A couple of months ago, a good dialogue about dynamic pricing began when Trisha Mead (PR and Publications Manager, Portland Center Stage) wrote a blog post on the benefits of dynamic pricing on the 2am theatre blog, and then Adam Thurman (Director of Marketing, Court Theatre) wrote a response entitled "the perils of dynamic pricing." It reminded me how often marketers disagree with each other when it comes to so called best practices.
If your organization is considering dynamic pricing, a couple of things to think about from someone who has some experience with it:
1. Tailor all marketing strategies to your organization. How can one pricing strategy be perfect for one organization, and completely wrong for another? The simple answer is every organization is unique, with a unique set of circumstances to consider. For example, if an organization's funding mix is 70% earned and 30% contributed, chances are, they might be much more likely to consider a dynamic pricing model, as ticket sales play a more prominent role in the organization's fiscal health. On the flip side, if your organization is known for more riskier programming, and relies upon contributed revenue more to subsidize less popular work, then dynamic pricing might seem like an alien concept.
2. Be mindful of your organizational culture and brand. Some companies are pioneering and entrepreneurial in nature, always looking for new opportunities to increase revenue streams. Other organizations have a more egalitarian approach to arts consumption. If your organization is known for having low prices available to everyone, then a dynamic pricing model might cause quite a disruption. However, those that argue that non-profits have nothing to learn from for-profit models are naive. There is now a long history of non-profits and for-profits working together. Even the most egalitarian of organizations, a "people's theater" like the Public Theater, routinely relies upon revenue from the for-profit theater world to fund its non-profit mission. Where would the Public Theater be today without A Chorus Line or New York Theatre Workshop without Rent? Sometimes for-profit strategies and approaches can be very beneficial to non-profit missions.
3. The funding conundrum. In his post, Adam asks a question which is meant to imply that the implementation of dynamic pricing could jeopardize an organization's "case for support." I have heard this argument before, and found it intriguing. Over the span of the past few months, I have sat on a couple of major funding panels with representatives from the top national arts foundations. I took the opportunity to ask them about the impact dynamic pricing might have in their opinion on an organization's "case for support." Without exception, each funder recognized that contributed support, especially from foundations and corporations, has taken a significant hit as a result of the global economic crisis, forcing non-profits to devise methods to increase other revenue streams. They understand these strategies in some cases are necessary for survival, and consequently said that they would not have any impact on a funding decision.
4. Dynamic pricing doesn't necessarily mean eliminating accessibility. Most non-profit art organizations would agree that accessibility to art is important. Dynamic pricing in itself doesn't preclude patrons from experiencing a performance if they can't pay top dollar. What it does do is force price sensitive consumers into an early buying pattern. Remember that in most cases, dynamic pricing doesn't affect ticket prices until a venue is at 60-70% paid capacity. If you purchase early, dynamic pricing shouldn't come into play. One of the reasons that I like dynamic pricing is that it rewards a buying behavior that is essential to converting a single ticket patron to a subscriber. Subscribers buy early and in bulk partially to get the best pricing available. If you can train more single ticket buyers that the later they purchase, the higher the price, it teaches the price sensitive single ticket patrons purchasing behaviors more aligned with the purchasing behaviors of subscribers.
Adam and Trisha are both right--dynamic pricing is both beneficial and perilous. Depending upon the needs of your organization, what's good for one, might not be good for all. Makes me start to wonder if there are any such things as general best practices.