TRG blog: Loyalty, Actually

Loyalty, Actually

Photo by Todd Huffman via flickr.
Photo by Todd Huffman via flickr.

Stop me if you’ve heard this plot point before in a romantic comedy: Boy meets girl. Sparks fly. Boy and girl have a meaningful, energizing interaction. But, neither can work up the courage to ask for the other’s phone number.

In a rom-com, the writers would find a cute, funny way for the two to bump into one another again. But we all know in real life, that rarely happens. Each goes their separate way thinking the other isn’t interested.

At TRG we often compare arts organizations’ patron relationships to dating. We counsel clients to “Love the ones you’re with” to remind them to prioritize subscribers, members and donors.  We exclaim “Don’t ask them to marry you on the first date!” to illustrate why marketers should offer another performance instead of a subscription to a first-time attendee. 

But the biggest problem we see is organizations getting up the courage to ask for new patrons’ phone numbers—and street addresses and email addresses—all the data we might need to get to know our audience better. Why is it so important? Up to 4 out of 5 new audience members will never come back to a given organization. And, our research shows, they might also leave thinking an organization is not interested in seeing them again. 

Why? Because organizations don’t (or can’t) invite them back for a second “date”.  And therein ends what could have been a beautiful loyalty relationship. So, what to do?

Fear not.

Too many organizations are afraid to ask, assuming most patrons will say “no”.  In two decades of client experience we’ve found that’s simply not true. Some patrons will refuse, and in those cases we advise giving an appropriate response to a patron’s “no, thank you.”   Try: “Of course, we hope you enjoy being with us and that you’ll come back again!” If pressed (which may occur rarely) suggest that your organization thrives on continuing relationships with patrons and that’s why you ask for a way to contact them.  Make it clearwith a smilethat you’ll honor their wishes.

Make it seamless.

Increasingly, patrons buy tickets with credit cards.  A full address and phone number serve as verification of their billing address.  It’s a good business practice to request full contact information as part of the credit card transaction. Ticketing systems and online ticketing resources allow you to collect or download full contact information as part of a patron’s history.  Adding this one practice to your operations can quickly and seamlessly add to your ability to ask for that second date.

We want it all.

Make a commitment to ask for all of the following: 
  • full name
  • street address
  • city, state, zip
  • phone number
  • email address

Obviously, having all of this information makes it possible to run multi-channel campaigns (a postcard followed by an email, for example). It also makes your data easier to update later if contact information changes. Additionally, if you ever want to append more data, like demographic or behavioral information, you’ll need a multi-point match on those data points. 

Many ways to ask

Here are ideas we’ve shared or heard during the recent conference season: 

Incentivize online sales. The great thing about online forms is that you can require each of the fields I listed above. With browser features like Chrome’s Autofill, many people breeze through them quickly and mindlessly without having to type much of the information.  Make sure you verify email by having them type it twice. Also make sure your online sales system can deliver contact information to you regularly and without hassle. 

Consider offering a modest discount for those who buy online. EMP Museum for example, started discounting online purchases and tripled their patron data capture rate. Essentially, you lose money for every patron that you don’t collect information on, so a $1 or $2 discount for those who buy online rather than at the door is a small price to pay. 

Start an Ambassador program. We fondly recall Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre selecting “Ambassadors” from their school. These friendly, attractive young dancers collect cards asking for contact information from the audience during intermission. Apparently, they are hard to say “no” to; audience members fill out and submit their cards.

“Help us help you.” When lines get long at will call, some organizations have their friendliest volunteers help patrons fill out cards with their contact information while waiting to be served. Volunteers let patrons know that filling out the cards would speed up the process—and it does. All the information gets entered into the database as soon as ticket office time permits and patrons don’t have to spend extra time spelling their last name for box office staff.

Use an audience survey. Many organizations include an audience survey in the program, and ask for contact information to enter the patron in a raffle. Prize ideas include tickets, a CD of the group performing, or a dozen roses. Make it clear when and where patrons should turn it in—and make sure those details make sense. For example, if you ask about the entire performance, ask for the card back at the end of the performance instead of at intermission.

Reward them. Ideas we’ve heard include a Hershey’s Kiss, $1 off the next ticket, or simply the pen they used to fill out the card. These ideas cost a small amount of money, but they easily pay for themselves when those “one-and-done” patrons become repeat attendees.

Use it or lose them.

Once you’ve got that information, use it. Send an email. Send a postcard. Give them a call. However you do it, thank them for coming and suggest another event they might be interested in. Don’t let the person who could be your dream patron just walk away. Instead, try to turn what could have been a fleeting, but romantic, missed connection into a long-term relationship.



Posted June 24, 2013
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Related Articles
05.07.2013 TRG Webinar: Plant Loyalty Now
Case Study: EMP Museum
Does data collection matter? Only if you care about revenue.
Love is in the Air: 3 Ways to Romance Your Patrons
Patron Based Marketing in the Digital Age [slideshow]


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