It’s February, the month when our hearts naturally turn to romance. Here at TRG, we’re also thinking about romancing arts and cultural patrons. We call it “cultivating loyalty,” and it’s a lot like beginning a romantic relationship. It starts with a first “date,” or the first time a patron buys a ticket or admission. What happens next determines whether the date will lead to a long-term, committed relationship or a one-night stand.
Let us suggest a Valentine theme for your important patron activities this month. As you’re planning subscription renewal, fiscal yearend giving, or admissions for summer festivals and during peak visitation season, think: “Be Mine” rather than simply “Buy Now.” Of course you need to focus on revenue. But, to get there, remember each of these efforts is about building relationships with your patrons. Like a romance, patron relationships evolve step-by-step, over time to become lasting and lifelong.
With love—and loyalty— in the air, we’ve put together 3 ways to attract and keep the patrons of your dreams, those who will stick with you:
1. Get their digits.
In the dating world, when someone asks you out, you exchange contact information. You want to be able to contact that person if something goes awry on the day you’re going out. More importantly, you may want that information to ask this person on a second date.
Arts organizations face and fight challenges in collecting full contact information. We’re reminded of the ticket office counsel of our late colleague Todd Scarce: Collecting patron contact information is not only your responsibility; left unattended to, it’s also your liability. Knowing who’s in your galleries, theatre, or concert hall is critically important, especially in case of an emergency. And of course, you’ll want to set up another date with them. You can’t call them without their phone number—or send an offer without a street or email address.
Read more about collecting patron contact information, including creative ideas for collecting contact information outside the box office in our “Loyalty, Actually” blog post.
2. In loyalty building, the second date is more important than the first.
Often, the love affair between organization and audience is a bit one-sided. Patrons go on one date with us and have a good time but, as with many relationships, follow-up communication is an issue. Maybe the organization doesn’t think to say “thanks” and extend another invitation. The patron may go months without hearing from us, if at all. Or, they get a “to all” email, as opposed to something personal.
Or, maybe the organization is too busy dating around. Our industry’s focus on new audiences can cause marketers and development professionals alike to focus so much on acquiring new patrons, and little or nothing on keeping the patrons we already have.
Seattle Repertory Theatre started a program for retaining first-time single ticket buyers that proves the importance of the second date. The SRT team consistently and repeatedly asked new buyers to come again during their first season, which led to triple the retention rate among new single ticket buyers, even in the midst of the recession. See a webinar about their success here or read the case study here.
3. Make the RIGHT next move.
While some organizations don’t ask patrons to come back enough, some ask too much and right away. Imagine that you’ve gone on one date with someone and then you get a text asking you to dinner Thursday. Then, before you even have dinner, this person sends an email about a weekend trip and calls to ask if you’d like to meet his or her parents. Unless you’re really into him or her, you’re going to want this person to back off.
The same thing happens when an organization makes an offer for the next show AND a subscription ask AND an annual fund letter. There’s a small chance that they could donate or subscribe (some people DO get married in Vegas), but best chance you have is to make the most appropriate ask (the next show) and nothing else—for now. A large part of SRT’s success had to do with the fact that they only asked for that “second date” and not a subscription or donation.
Of course, some in your audience are now ready for something more serious, like subscribing and donating. As subscription and new donor acquisition campaigns approach, it’s time to think about who is most likely to say “yes” to these offers. Make these folks the right offer and you could live happily ever after. For information on making patrons the right offer to upgrade, check out our slides from our webinar “The Art of the Upgrade.”