Saturday, May 21, 2011

'Butts in Seats' at what value?

I’d like to add a bit of a twist on the assumption that getting ‘butts in seats’ is a form of creating demand. The standard mission of an orchestra’s marketing department is to broaden the audience base; I understand the math behind it all. My concern however, is that when the mission is to get people in seats, no one is tending to the need to create value and desire for live orchestra performances.

Here’s an odd example. Let’s say we sell cars, and we give our marketing department the mission of getting butts in seats. The more people who drive our cars, the better. So, we offer our cars to the public in many ways. For the folks who already own our brand of car and are loyal drivers, we will offer next year’s model at more than retail price. For those who may have owned our cars once, but aren’t current owners, we will offer our cars at a lower, easy-entrance price. Now, if you’ve never, ever owned our cars, we will give you a much reduced price, especially if you’re interested in the up-coming model and promise to drive it for one year. If you plan ahead and reserve a car it will cost more than if you appear on the door step of the show room just before closing time. Because butts in seats are so important, we will have our cars available for free if drivers pick up their cars in the park.

Soon you’ve done a great job at marketing and there are many butts in seats indeed! But what is the value now of your cars? The message mixed: if received in the park the value is FREE, if you’re ‘last-minute’ it is cheap. If you are loyal, it’s expensive. (we also offer a virtual car experience on CD at half the price so you don’t even need to own a car!) There will be few loyal owners, many brief relationships, i.e. much churn.

It’s the same car, made by the same people, yet the value range is across the boards. With orchestras, the same performance and performers are sometimes available for free, sometimes not. What is our value?

The most important question is -- What is our value? And how do we communicate this to our potential audiences? Currently, we present quite a mish-mash of conflicting info. Why are performances outside cheaper than inside? You hear the same music and players, yet the value shifts with location. Our value also shifts according to time of purchase and length of relationship, too.

Offering CDs and live streaming is another odd pricing system. Instead of coming to a performance, just listen to the music at half the cost. And we sell this as if it is an equivalent to the performance experience, though at a much reduced price. What’s the value of a live orchestra performance? I don’t know because we have so many messages out there. The butts in seats attitude is about getting people to hear what we do – at any price.

I know most arts people will declare that the value of music is ‘self-evident’ and so its value doesn’t really shift, regardless of the ticket value. I say it does. Value is created in the minds of those who desire. To go back to our car example. Who do you think will end up driving these cars when no one knows their value? Who will desire them? What is the value of a performance that is regularly given away while at the same moment also demanding steep prices? (I’m sure the car maker would consider the value of the car to be ‘self evident’ and find it demeaning to have to ‘defend’ the value of their car.)

Let’s refrain from giving our self away.  To give our performances away on one hand, and then say ‘we are valuable’ on the other, no longer makes sense to people. And  - our value isn’t self evident any more, because our ‘moral agenda’ is way out dated. (More on this another time)

Please Marketing folks - focus attention on creating value and desire for live music, and butts will appear in seats.


Shoshana said...

Here are a few posts from my blog on the same subject:

Thank you for continuing the conversation!

Maestra Kim said...

Shohana, Are there any case studies of groups who have lead their marketing in this way?