A great overview from Neill Archer Roan [link now broken] explores an essential marketing and audience experience model for arts and cultural managers. The model, originated by Theodore Levitt back in 1980, suggests why so many marketing and experience efforts in the arts fall flat: because they never rise above the generic expectations of the audience.
In a nutshell, Levitt’s model suggests that all elements of a product, service, or experience fall into three value categories for consumers: generic, expected, and augmented. Generic elements are things every such product or service would offer (ie, you would expect every grocery store to have food for sale). Expected elements are those things beyond the generic, but still expected from a quality provider (you would expect a good grocery store to be clean, well-stocked, and well-staffed). Augmented elements are the surprises, what Roan calls the ”wow” that consumers don’t expect from the experience (having your standard monthly order waiting for you in a shopping cart when you arrive at the store, for example).
When you try to differentiate yourself based on generic or expected values, you can wind up screaming into the wind. Yes, we know you have a beautiful space with thoughtful repertoire, extended program notes, and nice color photos of your artists. We expect that from any cultural organization in your class. With these elements, you can lose points for not providing them, but you can rarely gain points by marketing them better. They’re expected, tell me what else you’ve got.
Roan also notes that the elements of experience tend to shift inward on the model as innovations become standard practices. He gives the example of web sites:
For example, it wasn’t all that long ago that only large arts institutions had web sites. They were uncommon enough that they weren’t expected; they were in the augmented product level. Today, audiences expect even small organizations to have web sites.
Having one isn’t enough, either. It must be well-designed, easy-to-navigate, intuitive, and anticipate the information that audiences want to retrieve. As innovations become more broadly diffused throughout a category, these innovations migrate inward from augmented level to the expected level. A strong argument may be made that some innovations become so integral to a product that they become generic. Today, web sites (which were once part of the augmented bundle) are part of the expected bundle. You’re expected to have one. Period.
So give Neill’s overview a read, then take a look at your most recent season brochure or exhibition preview. Are you selling yourself entirely on things your audience expects you to provide? If so, how could you add the augmented, the unexpected, to your public descriptions of who you are?