“Many arts institutions even allow their audience members to write their own critiques on the organizational website. This is a scary trend.” Michael Kaiser, President at Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts, blogging on HuffPost, a while back.
It’s not clear to me whether he thinks the ability of people to engage with each other is positive or negative for the performing arts, but he definitely says it’s scary. (He might have meant that with regard to the demise of news-media critics and the rise of patrons providing their opinions online.)
In any case, in 2011, year 16 of the commercial internet, this amazes me.
It is neither scary nor new that arts patrons share their thoughts, reactions and recommendations about performing arts events.
Yes, the speed of this sharing is near instant – and potentially widely distributed – in the age of mobile technologies. Smart companies would want to harness this user generated content (UCG) on their own platforms as much as possible and indeed, they’d participate.
Imagine a social web strategy for a performing arts organization predicated on authentic relationships between their organization, artists and audiences: They might thank audience members for feedback, positive reviews, questions and being interested. The artistic director might comment back when they see a reaction that they want to shift to a different place. They could have a conversation and share information and perspectives. They might answer those “what were they thinking!” questions that people post on Facebook, Twitter or on blogs. Marketing staff could retweet and amplify the positive reviews you get. The company could give the behind the scenes insight, tell the back stories and facilitate creators, actors, musicians, dancers to speak for themselves (many do). They would not abuse these relationship for quick ticket sales, but they might occasionally highlight upcoming shows in their venue and in others. They might rally everyone around the love of the arts and spread it.
Can you imagine the power of these interactions for your company – your brand – in the long run?
For years, user generated content has been coveted by consumer companies and entire strategies have been thought up to get it – using contesting, short codes, value added info, exclusive perks. I used it as part of a place branding project for a city in Eastern Ontario back in 2007 with great results. Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty put an interesting spin on the genre. Today user generated content (the social media) has become ubiquitous through social networks (that’s the platforms) and the real challenge is not the generation of it, but the harnessing of the conversation real people are having about you, your services, your products. (Real people is key, because there are all kinds of spam engines, and fake UCG where companies or their agents act as imposters – this is not social and it is not what I am talking about.)
The true irony might lie in what great art has the power to do:
It is supposed to be a conversation; an exchange between orchestra and audience through music; an exchange of ideas in theatre; a kinetic exploration through the body in dance; an entertaining experience (in the best sense of the word). It aspires to be: emotive, beautiful, thought-provoking, stimulating or even transforming. It examines the human condition. It can connect people both to each other and to a higher plane of being in whatever way they choose. It can foster greater understanding across cultures or socio-economic groups. And it does it by carrying on the conversations outside of the performance space.
I think, those arts organizations who have figured out to become part of the conversation are to be congratulated and celebrated. That’s why I celebrate the vision and smarts at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, or Shell Theatre in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. (Please add others who do it well in the comments below.)
They may just have realized that the conversation goes on without them anyways. And they can build authentic relationships by inviting audiences not only inside their theatres but inside their web presence, too.
Finally, new audience engagement modes reflect a generational as much as a technological shift. Back in 2006 even Time magazine had figured out the signs of the times by declaring You, yes, YOU, its Person of the Year.
By the way, Twitter and Facebook were in their infancy in 2006. Notably, Time’s Person of the Year for 2010, was Mark Zuckerberg. The speed of business has increased tremendously and it demands nimbleness and adaptablility more than ever.
Important to achieving value innovation is responding to and building on what captivates audiences and, sometimes more important, potential audiences.
Today I listened to a really interesting CBC radio call in show on “Why live theatre is dead to you.” It is well worth a listen to the wide range of views expressed by callers. Several pointed out that they simply don’t know what is available. And that they have had disappointing experiences. (Diagnostically: these are marketing and programming/production issues.) By the way, for most live theatre wasn’t actually dead, just not in reach for these and other reasons.
This week is rich with well considered coverage: like this article in the UK’s Guardian on What do audiences want I read yesterday. Not surprisingly, there are examples of arts organizations learning about being relevant in new ways.
At the National Arts Centre Orchestra, a new initiative called Casual Fridays, innovates on the classical concert experience expressly to reach and engage a new and younger audience. This includes a much more casual and friendly concert hall experience. NAC English Theatre (Youtube video) is using inventive marketing campaigns to generate buzz and bring the NAC to the streets of Ottawa to invite patrons to a night at the theatre.
