Can Eli Broad Save the Arts?

Last week, Eli Broad tweeted this:

“What do customers want and need? That’s the key to marketing.”

It’s brilliant, of course. The essence of marketing is knowing what customers want and what they need, and then using that information to describe how your products will make them happy.

It’s not news, though. Aristotle said it some 2500 years ago and smart politicians, religious leaders and salesmen have been heeding it and repeating it ever since.

The irony in Mr. Broad’s tweet is that he has unwittingly revealed the arts industry’s Achilles heel: We’re utterly dependent on new audiences for survival, but we don’t have a clue what they want or need and we’re incapable of describing how our products will make them happy. The reason the arts are losing audiences – and that so many traditional arts institutions are destined to fail – is that we don’t do the kind of marketing Mr. Broad recommends.

Last week I published a post that asked this question:

If audiences for traditional art forms are in steady decline, and the only hope for survival is attracting a dependable supply of new paying audiences, why doesn’t the funding community insist that arts institutions do more professional marketing?

The answer I got off the record was that marketing is so far removed from the funding community’s culture that looking to them for guidance, let alone leadership, was ridiculous.

But then I got Eli’s tweet and it occurred to me that there really are smart marketing experts in the funding community who are capable of leading the way and using their influence to ensure that the organizations they support actually do marketing in a professional manner.

The thing I can’t quite understand, though, is why they don’t do it.

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