Nobody Cares What Arts Administrators Are Passionate About

Greg Sandow wrote an interesting post last week where he said that arts administrators might be more effective marketers if they learned how to better communicate their passion for their products. He proposed “visioning” workshops designed to help artists and administrators explore and describe their passions so they can be more articulate in sharing them with outsiders – a process that he says might allow a new brand to emerge from the deepest vision of why the orchestra exists.

“Ideally we’d involve staff, board, musicians, and even people from the audience. Once we had some genuine ideas, genuine feelings, love for the orchestra coming honestly and authentically, straight from the heart, and described in simple, direct language — well, then we could start finding ways to tell all that to the outside world.”

I admire Greg’s writing, and he and I are often on the same page, but not here. We’re not even in the same book on this one, and I think we might be in different libraries.

Even if classical music industry professionals became incredibly good at describing their passion for what they do, it wouldn’t matter. It’s not persuasive. Nobody cares what a bunch of classical music insiders feel about their products. Nobody buys tickets to an orchestral concert for the first time because the insiders who produced it say they’re just crazy in love with what they do. Classical music marketers’ feelings are all well and good, but if orchestras are too busy indulging in their own passions to learn what their customers are passionate about, they’re going to appear hopelessly self-absorbed and out of touch – and they’re going to continue losing audiences.

[If you want to see marketing content that says hopelessly self-absorbed and out of touch, pick up a subscription brochure from just about any major American orchestra. Greg singled out the Philadelphia Orchestra in his post so here’s theirs.]

Customers, believe it or not, are moved by the things they’re passionate about. If you want them to buy tickets, you have to focus on their yearnings and communicate how happy they are going to be when they buy your products because it’s all about them. It’s not about you. It’s about them.

I know. I know. It used to be about you and you used to be able to talk endlessly about how wonderful and important you are, but that was a long time ago. The world has changed. You don’t matter anywhere near as much as you once did, so it can’t be just about you anymore. It has to be about them.

Did I mention that it’s about them?

Greg Sandow was almost on to something here, but he missed the mark when he said, “even people from the audience,” as if the audience were an afterthought. Communicating passion for the product is an excellent idea and testimonial marketing can be a powerfully persuasive tool for motivating ticket buyers, but the message can’t come from the inside, it has to come from the outside. It has to come from a credible third party. It has to come from a source that potential customers trust and can easily identify with, which means that it has to come from someone who’s part of their world. Ideally, someone very much like them.

Let’s say your organization has decided to appeal to younger audiences and your research suggests that they’re motivated by social status, quality live music and spending leisure time in special places with people they care about. You could ask a young cellist to record a testimonial describing how she loves creating music, or you could ask a young audience member who loves coming to the symphony with friends to record a testimonial describing what a wonderful time she’s been having there.

Guess which one will sell more tickets? (Hint: It’s the one that’s about them.)

I know what Greg was getting at: Nonprofit arts organizations produce inane, meaningless marketing content because they haven’t taken time to honestly examine – and learn how to express –  their deep-seated passion for what they’re selling. But I disagree with his premise. Non-profit arts organizations produce inane, meaningless marketing content because they haven’t learned what their audiences care about so they don’t know what to say to ignite their passions.

We’re all passionate about what we do and our passion plays an indispensable role in providing high-quality arts experiences. But when it comes to selling these experiences, the thing that matters most is our customers’ passion for what we’re trying to sell.

Because it’s about them.

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