Marketer Wanted: Must Be Deeply Skeptical Of The Arts

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Take a look at just about any employment ad for arts marketers, and you’ll find passion for the art form listed among the essential qualifications for the job. Often it is the single most important criterion.

Ironically, this is just about the last thing arts leaders should be looking for in their marketing personnel. In fact, passion for the art form could be your candidate’s least useful qualification.

Here are five things arts marketers should be more passionate about than art:

Customers

Arts marketers should be just crazy about customers – especially new customers. They should be driven to spend as much time as possible engaging with them, learning about them, understanding what motivates them and discovering where their needs and desires overlap with what the organization wants to sell. The best marketers will be the ones who see the world through the eyes of unpersuaded outsiders, identify with their lack of avidity and know how to move them to respond.

Marketers who have a passion for the art form are often least likely to identify with those who don’t, and those who don’t are tomorrow’s audiences.

Strategy

Marketing is a strategic enterprise rooted in research, logic and numbers. A marketer should be passionate about the marketing process – making sure that the right communication is occurring among the right people in the right places, utilizing optimized content to elicit predetermined responses, synthesizing available data for maximum efficiency and always measuring, measuring, measuring.

If you were hiring a plumber to fix a malfunctioning toilet, you’d want someone who was passionate about the system, not what’s flowing through it.

Sales

In a business that’s steadily losing customers, good marketers must be passionate about sales – not the mechanics of satisfying demand; that’s customer service – but the process of motivating people to come. Arts marketers today need to be passionate about persuasion. They need to have an evangelist’s zeal for satisfying the needs and desires of willing but under-motivated outsiders.

Marketers who are passionate about their art form can’t wait to tell people how wonderful the product is. But marketers who are passionate about persuasion can’t wait to show people how happy they’ll be when their yearnings are satisfied by the product.

Change

Marketing is a process of monitoring, adapting to and capitalizing on constantly changing external conditions. Good marketers welcome change with enthusiasm and they respond to it with inquisitiveness and innovation. And the best marketers function as change agents who, because they bring external perspectives into their organizations, keep them flexible, relevant and robust.

The sad state of affairs in the arts today is that marketers who are passionate about art have been regurgitating the same self-indulgent promotional nonsense for the last half century with little regard for what’s happening outside their doors – and with steadily diminishing results.

Making Money

Good marketers are passionate about making money. They choose jobs that reward them for their talent and hard work and that help them build resumes that will maximize their career opportunities. And good marketers naturally expect to be well compensated for the results they produce.

Marketers who are passionate about their art forms, however, are often willing to work cheap and to sacrifice professional marketing careers for arts marketing, which is a largely amateur enterprise.

Leaders who buy cheap passion to avoid paying for professionalism will get what they pay for.

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Back in the old days when arts audiences were abundant, it made sense to hire passionate marketers: “Hey! We love this thing were doing and you love this thing were doing so let’s get together.” But those days are gone.

Today arts marketing is a process of finding and persuading people who might come, but who lack self-motivating enthusiasm for the product: “Hey! We love this thing we’re doing and you… well… uh… you… Did we tell you how much we love this thing we’re doing?”

When potential customers lack self-motivating interest, passion alone is unpersuasive and may actually be off-putting. Under-motivated customers need to know what’s in it for them, not what’s in it for you.

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Are there good marketers in the arts who are also passionate about their art forms? Yes. Absolutely. And they should be recognized and rewarded for their achievements. There’s nothing wrong with having passion for the product.

But the arts organizations that survive this audience crisis are likely to be marketed by clear-eyed professionals from outside the bubble – audience-oriented strategists who are as passionate about the process of filling venues as they are about what those venues are there to do.

 

 

 

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Five Copy Rules That Arts Administrators Ignore

Here are five copy writing rules that professional marketers follow closely.

Sadly, arts administrators tend to ignore them.

If you’d like to grow audiences by developing smart marketing content, try this:

Be Customer Centric

If you’re like most arts organizations, virtually all of your marketing content is about you and how wonderful and important you think other people should think you are. This may have worked well back when everybody agreed that you were wonderful and important, but nobody cares about that now. Your future customers want to know if they’re going to have a worthwhile time with their friends or families in your venue.

If you’re just blathering on about how wonderful you are, your marketing content is untethered drivel. But if you write about your customers’ positive experiences with your products, your strategic content will motivate more people to buy.

Know Your Customer

Go stand in your venue and pick out one of the seats you have trouble filling. Do you know the person you’d like to see sitting there? If you don’t, you can’t possibly know how to find her or what to say to her to get her to come.

