Arts marketers who can’t sell enough tickets should pay attention to Donald Trump. He’s a surprisingly effective persuader.
Trump talks simply about things his people care about. He knows that persuasion requires clear, direct communication and he does this extremely well, using plain, down-to-earth language. And even though he talks about how wonderful he is, he somehow avoids talking down to people.
He also knows that persuasion is about emotions so he focuses on what people feel and tells them how he’ll solve their problems. His followers may feel strongly about some truly frightening things, but that’s beside the point. What’s important is not the content of the language, but rather the techniques he uses to get the results he wants.
Barack Obama used the same techniques.
Speaking simply about things people care about is a good way to get votes, and it’s a good way to sell tickets.
Take a look at your latest promotional piece. Did you speak simply about things your new audiences care about? Did you appeal to their emotions? Did you describe how your products would solve their problems? Did you describe your best attributes without being condescending?
If you’re a traditional arts organization, the answer is most likely no.
If you’re like most arts marketers, you talked in a fancy, superior, self-centered, self-flattering and possibly even academic language about how wonderful you are without having bothered to address what new customers care about. They’re probably trying to figure out how to enjoy an evening out with friends while you’re telling them how important Ibsen or Shostakovich or Balanchine is.
In the arts, we don’t focus on what our new customers want; we focus on what we think they should want, and this is why we’re failing so miserably at attracting new audiences.
Speaking in fancy language about things we wish other people cared about as much as we do is an absolutely terrible way to sell tickets, yet it remains the primary strategic approach used by traditional arts organizations.
Will Donald Trump prevail? Probably not. He appeals more to what people fear than he does to what they hope for. He’ll probably lose to a candidate who appeals to more aspirational yearnings.
Ironically, in the arts, where aspiration is the name of the game, we don’t bother to learn what new audiences want, so we can’t tell them how our products will satisfy their desires.
In arts and in politics, the winners will be those who do the best job of learning what their audiences aspire to, and then describing how what they’re selling will make people happy.
Why would new audiences vote for you?