Sunday, July 5, 2009

July 05, 2009



Hello everyone.

“And the beat goes on…………………………………”


I’ve gotten a number of questions on the blog of a couple of weeks ago about Data Mining and what applications that marketing tool might have for the arts sector. I’ve been asked for specific examples of how it might be useful to performing arts organizations in audience development marketing efforts.

Here are some other examples:

1. X number of people buy (and / or download) music in a given period (e.g. week, month, quarter) in a given geographical territory. If we knew which ones of those people purchased or downloaded classical music, we could target those people with pitches to attend symphonies etc. If we knew which ones opted for Broadway show tunes, we could target those people with pitches for musical theater. Marketing is increasingly all about targeting the “right” potential buyers of our programs so as not to waste money in some blanket approach.

2. Similarly we could zero in on people (within a given geographic al area) who had “googled” anything that had to do with plays, playwrights, or theater and target them with offerings.

3. In both the above cases, if we knew which of those people from outside the territory were likely convention delegates or tourists coming to our area, and had purchased airline tickets or made hotel reservations to our area, within (say) the next two months, we could likewise target them with offers to attend a performance that might interest them.

4. If we knew which people had kids who were taking dance lessons, we could target their parents to attend “family” dance performances.

5. If we knew which people attended any of scores of our theater company performances in the past six months, we could target them with the offerings of other theater groups.

You get the idea.

As I said before - this data already exists. It is available to one degree or another for purchase (though it would entail the set up expense of adapting platforms and applications to our specific and special requirements). Of course, if we collected our own data we could “mine” it deeper than existent data – but we don’t. Our problem in this arena stems principally from our lack of collaboration. We don’t - as a sector or sub-sector - collect (and thus don’t control) our own data. While our discipline based organizations cooperate and collaborate through local, regional and national service provider groups, we haven’t yet gotten to the point where we act as an industry or even a sub-sector of an industry. We lack the mechanisms to track the spending / buying patterns of our own customers. And we don’t cooperate and collaborate in accessing the data that already exists. That is largely because such an enterprise costs money and time, and as individual organizations we are too small and thus we lack both. While the data exists elsewhere, we would need customized platforms and applications to access the specific data we want. To do so would require us to collaborate – at least across some category (discipline, or geography for example) so that we could pool money and resources.

Why we don’t do that is somewhat of a mystery to me. I know that part of the reason is that for a long time we were very territorial in sharing data. Large (and small) organizations didn’t want their audience or donor lists falling in the hands of others, least those supporters be pirated somehow (a likely false base assumption to begin with), but that territoriality seems to me to have dramatically lessened in the recent past. There is the question of scarcity of money to devote to such an enterprise (and the not unfounded fear that the gains from such an investment wouldn’t be immediate and, even in the long run, would be problematic and might not match expectations). And there is the question of time and who would launch, and then manage, such a unified effort on behalf of potential participants (and whose job is that anyway – the NEA? State or city agencies? Service provider umbrella groups?

Loose consortiums of like minded organizations? The question of where the genesis of this kind of initiative (or any kind of initiative that involves or impacts the whole sector or some large portion thereof) should originate is a fundamental question we need to soon address apart from marketing concerns.

Our failure to create mechanisms and structures that would allow us to access this kind of data works against us and puts us at a competitive disadvantage in our quest to compete for audiences, financial supporters and boosters. We are simply missing out on sophisticated marketing techniques and tools that other (mostly private) sectors have. At some point we need to do what is necessary to put us in the position to be able to data mine.


I read a review of a book entitled IN PURSUIT OF ELEGANCE by Matthew May in Time Magazine (June 29, 2009 issue) that intrigued me. May is a professor and consultant in marketing and based in southern California and his thesis is that “people engage more intimately with ideas and objects that are simpler”. Digging into his book online and at his website and his theory is a little obtuse to me, but I was intrigued by the basic counter-intuitive idea that doing less, providing less information – as a marketing strategy – works. I have long wondered whether or not our marketing messages are too complex, too detailed – that we try to provide too much information of too complex a nature and that our inclination to try to sell ourselves on ever deeper levels might just be working against us. I wonder if some of our basic assumptions aren’t likewise unnecessarily too complex (depth of experience vs. pure entertainment as an example). In our yearning to convey to our audiences all that attendance might offer them, might we not just be scaring some of them away. What if dance was advertised simply as “extraordinary performance” or some such simple thing? Does the theory of doing less as a marketing technique apply merely to the content of marketing or may it also apply to the time, places and areas where one markets. Interesting questions that I hope might be raised at arts marketing conferences in the future as we become more sophisticated in our own efforts.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit.

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