Staying on Target

Practically the first thing I learned when I started working at PatronManager in March 2005 was the importance of targeted marketing. It was the main premise of Gene’s book Wired for Culture and the educational seminars he was presenting (and I was managing) at the time: In marketing, you should set goals, measure your results, and always target your messaging.

I didn’t know much about arts administration until then — I’d been heavily involved in theatre in college, but the idea of “marketing” in any way other than hanging up posters and haranguing my friends to come to a show was all new to me. But the message sunk in quickly, and if you asked me or any of my colleagues any time in the last decade, “What’s the most important idea to remember in arts marketing?” we’d all say in unison without hesitation, “SEGMENT YOUR AUDIENCE!” (There’s a whole section of Breaking the Fifth Wall on this topic as well.)

Recently, though, I’ve had a few hilarious moments where I’ve been reminded that there’s a difference between knowing something by heart and actually remembering to put it into practice. I’ve had multiple conversations in the last few months where I’ve been brainstorming with folks about a new strategy, or getting advice from someone about a new initiative, and at some point in the conversation I’ll just laugh and summarize, “So, you’re saying we should segment our audience and send targeted messages?”

These principles may be etched into our brains, but we still need to be mindful, and we still need to get creative when it comes to figuring out just what the concepts look like in action for any given campaign.

So, targeting: are you doing it? Are you reaallllly doing it? When you’re getting ready to promote your new season, or boost sales for a particular show, or get over the finish line for your year-end fundraising effort, do you step back every time and make sure each human on that list is receiving a message designed to speak to them directly? Repeat attendees vs. first-timers, full-price buyers vs. discount-driven folks, local supporters vs. fans from afar… there are plenty of ways to drill down into your data to send more effective asks.

I know the idea of targeting is ingrained in every arts marketer’s mind (thus the intense focus at NAMP on learning more about where our audiences are coming from), but it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on what that really looks like for your organization. There’s no worse term in our industry than the dreaded “e-blast” that shoots out to everyone on the list indiscriminately — personal connections drive this business, and a well-targeted email is still your best marketing tool. Picture this whenever someone says “e-blast:”

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