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17th July 2012 Sara Lock

AMA conference 2012: connect engage inspire 5

William Norris from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is back in the office …

Stripped for the core

Ok, time for blog post No.2.

I’ll admit there is some avoidance of the harsh reality of being back in the office here. So many ideas from AMA conference 2012 yet so much routine stuff to be done now I’m back in the saddle. Plus, I don’t even understand some of the things I wrote on my 'to do' list before I went to the conference …

So I thought I’d procrastinate and write my next blog. This time inspired by Keynote Speaker No.2, Erica Whyman, from Northern Stage. At the start of her talk she said something controversial:

'Is the way we communicate with audiences doing more harm than good?'

My instant thought was – sometimes, yes.

She then went on to talk about how we super-serve some audiences and then don’t serve others. If someone attends regularly we mail them more and more. We end up thinking ‘who might tolerate more marketing?’

I do think there is an issue here. And I think a lot of us are guilty of it to some extent. I think we often super-serve, perhaps over-serve one part of our audience, and often ignore everyone else. By that I mean that we gear all our communications to our most core audience. Those coming maybe 2+ times a year. Not only do we communicate with them a lot but our materials are also geared towards them.

But do they need it? Often these audiences are the most knowledgeable. In my field that means that they will make their decisions as to what concerts to attend based on the repertoire and artists. They’re unlikely to need much guidance or persuasion from the brochure.

So increasingly, our Season Brochure is not targeted at these people. Instead it's targeted at the much larger pool of people who are irregular attenders and yes, who might need a bit of guidance selecting a concert. Sometimes we get a bit of flak because our copy etc is a bit too ‘simplistic’, but we have to remember that the vast majority of our potential audience are not aficionados. And talking to them in dry language and assuming way too much knowledge, plus including tons of pictures of artists that mean nothing to them, may well have the opposite of the intended effect.

So how do we communicate with the core audience? We surely can’t afford two brochures? Well, no. But we do two things. Our core audience are sent our season on a plain word document. This is partly because our season brochure is never quite ready in time. But also it gives the audience that feeling of being a bit ahead of everyone else.

Sales haven’t suffered at all from this. All this audience needs is what we’re playing, when, and with whom. They can make their decisions based on this. Later on they get a slightly ‘enhanced’ version of the brochure. We add in 8 extra pages, with updates on our education work, a message from the CEO and so on. We exclude this information from the main print run because the casual classical goer really isn’t interested in wading through all this. But our Friends and subscribers are, and it makes them feel special to receive a slightly different brochure to everyone else.

So it’s nothing radical. But I think we’re all a little bit too afraid of offending or losing our core audience. We should have more confidence in ourselves. Our core love us for what we put on stage, and they’re not going to be put off by copy that’s too simplistic for them, or some imagery that’s perhaps too lively for their tastes.

Let’s stop over-serving a tiny sector of our audience and think about that huge potential audience instead.

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