Saturday, May 26, 2018

What’s Wrong with Arts Marketing?

Subscriptions are down. Classical music isn’t cool. Organizations rely more and more on fundraising, and most artists don’t know how to market themselves. But when other industries are exploding, why can’t the performing arts follow suit? 

First, let’s look at where things stand. In fact, there is a lot of money being spent on arts marketing in the United States, yet many audience segments are declining. Why is this?

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but there is one glaring observation. Performing arts institutions are often not as creative or nimble as the products they produce. Many performing arts institutions have a hard time adapting to change, especially as it relates to marketing, messaging, and consumer interaction, even when it is staring them in the face(book).

The average performing arts organization (opera, symphony, dance, general music and performing arts) spends $243,236 per year on non-personnel marketing expenses (SMU). This amount is usually higher for opera and symphony orchestras of course. With an estimate of 31,000 performing arts organizations in the US (Guidestar), there is an estimated $7.5 billion being spent on performing arts marketing each year. Much of this is being spent in traditional ways, yet evidence shows that more and more audience members don’t trust traditional marketing. 

In short, those marketing dollars aren’t spent in the right way. Let’s look at consumer behavior: 84% of consumers report always or sometimes taking action based on personal recommendations. 70% said they did the same with online consumer opinions (Nielsen). When it comes to trust, 93% of shoppers’ buying decisions are influenced by social media- because 90% trust peer recommendations. But only 14% trust advertisements.(#Socialnomics 2014)

Still, much of the performing arts industry marketing is based on traditional and ineffective techniques such as ad placements, radio, and institutionally driven, top-down, messages. There isn’t much of a vocabulary for influencer or peer-to-peer marketing in traditional performing arts. It’s new. It’s scary. There’s pressure not to fail, and thus not to experiment. I get it.

As an Arts Executive, I often heard things like “why aren’t we in the local paper more.” “How do we get more posters put up around town.” There are decades of tradition that dictate arts marketers need to just do more of what used to work. But doing more of what doesn’t work as well anymore, well…doesn’t work.

Of course, when you’re in an arts institution with all that history, it’s hard to just flip a switch. You risk alienating traditional audiences. You risk a time period in which ticket sales may go down as you experiment with new marketing tactics and spend time learning who your audience will be for the next 20 years. Because most arts non-profits sit just barely on the edge of profitability, no board or executive wants to see a short-term slump in ticket sales, even if the long-term effect will be positive. 

But if you’re reading this and need some more data to show that the long-term effect is worth it, here you go:

·     Consumer-consumer communication is the primary factor behind 20-50 percent of all purchasing decisions (McKinsey)
·      74% of consumers identify word of mouth as a key influencer in their purchasing decision (Ogilvy)
·      Overall trust in earned media, such as word of mouth and recommendations is increasing while trust in traditional paid advertising is decreasing (Nielsen)
·     8-10 percent of consumers are “influentials” and their message has four times more impact on the purchaser’s decision (McKinsey)
·     93% of shoppers’ buying decisions are influenced by social media- because 90% trust peer recommendations. But only 14% trust advertisements. (#Socialnomics 2014)
·     89% of millennials trust recommendations by friends or family more than claims by brands (Kissmetrics)
·     Millenials are 44% more likely to trust experts, who happen to be strangers, than advertisements (Hubspot)

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