Here’s a tip that will guarantee any arts organization a significant increase in sales. It’s easy to do, it doesn’t cost a cent and you can start right away:
Write a “strategic messaging statement” every time you set out to develop a marketing piece. Before you engage in any creative discussions, take the time to think through and describe in writing exactly who the piece is talking to, what they want and how your product will satisfy their desires.
Here’s an example:
STRATEGIC MESSAGING STATEMENT
MEDIA: Spring Postcard/Email
TARGET: Fall/winter single-ticket buyers with emphasis on one-off buyers
OBJECTIVE: Reduce churn rate by stimulating return visits among one-off buyers
MESSAGE STRATEGY: Our research into younger one-off buyers revealed a desire to enjoy live music periodically with peers, but they were put off by a perceived lack of connection and a distaste for the formal trappings and presumed superiority of the classical concert experience. Thus, this postcard will be written in a casual, conversational style and will feature images of young people enjoying themselves in the venue bar. The piece will focus on the buyers rather than the institution, and will describe the emotional rewards of enjoying live music with friends. Traditional classical music clichés will be strictly avoided.
At first glance it probably seems obvious: “Well, sure, we do this sort of thing all the time.” But I’m willing to bet that’s not true. There’s a big difference between sitting in a conference room with fellow insiders dreaming up creative marketing ideas, and doing the work it takes to research, develop and codify a legitimate persuasive strategy. Here’s how the differences tend to break down:
First, a well crafted strategy requires factual information about the target market’s desires and expectations. A lot of arts organizations don’t do market research, however, because they worry that it’s too complicated or expensive, and instead of knowing what motivates audiences, they tend to imagine what motivates audiences based on their own insider’s experience. This is why the language of arts marketing is so insular, exclusive and self-congratulatory.
Next, a well crafted strategy describes a motivating relationship between what’s being sold and what the audience wants. In the example above, the marketers learned that their audience wanted to enjoy live music with peers in a relaxed setting that was conducive to socialization, so they were able to craft a message that leveraged those desires in order to motivate the target to buy. If they’d done what arts marketers normally do and put a sweaty conductor swinging a baton on the cover, it wouldn’t have had the same motivating power – because sweaty conductors have so little to do with what the targets said they wanted!
And finally, you have to write the strategy down and get it approved by everyone who has a say in the message development process. The postcard above looks nothing like the materials your boss is accustomed to vetting. If she’s thinking sweaty conductor and you hand her young people drinking in the lobby, it’ll never fly. But if you do your homework, develop a written strategy and have everyone – including your boss – sign off on it before anyone thinks about copy or design, you’ll stand a far greater chance of breaking the cycle of self-absorption that keeps the arts from appealing to broader audiences.
I’m well aware that the sticking point here is research and that most arts organizations believe they don’t have the staff or resources to gather the necessary information, but I don’t buy it. There are all sorts of ways to gather credible market intelligence without having to hire outside firms or employ trained statisticians. I list fourteen of those methods in my book and will share several of them in my next post.
But in the meantime, I recommend creating, writing down and disseminating well-supported message strategies long in advance of any creative discussions. It’s a simple first step away from our industry’s tired old traditions, and toward the development of a disciplined, professional, effective approach to message development.
Try it next time. If you do it right, I guarantee you’ll get better results.