Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Make sure you keep one foot in both courts

Sometimes at the conclusion of a speech that I am giving, I have someone from the crowd come up to me and thank me for all the great information, exclaiming that they are going to end their direct mail campaigns in order to shift resources to technology based viral marketing campaigns. At that moment, I usually cringe and apologize, for I definitely communicated something that I didn’t intend to. For those that read this blog, you know by now that I am a proponent of using technology to grow audiences, building communities and diversify revenue streams. That being said, most major arts organizations find themselves with a foot in two different courts—how to please the audiences of tomorrow, and still serve the audiences of today.

We sometimes forget that there are four generations in play in our audiences: the Silent Generation, the Baby-Boomers, Generation X and the Millenials. Many books have been written, white papers drafted and speeches given (including by yours truly) on how to effectively target Generation X and Millenials as they are the future for arts organizations. However in doing so, some rabid believers have advocated throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Allocating all of your resources at any one of these groups, unless you have programming that only speaks to a certain generation, is foolish, certainly as foolish as not diversifying your stock portfolio.

Let’s take a look at subscriptions. Most arts marketing professionals agree that the subscription model is dated, and is dying a slow death. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we should pull the plug on them today when they still probably have a good decade left in them. Several performing arts organizations still receive a major portion of their earned revenue via subscription sales, and although Danny Newman might have published his treatise decades ago, his point that subscriptions protect a company from poor reviews and the fickle buying habits of single ticket buyers is still spot on. At every performing arts organization that I have worked for, I noticed a declining subscription base, and within two years with strategic changes have stopped the decline and started increasing the number of subscribers. I don’t say this to seem like a miracle worker (for which I am not), but it does make me wonder how much marketing directors are directly responsible for declining subscribers.

I am starting to believe that the decline of subscriptions might be in part a self-fulfilling prophesy. If a marketing director fully believed that subscriptions were dying, and that nothing could be done to affect declining subscription numbers, then he might be inclined to focus his limited resources on addressing the needs of his “future audience,” thereby ensuring the decline he was forecasting.

We know from surveys that subscribers tend to be older, and more than likely are part of the Baby-Boomer or Silent Generation. We also know that these generations have been purchasing tickets in this manner for years, are usually more comfortable with transaction conducted over the phone or via mail, and therefore respond better to some classic direct marketing techniques such as direct mail or telemarketing. However if you are underfunding direct marketing in order to fund other priorities (such as online marketing), then the decline in your subscription base might be caused by poor strategic marketing decisions.

When creating a holistic marketing campaign, a wise marketing director should always keep in mind that we are serving multiple masters—each master having a different set of expectations and desires. The key for all marketing professionals is putting the right offer in front of the right people using a communications vehicle that gives the message the highest possibility of success.

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