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Why Timing is Everything in Ticketing

Smartphone culture is changing how we shop, eat, chat, and plan our lives. With GoogleMaps, Groupon Reserve and Hailo around, we barely need to do any planning anymore. We figure out how to get somewhere when we’re already halfway out the door, and leave restaurant reservations until the last minute to take advantage of discounted tables. And because we’re all increasingly pressed for time and have more leisure pursuits competing for our attention, for arts organisations, attracting wider audiences isn’t only about providing a wide range of ticket prices to cater for the cash strapped and the cash rich. It’s also about putting tickets in front of potential audiences at the right time, and increasingly, that time is last minute.

Across sports, travel, and entertainment, spontaneous ticket purchases are more and more common. 84% of hotel bookings on lastminute.com are for the same night and with many other online travel agencies upping their game with carefully curated lest minute travel offers, it’s clear that last-minute booking is something to take seriously. The arts sector is beginning to respond by optimising the online booking process for mobile devices. But with so many options available on the internet, there’s a lot of competition for audiences and it’s not surprising that this, combined with an economy that’s making everyone more money-conscious, means people are waiting before they decide to commit. So what can the arts sector do to make sure its ticketing is responding to this change?

The new Spiderman musical currently storming Broadway has implemented a ticketing system where people have the option to reserve seats without paying, and are encouraged to complete their purchase via text message a few days before the performance. It effectively seizes upon that moment in time when customers are most likely to commit to buying a ticket, which is less intimidating than shelling out loads of money for tickets months in advance. Similarly, The Book of Mormon, which is currently taking bookings for 2014, is allowing premium ticket holders to exchange them for free if it later turns out they can’t make the date, encouraging people to take the plunge and pluck a date out of thin air.

Worry-free reservation for the Spider-Man musical on Broadway.

But for arts organisations who aren’t in that same enviable position as Book of Mormon, or who don’t have a global following of Spiderman fans to call on for support, these types of strategies are a little riskier. However smaller arts organisations are also the ones who could benefit the most by capitalising on that last minute ‘spontaneous’ segment of people, and that’s because these kinds of ticketing strategies can help capture the elusive but large middle segment of people who aren’t sure. Being neither devoted arts fans nor completely indifferent to culture, these people are open to suggestion, and that’s why it’s important that the arts begin to focus their efforts on them with the aim of converting them into arts aficionados, as we increasingly recognise the wasted efforts that can sometimes go into preaching to the converted.

The key is making their entry point into culture really easy by making sure that your brand is where they are. It’s an example of the shift identified by Owen Hughes in his AMA Conference keynote: a ‘new mainstream’ of people are emerging who don’t have time to go to you and find you out, but want things to happen in their terms. They have a more demanding idea of how brands should be interacting with them and want more control. So if they want to find tickets last minute and pay for them quickly and easily, then it’s important to meet their expectations, for example by providing a frictionless ticket purchasing experience. By providing a booking experience that taps into the needs of the ‘new mainstream’, there’s a better chance that people in the middleground will attend. Maybe something will even click with them, and they’ll come back again and again.

This is what apps like YPlan and 50hours are doing with enormous success. YPlan cunningly captures that feeling of frustration we all feel after spending hours scouring the internet for something interesting to do that night, only to discover at the end that tickets are sold out. For YPlan users, being able to do something last minute is almost as important as the event itself. YPlan knows that in these types of situations, people are more open to suggestions, so the event list caters to an eclectic range of tastes including wine-tasting, food festivals, panel Q&As, burlesque, stand-up comedy, and theatre.

Fancy seeing Hot Chip tonight? YPlan capitalises on spontaneity.

Not surprisingly, the convenience of only having to click on one app to find an interesting cultural event that will still have tickets available, and then being able to make the purchase within the app, has resulted in it being downloaded by 10% of London’s iPhone users. And it’s also doing a good job of reaching new audiences. One of YPlan’s founders Rytis Vitkauskas recently commented that “Ninety-one per cent of the people who purchase a ticket through YPlan had no intention of going to that event… This is what the event promoters find most useful because it is the most difficult audience to attract.”

So what are some practical ways that the arts capitalise on this increased move to spontaneity? Here are some ideas:

  • Get creative with how to reach these last minute bookers by exploring Segmentation Models, to find out ones are switched on to the internet, frequently use smartphones and are therefore likely to be interested in booking last minute.
  • As well as making sure you’re tweeting about tickets which are available last minute, you could segment your email list into people who have previously booked for an event 2 days before the performance and send them an email letting them know about tickets which are still available a few days before a performance is due.
  • You could reserve a portion of tickets for performances on Mondays and only put them on sale at a reduced price 48 hours before the performance, then advertise this scheme in the channels where last minute bookers are likely to see it (again using the Segmentation Models above).
  • Optimising your site for the mobile experience will also contribute towards that frictionless purchasing experience that makes spontaneous people more likely to follow through with a booking.