If you’re like most arts administrators, you toss around vague phrases like “younger, more culturally diverse,” or you complain bitterly about churn, or you sit in conference rooms guessing what new audiences care about, or you’re one of a growing number of arts professionals who believe that data will replace relationships, but that’s all wasteful nonsense. If you want to speak persuasively to the customer who hasn’t yet decided to fill that empty seat, you have to be as well engaged with her as you are with the loyal, long-time subscriber/donor in the center of the tenth row.

Satisfy Desires

Sales is about convincing people that your products will satisfy their desires. To do this you have to learn what your customers want, then you have to describe how your products will make them happy. Write down everything your new customers told you they want, then write down a list of your products’ most salient features. Everything you need to know to create persuasive sales content will be found where these two lists intersect.

If you haven’t learned what your new customers want, you have to go ask them.

(If there’s no overlap between what your customers told you they want and what you’re trying to sell, don’t bother. It’s over.)

Talk Normal

If you’re like most arts organizations, your sales copy is atrocious. It’s old-fashioned, artificial, overblown, presumptuous, selfish and shamelessly boastful (yeah, go look). Effective sales copy, meanwhile, is fresh, natural, generous, customer-centered and confidently assertive. It’s the way you’d speak to a friend who you think might enjoy your next event. If you can’t figure out how to write effective copy, go find a friend who you think might enjoy your next event and record yourself trying to persuade him to come. What you say will probably be the right language for the brochure.

Always Be Closing

Sales copy is like a finely crafted machine. Every part is essential and all parts work together to help the machine do its job. In good sales copy, every word, phrase, sentence and paragraph is designed to impel the reader toward completing the transaction. A good message strategist can point to any part of the copy and describe exactly how it works, alone or with other parts, to close the sale.

If whoever’s developing your strategic sales content can’t describe how it works, they shouldn’t be writing copy.

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Arts leaders can be forgiven – to some extent – for the amateurish way they speak to their communities. No one has ever asked them to use more professional methods. But with audiences in steady decline, it’s worth wondering if this is a good time to stop all the self-indulgent boasting and start speaking to tomorrow’s audiences in a language they can relate to.

If you’re looking for an example of how to do this, here’s a great place to start.

 

 

 

Catastrophic Brand Management at Santa Monica Symphony?

You may have heard that the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra has invited an outspoken anti-gay bigot and right-wing talking head named Dennis Prager to guest conduct at a concert this week. According to music director Guido Lamell, donations were down so he thought Prager’s fans might boost the struggling orchestra’s numbers.

I’ll admit up front that I’m biased in this matter. I have nothing but disdain for Dennis Prager because of the harm he’s done to innocent gay kids, and I think that any orchestra that would align itself with Prager just to suck cash out of his followers’ pockets is despicable. (I spent years volunteering on a suicide prevention hotline for gay teens. I know exactly how much damage men like Prager do, and I am appalled that the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra would give him any sort of platform.)

But this post isn’t about politics, it’s about branding. I read about the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra’s fondness for Prager in The New York Times, of all places. Think of it. A tiny ailing arts organization on the West Coast gets coverage in The New York Times and it’s about the controversy surrounding the Prager incident, not about art. This is probably the most famous The Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra will ever be and the brand message they’ve decided to put forward is this: “We’re perfectly comfortable aligning our organization with an outspoken anti-gay bigot.” (Prager embraces many other right wing ideologies so feel free to replace ‘anti-gay bigot’ here with whichever one you prefer.

The point is not that Prager promotes extreme right wing points of view, it’s that the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra has decided to align itself with those points of view by defending their choice to use Prager to get cash from his followers.

The question everyone’s asking right now is this:

Is it OK to invite outspoken anti-gay bigots to conduct an orchestra?

But the question Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra’s funders should be asking is this:

Is this a fiscally responsible way to manage the orchestra’s brand?

Folks can argue for years about the first question, but the answer to the second question will be evident when this news cycle is over and the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra finds itself relying once again on its community for sustenance.

Brands are reputations. They’re how people think and feel about a product or organization. They’re how people behave toward products and organizations based on the way they think and feel about them. This highly public controversy will undoubtedly influence the way people behave toward the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra for quite some time.

There’s a chance that the controversy will unleash enough long-term loyal support from Prager’s conservative fans to offset the losses among the orchestra’s disaffected liberal supporters, but this seems unlikely. What’s more likely is that in ultra-liberal Santa Monica and surrounding L.A. communities, the taint of the Prager affair will linger among local perceptions of the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra for the rest of its life.

In my mind and in my heart, for example, their brand is damaged beyond repair. I wouldn’t dream of attending a concert or giving money to an organization that celebrates someone like Dennis Prager.

It’s no secret that symphony orchestras are struggling everywhere and that community based orchestras are especially vulnerable. If I were on the board of the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra, I’d be wondering if adding such an ugly taint at this perilous time is a useful way to nurture a healthy future support system.

