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November 20, 2008

Marketing a downturn economy: simple tips for arts and dining

Difficult economic times call for different ways of thinking about marketing. From arts organizations looking to fill a seat, to restaurant managers trying to sell a dinner, the issue is the same: how to keep patrons coming in and participating with your organization. In many cases, an organization’s first response to needing to save money in a down economy is to cut costs, and often times the first budget to go is marketing. But when you stop to think about it, marketing is one of the only direct expense-to-income streams you have. Marketing is a revenue generator, not simply an expense, so your organization should be budgeting to market MORE in a down economy, and to market smartly as much as possible. Let’s talk about some easy ways to do this with a goal of not raising expenses or reducing revenues.

Let them know you care

First things first. Your patrons want to know that you understand what’s going on with the economy, and that you realize that it may be harder for them to participate with you. Let them know that you feel their pain, and “sell into the market” by changing your message to reflect your understanding. As an example, theater companies should let their patrons know about existing “pay as you go nights,” opportunities to usher before a show, or even ways to volunteer with the organization in return for access to performances. You may just get a long-term set of helping hands to move you forward. A restaurant can easily mention their regular happy hour specials, with a slant to “fill up on our great appetizers.” It gets them in the door, without a need to discount your product.

Sell them on the benefits

What are the benefits of going to a musical performance or having a nice dinner out? How do those things change when society is stressed by the economy? Focus on relaxation, peace of mind, fun with friends, and “escape” to your patrons — all things that “get them away from it all,” even for a short time. Starbucks became successful because people found that they could enjoy a small indulgence for just a couple of dollars. People are looking for excuses to “treat themselves,” especially when they have already decided to curtail their big vacations and new tv purchases, and savvy marketers should jump to fill in the gap.

Offer helpful information that allows people to participate more easily

Are there factors around participation with your organization that you can help streamline for your patrons? Is your venue near public transportation? Let your customers know they can save money on parking by taking the train to your stop. Are there other things to do nearby that could save time for them? Remember the coffeeshop/laundry combination, where people drop off their clothes and then go next door for a cup a joe? Examine the process that someone needs to go through to participate with you, from calling to make a reservation or buying a ticket, to getting back home again, and look for ways to turn lemons into marketing lemonade.

Make partnerships and market together

Who nearby has a business or service that is complimentary to your own? Arts groups and restaurants make wonderful partners. As an example, let’s say an arts group and a restaurant both have an email list of 1000 people, respectively. Both can, of course, create a special offer that gives their customers 25% off their product. Unfortunately, this creates discounted revenue from people that are knowledgeable about your organization and are already ok with paying the full regular price. While promotions based on price can be effective in getting new customers, you should avoid using price to try to influence existing customers. If the arts group partners with the restaurant however, its easy to send a 25% food discount offer to the arts patrons, without discounting their arts event ticket price. The restaurant gets exposed to 1000 new people vs. their same old list. In reverse, the restaurant would send a discount arts ticket offer to its restaurant patrons, as a benefit to an experience to be had after dinner. Both groups double their exposure, and provide a benefit without cannibalizing their existing customers with a discount offer of their own. Powerful and effective collaborative marketing at its best.

Add value instead of discounting

It can be difficult to resist the powerful urge to use price as a way to market to your existing customers. But tough times do call for a little more “bang for your buck” to get people in the door. Instead of offering a discount, what can you add of value to the experience? Can you create a value that does not cost you money where one did not exist before? It could be as simple as getting your email list to respond to an offer for priority seating in your general admission theater — let folks who respond to the offer into the theater first as a benefit to being on your email list, and then open it up to everybody else. Doesn’t cost your organization anything, but creates a value idea of “getting the best seats.” Talkback sessions with your show’s director or cast members are another free and easy value, that also helps people to understand the work to a greater degree. Or tell your restaurant patrons that on Thursday nights, the executive chef will come to each table and explain the history and the influences of the dishes he or she has created. Again, that knowledge exists, the chef exists, and you can create an interesting, valuable benefit for free, where one didn’t exist before. When times are tough, organizations that market smartly can create revenue in new and interesting ways, that get the attention of the public. While people may quickly get used to discounts, you stand a great chance at getting and keeping their attention by creating promotions that bring value to their lives in other ways. Get your marketing team together and brainstorm on some of these no-cost ways to drive participation, and odds are you’ll enjoy no-risk rewards! Like this post? Please share it with a friend or your favorite social network by using the “Share this” link below.

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