So Scorsese Doesn’t Like Rotten Tomatoes

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Martin Scorsese doesn’t care for Rotten Tomatoes. He says so here.

He prefers more thoughtful criticism by film industry insiders.

And he uses the gawdawful mess mother! as an example of a movie that’s been unfairly trashed.

Well, I think Rotten Tomatoes is the greatest thing that’s happened to movie audiences since popcorn. It’s an extremely useful resource that I refer to regularly to plan movie outings or to decide if a movie is worth watching at home. The service has saved me countless hours that might otherwise have been wasted on bad movies, and it has turned me on to all sorts of wonderful fare that might not have made it onto my radar.

My only regret is that I didn’t consult Rotten Tomatoes before going to see mother!

Yeah, I get it. Environmental allegory. I’ve read all the discussion and I’ve carefully considered multiple perspectives. But that doesn’t change the fact that I did not enjoy watching the movie. Call me a Philistine, but I don’t like movies where raging mobs appear out of nowhere to eat the protagonists’ newborn babies.

Why am I writing about this? I don’t know. Just felt like venting.

But since this is a marketing blog, it’s worth mentioning that Rotten Tomatoes is only giving public voice to a dynamic that has influenced arts participation for decades. Rotten Tomatoes is word-of-mouth magnified and made evident for all to see.

It’s easy to understand why film makers loathe it. Movie marketing is all about trying to influence public perceptions before word-of-mouth has a chance to exert its influence. Rotten Tomatoes lets us bypass the marketing hype and learn what other people think, which cuts a lot of the marketing out of the equation.

Will it change the movie industry? Certainly.

It it a bad thing? Depends on who you are. If you’re a person who’s considering a movie and want to know what other people think, it comes in pretty handy. If you’re someone who’s trying to sell an unsatisfying movie, not so much.

Is it going to fuck up the creation of art? Probably not. Good movies are good movies. If filmmakers make good movies that critics and audiences like, there’s nothing to worry about.

And mother!? It’s an amazing movie. It’ll probably be talked about for a long time and may one day work its way up into the ranks of Hollywood’s great films.

 

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If The Arts Sold Girl Scout Cookies…

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Any arts organization that wants to sell more tickets can do so quickly and inexpensively by employing these basic sales principles:

  • Know your customers
  • Demonstrate how your products will satisfy their desires
  • Close the sale

But in the arts we employ a less customer-centered, more passive promotional approach that looks like this:

  • Assume what audiences want (or should want)
  • Tell as many people as possible how wonderful and important we are
  • Hope that those who agree will respond

There are exceptions, of course; telemarketers use sales techniques all the time. But arts marketing is by and large an under-informed, self-centered, uni-directional process that consists of spraying self-congratulatory bombast at the world and hoping enough people still care.

“Hey, whoever you are: Lookie here! We’re the best thing ever. Even The New York Times thinks so. Look at all these colorful selfies of us doing this rare and special thing! And if you’re smart enough, and rich enough, you can come see us do this in person.”

This is not complicated stuff. Any Girl Scout can tell you that the key to selling cookies is to ask your customers which ones they like best, remind them how happy they’ll be with a few boxes of Thin Mints in their freezer, and don’t let them get away without taking the order.

If the arts sold Girl Scout cookies, we’d send out overblown emails bragging about the superlative qualities of our culinary achievements and telling condescending stories about the history of the art of baking. “The essential motif in this compelling morsel of transcendent deliciousness comes from mentha, or mint, a genus in the family Lamiaceae, which was a popular ingredient in Hungarian folk traditions.”

If you want to sell tickets, you have to learn what makes your event attractive to the customers. And if you bother to ask them, they’re likely to describe a range of motivations that are all about them, that are mostly about the personal benefits of enjoying artful entertainment events wth friends or family, and that have comparatively little to do with the self-indulgent stuff you put in your brochures.

And if you’re lucky enough to learn what motivates your customers to buy your product, that’s what the content of your marketing should be about.

Arts marketers are like Girl Scouts who don’t bother asking which cookies their customers want and then spend all their energies lecturing about the cultural history of Do-si-dos to people who just want to scarf down a box of Thin Mints on their way home.

 

 

Marketer Wanted: Must Be Deeply Skeptical Of The Arts

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Take a look at just about any employment ad for arts marketers, and you’ll find passion for the art form listed among the essential qualifications for the job. Often it is the single most important criterion.

