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Millennials: How Theaters Can Connect with the Children of the Internet

How can theater connect with millennial consumers?

Some people love them, some people hate them, but there’s certainly been a lot of talk across entertainment and the arts about how best to appeal to Millennials lately. In only a few years (2020 to be precise) 1 out of every 3 adults on the planet will fit into this demographic. With an aging audience base if theaters want to survive and grow in the coming decade, or beyond, they’ll need to find a way to successfully communicate with this growingly influential group of 20-30 somethings. So what’s the magic formula? Well, let’s start with the basics...

What makes a Millennial?

A Millennial doesn’t have strictly defined parameters, but for the most part refers to anyone born between approximately 1982 and 2000. While it’s difficult to treat any broad group of individuals as one entity, there are some overarching characteristics:

  • This generation is the most connected to date. They use technology to keep in touch with each other via text, phone, email, and social media. And this doesn’t just include their friends and family. Millennials use technology to follow new trends, products, companies, and celebrity personalities.
  • They grew up during an economic recession and have consequently been influenced by that mindset by delaying major purchases in their life such as cars or houses in favor of leasing or renting.
  • A Millennial has lived the vast majority, if not all, of their lives with consistent and reliable internet, and most certainly with a computer within their reach.

That was a nice sociology lesson, but why do I care?

Well, as you can imagine, the persona of a typical Millennial influences their buying habits and reactions to our marketing efforts.

First off, having grown up in the age of the internet, Millennials don’t just desire the ability to purchase online, they demand it. 39% of Millennials say that if they cannot buy tickets to an arts event online, that it negatively impacts whether or not they will make a purchase. Coupled with the fact that over half of all web traffic happens on a mobile device this means that arts organizations need to have excellent websites that are carefully thought out for mobile users, if they want to chase the elusive Millennial dollar. Just look at TodayTix for an example of how a clean design has let them capture the younger theatergoer market.

This also means that your website needs to offer a completely self-service experience. Everything customers can get by calling your box office needs to be available online in a simple, easy-to-use way. If a Millennial has to contact your box office or development department to receive certain services, the chances of them following through with the purchase will drop dramatically.

Whether it’s because of their recession roots, or mountains of student debt, Millennials don’t like to make large commitments. This means your multi-show, multi-month subscription isn’t going to work for them. They don’t like to plan far ahead and are are much more likely to buy tickets on the same day of an event or just a few days ahead.

An interestingly unique attribute about this generation is that they want to feel good about their purchases by knowing it affected social good, and even more so, they love to share that feeling with others. This accounts for the success of companies such as Warby Parker, and Tom’s who include a donation with each purchase made at their store.

How can we leverage these buying habits?

Millennials buy differently, and that’s okay. The market also had to be re-invented for Baby Boomers a few decades ago to fulfill their needs. For example, many advertising campaigns today offer the cable company style of multiple plans for purchasing, as Boomers were much more hungry for options than their Depression Generation parents. This same natural progression of the market is happening again for a new group of people. Here are some ways you can use Millennial behavior to your advantage:

  1. Give them the tools to share. Because they not only make purchases, but share news of the experiences they purchased, be sure to give Millennials an outlet to do so. Make a photo booth, create a Twitter wall, provide something unique to interact with, give them access to your stars. 45% of Millennials post pictures of themselves after an event, and 40% post before they attend an event. They’ll be your best advocates, if you just give them the tools!
  2. Get rid of your online ticket fees. Why would we want to penalize a customer base for using their preferred method of purchase? Online ticket fees in general seem to always cause controversy, and Millennials are much more likely to voice that frustration online.
  3. Be genuine and transparent. Millennials want organizations to be straightforward with them. By nature, Millennials aren’t loyal instinctively and will move on to the next big thing when it comes along, but they can be won over by excellent, personalized and honest customer service, both online and in person. Check out the clothing retailer Everlane which publishes the wholesale price and retail price of all their items online so customers know exactly what they’re paying for. Could we do the same with ticket prices or donations?
  4. Create a flexible membership program that allows them to buy on their own terms while still gaining a discount. Or, better yet, eliminate the need to sift through discount ticket codes and make your ticket options simple like MAC Belfast.
  5. Make and keep things interesting. Millennials often like to shop just for entertainment (50% of men and 70% of women), so make your website more interesting by including things like videos and interviews to keep them on your site for as long as possible.
  6. Have a dialogue with them. You want your brand to be a familiar voice to your millennial customers. Make sure when they talk to you online, that they engaged with simple, relevant communication. They want to have a dialogue as well, so give them an outlet to communicate with you. This is also a safety valve for negative feedback to be resolved before it can be spread around.

It may all seem straightforward, and chances are your organization is already doing bits and pieces of these strategies, but it’s worth dissecting the intent of each of your campaigns and evaluating their intended audiences. This way you can make sure you’re not only cultivating today’s big donors and attendees, but also engaging the next generation’s.