Yet, by and large, the voices of those who continue to hold fast to conventions and traditions and a belief in the arts in and of themselves appear strong. And far removed from the younger generations interests, values and attitudes.
This is the “young audience” (Gen Xers are about 35 to 49 years old today) orchestras, for instance, need to attract in large numbers in order to replace not only aging highly committed patrons, but the revenue they represent. That means quite likely for many orchestras – and theatres and dance, too – not a 1 to 1 replacement strategy but a 3 or even 4 to 1 replacement imperative.
Research on participation and attendance
The Ontario Arts Council affirms in its Ontario Arts Engagement Study (lead by WolfBrown and released in October 2011), that not merely engagement but participation in the arts experience is where it is at from the audiences’ perspective.
Key findings from the study include: “Involvement in participatory activities is linked to attendance at audience-based activities – Overall, people who engage in participatory arts activities are more likely to attend audience or visitor-based activities – sometimes at a rate of two or three times higher than those who do not engage in participatory activities.”
And it leads the study’s authors to ask: “How can arts organizations build bridges between participatory forms of engagement and professional arts performances and exhibits?”
From an institutional perspective the goal has often been to “get bums in seats”, ie attendance. Personally, I detest this phrasing, because it reduces the audience in the most unhelpful ways.
Imagine yourself shift the institutional end-game to the audience perspective. In what ways, if any, would it change your understanding of how to connect meaningfully to audiences and potential audiences? How would this change what you do in your quest to foster specific attending behaviours in audiences, like subscription renewal perhaps or some other repeat purchase?
And, honestly, how effective is your organization at marketing its shows? In the simplest terms, marketing is the process by which services and products are brought to market. Marketing is about the relationships you build and about trust and mutual respect; in my view it is not about “bums in seats.”
The past is not the best way to predict the future; especially when the context is highly dynamic, change is rapid, consumer behaviours, values and beliefs have shifted and commonly held internal beliefs (like the one about price elasticity) no longer apply (if they ever did: like the one about price elasticity).
I see the live performing arts in general at a crossroads in these changing circumstances: Which parts of the sector will adapt, which ones will become obsolete, which ones will grow, which ones shrink? What will success for the performing arts look like in the near- and mid-term? I hear about the dominant concerns being “audience development” and stability of direct government funding. As a strategist and marketer I think the dominant focus on these two concerns has not been producing the requisite breakthroughs in most cases.
In essence, I plan to think out loud about the value innovation that the performing arts sector in Canada could undertake to reap awesome rewards through creating uncontested – and valuable – market spaces. There are already examples of Blue Ocean creators in the performing arts: most notable may be billion dollar empires Cirque du Soleil and Apple. Yes, that Apple: Music has already been revolutionized by digital music distribution and most of that is revenue that goes to Apple. That may well speak to the power of owning the de facto ‘operating system.’
A Blue Ocean is a strategic construct reverse engineered by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. It’s a strategy frame to make your present-day competition irrelevant, often by redefining what business you are in and the attendant changes that follow that understanding. Those don’t have to be thought of as global – they can be local or apply to a sector for that matter.
To play with these ideas relating to the performing arts, I’ll draw on my experiences and perspectives from the arenas of research, strategy and marketing. This no doubt will be a non-linear exploration; it will simply evolve as it goes … I hope it will become a conversation.
(first posted November 2011)
Many of these thoughts originated here during 2010 and 2011. They are as interesting to me today as they were then.
Since the release of the final report of 2 years worth of study, consultation and research to shed new light on the individual, community and societal values, benefits and impacts of performing arts in the lives of Canadians and Canada, I have had many opportunities to turn toward the So, what? and the Now, what?
The Value of Presenting is living research that I apply in my consulting practice every day, spanning from brand strategy and audience development with Magnetic North: Canada’s Theatre Festival to strategic planning with Alianait Arts Festival to ongoing consulting with the National Arts Centre.
