In the arts administration world, there is always a lot of talk about things that relate to the cost of admission. Are prices too high that they are preventing people from attending? Should we offer free events to bring new people in the doors? Quick, let’s do a discount to sell some last-minute tickets!
There is a host of data that shows that discounting and offering free events alone with the aim of reaching new/underserved/low income audiences doesn’t work. (Here is an example, and another, and another for your perusal.) Beyond this data, we know that offering frequent discounts brings the danger of training patrons to wait for a discount, or *gasp* cannibalizing ticket sales with patrons who would usually pay full price take advantage of a discount.
You guys, it isn’t just about the price! Price is not the only thing that determines whether someone is going to attend the opera or visit a museum. There are a host of things that go into that decision, many of which occur days, months, and years before you ever get to the point where you have enough of a relationship with a person to offer them a discount in the first place.
So, what is it about? It is about communicating to your target groups with a narrative that uses compelling messaging and imagery about your organization (and its events) that creates a relationship with them that, over time, becomes strong enough that they take action.
Authentic communication creates value for your product (yes, symphony tickets are products, folks) and when people see the value, they will buy.
What does all that mean?
- Know who you are trying to reach. There is no such thing as creating messaging that will be compelling for every single person in the “general public”. (And even if there were, I can guarantee that you don’t have enough budget to adequately reach the “general public”. #artsorgtruths)
- Talk to people using real words and not jargon. People don’t connect with jargon, they connect with language they can immediately understand. No matter how smart a person is, they are likely to be unfamiliar with your art form. Explain it using simple terms.
- Use images that your target groups will find interesting. If you are trying to get grandparents to bring their grandkids to The Nutcracker, show visuals of grandparents making memories with their grandkids at The Nutcracker. Not every image should be of the product; we need to show the experience people will have.
- Be in it for the long haul. You can’t take this approach for a few weeks before a show and expect overwhelming results. This is a long-term strategy that takes many seasons to play out. I mean, how long did you date your spouse before agreeing to marry them? Probably for quite a while, right? This is the same thing.
- Stop assuming you know what your prospective patrons are thinking. Put yourself in the shoes of who you’re trying to reach. Think critically about what their motivations might be. Perhaps even more importantly, identify what barriers they see in attending. Let’s get over ourselves and think objectively about these things. If you’re too close to the product, find people who will give you their unbiased thoughts. (Check out one of my favorite examples of what happens when we assume.)
Alright. Start today. Now! We don’t have any more time to waste.