American Orchestra Enjoys a 36% Increase in Classical Ticket Sales

I’ve mentioned Jason Nicholson, Director of Marketing at the The Austin Symphony, in previous posts.

A few days ago Jason wrote to tell me that The Austin Symphony saw a 36% increase in ticket sales for classical concerts this past season and a 20% increase in year-over-year sales for all programming. In an era of shrinking audiences for classical music organizations, this is extraordinary news.

How did Jason and his colleagues do it? They made the marketing about the customers’ experience with the product. Take a look at this brochure and you’ll see an astonishing amount of real estate dedicated to photos of audience members enjoying themselves at a show. Compare this to marketing materials generated by other arts organizations and I guarantee you won’t find this much audience-centered content. Most arts organizations are far too self-centered and self-important to allow themselves to do this.

But good marketing is as much about the customer as it is about the product. Jason knows this and he applies it in all of his marketing messages. Meanwhile, classical music marketers around the world still behave as if good marketing is all about them – even though the results prove otherwise.

It’s no surprise, really, that audience-centered marketing is performing so well while self-centered marketing is failing to attract new audiences; customer-centered marketing is standard practice in the commercial world. What’s surprising is the way ailing arts organizations cling so desperately to old marketing methods that don’t work.

My favorite part of Jason’s email was when he said this:

“We are seeing an increase of people of color attending which we are really excited about. We are going to the communities and inviting instead of expecting. How do I know this is working? I’m asking them at the concert. It’s amazing what information you’ll get if you just take the time to listen.”

(Note: If you’ve been wondering what motivates younger, more culturally diverse audiences to attend arts events, the most effective and least expensive way to find out is to talk with them in your venue. Not interns with clipboards, you, the senior decision maker.)

Jason was recognized by the League of American Orchestras a while back for his customer-oriented marketing materials. I hope the League notices these impressive results and encourages some of its larger, more self-centered members to follow his lead.

Congratulations, Jason. Keep up the great work.

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