I was a bit surprised by some of the reaction to my last post on the unsustainability of the ticket sales model in the Attention Economy. Boil down my argument and it’s essentially this: products used to compete primarily with other products in their sector. Jazz competed with other jazz, dance competed with other dance. In the Attention Economy, dance competes with video games competes with YouTube videos competes with online courses from MIT competes with the Cuban Hooked Rug Society Online. The typical consumer transaction decision is a weighing of the available options at the point of sale and buying based on the needs/desires of the moment. Given infinite choice and a rising complexity in figuring out what one wants, getting people to pay attention to what you have to offer is increasingly problematic.
I don’t think the the answer to infinite choice is anything new. We’re most comfortable choosing things on the basis of relationships, and any good sales person knows this. In the past, building relationships was an analog task; social networks take it digital. This is a good thing
What surprised me is that Andrew and Kelly and others who emailed seemed to suggest that this is something of an either/or notion; that to implement a community-building strategy either requires taking focus off of traditional efforts to sell tickets or involves some risk to current strategy. As Kelly Tweeddale puts it:
What would you do differently if the transaction was the outcome, not
the goal? Our current non-profit model does not provide a financial
safety net for such bold thinking or experiments, but it should. Any
Andrew Taylor suggests that:
The deeper challenge for arts organizations is that they DO sell a
product, even as they DON’T. That is, an important segment of any arts
audience doesn’t recognize the complex bundle they’re seeking when they
buy a symphony or theater ticket. They’ve come to use that event as a
placeholder or proxy for that bundle, without even knowing it. To this
core group (often the most passionate about the art form, the most
loyal buyers, the most committed donors) the bundle IS the product. And
as you innovate around the delivery or context of your creative work,
you challenge their passionate connection to the discipline’s tradition.
The shift to the Transportation Economy Model didn’t mean there was no need for manufacturing. The Experience Economy doesn’t negate access to product in a timely way. And the Attention Economy assumes a robust Experience, Transportation and Manufacturing infrastructure. Product is assumed; without it, you’re not even in the game.
So how do you implement an Attention strategy? Here are five ideas:
1. Set up a ladder of involvement that rewards increased participation. Come to every performance and maybe you get a free ticket to give to a friend. Bring in a dozen friends and you get your name in the program. Organize a club around our programming and maybe you get an insider pass to see how next season’s lineup is put together. We reward people who donate money to our theatre; how about rewarding those who go out and bring in new recruits? Maybe membership on your board is one of those upper rungs of participation. The participation incentive ladder doesn’t have to be formally structured like affiliate programs, but you get the idea…
2. Community isn’t free. Every time someone decides to interact with you, you have to reward them in some way. Even clicking a mouse (believe it or not) requires a reward. Ninety-nine percent of web visitors are lurkers. That is, they come, they read, they say “Gee, that’s interesting,” and they move on. Same with those who come to performances. Why should I come to a post-concert chat? You have to do something to provoke me into a response. That response is worth something. That response must be rewarded in some way. Especially if it’s a complaint.
3. These kinds of communities are extremely hierarchical. They don’t want to be paid in money. They want status. Recognition. Validation. It can be as simple as identifying somebody as a friend of the organization. Reward them for answering other community members’ questions. Cruise lines, for example, give repeat cruisers different color cabin key cards based on how many times they’ve come aboard. Those cards are status markers, and the community pays attention to them. Tech support in big online communities has largely become a community function. The community is better at solving its own problems, and people who log in with answers are accorded higher status by others in the community. This is a powerful driver of participation.
4. Twenty percent of your seats are unsold? What a waste. Create a club that gives members access to cheap surplus tickets with which they can bring others. Those companies (airlines, are you listening?) that throw up barriers to upgrades make members feel like the company doesn’t want you to have a good experience. Be over-generous. Your community will feel like they owe you for it. And that generosity doesn’t necessarily have to cost you anything.
5. Find ways to give people in your community opportunities to support you. I might not have enough money to give you a donation. But if you ask, I might bring a group of friends to the next concert. I might not have time to serve on your board, but I might know a good printer who could give you a break on programs. Public radio is available for free, but enough listeners value it so much that they’re willing to give money to support it. We’re not very creative about the ways we ask for support.
Andrew Taylor says
Thanks for keeping the conversation going! I hadn’t intended to suggest that rethinking audience engagement strategies was an ‘either/or’ proposition. Actually, I intended the opposite (‘both/and’).
The goal is to build on the kind of relationship and outcome-based initiatives you mention above, while remembering that many in your audience are quite happy with the status quo (fewer and fewer, perhaps, but a loyal few).
Keep ’em coming!
Brett Ashley Crawfor says
Great conversation — and highly pertinent in our current economic struggles. I would add that audiences are coming together, as Andrew points out, for the bundle that is the experience, and that the bundle includes being in a group situation (versus an isolated at home arts or entertainment experience). The sharing that occurs is often less about audience to organization than audience to audience. Much like the millennial generation (RAND), people want to connect with one another around interesting ideas, and the arts are a prime opportunity for this connection.