they won’t stop talking. Your mavens are key talkers, because mavens thrive as influencers and need constant content. Often friends see them as informed and therefore they earn respect and attention. What do your best friends do to inform you of the cool things they’ve experienced or get you to experience?
There is plenty of evidence that shows if you can influence 150 people to spread enthusiastic chatter online, it will move faster than a newspaper circulation with a million readers.
It’s our job to educate, inform, and build interesting chat. Make no mistake: you can’t decide what’s remarkable to someone else. You can only hope your stuff is what other people think is remarkable and want to talk about.
Accommodate your core loyalists and mavens with new perks and incentives to keep their attention. Offer payment plans, free parking, extra tickets, cookies, anything customers may not expect that send signals we are in this tough time together and we want to reward “your” loyalty, especially now.
Spend more time on relationships with people who are infrequent attendees. They can be influenced by your evangelism in these tough times. Evangelism brings out the passion in your work.
Revisit or revitalize the attributes that make your brand stand out. Now is not the time to make big changes unless you see major advantages at the end of the recession. Consumers want stability and trust that says we are capable of delivering high quality and engaging productions.
Remember Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point? He spoke about ideas working like social or viral epidemics. They start small and grow because a few connectors or see something unique, but other people, tastemakers, spread them to gain wider attention and “remark-ability.”
It is the power of a lively context in which most people accept interesting products, events or ideas. Make them gain stickiness and their attraction grows exponentially.
I love Andy Sernovitz and Seth Godin. Both practice what they preach about word-of-mouth marketing and good strategic values. Andy’s classic remark haunts me every day: “People love to talk. They are talking about you and your stuff right now.” Yes they are. And Seth Godin’s famous book Purple Cow, made me a fan of him for life. (If you are driving down a long country road past herds of common ordinary cows, and all of a sudden one is purple, what would you do, think or feel? Do you have a purple cow?)
People talk to each other for advice, confirmation, and validation before committing to a significant decision or purchase. Value is a centerpiece in the customer’s mind and confirming value is critical to the sale process, particularly for high-cost experiences, like ours.
If you get excited about an arts event and you want to go, the next action is to talk about it with someone who will go with you. And you have to come up with a good reason to start the conversation. It’s up to us to help supply you with those opening lines.
WOM is more than just word of mouth. We have word-of-e-mail, word-by-blog, by Facebook, text messaging, YouTube, online search, and reader reviews in newspapers and Web sites. And this is all happening with a landscape of social networking options that have dramatically changed the way people chatter and inform themselves.
Sernovits says, “You’re getting talked about whether you like it or not. The conversation has started, so you might as well get involved. Word-of-mouth marketing only works if you have good products and services. It works if people like you and trust you. The best part, I’m convinced, is the more we participate, the more the conversation grows, and the more it becomes about us.”
It is our responsibility to provoke the chatter. Make sure tastemakers are an integral part of your audience makeup from the very beginning.
Make the chatter interesting and remarkable enough to spread. Participate through advertising, blogs, social networking, and the creation of online content to help fuel the word-of-mouth. We’re in the business of providing experiences people want to be engaged in and talk about.
Remember one of the key values of Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page: “Do no evil. Deliver more than expected.”
Finally, make your Web site rich with content – especially video – about your events and company brand. Spark meaningful word-of-mouth and participate honestly in the dialogue, even if it is controversial. For the consumer, make your e-mail a trusted and useful source of information, service, and most of all, full of sticky news people will want to pass along to their – not just promotion. Build stronger social networks and deeper connections in your community.
The biggest marketing challenge arts marketers will face in the next decade is not technology, budgets, or audiences – it’s THEMSELVES. As the Web continues to evolve, arts patrons and consumers will have more choices and options literally at their fingertips. Will arts marketers step up and innovate, or be left behind?
A decade ago, in the middle of the dot-com crash, few would have predicted the rapidity with which the Internet would not only rebound, but forge unexpected and profound changes in how we now communicate with each other. In a short decade the very fundamentals of marketing have been challenged and reshaped.
During these past 10 years, the corporate world embraced this transformation much more quickly than did the arts. It wasn’t simply because they had more money, because the truth is smart Web-based marketing doesn’t need to be expensive. Those entities that the arts compete with for consumers’ time quickly recognized the potential that new technology could afford them, and made huge strides in improving their Web sites, generating paid Web traffic, selecting easier to use e-commerce technology, and investing time and effort in leveraging social media.
In fact, the commercial entertainment industry was one of the first to embrace social media. Even Broadway producers (not often known for innovation) are catching on. Though a few forward-thinking arts organizations have made strides in improving their online presence, not enough have.
According to our 2010 Patron Technology National Arts Patron Survey (March 2010), in which 10,000 arts patrons responded, only 20% indicated that they “always, or almost always” rely on arts organizations’ Web sites for their arts-going planning. And just 39% indicated that arts Web sites had improved in the last year. There’s a lot of ground to be made up here.
Looking ahead towards the next decade, I think it seems obvious that the rate of change wrought by the Web will continue to accelerate. In the next few years, the computer monitor will morph into your home television screen. Watching a live theatre performance or concert produced by a cultural organization streamed over the Internet will become commonplace. The Met Opera has already proven what that kind of thing does to generate demand for the live event itself.
Geo-location technology will also be a game-changer. Your mobile device will be able to tell you (while you sit at a restaurant checking your e-mail) what movies are starting within a mile of your location, in the next hour. Will arts events be listed as well?
Will arts leaders embrace changes like these and be like the creative entrepreneurial people they clearly are when they focus on producing for the stage? Or will they lag behind on the technology front and watch other forms of entertainment race ahead, as has happened during the last decade?
If arts marketers decide collectively to convince their boards and funding community that it is imperative that they get ahead of the technology curve, then there's a chance that the arts industry can blaze a trail that other entertainment art forms will envy.
The biggest challenge is not the change itself, but whether we've got the guts as an industry to embrace the change and go after it.