In 2012, TRG bloggers are taking a fresh look at data and trends that inform risks worth taking, best practices worth hanging onto, and assumptions worth challenging – each in time for action to be taken.
The operative word in the title question is: think, as in assume. The more TRG studies patron behavior, the more we realize how often and how much even the smartest managers make wrong assumptions about the patrons who are visiting their exhibits or sitting in the seats of their theatres, concert halls and arenas.
Take the question: Who in attendance at an arts event has been here before? A 2011 TRG patron origination study told us: only about half. We say “only” because the prevailing conventional wisdom was that most patrons—75% or more—are repeat ticket buyers, subscribers, or members. In fact there are so many new patrons in America’s audiences that the study’s author, TRG Vice President Will Lester dubbed it, Every Night is Opening Night. See Will’s 6-minute video presentation on the study here:
Knowing that a large population of new-to-you or new-to-the arts patrons make up your audience should challenge some other assumptions like:
No, really, my audience is old and has been coming for decades. The only way to be sure is to look for new-to-file patrons and track them. Once you do that, deeper analysis can tell you when new audiences tend to show up and for what, and what they are willing to pay.
Seriously, people love us and keep coming back. Sorry—survey says that four out of five new single ticket buyers come once and are never seen again. That’s why you keep track of new-to-file patrons. They will come back if they are welcomed and invited back appropriately. But you have to make that effort strategically and at the right time.
Hold on. Our new Twitter campaign (or e-mail, Google ad campaign, season brochure, website, etc.) is so good it will bring in everyone this season. If only it were ever that easy—or true! Is your exciting new campaign developed for the right prospects? Does it speak meaningfully to existing patrons and newcomers? Or, does it tell your story the way you think is right? TRG campaign research consistently shows that newcomers respond differently to information you typically give insiders like subscribers, members or donors. Plus, your campaign messages have to go out by the right delivery media to reach the right prospects. It’s still direct response—snail mail, email, targeted online advertising and communication, telemarketing, telefunding—that’s fueling audience development. And, not just one medium, a sound mix is needed.
Well, I won’t trade lists. Don’t ask me to let my competitors steal my patrons. Guess what? Nobody’s stealing anything. As we've written before, the best patrons are active with multiple organizations. Research is clear on this point: your best patrons are also good, better or best patrons at other arts and entertainment organizations in your community. Plus, as patron origination analysis tells, one in four of all new-to-file customers have already attended another local organization’s offerings.
Anyway, I have to cut my budget so I’ll just put money behind the events that need help. Sound the warning alarm on this one. Another consistent finding of patron behavior study is that new audiences turn up more often and in larger numbers for the best-selling shows, concerts, events, and exhibits. Tight resources are needlessly wasted on the wrong assumption that more spending will save an event that is unlikely to find an audience.
It’s tough to make informed decisions 100% of the time. Smart practitioners focus on making the best possible important decisions—the ones that return on investment. What helps is information—data—that’s readily available in your own database and, in areas where they are available, in your community’s data network or co-op.
The TRG team will be challenging assumptions in Pittsburgh on April 4th and in Boston on April 19th during community data report-out events. Interested? Comment here.