You want to attract, grow, diversify and sustain your audience?
Great! But the biggest mistake you can make is to think of that audience as a single entity. True, “your audience” converged at some point – whether for a particular night’s performance, during the run of a production or exhibition, into your venue, or some other way onto your mailing list. But the happenstance of their intersection doesn’t mean they share the same motivations, preferences or priorities.
Here is a more practical model by which to understand and serve your audience – a model we explore in-depth in my Audiences Everywhere™ workshop…
Consider a framework of 4 basic audience types on a grid where vertical represents the CAPACITY to participate (i.e. time, money, physical ability and opportunity) and horizontal represents their level of INTEREST:
• Devoted – These the relatively small number of people with high interest and high capacity who already know that they love you, your art and/or your organization and can’t wait to be part of whatever you are doing next. You want to attract and grow this audience? Then reward them with a “depth” of relationship worthy of their passion and loyalty.
• Oriented – With high interest but lower capacity, think of them as people who subscribe to the local newspaper (God bless them!) and open the arts section eagerly because they know that “their fun” lies somewhere inside those pages. Conventional arts marketing focuses on attracting these audiences the first time – believing that once they’ve had a taste, they’ll return. The numbers speak for themselves: research by TRG Arts reveals that an astounding 76% OF AUDIENCES WHO ATTEND IN ANY ONE YEAR DO NOT RETURN IN THE VERY NEXT YEAR. So, you want to attract and grow this audience? Better to start by recognizing that your organization – like every arts & cultural organization – is an incredibly leaky bucket and before investing time and resources in advertising for new audiences, we have a major job to plug those holes.
• Asleep – A vast population possesses neither the capacity for nor interest in whatever an arts organization is offering. We call this “audience” “asleep” but the name is not intended as a pejorative. It solely references our opportunity/responsibility to awaken these folks. To be clear, whenever we proceed from a “pick the low hanging fruit” methodology, we are actually directing that organizations should abandon this population. There’s nothing easy or immediate about the process of awakening this population – but the idea that arts & cultural organizations can survive solely by “picking the low hanging fruit” when demographics, technology, competition and everything else suggests otherwise makes that an outdated and dangerous philosophy. It’s time to CHOP DOWN THAT TREE and replace it with a metaphor that recognizes the imperative to serve audiences beyond the ones who come to you most easily.
• Uninspired – How exciting! Here’s the quadrant whose people possess the time & money, but who routinely fill their leisure time with OTHER activities because “they were not raised in households that exposed them at an early age to the value of arts & cultural experiences.” Let’s note that these folks aren’t “uninformed” – so, the solution here isn’t to shout more marketing messages in their direction. Rather, this quadrant reminds us to pursue the mission of our organizations in “Extraordinary” ways – because the only way to inspire the uninspired is to actually inspire them.
Lastly, let’s observe that audience members likely fall into multiple quadrants… A Devoted fan of musical theatre may be Uninspired when viewed from the perspective of classical music or Asian art. Someone who is oriented to jazz may be totally asleep when viewed from the perspective of contemporary dance.
This model of audience engagement provides both a macro and micro perspective on who is your audience and practical ways to cultivate that relationship.
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