My post from early last week, Super Sexy Symphony Ad, elicited a really interesting question from reader Kyle Clausen, who asked the following:
“I wonder what your thoughts are on the right balance. While focusing on the audience is essential, as arts organizations we also often (or, at least, sometimes) have unique products that can’t be found elsewhere. This isn’t a pair of jeans or a can of Pepsi, so what’s the right balance?”
I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. The situation will obviously differ from one organization to the next based on the popularity of the products and the amount of exploitable demand in the marketplace. If you’re marketing Barbra Streisand in San Francisco, for example, you won’t need to worry much about persuasion because there’s so much pent-up demand in the marketplace that merely releasing the information will be sufficient to open the floodgates.
But if you’re selling classical music in a market where avid audiences are dying and new audiences lack a self-motivating interest in the product, you’re going to have to persuade under-motivated people to participate. And since persuasion means demonstrating how your product will make them happy, there’s no more direct way to do that than to show images of people who look just like the ones you’re targeting enjoying themselves in your venue.
The happiness we’re talking about here, of course, is the result of having a basic need or desire satisfied. Avid fans who want classical concert experiences already know that going to a the concert hall will make them happy, but fence-sitting audiences don’t and it’s our job to show them that happiness is something they can reasonably expect from buying what we’re trying to sell. The expectation we create is the motivating factor that impels new audiences to buy tickets.
If you want to find an appropriate balance for your organization, the first thing to do is decide who your marketing materials are meant to appeal to and what’s most likely to satisfy their needs or desires. If you’re only speaking to highly motivated donors, subscribers, members and loyal long-time patrons, you can keep the spotlight on yourself because you’re promoting what they’re looking for. But if you’re also speaking to folks on the outer fringe of your audience who have varying levels of motivation, diverse personal reasons for participating and plenty of other options for satisfying their desires, you’ll want to make sure your messages zero in on their interests and motivations as well. The right balance is a function of how dependent you are on new audiences and the ratio of old to new audience members who are likely to see your messages.
There are many arts organizations that send a season brochure to their entire patron database – which includes both old and new audiences – yet fail completely at including new audience appeals. I know one financially troubled American orchestra whose current season brochure contains over 100 photographs and not a single one features new audiences enjoying themselves at the concerts. I’m assuming this organization has a life-or-death need to persuade new people to participate, but the message strategy they employed in their brochure was developed when Danny Newman wrote Subscribe Now! over 35 years ago.
Appealing to new audiences means striking an appropriate balance between the familiar, comfortable, habitual language we’ve grown accustomed to speaking, and the slightly jarring, uncustomary, you-oriented language we need to start speaking to folks who aren’t sitting there waiting for our stuffy old self-centered brochures. Can it be done? Absolutely. Is it difficult? No, not at all. Does it mean changing entrenched attitudes? Yes. And that’s a monumental undertaking that some organizations will never accomplish.
As for the jeans and Pepsi part of the question, I’m inclined to defer to the audience for an answer on that one. If our research into new audience dispositions reveals a pent up desire in the marketplace for unique arts products, we can boast about being unique and present ourselves as being extraordinary and important. But if research tells us that we’re competing against a broad range of entertainment experiences that younger, more culturally diverse audiences perceive as being equally appealing, we can’t afford to assume that our uniqueness is persuasive.
My heart goes out to folks who believe that marketing is there to communicate the universal value, cultural relevance, historical importance, intellectual rigor and transcendent aesthetic nature of the art form – a sentiment expressed by some other folks who wrote to me about last week’s posts – but that’s not the case. The role of marketing is to motivate people to buy the product. If telling folks how wonderful and important we are is the best way to do that, that’s all well and good. But if it’s not (and it isn’t), then we need to find out what new audiences value on a personal level and begin selling our products accordingly.