Nonprofit work in the arts is mission driven not product driven, yet we have this unique problem of often having a market-facing product as part of our mission. We produce a product to be consumed by an audience. That product is an exhibit, a concert, a work of choreography, a play or a musical. For ego or income, our artists and our institutions want audiences for this work. Yet, unlike for-profit organizations, we spend very little time trying to strategically communicate with our audiences in ways they want to hear. We often think we are successfully communicating because we get ‘likes’ and a decent ‘open rate’ to our emails, but are we moving audiences into our spaces to consume the amazing works we have produced? Less and less. What is their path and who are they?
First — let’s take an moment of marketing reality. We cannot determine our audience. THEY pick us. Marketers can think they know who is going to buy a product due to the products inherent qualities and the message and visuals launched in the marketing campaign. But the individuals who show up are the audience. Many a marketing company has laughed at the “fish they caught,” remember the Pepsi Generation campaign (tried to get Gen X and just caught the Boomers, again).
Second — let’s meet the realities of our marketplace. Research beyond what our board and staff thinks is required. That starts with honestly delving into your census data compared with your CRM data, Google and Facebook and other social analytics.You may think you want to reach all the ‘millenials’ in your community, yet when you look at your census data you realize that your community has fewer millenials than the national average. Know who your community is starting with the census. This is your potential audience. Start here: analyze your city, county, perhaps surrounding counties in the census. What do you see for average household size? income? Are you setting yourself to reach the majority of these people?
Next, compare your potential audience with your CRM data. Analyze the zip codes. Are their patterns by county? By day of attendance? By driving distance? Where are those zip codes in your city / county? Frequently we assume a lovely concentric circle around our organizations when actually during the week the circles are quite small while on the weekend they are long ovals along the highways. What do they like? (Check them out in nielsen data (the free one at least).)
Next: Look at your Google Analytics and social media stats. How does that compare to your community and your CRM data? Where are the overlaps and retention opportunities? Are there odd patterns, for example, when you increase ticket prices with dynamic pricing does your bounce rate on your purchase page go up?
This leaves you with a lot of patterns and data, but without an answer of what to do next. That’s because people are not numbers. The true answers lie in talking with our community directly.
Third — Know your customer’s journey (before, during and after the experience). WolfBrown and McKinsey have excellent resources in this regard. Simply put — your brand and the experience of your work exists outside your doors and your direct communications. Where are the pivotal touchpoints in your potential audience’s world? For a children’s museum it could be that the critical point of convergence is at the neighborhood playground. So, how does your message get to the playground? How do you learn about your community?
Most organizations have significant first time never come backs. What if you incentivized first attendees to come, stay for a talk-back and a brief focus group? Or follow up with an online survey (similarly incentivized to complete — but NOT with your product btw — give them something of a generic demand like a discount to the local coffee shop or Amazon). What drove them to try you to begin with? What did they do after they attended? What were the barriers as they made the effort to attend? What excited them? Infuriated them? What else do they do with their personal time? Will they come back and if not, why not? Is there something you could do to make it easier.
In all of these conversations it is important to understand a couple of things. You may not hear things you like, but that’s okay. Additionally, it is rare that people note a change in program as a barrier to future attendance (see Culture Tracks). If they do, then they are simply not your audience. That being said, if you find that the majority of the audience doesn’t like your programming and overall attendance is dropping, then you have to ask yourself if you are achieving your mission?
The key to the future is creating easy paths to your organization that reinforces your mission and drives toward impact. The more you can create those pathways the easier it is to continue to grow, instead of shrink, in the face of continual distraction and marketplace expansion.