ASK ME ANYTHING QUESTION
We have lots of loyal subscribers that renew season after season, but we still can’t seem to grow our subscription base. What’s the best way to find new subscribers to make up for natural attrition?
STEVEN ROTH’S ANSWER
Let me start with a little analogy.
It’s a new retail season and time for a new wardrobe. You’ve looked online and at the mall but the options are overwhelming and the price tags make you second guess everything. You start to wonder if you already have enough to work with, and venture into your closet. Lo and behold, that shirt from a few seasons ago looks great with those pants from last year. You’ve saved money and found a new outfit you didn’t even know you had.
So many of us, arts marketers included, go through this fashion process season after season. Here’s how to improve subscription marketing effectiveness for performing arts organizations by taking this same process and applying it to our artistic seasons. There are three primary strategies:
- Renewal – Getting last year’s subscribers to re-up. This is a no-brainer. You are talking with people you know. To keep with the retail analogy, this is shopping at a store or site you are familiar with and have had success at. You know what sizes fit you and what’s comfortable—they’re your old reliable standbys.
- Acquisition – Often the backup strategy, which is often like going shopping but at a store or site you are not familiar with. For a subscription acquisition campaign, you spend time and money renting a list of “look-alike” prospects, crafting a message, creating a direct mail piece and/or email, and hoping to get an acceptable return on investment (ROI).
- Reactivation – This is the shopping-in-your-closet strategy. You mine your own database to find likely reactivation or “upgrade” prospects: lapsed subscribers, subscribers who have “downgraded” to a smaller package, multi-ticket buyers who have purchased productions similar to those you are offering this season, subscribers who were new last year but have not yet renewed, and patrons who have interacted with you via social media. These are what marketing guru Seth Godin calls “hand raisers”—patrons who have indicted by their behavior in the not-too-distant past that they are interested in what you have to offer. This is someone you have a relationship with, and you therefore have permission to engage. Some of these relationships are more distant than others, but all are easier to manage than trying to connect with a perfect stranger.
Unfortunately, we see many arts organizations whose subscription marketing priorities are:
The simple fact is that costs of acquisition are very high and the odds of success are very low. Why? Because, to again quote Seth Godin, you don’t have “permission” to contact these people. At best, these people don’t know who you are. At worst, your behavior can cause them to dislike you and become annoyed that you’ve reached out. The most likely actions from your prospects are: hit delete, mark as spam, or ask to be removed from future communications. Marketing to a stranger does work occasionally but take a look at our data to see the surprising difference between acquisition and reactivation strategies.