Direct marketing practitioners know that success is primarily a numbers game. That's not to discount the work that goes into tweaking a control package, testing messages, building list models and analyzing data. However, the foundation of any direct marketing campaign, be it for ticket sales, subscriptions, memberships or donations, is the number of qualified leads in your database.
A few months ago, I wrote a post about how many of us didn't know who are best customers were. Since that time, I have come to realize that many of us don't know who many of our regular customers are.
Performing arts organizations have a distinct advantage over a majority of museums as gathering leads usually stems from capturing information during the ticket buying process, although challenges do exist. Organizations that have a robust group sales business know that it's all about personal relationships as one group contact can bring in hundreds of patrons, and although that's good for revenue, it is a challenge for lead development. For the most part, performing arts organizations have no clue as to who attends as part of a group as they don't gather information for each attendee. And in some cases, private group sales agents don't want to release information as it would require handing over lucrative contacts. And aside from groups, performing arts organizations are becoming more reliant on third party vendors to move unsold inventory, but in doing so, in most cases, they sacrifice the ability to collect contact information. And how many of us track individual people attached to multi-subscription packages? If the leader of the subscription group decides not to renew, we don't have the ability to contact the others.
We estimated a couple of years ago at Arena Stage that at any given time, on average we only had the contact information for roughly 60% of the people in the house. I always wondered what the value of the other 40% was.
Over time, we put into place various mechanisms to assist in collecting more leads. Group leaders were given financial incentives to provide contact information for each individual in their group. We reached out to subscription purchasers and asked them to identify the other people on their account. And we instituted a policy that required complete contact information for all comp tickets, and started ticketing almost every free event.
Now that I've been in the museum world for all of two months now, I've noticed that their challenges are much more significant than those that face performing arts organizations. Some museums have millions of visitors each year, and they only capture contact information for a very small percentage of their visitors. Highly popular free admission museums don't want to institute time consuming procedures to capture information for fear that it would impede timely access to the museum (can you imagine the lines that would form?). On the other hand, most free museums have membership and fundraising circles that rely upon qualified leads. How do you fundraise in a cost effective manner if you don't know who your visitors are? It seems that I am by far not the first to stumble upon the holy grail of marketing challenges that museums face, but given my newness to the field, I was surprised how daunting capturing information could be.
Here are some possible ideas to collect information from those lost in the crowd:
1) Collect information at multiple contact points. Prior to getting to a museum, most people visit a website. Take public transportation. Park their vehicle. Why not identify new visitors to your website and feed them a small roadblock ad asking them to sign-up for information from your museum, including future discount offers and exclusive content. Could you station "visitor concierges" outside subway stations who offer tips on exhibits and museums, and collect information during the process? Could you partner with your parking lot to develop a way to capture visitor data?
2) Offer exclusive content. Exhibits are becoming more and more interactive every day. With more than 100 million smart phone users in the United States, could exhibits feature exclusive interactive content using QR codes that also captures data in the process? As museums build out content online, what if you placed some exclusive content behind a free "pay wall" that requires registration to access? or what if an exhibit offered to send you a free memento of your experience via email?
3) Ticket events. Many museums offer a large variety of free and popular educational programming and docent lead tours. Even though they are free, why not require a ticket or an RSVP? Visitors can register well in advance, or they can do so quickly on site at ticket kiosks.
I am sure these suggestions only offer a way to make a small dent in the overall problem, but the challenge is clear -- finding easy, affordable and efficient ways for visitors to self identify themselves as wanting more information from musuems is of utmost importance to our direct marketing strategies.