Category Archives: social marketing

New marketing mind set in performing arts

Here are three vital elements to performing arts marketing and by extension a thriving arts scene:

1. Arts and cultural research has confirmed time and again that the performing arts sector is not a zero-sum field. Rather, Canadians become ever more likely to attend based on prior attendance at cultural events and performances. These behaviours are strong predictors of attendance while basic demographic factors are much weaker. That means, competition in the performing arts is not other performing arts organizations but rather all the other ways people spent their leisure and entertainment funds. Community-wide, true partnerships should become the rule not the exception in the performing arts.

2. I have a growing body of work that recognizes that performing arts are not only a show on a stage, but that all surrounding aspects contribute to the audience experience either positively or negatively. It is about full experience design.

This graphic represents key elements of the audience’s arts experience that can and should be fully designed. All have the power to make or break the audience experience, put up barriers to it or enhance it.

It means applying end-to-end design thinking including all the ways in which audience members can amplify the arts organization’s message and reach among their own networks.

Pricing and packaging are aspects that are often taken for granted due to a persistent belief that the arts do not suffer from sticker shock; that if someone really wants to see a show they make it happen. Well, price elasticity is real in the arts, too. The higher the price the fewer people will consider attending. Therefore, considerations should be given to how to price shows that are not expected to sell out at a given price point or that are not selling out despite seemingly well-founded expectations of that. Each of these aspects merits full consideration in your planning and in your evaluations afterwards.

3. Another important idea is that marketing materials are designed for specific purposes to address where a member of the target audience is at in the purchase decision process. Arts marketers need to use the full array of tools in research and evaluation to see how their marketing programs are creating the desired response or not.

An arts marketer’s job is not merely to sell the workhorses of the performing arts – anything by Beethoven and Mozart, Nutcracker and Swan Lake, Shakespeare –  but indeed to lead larger and larger audiences to contemporary, current live professional performing arts experiences that they don’t already know.

To do this requires the integrated use of contemporary marketing strategies and tactics. It is about compelling storytelling, co-creating meaning, and making research on events and purchase of tickets easy and immediate. The increasing integration of services like Youtube, Facebook, Twitter with both desktops and mobile devices and within websites creates new dynamics between organizations and their audiences. this is a good thing.

Today, website pages can be shared with a push of a single button to a user’s social media universe and it can raise awareness, start conversations or solicit sales through their social networks. Similarly, organizations are cross-linking their web sites and social media presence to provide a seamless user experience, going where users are.

This mind-set approach makes clear that an organization’s brand is more than a logo applied consistently. It is how it behaves and interacts with current and potential customers. Or perhaps it reaches even further: it is an entire eco-system’s way of being and interacting in the world – and how the sector (and the communities it inhabits) thrives will depend on this concerted action.


Competitive factors: Live Performing Arts

The approach to competition and how we understand competitive factors is key to creating uncontested new market spaces. Conventionally, competition is understood to be within a sector: an airline competes against other airlines, a circus competes against other circuses, a hotel chain against other hotels. Each organization tries to differentiate itself in its market space, to build a recognized brand, to establish a value position that avoids lowest price competition. Competitive benchmarking is done against similar organizations, from tracking market share to share of wallet to brand mapping and intent-to-purchase studies.

Importantly, blue oceans – uncontested market spaces – are not found by benchmarking inside that competitive set.

Rather, they are about a leap in value for the customer and the organization. Value innovation. It’s not merely about creating value, often incremental, or about pioneering innovation, often on the bleeding edge where others may well reap the greatest rewards. It is a differently grounded strategic mindset that aligns innovation and value.

Competitive factors for the performing arts

Imagine: You are a not-for-profit venue with a 250-seat theatre in Toronto that presents new work and existing work in new ways. How about if you are a commercial 1,200-seat theatre with long runs of well-known shows? Does one compete against the other in a meaningful way?

Imagine: You rent a community hall in rural Saskatchewan and present music acts a few times a year. Or you are an independent (no label behind you) musician with your tracks for sale online, an active YouTube and/or Vimeo channel and you are working the house concert and club circuit to build your fan base? Where does your competition come from?

I’ve heard references to there being a  “market glut” in the performing arts in Canada. No doubt, there are a lot more theatres, companies and artists making a living – or some of their living – by creating, producing and presenting performing arts. Yet, as long as attendance at performing arts events remains the top indicator for future attendance, I propose that this sector is not a zero sum industry where the ticket purchase is simply shifted from one theatre or one performer to another.

Rather, I propose that many significant competitive factors come from outside the performing arts sector where people can reap similar benefits through a wide variety of activities. Here is a thought piece that considers some of these competitors:

Benefits for customer
Performing arts corresponding offer to customers
Movie theatres
Great stories, star-powered, escape to the movies, big sound, big screen, pop culture, celebrity culture
Great stories, live action, connections with live stars, star power, be an insider, behind the scenes, participate in creating the experience
Home entertainment
High quality in comfort of your own home and sound system. Anytime entertainment and discovery.
Live action, social connection, common experience, participation, discover new worlds and ideas
Hands-on discovery and exploration. We bring the world to you. Learn about who you are and where you come from.
“Times and Life”: Discover your world anew through music; soundscapes of our history, tell stories about who we are and what makes us so
Professional sports
Action, tribal connection, heroes, victory, competition
Get the inside track on peak performance. Access to artists. Backstage tours. Process of creating winning performances. Community connection.
Pamper yourself. Wellness, stress reduction, spiritual connection, body connection
Come home to the Symphony.
Escape to the Symphony. Refresh your mind, body and spirit at your Symphony.
Cosmetic treatment
Improve self-image, de-stress, personal fulfillment, anti-aging
Come as you are – and be changed forever by the music, the show, the experience.
Friends. Food. Social. In crowd.
Socialize. Social capital. See and be seen. Entertain your friends at the symphony. Community making. Mix food, drink and entertainment
Video games, Xbox, PS, Wii
Participate. Action. Play. Social. Relax.
Feel it live. Real-world magic. Participatory arts experiences. Community building.

