TRG blog: Fear Competition? Lose Opportunity!

Fear Competition? Lose Opportunity!

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.
Competition for patron’s dollars is a subject that’s back in the industry dialog again, sometimes with negative overtones. Can we really still think that sharing a marketplace with other successful arts and entertainment organizations is a bad thing? Even with foundations willing to invest in collaborations? I find that disturbing, especially in view of the opportunities being mined daily by members of community collaborations nationwide.

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke about the power of technology and data collaboration at an INTIX conference session. You can view the presentation here:

I was reflecting in this discussion on the 18 data-sharing networks (also known as consortia, co-ops) that TRG manages. Each network brings together disparate groups of patron records from all different kinds of organizations and their different ticketing and fundraising software systems. The network allows each and every member to see their own and all patron connections across an entire community—to discover all the other ways a member’s patrons engage in the arts.


What we’ve learned in the aggregate is that collaborative data provides knowledge – to find more patrons, to build more effectively targeted campaigns, to reduce risk and most importantly, to test assumptions of all kinds. The findings are sometimes stunning, and always inform new thinking, like these examples.

More opera, more loyal. Philadelphia boasts seven opera companies, more than most U.S. cities. Now, you’d assume that if a patron living Philadelphia likes opera, they’d attend performances at multiple companies. But you’d be wrong. 94% of operagoers in Philadelphia only went to one company. And in that group, half attended only one opera company “once” and then never returned. Ever. And, not just that company. They never attended an opera again!

However, for the 6% that attended performances at multiple opera companies, only 15% failed to return – a number consistent with annual relocation numbers from USPS. Multi-buyers are more loyal – even when the “multi-activity” is not within the same company.

The data proved that it was in the enlightened self-interest of every opera company in Philadelphia to publicize the work of every other opera company. That’s what Philadelphia opera companies did, and reaped the benefits of new and loyal patronage. More on this study, done in partnership with Opera America and Shugoll Research.

Guess what else your patrons buy? With Opera America we investigated crossover between opera organizations. We do a similar study—in a “road atlas” type of chart—for our communities showing the cross-over from organization to organization.

Typically when arts marketers request a trade list, they have to guess as to which organizations in town have crossover with their own organization. In some cases they guess right; mostly they guess wrong. With accurate cross-over data, managers can use facts to drive list selections. They can stop guessing about who their audience is or isn’t.

Mining Data for Advocacy Gems. Conventional wisdom holds that arts organizations serve a very small percentage of the general population of their communities. In my day as an arts manager, the assumptive market penetration rate was 3 or 4%. TRG’s data says otherwise—typically a quarter to half of all households in any community have attended at least one arts event during the preceding five years.

Not only does that give each organization a larger prospect pool, it also has far-reaching implications for advocacy efforts. For example, in 2010, Pennsylvania had several key political races and ballot initiative that would negatively affect arts organizations. TRG mined the databases in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and found highly active voter households who were also arts patrons. Arts advocates in the state were not only able to notify the arts voters of issues and races that could affect the arts, but they also demonstrated to elected officials the preponderance of voter/arts patrons in their districts through maps and reports.

Patron behavior within a marketplace can be summed up in one sentence: The more patrons buy, the more they buy. That’s not competition at work. It’s collaboration in action.

Afraid to trade your lists or join your community’s data-sharing group? Tell us why in comments.


Posted February 13, 2012
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