With the rise of mobile channels for marketing and the increased use of mobile phones for ticket purchases, it’s a wonder that performing arts companies and theaters are sticking to traditional media. Only 7% of arts marketers have a mobile marketing strategy even though 60% of marketers overall believe that mobile drives ROI. While TV and print ads may have worked in the past, adding an SMS component creates compelling mobile interaction to bridge the online and offline (not to mention being cost effective for budget conscious nonprofits). Email newsletters, popular in the theater world, should be promoted with mobile (where people read most email anyway). Furthermore, the introduction of MMS is critical for performing arts marketing, which is so visually centered.
To illustrate how mobile can drive customer acquisition, let’s take a look at the marketing efforts of 5 performing arts groups and the potential they have to grow with mobile marketing.
The Lincoln Center, located in Manhattan and home to world-renowned institutions such as The Juilliard School, Metropolitan Opera and School of American Ballet, has done some mobile experimentation. In 2007, the Lincoln Center ran a trial SMS campaign in partnership with Verizon that offered coupons to encourage audience members to participate in So You Think You Can Dance style voting during the Midsummer Night’s Dream series. Though this promotion increased their customer list by 500 members while growing ticket sales, no similar efforts followed. In 2011, The Lincoln Center launched an impressive mobile app, which allowed users to add performances to their wish list and stay up to date on events in the area. Success has yet to be determined.
Personalization and targeted use of data is what effective SMS and MMS marketing does best. To increase engagement, the Lincoln Center should promote a text call to action to download the app and notify customers who choose not to download about upcoming shows and purchased tickets. The ability to integrate with push notifications in the app and provide a passbook solution for purchased tickets would better convert leads. Additionally, utilizing a mobile kiosk at community events will get people to opt in to a campaign and continue receiving targeted promotions. You can’t go wrong with cutting edge techniques to grow your audience in a vibrant cultural center such as New York.
Houston Ballet is one of the central pillars of the Texas city’s culture of Theater and Dance and has long been recognized for its creative marketing efforts by the American Marketing Association. Today, Houston Ballet reaches its viewers via Facebook (30k likes), Instagram (5.5k followers), HoustonBallet.org, television ads, telemarketing and direct mail. Marketing is a central focus for the company; it offers a host of marketing internships and asks dancers to take turns running social media accounts. They have not, however, rolled out a comprehensive mobile marketing campaign – yet.
For example, by utilizing polls and MMS, Houston Ballet can continue to build fan support through trivia and sharing pictures on social media. One challenge for the marketing team is fading public support for ballet. While some wealthy patrons may be older and less well versed in mobile, a large part of the market is composed of young boys and girls who are learning to dance. These days it would not be out of place to see a 10 year old glued to her smartphone, waiting to be picked up from ballet class. Since mobile is prefered by young people, targeting this demographic would be a long term investment towards increasing public support for the arts. Houston Ballet runs community events such as free performances at The Miller Outdoor Theater, so broadcasting through mobile would be an easy way to get people exposed to ballet and likely to purchase tickets in the future.
As a student at the University of Texas at Austin, I have had the opportunity to enjoy world class entertainment on campus through Texas Performing Arts. Marketing efforts include large scale posters and flyers around campus for comedy shows, Broadway musicals and string quartets . A mobile strategy would help encourage more students to purchase subsidized season passes as well as keep patrons outside of the university coming back. Additionally, you can collect donations via SMS directly after a show when enthusiasm is high. A text-to-win campaign incentivizes subscription, and notifications provide information about ticket sales and parking. Another great way to build lists is by incentivizing people to share with friends by entering their name an additional time. An ideal time for this is before shows and during intermission when your audience is captive. Due to the diversity of offerings at Texas Performing Arts, the Lincoln Center is a good model. With a strong focus on students, you can remind younger generations that supporting the arts is fun and important while creating lifelong audience members.
The internationally acclaimed Cirque de Soleil has been innovative in their shows as well as their marketing efforts. From a streamlined mobile website to click through ads run on Pandora, they are finding new ways to engage with viewers. One mobile ad campaign took users straight to a call with the box office to buy tickets, which was too aggressive for some. With a focus on loyalty programs, Cirque de Soleil has also incorporated a mobile SMS club with location based services that distributes pre sale tickets and engages customers when they are in Las Vegas. Implementing MMS will enrich the program by sending out wallpaper and other visually engaging images and gifs. Mobile campaigns translate the philosophy of creating dreams and fantasies into direct dialogue and choose-your-own-adventure trivia series incorporating emojis based on a call to action on a program.
Perhaps the most successful and popular theatrical performances in the world occur on Broadway, yet high production costs make filling seats a priority. With highly passionate viewers, 66% of whom are tourists who prioritize Broadway on trips to New York, allowing for two way engagement is key. People love to share opinions about musicals through polls and provide suggestions through a conversation stream. SMS and passbook promote merchandise, always an important part of theater culture, especially with tourists. In the age of hashtagging, theaters become part of the conversation with mobile and track followers across social media platforms. The Foxwoods Theater playing Spider-Man recently targeted passersby by sending out short promotional videos and directing people to Ticketmaster when the box office was closed. Additionally, using location based services or specific keywords for each show, notifies viewers when intermission is almost over and patrons when last minute tickets are still available. The customizability of mobile marketing strengthens brands providing long and short term ROI.
Mobile is a great way for the performing arts to reach the much needed younger demographic so that they will become lifelong patrons. It also provides community building and increases word-of-mouth promotion. Mobile infuses marketing with the creativity and personal connection of a live performance.