Ironically, this is just about the last thing arts leaders should be looking for in their marketing personnel. In fact, passion for the art form could be your candidate’s least useful qualification.

Here are five things arts marketers should be more passionate about than art:

Customers

Arts marketers should be just crazy about customers – especially new customers. They should be driven to spend as much time as possible engaging with them, learning about them, understanding what motivates them and discovering where their needs and desires overlap with what the organization wants to sell. The best marketers will be the ones who see the world through the eyes of unpersuaded outsiders, identify with their lack of avidity and know how to move them to respond.

Marketers who have a passion for the art form are often least likely to identify with those who don’t, and those who don’t are tomorrow’s audiences.

Strategy

Marketing is a strategic enterprise rooted in research, logic and numbers. A marketer should be passionate about the marketing process – making sure that the right communication is occurring among the right people in the right places, utilizing optimized content to elicit predetermined responses, synthesizing available data for maximum efficiency and always measuring, measuring, measuring.

If you were hiring a plumber to fix a malfunctioning toilet, you’d want someone who was passionate about the system, not what’s flowing through it.

Sales

In a business that’s steadily losing customers, good marketers must be passionate about sales – not the mechanics of satisfying demand; that’s customer service – but the process of motivating people to come. Arts marketers today need to be passionate about persuasion. They need to have an evangelist’s zeal for satisfying the needs and desires of willing but under-motivated outsiders.

Marketers who are passionate about their art form can’t wait to tell people how wonderful the product is. But marketers who are passionate about persuasion can’t wait to show people how happy they’ll be when their yearnings are satisfied by the product.

Change

Marketing is a process of monitoring, adapting to and capitalizing on constantly changing external conditions. Good marketers welcome change with enthusiasm and they respond to it with inquisitiveness and innovation. And the best marketers function as change agents who, because they bring external perspectives into their organizations, keep them flexible, relevant and robust.

The sad state of affairs in the arts today is that marketers who are passionate about art have been regurgitating the same self-indulgent promotional nonsense for the last half century with little regard for what’s happening outside their doors – and with steadily diminishing results.

Making Money

Good marketers are passionate about making money. They choose jobs that reward them for their talent and hard work and that help them build resumes that will maximize their career opportunities. And good marketers naturally expect to be well compensated for the results they produce.

Marketers who are passionate about their art forms, however, are often willing to work cheap and to sacrifice professional marketing careers for arts marketing, which is a largely amateur enterprise.

Leaders who buy cheap passion to avoid paying for professionalism will get what they pay for.

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Back in the old days when arts audiences were abundant, it made sense to hire passionate marketers: “Hey! We love this thing were doing and you love this thing were doing so let’s get together.” But those days are gone.

Today arts marketing is a process of finding and persuading people who might come, but who lack self-motivating enthusiasm for the product: “Hey! We love this thing we’re doing and you… well… uh… you… Did we tell you how much we love this thing we’re doing?”

When potential customers lack self-motivating interest, passion alone is unpersuasive and may actually be off-putting. Under-motivated customers need to know what’s in it for them, not what’s in it for you.

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Are there good marketers in the arts who are also passionate about their art forms? Yes. Absolutely. And they should be recognized and rewarded for their achievements. There’s nothing wrong with having passion for the product.

But the arts organizations that survive this audience crisis are likely to be marketed by clear-eyed professionals from outside the bubble – audience-oriented strategists who are as passionate about the process of filling venues as they are about what those venues are there to do.

 

 

 

Arts Marketing Doesn’t Work Because It’s Irrational

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I mentioned two posts ago that good marketing is based on a logical formula that looks like this:

We know you want x

We offer x

Thus we can reasonably project that you will do y

The x is the product you sell, of course, and y is the behavior you expect from your customers, i. e. “We know you want a great night out featuring dining, socializing and high quality artful entertainment. We offer a great night out featuring dining, socializing and high quality artful entertainment. Thus we can reasonably expect that you’ll come to our destination with your friends or family, patronize one of our nearby restaurants, and experience a high quality performance event in our venue.

