Take a cue from case studies and new data to make the most of your approach to loyalty.
Tom Nolan is head of Global Ecosystem at Spektrix.
After two years of virtual conferences, being in person with colleagues at Capacity Interactive Boot Camp was refreshing and heartening. In chats with cultural organisations and other partners who support the sector, a constant sentiment was how thirsty we all are for connection. It was great to see familiar faces and encouraging to see how many in our industry are pivoting and redefining in ways that enable continued success. In her opening speech, Capacity Interactive’s President Priya Iyer brought up the idea of essentialism: letting go of what isn’t serving you. Boot Camp carried this philosophy through its sessions, which were full of insights from organisations experimenting with content and processes.
The Future of Subscriptions and Membership Models surveyed organisations’ experiments with new kinds of subscriptions and membership models. Panellists represented a broad range of cultural organisations, each of which has been testing new strategies to re-engage audiences post-Covid. At Spektrix, we’ve been thinking a lot about changing audience behaviours as part of pandemic recovery. Our newly launched Ticket Sales Dashboard compares current sales with years past to continuously monitor Covid impact and recovery in the sector. Keeping this data in mind, here’s what we can learn from the panel discussion about flexibility, subscription models, and strategies towards building audience loyalty.
Steppenwolf, an ensemble theatre in Chicago, have created flexible membership offerings to re-engage lapsed 2018/2019 members, and are optimistic about the impact these flexible options have had on ticket sales. In a post Covid world, audiences have come to expect and prefer flexible options.
These new membership schemes are not only marketed as discount offerings, but as an opportunity for audiences to gain a sense of ownership over the theatre. When audiences become members, Steppenwolf becomes, not just a theatre they have a subscription to, but their theatre. This is a really compelling way to think about and promote loyalty and a great way to build commitment and community, both crucial to promoting reattendance and developing longer term relationships.
Cultivating new audiences is crucial to longer-term success, and the development of different membership schemes tailored towards designated segments of your audience ensures that both new and old audiences are given offerings that make them want to return year after year. Steppenwolf has also started offering an Under-30 scheme which sits at a lower price point, making it more accessible to younger audiences.
A very flexible approach allowed Steppenwolf to attract new audiences, but now their focus needs to be on retaining them. In part, this is a programming responsibility, as audiences want to see something about them reflected on stage. A smart way to go about this is by utilising the data in your ticketing and CRM system, which can tell you which segments are returning for which types of productions. Data-informed programming decisions will give you the best likelihood of welcoming back the audiences you want to see.
Phoenix Symphony, an Arizona based symphony orchestra, noticed their audience was engaging more with flex than fixed packages, so they reduced their offering to a single, customizable package. The decision to completely nix a fixed subscription package in favour of a build-your-own model was surprising to me, leading me to wonder why they opted to do this rather than run them side by side. TRG Arts often speak about the need to segment carefully to target the right packages to the right audiences, and running different kinds of subscriptions in parallel would present an opportunity to do this.
Phoenix Symphony also shared that they felt some audience members hadn’t returned to the theatre because of a gap in programme. This is another instance in which it would be very useful to use the data in your Ticketing and CRM system to validate this assumption and figure out how to better target those audiences with appropriate programming.
Single ticket buyers have returned aggressively to Phoenix Symphony, which presents a great opportunity to move these single ticket buyers up the ladder of engagement now they are in the door / on the database.
There are some really positive indicators in these case studies and our data. We can clearly see that new audiences are booking tickets, which presents a real opportunity to build tomorrow’s audience. In our data, we’ve seen the gap between 2019 and 2022 ticket sales closing steadily, with overall sales recovered to 90% of 2019 levels.
A big factor affecting subscriptions sales is the fact that people go out less – post Covid, this can be due to health concerns or competition with couches. This means that some people who used to come to every show now come to half, and may feel that they have too much choice when it comes to entertainment offerings. Some peoples’ decisions not to resubscribe are primarily based on concerns external to theatres or their programming. While it is important to figure out why certain audiences aren’t returning, the majority of your team’s energy should be expended on attracting and retaining audiences.
Panellists discussed the idea of organisations putting on less productions per year, with the idea that this may not have a negative impact on audiences. Scaling back offerings may seem like a step backwards, but if done strategically it can help your organisation align its output with the demonstrated desire of your audience.
Peoples’ desire to go out less makes a strong case for the adoption of a more flexible range of subscription schemes. In today’s world, flexibility is key. Audiences want and expect flexible options, and new kinds of subscription offerings can even attract new audiences.
It's more important than ever to ensure that your programme aligns with what your audience wants to see, and that different aspects of your programme speak to specific segments within your broader audience. Data-informed decisions are key to achieving this goal, and you should make the most of insights from your Ticketing and CRM system to segment successfully.
Audience behaviours are changing more rapidly than ever before, which means that it's important to keep a close eye on shifts as they occur. Don’t be afraid to do things differently than they’ve been done in the past– see what is working and what’s not, be brave, and keep iterating.
Curious about whether your current approach to loyalty is right for you and your audiences? Attend The Future of Audience Loyalty in 2023, where experts from Capacity Interactive, TRG Arts, JCA Arts Marketing and Tom O’Connor Consulting Group will share strategies to anticipate the needs of your audience and maximise reattendance. This event is open to all.