Three Questions Every Arts Exec Should Ask when Vetting Marketing Materials

Selecting the right marketing messages is one of the most important parts of an executive leader’s job. The messages will have a profound impact on earned revenue and they’ll be the most influential tools for shaping the organization’s brand. But more importantly, they’ll be responsible for growing and sustaining the audience on which the organization’s future will depend. It’s a daunting task that every executive leader should approach with prudence and discernment.

I’ve been developing marketing materials for nearly thirty years and during that time I’ve made presentations to all sorts of executive leaders from people who knew very little about marketing to some of the most brilliant minds in the arts & entertainment industry. The leaders I respected most were the ones who asked the most astute and insightful questions and – no surprise here – they were the ones who made the most productive choices.

Here are the questions I appreciated most. They’re the ones that kept me on my toes and they’re questions that I believe every executive leader should have a right to ask.

1. Who are we talking to?

It’s impossible to develop persuasive marketing messages if you don’t know who you’re talking to. One of the easiest ways to know who you’re talking to is to decide in advance who you expect to be in your audience, so a reasonable answer to this question might go something like this: “We’re projecting sales at 94% of capacity broken down as follows: Subscribers/members = 34%, Singles from in-house databases = 22%, Special target audiences (millennials, game enthusiasts, sci-fi/fantasy readers) = 18%, Students = 11%, Adult groups = 9%.”

If your team can’t describe in detail exactly who they’re talking to, the messages they’re presenting are guaranteed to be off target.

2. How does this message work?

This is a new one for most arts professionals, but it’s probably the most important question anyone can ask. At a time when arts audiences are shrinking, messages have to do more than just get the word out; they have to persuade.

Persuasion involves describing how a product satisfies an audience’s needs, wants or desires so marketers who want their messages to work have to convince audiences that the product will satisfy their yearnings. One good answer to a question like this might be: “Our research into millennials revealed that their entertainment decisions are based on social factors and that they need to understand how the product relates to them. That’s why this approach includes photos of young people enjoying drinks with friends in the lobby bar.”

To be acceptable, answers to this question must include verifiable facts about target audiences (no more guessing) and rational descriptions of how the information is being used to motivate message recipients.

3. What results are you projecting?

Unlike message delivery, message development has always fallen into a squishy area where cause and effect relationships couldn’t be sorted out or measured. But since persuasive messages are built on cause and effect models (you want X, my product offers X, therefore you will do Y), it’s OK to begin attaching expectations: “We’re confident that our 94% goal will be met or exceeded because our messages are built on sound research and they contain appeals that satisfy across multiple targets. Plus, we’ve been refining similar audience-oriented messages over the last three seasons and have seen a 14% increase in sales.”

Think of those credit card come-ons that were so common before the economic downturn. The messages in those letters had been honed with scientific precision over thousands of campaigns to a point where marketers could pinpoint to the penny exactly what responses they’d generate. Arts marketing may never reach that level of sophistication, but there’s no reason we can’t start down the same road.

In the arts we’ve allowed message content to lag way behind message delivery. If we want to get serious about strategic messaging, we need to start asking serious questions about whether or not our messages are doing their jobs. But before we do that, we need to make sure that marketers understand the questions and that they’re given the support they’ll need to find the answers.

As an industry, we’re losing audiences every day so the sooner we start asking the questions, the sooner we’ll start reversing the trend.

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One thought on “Three Questions Every Arts Exec Should Ask when Vetting Marketing Materials

  1. I have a quote on my website by Fanny Brice (comedienne, singer, theatre and film actress), “Your audience gives you everything you need. They tell you. There is no director who can direct you like an audience.”

    Plain and simple advice, but it is a matter of carrying it out. If you are working on a new marketing approach, I always recommend testing it on your audiences, and specifically on the audiences you are hoping to reach. They will tell you whether or not it will ring true for them. You can save valuable dollars with this step to ensure that your messages and materials are indeed speaking to them.

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