Spock SmilingWhen I studied classical rhetorical theory in grad school (don’t go away; this is good stuff) I learned that the first two parts of this formula are indispensable components of the persuasion process. Aristotle himself said that if you want to get somebody to think a certain way or do a certain thing, first you have to know what they need or want, and then you have to describe how your product will satisfy their yearnings. It’s a surprisingly simple yet immensely powerful idea that smart businesspeople, preachers, politicians and scoundrels have been using for the last 2,500 years.

Sadly, however, it’s an idea that’s completely lost on arts organizations.

In the arts we tend to ignore the first part of the equation and instead slip in all sorts of self-serving alternatives that don’t have the same impact:

We assume you want x

We hope you want x

We think you should want x

We think you need x because we believe it’s good for you

We’re really excited about x

x is so wonderful that your wanting it shouldn’t matter

Our artistic director has staked his career on the expectation that you want x

We knew your grandparents wanted x fifty years ago, but we’re too lazy to find out what you want now

We’re only interested in donors, subscribers and members who want x

Our marketing department actually knows what you want, but our executive director thinks you want x and he approves all the marketing

We think that if we find a clever enough way to get your attention you’ll want x

We’re celebrating our 25th gala anniversary of x

Alec Baldwin wants x

We’re too afraid that you don’t actually want x to find out what you do want

Plug any of these into the strategic equation and you’ll quickly discover that they don’t work. Logic doesn’t function that way. If we want the third part of the equation to remain constant and predictable, the first part has to be grounded in fact, and it must exist in a precise, rational, causal relationship to the second so that, together, they point to an inevitable outcome:

We know you want x

We offer x

Thus we can reasonably project that you will do y

If you want to learn in advance whether your marketing messages are optimally, rationally persuasive, ask yourself these questions:

Have we gathered enough objective, external evidence to know for a fact what our target audiences want?

Have we done a good job of describing how what we’re selling will satisfy our target audience’s stated yearnings?

Since the second question is entirely dependent on there being an affirmative answer to the first, there’s really only one question worth asking. And if the answer isn’t yes, there’s no logical reason to proceed.

Have you gathered enough objective, external evidence to know for a fact what your new audiences want?

If Your Message Strategy Isn’t Written Down, I’ll Bet You Don’t Have One

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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 today:

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 traditional 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 concerts 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 research into what motivates new audiences, 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 perspectives. This is why the language of arts marketing is so embarrassingly 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 nothing to do with what the targets said they were looking for.

And finally, you have to write the strategy down and get it approved by everyone who has a say in the marketing process. The postcard above looks nothing like the materials your boss is accustomed to vetting. If she’s dreaming about sweaty conductors and you’re showing 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 mindless self-absorption that keeps the arts from appealing to people outside the bubble.

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 subsequent posts.

But in the meantime, I recommend creating, writing down and disseminating well-supported message strategies long in advance of any creative marketing discussions. It’s a simple first step away from our industry’s hoary old traditions and toward the development of a disciplined, professional, fiscally responsible approach to strategic marketing. As I said above, It’s easy to do, it doesn’t cost a cent and you can start today.

So why not try it? If you do it right, I guarantee you’ll get better results.

Five Copy Rules That Arts Administrators Ignore

Here are five copy writing rules that professional marketers follow closely.

Sadly, arts administrators tend to ignore them.

If you’d like to grow audiences by developing smart marketing content, try this:

Be Customer Centric

If you’re like most arts organizations, virtually all of your marketing content is about you and how wonderful and important you think other people should think you are. This may have worked well back when everybody agreed that you were wonderful and important, but nobody cares about that now. Your future customers want to know if they’re going to have a worthwhile time with their friends or families in your venue.

If you’re just blathering on about how wonderful you are, your marketing content is untethered drivel. But if you write about your customers’ positive experiences with your products, your strategic content will motivate more people to buy.

Know Your Customer

Go stand in your venue and pick out one of the seats you have trouble filling. Do you know the person you’d like to see sitting there? If you don’t, you can’t possibly know how to find her or what to say to her to get her to come.

If you’re like most arts administrators, you toss around vague phrases like “younger, more culturally diverse,” or you complain bitterly about churn, or you sit in conference rooms guessing what new audiences care about, or you’re one of a growing number of arts professionals who believe that data will replace relationships, but that’s all wasteful nonsense. If you want to speak persuasively to the customer who hasn’t yet decided to fill that empty seat, you have to be as well engaged with her as you are with the loyal, long-time subscriber/donor in the center of the tenth row.

