There is a lot to be said about how organizations market themselves to their communities and to their audiences. Clearly, there is the creation of the art form and the actual formation of the play, musical, or performance. Then, there’s the strategy, tactics, goals, and objectives used to market this performance to fill your house.
The creation and marketing sides of things are fundamentally sound, but in many ways I think arts marketing is broken. In this post, I’ll share with you what I see and how to fix it.
People don’t care about your status
I think the fundamental problem that many arts organizations present is that they are trying to market themselves to others in their community. Perhaps the established orchestra thinks that because they are so well known that people will naturally be inclined to sign up for their season or at least see one of their concerts. I read and understand a lot of things that Trevor O’Donnell said in his piece about the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in his post, 130 Selfies at Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Don’t hear me say that I disregard your organization’s status. I greatly respect your position in the marketplace, but I think most people nowadays don’t care right off the bat about how important you have been or are. To most people your status in the arts world is a bit like inside baseball. Not everyone cares.
People don’t care about your stars
I have been to performance venues and theatres where the theatre had at one time, a big name star in his very early days. One such theatre is Pioneer Playhouse in Danville Kentucky. When you go there they make it clear that John Travolta played a part in a show when he was 15 years old.
“Come to our show because Anna Ntrebko has sung here.”
“Come see the place where Timothy Busfield got their start.”
I think these approaches to marketing an arts org is certainly wrong-headed. Yes, there is a draw amongst people who are familiar with and certainly devotee’s to the art you present to see big name stars on your stage. I’d certainly love to see Jamie Barton in a Wagner opera and anything else containing a big name star. But, when you advertise your season on the back of a star that hasn’t been on your stage for years the attraction just isn’t there any more.
How can we fix these broken approaches?
To combat the two problems I see in arts marketing, marketers and the organizations they work for should shift their mindset and approaches in the following:
Be More Human
Odd, isn’t it? That theatre companies and performing groups who all employ and use humans to create their art to remind themselves of being more human is key. You see, humans want to do business with other humans. Borrowing from marketing maven Mark Schaefer, in his book Marketing Rebellion, Schaefer tells the story of a person that sells soap for $10 a bar. The premise is that people will pay more for a bar of soap (I can get 8 bars of Dove for around $1 a piece) because they see the relationship between that soap and the person making it. His book really is telling marketers that “the most human company will win.”
Instead of marketing buildings, stages, and prestige, maybe try telling unique stories about the people who make the art to begin with. What makes the wig mistress at your company so inspiring? What’s the story behind the singer who’s making her debut on your stage? What’s her process to prepare for her role? How about other technical and design personnel? Tell their stories!
Seek to be more human in your marketing to win!
Be The Guide, Not the Hero
As a marketer, I’m learning so much from Don Miller, who’s written the book Building a Story Brand. Essentially, businesses (and of course arts organizations) get their messaging wrong and unclear. Clear and right messages get heard by the right people will then buy your product or service (show, play, Opera, etc.).
His thesis is that when you position your organization as the hero of the story you will lose the customer. Let me be clear, your theatre is not the hero of the story. Your audience member is!
We all know what an audience member wants. They want to be entertained, their thoughts challenged, their hearts inspired. They want to experience a transformation! That’s why I do what I do, to help more people experience the transformative power of the arts.
Using the elements of storytelling where you present yourself as the guide will make your marketing much more impactful and sustainable for your organization because your audience member wants to be the hero, not you.
While many arts organizations do get a lot of things right in their marketing, I do see a few things that they can work on. They can be more human in their marketing, rather than focus inward towards the organization, and they can shift their approach from being the hero of their own story to being the guide for their audience members and clarify their message.
Now it’s your turn. Do you think that these problems are accurate in your field? What are some other issues with marketing that you see? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.