Tag Archives: audiences

What Does Digital Mean to Your Arts Organization and its Customer?

I read a lot of McKinsey and Company newsletters, posts and articles.  While they are rarely nonprofit focused with even fewer pieces involving the arts, I find their insights immensely useful.  As we all know, business is business at the end of the day, and McKinsey and Company is a leader in that space.

A recent article by Karel Dörner and David Edelman What Digital Really Means struck a chord for me. From a business perspective, it seems that everyone wants to and, in fact, needs to be successful in the digital sphere. Yet, the word digital  itself is a vexed in today’s discourse, in the arts and in the news.   It means different things to different people within a company, to the company’s markets, and then there is the company’s own language in its strategies and implementation of said digital technologies.  If you think about, how might you answer the following questions? What about someone not at your pay-grade? Is your company deploying digital initiatives? Is it engaging digitally with its audiences? Is it implementing new digital solutions to handle customer relations, facility needs, HR or payroll? Who is aware of the various digital interventions in your organization?

So what can digital mean to an arts enterprise? As Edleman and Dörner note: “Business leaders must have a clear and common understanding of exactly what digital means to them and, as a result, what it means to their business.”  They break down digital into 3 realms:  creating value at new frontiers, creating value in the core business line, and building organization capacities. The first two focus on the product and its audience, the last on the internal operations of the organization.  So,what does this mean for the arts?


Much of what we read in the arena of the arts and digital programming focuses on creating new values — streaming productions, adding beacons to customize the customer journey, and finding digital art-making journeys to engage the customer.  Many of these opportunities create new audiences and/or have potential for developing earned income streams.  Yet, there is a financial, technical, or human resource hurdle to achieve this in many arts organizations.  Thus, it requires focused strategy, investment, and planned implementation if an organization wants to try a new frontier in digital programming.


If new frontiers are difficult, what about using  technology to deepen their core business? This entails a “an obsession with understanding each step of a customer’s purchasing journey—regardless of channel—and thinking about how digital capabilities can design and deliver the best possible experience, across all parts of the business.”  Thus, creating value in core business requires staff with knowledge in how to mine data and/or provide  avenues for fruitful data collection.  Edelman and Dörner break it down into 4 core capabilities:

Proactive decision making. Data-informed decisions that “deliver content and experiences that are personalized and relevant to the customer.” This comes down to customer customization in at least the purchase path. Customization is, of course, difficult in the program side of the equiation, because the journey through the art itself is at times quite prescribed.  Successful interventions in this realm include places like the Cleveland Museum of Arts Gallery One and performance experiences like Sleep No More.

Contextual interactivity requires knowing how your customer interacts with your brand in real-time.  How can the arts become better at knowing what their audiences are doing, on what platform, and when?  Again, this requires a staff person who can pull real-time analytics and engage with customers where they are and in a way they understand.  The next step is to empower a process of communication and engagement for all staff.

Real-time Automation is something we as customers expect and is already in the hands of most arts organizations. Yet, automation is rarely implemented in arts organization’s communication strategies or systems.  Most CRM’s allow for individualized, timed communications depending on a customer’s behavior.  The key is to identify key customer positions, triggers and messages.   For example, if a first time visitor at a theatre has a higher likelihood of returning for a second time if s/he receives an encouraging and informative email and social media contact within 24 hours of seeing a show, why wait to send weekly emails. Furthermore, why send marketing pushes and not interesting communications.

Finally, Journey – focused Innovation allows the customer to adapt and expand with the company in a way driven by the company.  This arena is, like automation, quite easy for many arts organizations to do.  A concierge approach via technology.  It, however, requires significant real-time communication, product message pivoting, and unique opportunities for interaction to engage customers on an individual basis.  This is often too time intensive for a limited staff in an arts organization to accomplish.


Having a strong digital strategy requires leadership in arts organizations to think differently. They must quickly adapt  organization capacities. The organization needs a leader to model a digital mindset and provide the means for a strong digital infrastructure.  Technology can no longer be a low-priority investment. Furthermore, it must become a thread that weaves throughout the organization for day-to-day business as well as the customer-facing work detailed above.

Digital opportunities abound.  It takes a savvy arts leader and manager to navigate the perpetually shifting environment.  Curious if you are that arts leader? If you want to understand or raise your digital quotient, pend some time with McKinsey’s work of the same title:  http://www.mckinsey.com/features/raise_your_digital_quotient. 

And share your successes!  Every arts organization that shares its success garners more success for the field.


More creative just less passive

Humans have a short history in sitting passively consuming the arts.  Historically the arts have been a highly social engagement, part of the community in ceremony or celebration or performance with openly social interactions ongoing in the audience (I have visions of Asian theatre here). It seems that the audience may be done with their passive connection to the arts. The NEA’s most recent survey, covered in the linked NYTimes article  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/26/arts/a-new-survey-finds-a-drop-in-arts-attendance.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=1&&pagewanted=all, reveals a continued downward trend in traditional arts attendance.  However, consumption of the arts broadly defined seems to remain healthy.  What can arts organizations take from this data? How does their local community compare? If Pittsburgh is an indicator, social, interactive events are avidly followed (come see the Festival of Firsts kick of event with the Rubber Duck party tomorrow). The traditional arts are still holding strong especially those with content relevant to their audience, but the expansion is in the realm of pop-ups, festivals, crawls, interdisciplinary performances or experiences, etc.  Take your local temperature and share what you see. The arts are all around us — within and without the walls of our organizations.