By no means is this table complete or even “correct”. It simply hopes to spark different ways to consider competition.

Today, we also have to content with the fact that a common answer to “if you had a free evening tonight what would you do” has become “sleep.”

Municipal signage encouraging line ups

Buenos Aires

Here’s a subtle example of social marketing I noticed at bus stops in Buenos Aires.

Translation: “Build an orderly line without disrupting the pedestrian traffic.”

This notice has obviously been around for a while given the shape it’s in.

I did experience some pretty odd lining up though: We took the local bus from the international airport in Buenos Aires to downtown. (OK, that wasn’t well researched in that it took over 2.5 hours but it did only cost $2 each. Anyways.) As people waited for the bus at the airport they did form a line: a straight line heading half way across the street impeding car traffic potentially.

Research on Social Marketing

On June 22, the MRIA Ottawa chapter is putting on a conference on research on social marketing. I’m excited about being part of making that happen. The format we use is very focussed on discussion and participation.

This conference is designed to showcase the results of sound research on specific social marketing programs and foster a discussion between researchers and social marketers on best practices, target audience orientation, and program development.

An excellent line up of speakers will address their work with a wide range of audiences. I’m looking forward to this day and most importantly the discussion. I’ve posted on social marketing here before and intent to add additional thoughts leading up to the conference.

Social Marketing – Evaluating Programs

A British Medical Journal article on Interventions to reduce unintended pregnancies among adolescents: systematic review of randomised controlled trials concluded that “Primary prevention strategies evaluated (1970 to 2000) do not delay the initiation of sexual intercourse, improve use of birth control among young men and women, or reduce the number of pregnancies in young women.” The study reviewed the “effectiveness of primary prevention strategies aimed at delaying sexual intercourse, improving use of birth control, and reducing incidence of unintended pregnancy in adolescents.”

I found particularly interesting a study finding that “four abstinence programmes and one school based sex education programme were associated with an increase in number of pregnancies among partners of young male participants. There were significantly fewer pregnancies in young women who received a multifaceted programme , though baseline differences in this study favoured the intervention.”

In short this study from June 2002, points to the challenges of developing effective and long-term strategies to affect behavioural changes in the intended direction.

Social Marketing – Constructing a Message


Numerous studies cited for instance in Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein point toward a deliberate, effective message construction for social marketing campaigns that aim at changing behaviour. For instance, in experiments it has been shown that behaviour can be modified by not merely emphasizing the nature of a problem, but by offering a positive message. (Example: a sign that reads “Many past visitors have removed the petrified wood from the park, changing the natural state of the park,” was far less effective in preventing visitors from removing artifacts than this positive message: “Please don’t remove the petrified wood from the park, in order to preserve the natural state of the Petrified Forest”).  

Similarly, a message focused on how many people are engaging in an unhealthy activity have been shown to be less effective at motivating the desired behaviour than one that emphasizes how many people are already doing things right. This type of message can aid in correcting social misperceptions and boost the healthy behaviour. (Example: “20% of Montana college students drink too much alcohol.” versus the much more effective “Most (81%) of Montana college students have four or fewer drinks each week”).

Again in a similar vein, a neuroscientific study reported on in Buy-ology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy by Martin Lindstrom showed through bran scans that explicit non-smoking messages, for instance the explicit depictions of the effects of cigarette smoking found on Canadian cigarette packs, and explicit messages like smoking causes lung cancer or smoking kills do little to keep smokers from smoking. On the contrary, brain scans showed how these messages in fact stimulated the craving in smokers, suggesting they may well be achieving the opposite results.

Social Marketing Or What it Takes to Change Behaviour

This is the first in a series of posts I will write on social marketing over the next few days. 

Recent research on the effectiveness of social marketing campaigns has demonstrated that some campaigns aimed at changing behaviour produce superior results while others based on the same message premise fail to meet objectives. Steering people toward healthy choices, it appears, has to go beyond the typical methods of raising awareness of an issue and highlighting rational strategies for changing behaviours. This may well be of particular importance in activities that are essential to human survival, such as sexual reproduction or food consumption, yet also hold significant health and social risks.

Therefore, it may not a matter of categorical change, but of discriminating change. A level of emotional intelligence should be appealed to and fostered through a variety of methods in order to achieve the desired behavioural changes. Research suggests that a large number of decisions are made every day in an instinctive, automatic manner, learned over time and reinforced in many subtle and explicit ways. Advances in neuroscience, in particular the ability to examine information processing and decision-making through brain scans, have enabled more clarity in how these processes might work.