2020 Predictions with 2020 Foresight?

My colleague Chad Bauman, who runs marketing at Arena Stage, wrote me a few weeks ago with an intriguing idea. He’s invited a group of leading arts execs and thought leaders to write guest posts for his blog, responding to the question “what’s the biggest marketing challenge in the next 10 years?”

There are already two excellent entries by Rick Lester at TRG and Tom Cotts, from Ailey. His blog is http://arts-marketing.blogspot.com. Here’s a preview of my entry, which should be posted in the next few days:

The biggest marketing challenge arts marketers will face in the next decade is not technology, budgets, or audiences — it’s THEMSELVES. As the Web continues to evolve, arts patrons and consumers will have more choices and options literally at their fingertips. Will arts marketers step up and innovate, or be left behind?

A decade ago, in the middle of the dot-com crash, few would have predicted the rapidity with which the Internet would not only rebound, but forge unexpected and profound changes in how we now communicate with each other. In a short decade the very fundamentals of marketing have been challenged and reshaped.

During these past 10 years, the corporate world embraced this transformation much more quickly than did the arts. It wasn’t simply because they had more money, because the truth is smart Web-based marketing doesn’t need to be expensive. Those entities that the arts compete with for consumers’ time quickly recognized the potential that new technology could afford them, and made huge strides in improving their Web sites, generating paid Web traffic, selecting easier to use e-commerce technology, and investing time and effort in leveraging social media.

In fact, the commercial entertainment industry was one of the first to embrace social media. Even Broadway producers (not often known for innovation) are catching on. Though a few forward-thinking arts organizations have made strides in improving their online presence, not enough have.

According to our 2010 Patron Technology National Arts Patron Survey (March 2010), in which 10,000 arts patrons responded, only 20% indicated that they “always, or almost always” rely on arts organizations’ Web sites for their arts-going planning. And just 39% indicated that arts Web sites had improved in the last year. There’s a lot of ground to be made up here.

Looking ahead towards the next decade, I think it seems obvious that the rate of change wrought by the Web will continue to accelerate. In the next few years, the computer monitor will morph into your home television screen. Watching a live theater performance or concert produced by a cultural organization streamed over the Internet will become commonplace. The Met Opera has already proven what that kind of thing does to generate demand for the live event itself.

Geo-location technology will also be a game-changer. Your mobile device will be able to tell you (while you sit at a restaurant checking your e-mail) what movies are starting within a mile of your location, in the next hour. Will arts events be listed as well?

Will arts leaders embrace changes like these and be like the creative entrepreneurial people they clearly are when they focus on producing for the stage? Or will they lag behind on the technology front and watch other forms of entertainment race ahead, as has happened during the last decade?

If arts marketers decide collectively to convince their boards and funding community that it is imperative that they get ahead of the technology curve, then there’s a chance that the arts industry can blaze a trail that other entertainment art forms will envy.

The biggest challenge is not the change itself, but whether we’ve got the guts as an industry to embrace the change and go after it.

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