Millennial Engagement Through
Subscriptions and Membership Models
Today’s guest blog post is written by Marques Hollie, Sales Engineer, Patron Technology.
I recently read a blog post by TRG Arts that provided an excellent summary/analysis of a detailed research study on the subscription model for symphony orchestras authored by Oliver Wyman (commissioned by the League of American Orchestras). The article really got me thinking about the role millennials will play in the future of arts and cultural organizations.
Every few months, it seems someone in the blog sphere brings a doomsday message about the state of the arts in this country, often citing that the attrition rates of older patrons are not being recouped because younger audiences, millennials specifically, are not interested in patronizing the arts the way previous generations did. While ensuring the health of arts and cultural organizations even in the best of times can be challenging, it seems disingenuous to blame the decline of an organization’s patron base primarily on younger audiences choosing not to attend or engage with an organization.
In my role as Sales Engineer here at Patron Technology, I am often involved in conversations about adding value. As a millennial, member of a major art’s organization’s membership program, and a musician, I think the central question in developing younger audiences that convert into lifelong patrons of your organization is: “How do we show the inherent value of a relationship with our organization?”
Think about your current patron base (donors, subscribers, single ticket buyers, etc…), chances are your organization didn’t just inherit that patronage, and even if it did, you undoubtedly work to retain and expand those relationships — whether it’s surveying ticket buyers on season programming, providing benefits for continued financial support, or offering a discount to single ticket buyers on their first subscription purchase. The Oliver Wyman study recommends several actions for symphony orchestras, but the core of those actions can be applied to all types of cultural organizations. I’d like to highlight two of them:
- “Diversify the available combinations of customizability and package sizes” — The study notes that there is a demand for both small, fixed (“curated”) subscription packages, as well as larger, customizable subscriptions (“flex pass”). I couldn’t agree with this more, so much so, that I had to restrain myself from yelling, “YES”, when I read it. I’ve been a member of an organization for about two years now, and I was so excited for the 2016-2017 season programming that I was thinking about becoming a subscriber. What stopped me from taking this next step in my relationship with the organization was the lack of flexibility. All of the packages were fixed and an email inquiry to the subscription office confirmed that patrons are not given the option to create their own subscription package, but I was welcome to buy a fixed package and exchange any of those concerts for concerts I wanted to attend. Hard pass.
- “Offer memberships that are completely divorced from ticket buying” — The idea here is that your organization is offering a sense of exclusivity and belonging without requiring attendance at a specific quantity of performances. Perks of membership could include: members-only ticket offers, early access to single ticket sales, members-only events outside of the concert hall, discounts on merchandise, etc. One of the benefits I enjoy as a member is discounted tickets at the beginning of the month (while supplies last); I’ve been able to see some great performances I wouldn’t have otherwise taken a chance on and for that I am grateful! As I’ve seen other arts organizations implement membership programs like this, something to be aware of is price points and how those can create barriers to entry. For example, if the least expensive tier of your membership tier is several hundred dollars, think about offering scheduled, recurring payments rather than requiring it all up front.
If I had to summarize TRG’s analysis and the study in one sentence, it would be: your organization probably already has the tools it needs to cultivate and retain younger audiences, but you need to rethink how you use them; innovate. Investing in a CRM system helps teams and individuals make smart, data-driven decisions on how to most effectively use those tools and product offerings to ensure the vitality of your organization.