Satisfy Desires

Sales is about convincing people that your products will satisfy their desires. To do this you have to learn what your customers want, then you have to describe how your products will make them happy. Write down everything your new customers told you they want, then write down a list of your products’ most salient features. Everything you need to know to create persuasive sales content will be found where these two lists intersect.

If you haven’t learned what your new customers want, you have to go ask them.

(If there’s no overlap between what your customers told you they want and what you’re trying to sell, don’t bother. It’s over.)

Talk Normal

If you’re like most arts organizations, your sales copy is atrocious. It’s old-fashioned, artificial, overblown, presumptuous, selfish and shamelessly boastful (yeah, go look). Effective sales copy, meanwhile, is fresh, natural, generous, customer-centered and confidently assertive. It’s the way you’d speak to a friend who you think might enjoy your next event. If you can’t figure out how to write effective copy, go find a friend who you think might enjoy your next event and record yourself trying to persuade him to come. What you say will probably be the right language for the brochure.

Always Be Closing

Sales copy is like a finely crafted machine. Every part is essential and all parts work together to help the machine do its job. In good sales copy, every word, phrase, sentence and paragraph is designed to impel the reader toward completing the transaction. A good message strategist can point to any part of the copy and describe exactly how it works, alone or with other parts, to close the sale.

If whoever’s developing your strategic sales content can’t describe how it works, they shouldn’t be writing copy.

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Arts leaders can be forgiven – to some extent – for the amateurish way they speak to their communities. No one has ever asked them to use more professional methods. But with audiences in steady decline, it’s worth wondering if this is a good time to stop all the self-indulgent boasting and start speaking to tomorrow’s audiences in a language they can relate to.

If you’re looking for an example of how to do this, here’s a great place to start.

 

 

 

Catastrophic Brand Management at Santa Monica Symphony?

You may have heard that the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra has invited an outspoken anti-gay bigot and right-wing talking head named Dennis Prager to guest conduct at a concert this week. According to music director Guido Lamell, donations were down so he thought Prager’s fans might boost the struggling orchestra’s numbers.

I’ll admit up front that I’m biased in this matter. I have nothing but disdain for Dennis Prager because of the harm he’s done to innocent gay kids, and I think that any orchestra that would align itself with Prager just to suck cash out of his followers’ pockets is despicable. (I spent years volunteering on a suicide prevention hotline for gay teens. I know exactly how much damage men like Prager do, and I am appalled that the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra would give him any sort of platform.)

But this post isn’t about politics, it’s about branding. I read about the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra’s fondness for Prager in The New York Times, of all places. Think of it. A tiny ailing arts organization on the West Coast gets coverage in The New York Times and it’s about the controversy surrounding the Prager incident, not about art. This is probably the most famous The Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra will ever be and the brand message they’ve decided to put forward is this: “We’re perfectly comfortable aligning our organization with an outspoken anti-gay bigot.” (Prager embraces many other right wing ideologies so feel free to replace ‘anti-gay bigot’ here with whichever one you prefer.

The point is not that Prager promotes extreme right wing points of view, it’s that the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra has decided to align itself with those points of view by defending their choice to use Prager to get cash from his followers.

The question everyone’s asking right now is this:

Is it OK to invite outspoken anti-gay bigots to conduct an orchestra?

But the question Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra’s funders should be asking is this:

Is this a fiscally responsible way to manage the orchestra’s brand?

Folks can argue for years about the first question, but the answer to the second question will be evident when this news cycle is over and the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra finds itself relying once again on its community for sustenance.

Brands are reputations. They’re how people think and feel about a product or organization. They’re how people behave toward products and organizations based on the way they think and feel about them. This highly public controversy will undoubtedly influence the way people behave toward the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra for quite some time.

There’s a chance that the controversy will unleash enough long-term loyal support from Prager’s conservative fans to offset the losses among the orchestra’s disaffected liberal supporters, but this seems unlikely. What’s more likely is that in ultra-liberal Santa Monica and surrounding L.A. communities, the taint of the Prager affair will linger among local perceptions of the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra for the rest of its life.

In my mind and in my heart, for example, their brand is damaged beyond repair. I wouldn’t dream of attending a concert or giving money to an organization that celebrates someone like Dennis Prager.

