By Kacie Willis, 7 Stages
In October 2017, I was sitting in a coffee shop with Sara Leonard during a consulting session that was provided through a grant from the Audience Building Roundtable of The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation. I was feeling pretty nervous about conceiving a marketing strategy for the production The Followers; A Retelling of the Bacchae due largely to the ambitious thematic nature of the show and perhaps my own preconceived notions about “the types of shows” that Atlanta audiences wanted to see. Attempting to quell my frustrations, Sara presented a pretty radical solution: Why not create the profile of my ideal audience member for this show and speak directly to that patron? What characteristics does my ideal audience member possess and how can I convince them that they need to come see this show?
My first impulsive response was, “Well, I think that the people who would be into this show would have to be open to some pretty weird stuff.” Sara replied, “Great. So your desired audience for this production is…adventurous!” I saw were she was going with this. We continued to break down the themes present in The Followers in order to generate the collective attributes of our dream patrons. The script contained a lot of political allegory which we felt could appeal to people who were civically or socially engaged. The preliminary design concept featured elaborate masks, costumes, and puppets, perhaps things that would appeal to people who were into cosplay or fantasy books and movies. The production itself was a world-premiere so we decided that patrons in our database who had previously attended our Home Brew Festival of new work may find that angle to be enticing.
The more that we brainstormed, the more confident I became with the process of figuring out how to communicate with prospective audiences in ways that connected 7 Stages’ identity and brand to people’s interests rather than just their demographics. This enlightening coffee-table strategy session was presented in part as a case study during the 2017 National Arts Marketing Project Conference in Memphis, Tennessee, which I attended - again thanks to the generous support of The Audience Building Roundtable of The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.
Marketing a show based on interests, in addition to demographics, has never been easier thanks to the prevalence of social media advertising tools. As I began to set the parameters for promoting the show’s event page and promo trailer on Facebook and Instagram, I played with various combinations of detailed targeting in order to specify the audience that I wanted to try and engage. The targeting parameters for The Followers video ad were [men and women, ages 21-65, in a 20 mile radius of 7 Stages, with an interest in ‘Greek Mythology’, ‘Avant-Garde/Experimental Music’, ‘Liberal Politics’ and ‘The NeverEnding Story’.] That particular grouping of attributes seemed like a pretty adventurous crowd, and was one of the many keyword/demo groupings that I experimented with in the weeks leading up to the show opening.
As the first performance of The Followers drew nearer, it became apparent that making an earnest attempt to collect both qualitative and quantitative feedback from attendees would be particularly useful, but attempts at sending follow up email questionnaires or imploring patrons to fill out paper surveys stuffed in their programs were falling flat. During the NAMP conference, I was having lunch with a fellow conference-goer about this very topic and they encouraged me to try a survey method that had worked wonders for their organization. The idea was to simply set up a feedback station near the theatre exit and to have the house manager encourage patrons to answer a question by dropping their ticket stubs into jars. Next, we would collect the stubs and enter the patron data retrieved from the order number into a spreadsheet. The final step would be to send a personalized follow-up mailing with a discount offer, written in language that reflects that we acknowledge and appreciate whatever choice the patron made. The question that we decided to ask was, “Would you recommend The Followers to your friends?”
This immediate, interactive method of collecting feedback actually provided a plethora of information, including the ticket type (general, student, comp, etc) discount code used (if any), and allowed us to tag first time patrons who either liked or didn’t like the show. A “2-for-1” offer was sent to everyone who participated in our voting station, even to the ones who indicated that they would not recommend the show to a friend. The messaging to the patrons who didn’t dig us basically thanked them for giving us a try and let them know how much we appreciated their honest feedback all while ensuring them that we hoped to have the opportunity to wow them the next time. I anticipate that developing simple methods for garnering patron feedback immediately following performances will help us to cultivate loyal audiences, donors, and subscribers by providing an avenue to engage in genuine conversations and to make their voices feel heard. I hope to make the voting stations thematically aligned with future productions as to provide a dramaturgical feel and to also vary the type of questions that we ask the audience. Perhaps asking something as open ended as, “Who was your favorite character in the show?” will lead to the discovery that women and students really liked ‘Steve’ so maybe we should run a Facebook ad featuring ‘Steve’s’ production photo and target the ads to those specific populations.
Adventurous thinking was certainly implemented into every aspect of the development of The Followers both artistically and administratively. Though the run of the production enjoyed several sold out performances and critical acclaim, dissecting the specific details that helped to make the show a success is admittedly going to take some critical introspection by the entire organization over a prolonged period of time. From a marketing perspective, this experience has provided a working model for the further implementation of the adage that Sara Leonard often uses to jumpstart the segmenting and targeting process: “Who? Where? Why do they care?” Given the often eclectic and varied nature of the type of work that 7 Stages presents, it will be imperative to start with these questions as we strive to become better at quantifying potential audiences for each new production. Though it may sometimes just seem like wishful thinking, projecting the attributes that you would like to see in your audiences can actually provide a realistic starting off point for actionable targeted outreach.
Who?- Who do we not yet know/have a relationship with? Who needs to know about this performance?
Where?- Where do we find them? (Database, connections within the organization, targeted keyword searches etc.)
Why do they care?- How do we learn to identify and capitalize on the interests and values our organization and prospective audiences have?
7 Stages will continue to ask these questions as we to work towards building stronger audience segments, developing informal and interactive methods for garnering onsite feedback and improving awareness of the psychographic make-up of our audience as whole.