A Pop Quiz on Persuasion for Arts Pros

As I’ve mentioned often on this blog, strategic persuasion involves knowing what our audiences want and then using that information to describe how our products will make them happy. The more we know about what they want and the better we are at describing how our products will satisfy their desires, the more successful we will be.

If you’d like to test the potency of your organization’s persuasive endeavors, take out your latest brochure, ad, email or promotional piece and honestly answer these questions:

  1. Did you identify exactly whom your message was meant to persuade?   Y / N
  2. Did you do research or gather relevant objective data so you would know for a fact what your target audiences wanted?   Y / N
  3. Did you develop a message strategy that described how your persuasive message content would work, given what you knew about your targets?   Y / N
  4. Did you identify rational relationships between your targets’ stated desires and the ways in which your product might satisfy them?   Y / N
  5. Does the message you developed express or reflect these relationships in discernable ways?   Y / N
  6. Does your message content portray or describe members of your target audiences enjoying your product?   Y / N
  7. Does your copy contain the word ‘you’ or one of its variants?  Y / N
  8. Does the message state explicitly why the target audience would want to buy the product?   Y / N
  9. Does the message evoke positive personal emotions like those your customers will feel when they experience your product?   Y / N
  10. Did you project specific sales results based on the relative precision of your persuasive strategy?   Y / N

How’d you do?

Don’t worry; arts people are really bad at this. It’s not in our culture. As I said two posts ago, the culture of arts marketing is one of promotion rather than persuasion and there are a lot of old-timers at the top who believe that this sort of thing is beneath our dignity. So take these scores with a grain of salt and consider them a starting point for progressing up the persuasive ladder.

If you answered no to any of the first five questions, I’m afraid you’ll have to give yourself an F. Since strategic persuasion involves knowing what audiences want and then using that information to describe how your product will make them happy, you’ll have to have known exactly who those audiences were; you’ll have to have gathered credible information about their desires; you’ll have to have determined in advance how you planned to use that information; you’ll have to have married their wants with your offerings in rational ways; and you’ll have to have successfully described how your product would satisfy their yearnings. If you missed any of these steps, it’s not strategic persuasion.

If you did answer yes to the first five, please give yourself an extra point for each additional yes answer. Questions six through ten measure the extent to which your message content is customer-centered and ten is something I tossed in to make it an even ten, but also to suggest that the more specific you are in your message choices, the easier it will be to predict how they’ll perform.

If you’re among the majority who failed the test, you probably did what most well-intentioned arts organizations do: You assumed that you were speaking to people who had a self-motivating interest in your product and you presented your information in the most attractive, enticing and flattering manner possible. Unfortunately, that process allowed you to skip the research step, where you’d have learned what your audiences actually want, and it allowed you to fill up all of the available promotional real estate with self-indulgent hyperbole about your art and your organization without saying anything about the customers or why someone with a less than avid interest in what you’re doing would want to come.

Can arts marketers pass this test? Of course they can. Smart businesses take and pass this test every day with every marketing message they disseminate. It’s not difficult or expensive, but it does mean placing audiences at the center of our universe – a position that arts insiders have been occupying on an exclusive basis for a very long time.

We can either continue to spray our passive promotions at the world, hoping that new audiences will somehow magically decide they want us – and trying to raise more money when they don’t – or we can manage a transition from a culture of self-centered promotion to a culture of audience-centered persuasion and take sensible, measured, strategic steps toward convincing tomorrow’s audiences that we’re worth their time and money.

I don’t know about you, but I’m leaning toward persuasion.

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