It’s no secret that symphony orchestras are struggling everywhere and that community based orchestras are especially vulnerable. If I were on the board of the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra, I’d be wondering if adding such an ugly taint at this perilous time is a useful way to nurture a healthy future support system.

 

 

What The Heck Is Aggressive Arts Marketing?

Diane Ragsdale has an interesting post on her Jumper blog this week about uncommitted arts audiences. In it she poses this question:

“…is it really reasonable to expect those lured to our events by aggressive marketing or buzz to be sincerely interested in the arts experience and aware of the rules of the game, so to speak?”

Later in the piece she asks:

“Where are we aggressively luring looky-loos rather than inviting participation?”

[Emphases my own]

At Dictionary.com the definition of ‘aggression’ reads as follows:

The action of a state in violating by force the rights of another state, particularly its territorial rights; an unprovoked offensive, attack, invasion, or the like.

Any offensive action, attack, or procedure; an inroad or encroachment.

The practice of making assaults or attacks; offensive action in general.

Pity the unsuspecting community member minding her own business when militant arts marketers kick in her door, drag her off to the box office and force her to buy tickets. I can certainly understand Diane wondering if this woman’s going to be interested in the event, or whether she’s going to be aware of how to behave. I mean, really, who dresses for the theatre on the odd chance that a SWAT team of nonprofit workers will crash in and haul her off to a show?

As for those looky-loos, I think if they’re looking, they’re fair game, but aggressive luring is a tricky business. We tend to station the marketing team along a perimeter around the theatre and position a guy on the roof who shouts “CELEBRATE” every few minutes. If someone looks, we squeeze the perimeter until they’re forced up to the box office window. If they don’t want to buy, we start screaming “SUBSCRIBE NOW” as loud as we can until they’re lured into submission. It’s effective, but once again, expensive and hard on the old vocal chords.

Arts marketing was a lot easier back when people wanted to come, but times have changed and we have a lot of arts organizations to keep in business. If we have to use aggressive means to get reluctant patrons to come down and cough up some cash, it’s all in the service of art, and that’s a cause worth fighting for.

Speaking of art, we’re launching a new campaign next month: Here’s the header and tag line:

A BREATHLESS, HEART-STOPPING, LIFE-ALTERING EVENT!

You don’t want to miss it. No, really, you don’t want to miss it.

 

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fARTy, tARTan underpARTs

Can we please stop capitalizing the word ‘art’ when it appears inside other words?

Seriously.

This is just about the most fatuous practice in arts marketing, and it goes a long way toward explaining why arts organizations are failing to attract new audiences.

If your organization is doing it, you should stop now and swear never to do it again.

If you’re thinking about doing it, consider this:

  1. You are about the ten millionth marketer to come up with the idea
  2. Any idiot can Google the phrase “words that contain A R T”
  3. It’s got everything to do with you trying to be be cute and clever
  4. Nobody thinks you’re cute, and if you’re doing this, you’re not clever
  5. If you think it’s an attention getter, you’re targeting the wrong audience
  6. It does absolutely nothing to motivate people to buy or give
  7. Marketers who are fully engaged with new audiences wouldn’t do it
  8. Executive leaders who understand professional marketing wouldn’t approve it
  9. The artists your organization represents would think it banal
  10. Your graphic designer might do it, but she is not your strategist

The only reason anyone should ever capitalize the letters A R and T inside other words is if their market research has revealed a tendency among less avid patrons to be motivated by graphics that contain artsy wordplay. I’ve been doing market research for thirty years and have never once heard a respondent describe such a motivation.

Older arts patrons accept intuitively that arts organizations adhere to less-than-professional nonprofit standards. This is especially true in marketing where content creation is carried out by amateur insiders who have limited insight into the motivations of outsiders. Back in the olden days, nobody cared if the brochure was dressed up in a bunch of silly nonsense if the core message got through.

But younger, more culturally diverse audiences don’t necessarily understand why their local art museum or advocacy organization, which they think of as professional, would allow itself to project a brand image that’s frivolous or passé.

Arts audiences are in steady decline across the cultural sector. At some point we’re going to have to adopt a more professional, future-oriented approach to communications.

Cutting out this sort of mindless cutesiness is a great place to start.