This article is cross-posted on artsmarketing.org.
Declarations of 2012 as the year of Big Data bring to 2013 a renewed—and well-deserved--focus on analytics and making data-driven decisions. Your organization’s database is the key to the hearts, minds, and wallets of your most fervent supporters—your patrons. Patrons, in other words, are your biggest asset.
Of all the numbers you can pull from your database, which matter most? Two decades of arts consumer study is clear. The metrics surrounding loyalty—keeping patrons coming back and increasing their investment—are the ones that really count when it comes to building a sustainable audience (and revenue) base.
Whether your organization is large or small, performing or visual, subscription or member-oriented, here’s four resolutions to make regarding your data in the year ahead:
The first metric TRG looks at with new clients is the total number of active
patron households in the database—audience members who have done something
with you in the past year. When the total number of all kinds of patrons (ticket buyers, subscribers, members, donors, program attendees, whatever you have) increases every year, the organization’s health improves. If active patron numbers are falling, so are the prospects for growth.
2013 Resolution: Count your patron households, new and returning, for this season to-date and each of the past three to five seasons. Flat or down-trending counts are symptoms of decline. Even if your counts are up, find ways to keep them growing.
Improve your Capture Rate
How can you invite back those coveted new audience members if you’re not getting their name, email address, phone or street address? (Or in a perfect world, all four?)
Getting contact data can be relatively easy when the majority of your sales are done online or over the phone with a well-staffed box office and a good database system. Not everyone has state-of-the art systems and trained sales staff, but there are work-arounds that any organization can use. For example, we’ve seen organizations encourage online ordering with a small price break as incentive and requiring the patron to provide contact information, just as most online retail orders do. Some organizations even have in-person ticket buyers fill out cards with contact information while they’re in line to expedite the process.
2013 resolution: Always ask for this information. The best of the best collect contact data from 90% of new audience members.
Down with Attrition
If your organization is typical, lack of new audiences is not your problem. The real culprit? Holding on to those first-timers after they’ve attended. Improving your capture rate will help, but using that contact information is the must-do. You may lament those patrons that come to a hit show and never return, but are you asking them to come back?
Make it a priority to invite newcomers to another event within a few weeks of their visit. Involve your ticket office in this initiative. They can tell when someone is coming for the first time because in most systems, a “new file” has to be created for that newbie. So, keep the box office informed and encourage them to suggest what else a new patron might enjoy – a similar program, the season’s not-to-be-missed event. Here’s where sharing information and teamwork really pays off!
2013 resolution: Have a plan to invite every new ticket buyer to come back soon. Make the invitation through every channel available to you: mail, email, on the phone, at the box office, and online. In organizations TRG tracks, about one-third of new-to-file patrons return by the next year. That leaves a lot of room for improvement. Any increase in your own repeat-buyer metrics has a positive impact this season and in seasons to come.
Up with First Time Renewals
Another big attrition challenge is with first-time subscribers and members. Research shows that unless new subscribers and members are treated with special care that first year, they don’t renew. For instance, our studies consistently show turnover rates of up to 60% among new subscribers – patrons that organizations spent huge resources on finding and selling in the first place.
That’s why it’s critically important to track new subscribers and members separately from those who have been with you for two or more years. Newbies need different information to become acquainted with you and more specific instruction on how to do everything from finding event locations to parking to filling out a renewal form. Here’s another initiative colleague departments can work on together. Most systems make the new-to-file date apparent. Once new loyalists are marked in your system, the entire patron-facing team can collaborate on making their experience a great one.
2013 Resolution: Team up to identify new subscribers and members. Collaborate on ways to make it hard for them to turn down another year of great art, whether it’s a killer suite of subscriber benefits, an irresistible upgrade, or an opportunity to see something they really want—but only if they renew. America’s best arts practitioners are renewing 50-60% of new loyalists. Every increase in retention has an escalating effect because subscribers and members are more likely to give and most likely to stick with you.
Like that resolution to fit into your college jeans, minding data metrics is no easy task. But the payoff is equally great. You’ll have helped hit revenue goals with more—and more loyal—patrons. And, that’s a great way to start any New Year.