E-marketing E-ssentials: Connection-Seekers - A New Target for Marketers

What if I told you that the particular art you put on the stage isn’t so important after all?

We recently found out that for some arts patrons, this may be true. Although the accepted wisdom is that what happens on the stage or goes on the wall is the key driver of audience development, followed by price, there’s now another factor that seems surprisingly important.

Last month, I offered data about how the recession has affected a large segment of the arts audience, based on research we did last March. That survey got responses from over 10,000 patrons at 23 different arts organizations across the country about their online habits and arts attendance.

In doing that research, we uncovered something unexpected – something that could have a profound impact on how you build your audience. It has to do with “connection-seekers.”

Exactly half of the total audience surveyed said that if they “felt that an arts organization knew them personally,” they would be more likely to attend that organization’s events. What it says to me is that going to an arts event is not like going to a movie, where the film on screen is the attraction and your relationship with the theatre is only incidental. Arts attendance is intensely personal, and this data suggests that a large segment of your patrons wants the experience to be even more personalized. Let’s dub this 50 percent the “connection-seekers.”

I began to think about my own relationship with arts organizations. I know actors and musicians at several organizations, and have a personal relationship with staff members at others. These relationships strongly color my attitude and decision to attend; it seems I’m a connection-seeker too.

This 50 percent is too large a group to ignore. The lesson here is that in an economic era in which finding and building relationships with patrons is getting harder and harder, this notion of catering to “connection-seekers” may be a new avenue for audience development.

And by connection, I’m not talking about simply making sure your box office staff is friendly on the phone. The connection needs to go much deeper, and needs to be more personal. What makes this particularly interesting, and also feasible, is that nearly all of the new and emerging tools that arts marketers have at their disposal today (e-mail and social media in particular) are exactly the tools that can help an arts organization reach these connection-seekers in this more personal way.

Years ago, the corporate world overused the term “one-to-one” marketing which always seemed boring and trite to me. But now I get it. If you know something about a patron – their preferences, their interests, their frequency of giving or attending, or even opening your e-mails — and you use that information to target messages to them that are highly personal, you’re on your way. Too many organizations click the “send to all” button on their e-mail campaigns, which is exactly the opposite of what connection-seekers are looking for.


Patrons today are now routinely experiencing “one-to-one” marketing from big retailers, their car repair shops, or their local restaurant – they follow them on Twitter or Facebook and get personalized e-mails and direct mail offers – and of course they are ready for their favorite arts organization to do the same.

Our analysis of the “connection-seekers” revealed that basic e-mail and social media tools work really well. Indeed, 72 percent of the “connection-seekers” say that when they’re on an arts organization’s e-mail list they feel more connected to that organization, as compared to another organization in their community which they attend, but whose e-mail list they are not on.  And over half that are on e-mail lists say that articles about your events are what they are seeking – not simply announcements or discount codes. Connection-seekers are information seekers. They want to get closer to your organization, and e-mail can make a difference.

About 65 percent of them say that getting e-mail from your organization keeps you on their minds more often, again compared to an organization whose list they’re not on. And development directors ought to play close attention to the fact that 49 percent of connection-seekers say that being on an e-mail list and getting regular communications makes them more likely to donate. Thirty-five percent say that getting e-mail makes them more likely to tell their friends about your organization.

Turning to social media, 67 percent say if they follow an organization on Facebook, the organization is on their minds more often, and 71 percent say they feel more connected as a result of following the organization. It would seem that those patrons that take action to follow your organization, and then get a steady diet of messaging, are pretty significantly influenced by it. And, following this thought through to the Holy Grail — about half (54 percent) say that they attend events of organizations that they follow more often than of those that they don’t follow.

The final surprise about connection-seekers is their demographics – or rather their “lack” of particular demographics. Though we tried, we could not find any demographic vector (age, income, gender) that significantly differentiated the connection-seekers from others.  This means that there is layer across your entire audience that wants to be more connected, and you cannot simply use age or income segmentation to find them. Connection-seekers come in all flavors – and the way to find them is simply to invite them.  Make e-mail sign-up easy, invite social media participation, and then use these tools consistently.

Thinking back to my own days running the American Symphony Orchestra, I could have used this kind of approach in a big way. More often than not, my conductor would program music that seemed “unsellable.” We would labor mightily to get people to come hear music by composers nobody had ever heard of.  Had these tools been available then, we could have reached out to our audience in a much more personal way, and brought people into the hall based on their relationship with us, and not based on simply the name of the composer.

I’ve based this article on one survey, and a theory. Even if I’m all wrong about there being a particular kind of person who’s a “connection-seeker,” all of these marketing strategies that I’m talking about are still worth doing. The world arts patrons are living in is strikingly different than it was even 10 years ago, and it’s clear that a new kind of marketing approach is needed.

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