Arts Marketing: Everyone Wants to Feel a Little Bit Special

Arts Marketing: Feel Special

Last month I flew Virgin America four times in one week, and by the last flight I felt I should get some kind of reward. Mind you, I’m not complaining about Virgin, which offers an outstanding service overall. But it got me thinking about customer recognition.

I recalled that on my birthday last month I got a $25 gift certificate in the mail from a Turkish restaurant I went to once, years ago. And my health club sent me a similar coupon. Then as I was packing for my trip, I got an email from Hertz telling me I had been upgraded (because of my gold status) to a sports car, and they even told me the type of car it was going to be. So all the way to L.A., I looked forward to picking up my car at Hertz.

The next day I had a conversation with a consultant who described how, after analyzing the patron database of one of her clients, she found that half of the patrons show up multiple times a year. We started talking about how the organization might start recognizing these repeat attenders in some special way.

The essential truth of arts marketing is that the art itself is usually a key factor driving the decision to attend for the first time. When it comes to repeat visits, however, the challenge for the marketer is to help the patron build a relationship with the organization more generally. Not everyone will like everything all the time, so it becomes important to make patrons feel connected, regardless of what’s on the stage or on the wall.

The best way I can think of to do this is to make them feel special in unexpected ways. And the first thing to do is to segment your audience and treat different segments appropriately. I’m suggesting small things that don’t cost the organization much but are memorable. Doing something is better than doing nothing, and the gesture is nearly as meaningful as the reward.

I realize that organizations have varying venue sizes — from 50 seats to several thousand. So some of these ideas won’t work in all cases. But in many cases, you can line up some volunteers or a few interns and you’re all set.

Consider these ideas:

1. Welcome notes: You know where these patrons are sitting, and something as simple as a hand-signed welcome note taped to the seat from the executive director will get their attention.

2. Gift bags: You’ve probably been to galas where there’s a gift basket of items, typically donated by local companies looking to gain access to your exclusive audience. Why wait for a gala? Why not solicit for giveaways all year long, and make it an ongoing activity?

3. Backstage visits: I don’t know anyone who isn’t thrilled by an invitation to go backstage after the show.

4. Something signed: How about giving patrons a program signed by the lead actor, director, or artist/musician?

As long as we’re on the subject of recognition, you need not reserve this special treatment only for when your best patrons are in the hall. Recently, I’ve noticed that every call I have with American Express starts with the representative thanking me for being a card member and citing the year I started with Amex.

The glue that underlies all these things, of course, is a proper CRM system that helps you segment and document how you relate to and reach out to your best patrons. With the right technology, it all becomes a natural part of your ongoing activities, and I’ll bet you start seeing your renewal rates and repeat attendance rates going up.

Start thinking creatively — everyone wants to feel a bit special. It’s not about how much you spend; it’s about the fact that you do it at all.

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