 

 

What The Heck Is Aggressive Arts Marketing?

Diane Ragsdale has an interesting post on her Jumper blog this week about uncommitted arts audiences. In it she poses this question:

“…is it really reasonable to expect those lured to our events by aggressive marketing or buzz to be sincerely interested in the arts experience and aware of the rules of the game, so to speak?”

Later in the piece she asks:

“Where are we aggressively luring looky-loos rather than inviting participation?”

[Emphases my own]

At Dictionary.com the definition of ‘aggression’ reads as follows:

The action of a state in violating by force the rights of another state, particularly its territorial rights; an unprovoked offensive, attack, invasion, or the like.

Any offensive action, attack, or procedure; an inroad or encroachment.

The practice of making assaults or attacks; offensive action in general.

Pity the unsuspecting community member minding her own business when militant arts marketers kick in her door, drag her off to the box office and force her to buy tickets. I can certainly understand Diane wondering if this woman’s going to be interested in the event, or whether she’s going to be aware of how to behave. I mean, really, who dresses for the theatre on the odd chance that a SWAT team of nonprofit workers will crash in and haul her off to a show?

As for those looky-loos, I think if they’re looking, they’re fair game, but aggressive luring is a tricky business. We tend to station the marketing team along a perimeter around the theatre and position a guy on the roof who shouts “CELEBRATE” every few minutes. If someone looks, we squeeze the perimeter until they’re forced up to the box office window. If they don’t want to buy, we start screaming “SUBSCRIBE NOW” as loud as we can until they’re lured into submission. It’s effective, but once again, expensive and hard on the old vocal chords.

Arts marketing was a lot easier back when people wanted to come, but times have changed and we have a lot of arts organizations to keep in business. If we have to use aggressive means to get reluctant patrons to come down and cough up some cash, it’s all in the service of art, and that’s a cause worth fighting for.

Speaking of art, we’re launching a new campaign next month: Here’s the header and tag line:

A BREATHLESS, HEART-STOPPING, LIFE-ALTERING EVENT!

You don’t want to miss it. No, really, you don’t want to miss it.

 

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fARTy, tARTan underpARTs

Can we please stop capitalizing the word ‘art’ when it appears inside other words?

Seriously.

This is just about the most fatuous practice in arts marketing, and it goes a long way toward explaining why arts organizations are failing to attract new audiences.

If your organization is doing it, you should stop now and swear never to do it again.

If you’re thinking about doing it, consider this:

  1. You are about the ten millionth marketer to come up with the idea
  2. Any idiot can Google the phrase “words that contain A R T”
  3. It’s got everything to do with you trying to be be cute and clever
  4. Nobody thinks you’re cute, and if you’re doing this, you’re not clever
  5. If you think it’s an attention getter, you’re targeting the wrong audience
  6. It does absolutely nothing to motivate people to buy or give
  7. Marketers who are fully engaged with new audiences wouldn’t do it
  8. Executive leaders who understand professional marketing wouldn’t approve it
  9. The artists your organization represents would think it banal
  10. Your graphic designer might do it, but she is not your strategist

The only reason anyone should ever capitalize the letters A R and T inside other words is if their market research has revealed a tendency among less avid patrons to be motivated by graphics that contain artsy wordplay. I’ve been doing market research for thirty years and have never once heard a respondent describe such a motivation.

Older arts patrons accept intuitively that arts organizations adhere to less-than-professional nonprofit standards. This is especially true in marketing where content creation is carried out by amateur insiders who have limited insight into the motivations of outsiders. Back in the olden days, nobody cared if the brochure was dressed up in a bunch of silly nonsense if the core message got through.

But younger, more culturally diverse audiences don’t necessarily understand why their local art museum or advocacy organization, which they think of as professional, would allow itself to project a brand image that’s frivolous or passé.

Arts audiences are in steady decline across the cultural sector. At some point we’re going to have to adopt a more professional, future-oriented approach to communications.

Cutting out this sort of mindless cutesiness is a great place to start.

 

Pop Quiz: It’s All About: _Us _Them _ Both

In my last post, I said that arts marketing is always about the product when, to be effective, it should be more about the customers.

Older arts leaders still cling to a self-centered, self-important style of mid-20th century promotional marketing that places the art, artists and organization in a position of preeminence, while paying only perfunctory heed to what audiences are looking for.

If your organization still uses “it’s-all-about-us” marketing content, here’s a quiz that can help you determine if you should back off the self-congratulatory boasting for a while and start focusing on what your new customers are looking for instead.

