The Case for “Premium Full Price” Tickets

Last week, after much consideration, I decided against buying a ticket for a show I really wanted to see because I could only find full-price tickets. Though I’m not an expert in arts ticket pricing, I am a frequent arts ticket buyer, and, truth be told, I feel a bit silly every time I do buy a ticket full price.

I know that at any given time there are usually discounts available, so the idea of buying a ticket at face value is never my first choice. When I do end up making that full-price purchase I am often left feeling that somehow I got a bad deal. Yes, it turns out that I am that stereotypical arts patron who’s been conditioned to look for a coupon, discount code, or some other incentive.

And yet, even though discounts are the norm, I read articles all the time about the detrimental effect of discounting. Tim Baker wrote a guest post for our blog, and I read this compelling post by Colleen Dilenschneider in the past few weeks.

I also work with the very marketers that create these discounts, and the stories I’m hearing from them suggest the possibility of a new approach towards people like me. More and more, I hear that the highest priced tickets are the ones that generally sell out. And the success stories I read about dynamic pricing are all about how organizations generate more money by dynamically raising their ticket prices. In the sports world there’s a $5 billion industry for secondary-market tickets (like StubHub) that only exists because many people are willing to pay more for tickets than their face value.

It seems we should be moving in a new direction. Rather than focusing on new and better ways to lower prices on tickets, why don’t we spend as much time figuring out how to add more value for those who could buy tickets at full price? Strictly speaking, I could have afforded that ticket I didn’t buy last week; I just chose not to buy it because it didn’t seem like a great value. Ticket-buying is more an emotional decision than a logical one, and I want to feel good when I buy a full-price ticket, not like I’ve relented or failed to get the best possible deal.

I think we ought to institute an industry-wide price category called “Premium Full Price” (PFP) which makes people (like me) feel special when we buy at full price.

The reality is that the arts industry does this already. Subscribers get to exchange privileges or get to keep their seats year after year or get discounts at restaurants near the hall. Well, let’s rethink and start giving these kinds of special preferences to single ticket buyers as well. The benefit of this simple PFP approach is that you don’t have to create separate ticket prices, discount codes, or change your current pricing or operations in any way; you simply tack on a bunch of ancillary benefits for buying at full price then utilize your CRM and ticketing technology to its full potential.

Here are a few ideas for these Premium Full Price tickets. Some are more immediately realistic than others, but because enough of these ideas don’t require any extra staff time or cost they should get you thinking:

  1. Enable PFP buyers to enter the venue early or through a separate door or in some other way that gives them special access. And make sure they know this when they arrive: mark their tickets as “PFP” and ask your ushers to say something special as they show up.
  2. Offer the PFP buyers a free glass of wine or soft drink at the bar or even enable them to pre-order a free credit they can use at the bar. (Even the lost few dollars that the wine costs you is much less than the money you lose on a discount ticket.)
  3. Allow them to park in a better section of the parking lot or give them free valet parking. Anything along these lines is something you can offer that doesn’t cost you extra but still adds convenience or makes people feel special.
  4. Offer a discount at the gift shop or even a free something or other at the gift shop — maybe a pen — that will get them to go into your shop in the first place. I am sure most won’t even pick up the free gift, which is another reason to offer it. The idea simply makes them feel special.
  5. Online exchanges and credits: Allow PFP buyers online exchange privileges. We all know people’s plans change, which means that plenty of people wait until the last minute to buy their single tickets. So why not remove the obstacle and let full-price ticket buyers go online, exchange their tickets, and pick other tickets? And if their plans change, let them have a stored credit on your system that they can use until the end of the season.
  6. Let PFP buyers forward their tickets to a friend. If they can’t use their tickets, let them log on and transfer them to their friends online, without having to send the physical tickets into the box office.

Then, of course, the work comes in once you have these PFP buyers in your database: they become a new marketing segment and your job is to treat them differently from other ticket buyers. From this point forward, you send them premium offers or subscription offers knowing that value rather than price is what drives them. Start moving them up your fundraising ladder; they have already demonstrated that price isn’t their issue.

This is all easier, naturally, if you have technology that does all this for you, and that’s where CRM systems such as PatronManager CRM come into play, a system where you can easily identify specific patrons in your database for customer service and marketing.

In a world where nobody wants to raise prices, here’s an approach that rewards people for behaving in exactly the way you want them to. I for one would be that PFP ticket buyer, and I suspect many of your patrons would too.

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