E-marketing E-ssentials: Is the Recession Affecting Arts Patrons? It Depends on Who You Ask.

Last March, we surveyed over 10,000 patrons of 23 different arts organizations about their online habits and arts attendance. We found that the ongoing recession is affecting a large segment of the arts-going community, and that the segment thatis being most affected is the audience of the future.

Overall, 62 percent of respondents said that because of the recession they have changed their arts-going behavior. For the purposes of this article, let’s call them the “recession-affecteds” (RAs). These RAs are slightly younger than the “unaffected” group – 53 percent are under 55 years old. 71 percent of them are women, compared to 60 percent of those who said they are not affected by the recession. The average income of RAs is about $101,000; those who say they are not affected have an average income of about $136,000.

Let’s look at what the RAs are saying about their arts-going habits. 62 percent say they are attending fewer performances. On average, they say they’re going to about six performances per year, compared to eight for the audience that is not affected by the recession. That’s a drop of 25 percent.

Unsurprisingly, the RAs are focused on affordability. 53 percent say that ticket prices are too high. 52 percent are seeking discount tickets, and 38 percent say they are buying less expensive seats when they do go.  Price shopping isn’t the only way that they are changing their habits. 16 percent said that they are now more open to “trying new things” because of the recession, which seems like good news for arts organizations seeking a new audience.

So in summary, the people most affected by the recession are generally younger and less affluent, and are seeking discounts and buying less expensive tickets.  What this data suggests is that if your ticket sales are not diminishing despite this, it is likely because the slack is being made up by your older, wealthier traditional audience.

That said, the research also suggests new ways of reaching those RAs. Consider this: Over 57 percent of RAs said that they use the Internet more than they did in the year before, and 63 percent said that when they’re on your e-mail list they feel more connected to your organization. If there ever was a time to build your e-mail marketing program, now is it!

About 45 percent said that they visited a social networking site within the last week, and 18 percent said they follow an arts organization on Facebook or Twitter. What’s fascinating is that 53 percent of those that follow organizations on a social media site claimed that they participated with that organization more often. Arts managers that still need to convince upper management or board members of the value of social media — here’s your ammunition.

About 74 percent of the RAs said that it makes a difference to them when an arts organization seems to know them personally. We’re in a whole new world of arts marketing and audience development, and in next month’s article I’ll explore this further.

Overall, it seems that those organizations that can harness technology and techniques to build personal relationships with younger arts patrons have a better chance of engaging with them and motivating them to attend, even in this volatile and difficult economic climate.

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