- It is out there for the world to see and it was designed to be used by social media, so that it is picked up and passed along at a very rapid pace. From some of my previous posts on this blog, you probably know that I am a fan of what I call "ninja discounting." Very rarely do I use mass communication to advertise and promote discounts, preferring instead to use one-to-one direct marketing techniques aimed at very strategic recipients. If I need to discount, then I want to make sure that I can control who gets the discount so that it flies under the radar of full price buyers.
- Groupon generally rewards a pattern of behavior that isn't desired--namely, last minute ticket purchasing. Before turning to a mass discounting strategy like Groupon, performing arts organizations will wait to see how their standard campaign is doing. If they are on goal, most won't discount. If they are off, time to throw out the offers. But this usually happens pretty late into a campaign. Let's use the Joffrey Ballet that Chris cites as an example. Their programming begins in October, as does Arena Stage's, so I would guess they launched their subscription campaign last spring. How do you think a subscriber who purchased early and at full price will feel when he sees that if he waited several months he could get a subscription at 50% off? and what do you think his purchasing behavior will look like next year? and trust me, he will get the offer because as my first point illustrates, it goes to everyone.
- Groupon is a for-profit company, and operates like one. They take a significant cut of each sale made. Using the example from the Joffrey Ballet, subscriptions were offered at 61% off regular prices. However, the cut that the Joffrey gets is significantly less than that, so they most likely sold those subscriptions at 75-80% off. Larger organizations can negotiate better splits with Groupon than their smaller counterparts, but I haven't heard of anyone keeping more than 60% of the full sales price.
- We must always remember that discount buyers behave differently and you must budget for that. Full season subscribers at most organizations renew at a rate between 85% to 90%. However, I have found that full season subscribers that purchase their subscriptions at a drastic discount renew at a much lower rate (around 60%). Additionally, because they spent significantly less amount of money per ticket, the no show rates are also substantially higher, sometimes leaving large empty holes in your house.
Instead of putting subscriptions on Groupon in order to attract thousands of new subscribers, I would do the following:
- Using your database, compile a list of the tough holdouts that you have hit up seven to eight times already during your subscription campaign (usually includes single ticket buyers and non-renewed subscribers from the past 3-4 years).
- Next, trade lists will all the other arts organizations in town.
- Then possibly consider purchasing lists from a list broker.
- Combine all the names into one master document, and suppress your current subscribers, donors and full price ticket buyers.
- Using the exact same deep discount offer you were going to give to Groupon, develop a cheap, but effective mailer and send to your list. Make sure it is an offer that is impossible to pass up, and that the offer leads in design and has a deadline. (note: if you don't have a large box office staff, then make sure the offer is online only, or you will be swamped). The key is to keep production and mailing costs low--send using non-profit postage and use a discount printer/mail house.
By doing this, you get to keep the entire purchase price of the discounted subscription, and you minimize the possibility that your dedicated and loyal patrons will see that you are heavily discounting late into your campaign after thousands have already purchased.
I find that Groupon is most useful when trying to fill large sections of an empty house on dates that are less desirable. Full price ticket buyers don't seem to mind because they didn't want those dates anyway, and most companies budget low percent paid capacities on those dates so it is additional revenue that wasn't anticipated.