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September 25, 2008

5 ways to lose arts patrons with email marketing (a great way to clear out the theater!)

The invention of email was a gift to arts marketers. Zero cost and instant up-to-the-minute communication with plain text. Nice. Then came email marketing with graphic newsletters. Even better! Your copy and your brand’s “look and feel.” When used correctly, graphic email marketing is one of the most effective ways to keep up a conversation with your patrons. Make sure they are saying more than “unsubscribe”!

1. Don’t treat your messages like ads, even if they really are.

Write each message as if you were writing a sweet note to Mom (Hi, Mom). Create engaging and intelligent content that people at least have the potential to enjoy reading. Some background on the performers or the show. A backstage interview of the director. A short note on something that make this arts experience especially relevant. In the way you would talk to Mom. You wouldn’t send Mom an ad, would you?

2. Don’t send the same content more than once to the same group of people.

People don’t like getting what they’ve already read. Make sure that each email you send is unique — something must be different, and it must be right at the top. You’re not only trying to sell attendance to your event, your selling your own words in your message. There are a lot of things happening with your event — update your patrons with unique content each time. Even rewording things helps in a pinch.

3. Don’t just send one big image of your ad (and a reminder of #1 above).

A couple of years ago, major email clients began to hide images by default, in an effort to protect kids from questionable content. But it also often blocks out good content. Many of your patrons will look at your beautiful graphic, and see a smart little red x instead of your image. At that point, the next steps for many folks is “delete.” The most effective arts email marketing campaigns use both text and email. Have a graphic at the top that looks great, and then the offer in text underneath the graphic. If your patron doesn’t see the image, he/she can still see the offer in text. I have seen click-thru rates soar just from using this technique.

4. Don’t send too often.

Ask yourself: how often do you like to receive email updates from your favorite arts organization? Daily is out. Weekly — yes, if there is a major event coming up and I’m getting a lot of neat things each week like artist interviews. And monthly or even quarterly is just fine the rest of the time. You need to keep in contact to make a “touch” on the relationship, but make sure you tailor it to the circumstances of your organization.

5. Don’t wait too long to send.

On average, 33% of all people with email addresses change them during the year. Without a recent note, you risk your arts patrons forgetting who you are, and getting them to sign up with their new email address is a lot more difficult. You don’t want them getting your email and saying “Who is this?” Make sure you keep your list alive by sending out at least a short but interesting note once a quarter. As arts marketers, we have the benefit of being able to champion the products of a field that lends itself well to communication technology. With a few safety checks before we hit the send button, you’ll strengthen your relationship with your patrons, and make it easier for them to engage in the good works of your organization.

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About Ron Evans

I am an arts marketing and consumer psychology researcher, and principal consultant at Group of Minds. I advise leaders on behavioral psychology, marketing & technology to nudge audience behavior. Get in touch via email, on Twitter, or Google+: +Ron Evans