Are You Creating Super Fans?

Today’s post was written by guest blogger Eric Saber, Account Specialist, here at Patron Technology.

I love burgers. One might consider me to be a burger enthusiast. I also love French fries and milkshakes. So, you can imagine my delight when I found out that the Midwestern burger chain Steak ‘n Shake was setting up shop in New York City (around the corner from Patron Technology’s offices, no less). This was going to be a match made in burger heaven.

Then it happened. Not only was Steak ‘n Shake opening within spitting distance of our office, but its first 150 customers on opening day were being treated to vouchers for a year’s worth of free burgers, fries, and shakes weekly. Unbelievable, right?

I decided to wake up early on the day of the grand opening and try my luck. Through some combination of good fortune (there was a horrible rainstorm that morning) and tenacity, my coworker and I were the 79th and 80th customers in line, respectively. I couldn’t believe it: we won the prize!

Now, I had barely even heard of Steak ‘n Shake, much less tried any of its food before that day I won a year’s worth of free burgers, fries, and shakes. So why did I act like a crazy person and wait in line, in a rainstorm, on a freezing cold January morning in New York City? Because the deal was so unbelievable I couldn’t resist it.

What does this have to do with the arts?

A funny thing happened on that morning last month. Not only did I witness a frenzy of media coverage of this event, but I became part of that frenzy. Over the course of a few hours, I also found that I had become an evangelist of the food and of the chain itself. I think my experience is a case study in how to create a “super fan.”

I know, I know — you’re thinking “the arts can’t be compared to a fast food stand” and “deals and offers from sites like Groupon often leave a bad taste in our mouths.” Stick with me, though, because I think the arts world can learn a big lesson from my burger experience.

No, arts organizations do not need to offer “freebies” necessarily but should instead aim to offer something that is unbelievable, something so great that it would not only incentivize people who normally wouldn’t be the first to come to your performances but would also excite them enough to become your mouthpiece.

The key here is that your unbelievable deal should hinge on customers making some kind of effort or commitment to prove themselves worthy of the deal. The main difference between my burger experience and a Groupon deal, for instance, is that with Groupon you basically get something for nothing. You don’t have to be a super fan, because you don’t have to do anything other than click a button and buy the deal.

I’m not currently a subscriber to any arts organizations. But I have an interest in the arts, and I know that there are tons of people just like me out there. What if a theater (depending on the size of its venue, of course) gave 100 tickets to every event for the year either at very low cost or for free to the first 100 people in line the week before its first show’s opening? Can you imagine the word of mouth this might generate? The winners could be your newest super fans and would tell all their friends (and hopefully bring their friends with them). I know that I would jump at this kind of opportunity. And, I know some will cringe at the idea of giving away anything for free like this because it lowers the perceived value (such as another guest blogger a few weeks ago), but I’m arguing that the “incredible” aspect will be worth it.

Here’s a high-tech example of a similar proposition. The file-sharing and data storage service Dropbox first gained exposure and word of mouth through a referral program that had a two-sided incentive for sharing. The idea was that any new user who signed up through the referral link of an existing user automatically got more storage space than he or she would through signing up normally. And then the referrer got additional space as well. Dropbox had astounding success with this program (the service reports a permanent 60% increase to its sign-ups).

Imagine if a dance company offered a referral program that gave previous season subscribers the new subscriber rate and the first 35 new subscribers an even better deal than the regular new subscriber price.  What if, on top of that, the company threw in extras, like free wine and/or free parking or a free coat check before the performance for those first 35 new subscribers?  This is the kind of practical, but terrific deal that the arts world could embrace to expand its reach into new audiences.

Everyone in my office is extremely jealous that my coworker and I won the burger deal. But everyone also wants to go try Steak ‘n Shake, not just because it’s so close in proximity, but because we’ve been raving about it. I firmly believe that these same principles can be applied to your audiences. If you can create innovative and brilliant ways to incentivize not only current patrons but new patrons to become your biggest fans, you’ll open a door to people who didn’t even see there was a door there at all.

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