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4 Performing Arts Marketing Strategies That Develop Patron Loyalty

View of a full theater from the balcony.

To maximize the return on investment from performing arts marketing campaigns, arts organizations have constructed marketing initiatives to convert new ticket buyers into loyal patrons. Developing patron loyalty necessitates a joint effort between the box office, marketing, and fundraising departments. With shared insights into a patron’s attendance history, engagement with theater marketing materials, and donation activity arts organizations can identify which shows matter to patrons. Once patrons have been segmented into targeted lists, arts marketing departments can build targeted campaigns that drive up retention and donations.

Marketing to loyal patrons also helps arts organizations diversify their sources of revenue and leads to sustainable organizational growth because:

Return customers are cheaper to market to. Marketing to new patrons costs between five 25 times as much as attracting existing patrons. 

Loyal patrons have greater average lifetime value. Communicating value and building loyalty drives patrons to choose the organization's offerings because patrons come to trust that buying these additional items gives them a more complete experience. Loyal patrons buy more tickets, concessions, special offers and make more donations during their time with the organization, which is more valuable than a one-time purchase. 

Patron activity provides insights into their interests. Monitoring how loyal patrons engage with shows, marketing materials, and fundraising campaigns empowers arts organizations to identify opportunities to curate programming and improve marketing and fundraising initiatives. 

A survey of 343 arts organizations in 2018 revealed that first-time visitors represented 56% of an arts organization’s total transactions. For North American arts organizations, there is ample opportunity to develop patron loyalty through rewards programs, targeted arts marketing campaigns,  

Performing Arts Marketing Strategies That Develop Patron Loyalty

Rewards Programs

Rewards programs are a great way for arts organizations to show return customers that the tickets they purchase and their donations matter to the organization. A great example is The Octagon Theatre in the UK. In 2018, they introduced a “no strings attached” rewards program where they offered free tickets and extra on-the-day surprises to selected patrons based on their previous booking behavior and levels of engagement. 

Thanks to this program, attendance improved and so did feedback on their service. Staff began recognizing loyal customers by their first name which compelled patrons to send thank-you cards for the theater’s generosity and recommendations. 

The key to developing a rewards program that supports your fundraising strategy is to customize it to fit organizational strengths. If customer service is strong, develop a program that highlights that. Or consider ways to reach out to patrons about additional shows on the calendar they may be interested in.

Keep rewards program messaging consistent and within the organization’s capabilities to increase patron retention. 

Share Patron Data Across All Departments

Many arts organizations struggle with sharing data between the ticketing, marketing and fundraising departments because they use disparate systems. Without shared insights into patron behavior, arts organizations will be unable to identify which programming patrons have bought tickets to, how often they engage with marketing materials, when they donate, and even opportunities to increase ticket sales.

If an organization has email marketing or social media campaigns, engagement data should be shared across all departments. Shared patron information empowers arts organizations to customize marketing and enhance the experience for their audience.

Develop or Refine Customer Segmentation

When arts organizations can identify which programs are of interest to patrons, how often they attend, and their donation information, the marketing department can create segmented lists within their CRM segmentation software.

Segmented lists provide performing arts marketers with key patron information that enables marketers to construct personalized campaigns that match a patron’s interests and yield higher returns on investment for the organization. 

Related Reading: CRM Segmentation for Arts Marketers: Begin at the Box Office

Communications Marketing

Email marketing, newsletters, and social media provide opportunities to speak to patrons directly. While mass marketing used to be the primary tool to fill seats, patrons now require a more personal approach. It’s important to use lists and information about patrons to customize messages to match their interests, in order to increase ticket sales from Email marketing.

With segmentation features available on most email marketing platforms, there’s no reason to send the same message out to all the same people. Take a little extra time to curate marketing materials to speak to the targeted lists of patrons. 

Related Reading: 5 Theatre Marketing Strategies That Help Increase Revenue

Improved Patron Loyalty Leads to Improved Programming

Targeted communications help organizations enhance the patron’s experience and convert them from a one-time ticket buyer into a sustaining member. With additional revenue from sustaining patrons, arts organizations can identify which programs their audience is most interested in and refocus the organization’s programming.

Through targeted performing arts marketing campaigns and rewards programs, organizations can increase patron retention and donations which lead to sustainable revenue growth.

Get inspired. Download Chapter 1 of the 2019 Insights Report to see specific examples of organizations that developed patron loyalty and increased revenue.