A large part is giving public presentations and leading workshops. This winter is rich with travel to help presenters and the whole presenting ecosystem contemplate a few ideas – and share my perspectives based on this extensive research and my strategy and marketing practice:
- Audience development: A roadmap to engaged audiences and vibrant communities
- Performing arts for all: Utopia or Destiny?
- The opportunities and challenges that the rapid evolution of communications technologies hold
- How to lead audiences to new artistic experiences
Here is a list of 2014 workshops and conferences, that are being organized this winter. As event webpages appear I will add links to session and registration information:
- APAP|NYC, New York, January 13
- CAPACOA , Toronto, January 22 – 25
- Northeastern University, Boston, February 12 – 13
- London Arts Council and partners, London, ON, February 26
- Atlantic Presenters Association, St. John’s, NL, March 2 to 3
- Atlantic Presenters Association, Charlottetown, PEI, March 5
- Atlantic Presenters Association, Halifax, NS, March 7 to 8
- Manitoba Arts Network, Portage La Prairie, MB, March 25
- Iqaluit, NU, March 31
- Symposium for Performing Arts in Rural Communities, Haliburton, April 24-27
In all of this work, I am discussion a vision of vibrant communities fueled by performing arts and its community-engaged partnerships.
In Blue Ocean Strategy W. ChanKim and Renee Mauborgne posit that, “the strategic move, and not the company or the industry, is the right unit of analysis for explaining the creation of blue oceans and sustained high performance.” They then define a strategic move as “a set of managerial actions and decisions involved in making a major market-creating business offering.”
I have started an exploration in the performing arts on this blog this month. I have begun to contemplate the landscape, or as they say the “strategy canvas”, to learn about the skills, expertise, assets of the performing arts that can be leveraged to create new wide-open spaces for high performance. And to explore what elements might need to be added or increased in order to create a new kind of success.
We recently did some research and strategy work with Ottawa Storytellers (OST). Their goal was to further build on their existing audience with a focus on cultivating a younger, more culturally diverse audience.
With storytelling the challenge is two-fold: 1) many people do not think of storytelling as a professional, adult performing art; and 2) event promotion has not built broad-based trust and credibility in organizations producing or presenting storytelling events.
The challenge we faced was that OST needed to build much greater recognition for itself as a credible and trustworthy source of quality performing arts/ storytelling events and for storytelling as a bona fide professional art form with every communication touch point. At the same time, it needed to “sell” storytelling series or individual performances, without being encumbered by organization-level messaging.
Often in event-based marketing – and when marketing budgets are relatively small – there is little leverage or recognition accruing back to the arts presenter, except among the most committed audiences. That in turn creates long-term liabilities like needing to continually invest in one-off marketing of events, rather than being able to benefit over time from a mother brand approach where recognition, trust and credibility reside with the presenter, not only a specific artist/event. Such an approach creates all kinds of benefits such as more easily presenting new artists through reducing box office risk and more effective marketing. It was also important to understand that when growing an audience is the central goal then the strategy cannot rely on largely list-based marketing efforts alone.
Central Strategy: Mother Brand
That is why a central part of our strategy called for a new branding approach that would be cohesive, bold, contemporary, intelligent, easily structured and flexible in application, welcoming and inviting to audiences, and give weight to OST (this is where the relationship with the audience gets built) while also giving strong presence to show-specific information (which is where OST fulfills its artistic mission).
In short, OST needed to take its place at the heart of its marketing. It would be the mother brand from which all series and events would flow.
In our analysis, we had found the OST logo and tagline were already strong and we recommended keeping both. We found that many of their marketing and communications tactics including much of their online efforts were well conceived and executed. The visual branding, on the other hand, was less effective, too complex and hard to adapt. Similarly, there was, at times, no clear hierarchy of messages evident in marketing materials and the oft-observed “too much text, which ends up saying very little to anyone” was also sometimes an issue.
Creative Brief: Define Audience Using Psychographics
By defining the audience, we were able to create a target that felt real. We used a psychographic composite (values, beliefs, generation-based experiences), rather than just relying on demographic elements (age, income, etc) which are less meaningful, and certainly much less so in terms of creative direction.
OST has just launched its new web site which features its new branding approach. I think they did an excellent job translating the strategic direction into an effective brand architecture.
Thank you to OST for agreeing to share the back story on its new strategy initiatives.