Keeping new audiences in mind, answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to these ten questions:

  1. Is there abundant pent up demand for your product? (i.e. Hamilton)
  2. Are you an aspirational luxury product? (i.e. Bentley)
  3. Do people think you brand will elevate their social status? (i.e. Coachella)
  4. Can you afford to be exclusive? (i.e. Mar-a-Lago)
  5. Do you occupy a trendy niche? (i.e. Yeezy)
  6. Are you perceived as being on the cutting edge? (i.e. Tesla)
  7. Is your brand universally familiar and well established? (i.e. Coke)
  8. Is it plainly obvious why an average person would buy? (i.e. McDonald’s)
  9. Are you a huge corporation that can influence public perception? (i.e. Anheuser-Busch)
  10. Do you have access to marketing resources that would enable you to change the answers to 1-9?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, go out into your community, talk to several hundred young, culturally diverse people about your organization, then take the quiz again.

The marketers in the examples above don’t have to be audience centered. Companies that sell popular products can afford to boast about themselves. So can companies that enjoy universal brand recognition or that sell highly desirable luxury products. You might be tempted to compare yourself to these marketers, but if you’re struggling to find new customers for increasingly unpopular arts products, you don’t belong in the same category.

The key to attracting customers for products that are not popular lies in convincing buyers that the product will satisfy their unfulfilled desires. And this means making the content of your communications about their desires and how your product will satisfy them. Or in other words, making it about them.

If new audiences are telling you they want opportunities to do interesting/entertaining things with peers, for example, the content of your marketing should feature people who look like your new audiences having a good time together in your venue. Not all of it, but enough that new audiences can see themselves being made happy as a result of having purchased what you’re trying to sell.

Look at all the marketing content you’ve disseminated in the last three years. How much of it is about you and how much is about them? If you’re like most nonprofit arts organizations, it’s about 95% you and 5% them.

Your goal should be about 50%-50%.

Fifty years ago the answers to the quiz above would have been different. Fifty years ago, arts marketing was all about the art, the artists and the organization. If you’re still using fifty-year-old marketing content to attract new audiences, you have to stop.

Now.

 

Is Marketing About The Customer Or The Product?

If you work in the arts, the answer is:

It’s about the product.

Marketing in the arts is all about promoting our products’ superior qualities. Take a look at just about any arts marketing vehicle and you’ll find the content there devoted exclusively to the art, the artists and the institution. Marketing is about telling the world how wonderful and important we are, and that means making the content of our marketing all about us.

But in the world of commerce, professional marketers know that marketing is about the customers and the extent to which products will satisfy their needs and desires. This is why so much professional marketing features people having their needs and desires satisfied as a result of having purchased the product.

Start looking thoughtfully at the advertising around you and you’ll begin to notice a preponderance of images of people being made happy by products. And you’ll find language that zeroes in on customers’ needs and desires and then describes the way the product satisfies them. In the example here, Hyatt could have featured all sorts of images and copy about its wonderful rooms, conference facilities, restaurants and amenities, but they chose to show a woman being made happy alongside language that addressed her needs and desires.

Professional marketers know that marketing content is about both the customer and the product. It’s about the place where customers and products come together, and how happy the customers will be as a result of this meeting.

If you’re an arts marketer who’s having trouble persuading customers to purchase your products, and your marketing is all about you, consider what would happen if you focused on them instead. What’s more likely to move a potential new customer to come to your concert, a picture of your conductor swinging a baton? Or is it a picture of someone who looks just like your new customer having a great time in your venue?

If you’re like most arts administrators – especially older arts leaders – you’re stammering at your screen right now: “But, but, but… this isn’t how we do it! That’s not us! We’re above pandering to the customer. We don’t descend to their level of needs and desires, they’re supposed to come up to our level of presumption. Art transcends the mundane. It lifts people to a higher plane. We tell them how wonderful and important we are so they’ll be moved to aspire! We exist in an elevated place that people are supposed to know is worth wanting to try to get to. If we come down to them, we may never make it back onto our lofty perches.”

Genius Cartoonist B. Kliban

Here’s the deal. If you don’t connect with people at the level of their needs and desires, you can’t move them. It just won’t work. The only reason self-congratulatory arts marketing ever worked in the first place was that there were a lot of people who believed they needed to aspire, or who possessed an unfulfilled desire for the kind of aspiration that the arts wanted to sell. But that’s just not true anymore.

Effective marketing is about customers’ needs and desires. If you don’t have a large pool of available customers who possess a preexisting, avid, motivating desire to obtain what you’re trying to sell, and you’re devoting all of your marketing content to talking about how wonderful and important you are, the game’s pretty much over.

If on the other hand you have a pool of potential new audiences with a different set of motivating needs and desires, and you use your communications to demonstrate how your products will make them happy, the possibilities are abundant.

I dare you to do what Hyatt did. Publish a picture of people who fit your audience demo having their needs or desires satisfied at an upcoming event. It doesn’t have to be the only image you use, but have the courage to put your customers front and center for a change, and let your product be the background in an experience that’s all about them.