Technology / 02.08.23
Graf of easy-connect Makes the Arts Easier for Audiences of All Ages to Connect With
Wolfgang Graf is founder and CEO of easy-connect, an Austrian technology firm that is making a big difference in live events professionals’ efforts to reach new audiences and streamline their ticketing operations. Graf, though, sees himself as more than just another C-suite executive. He prefers to be known as a “cultural entrepreneur” in the performing arts space.
“My team and I are driven by helping cultural institutions to boost their digital game and, therefore, being able to better compete with the likes of Netflix,” he says. “Our goal is to see the performing arts stay relevant by increasing visibility and enabling cultural institutions to engage with people where they spend most of their time: on their smartphones. We work with major players [Vienna State Opera, the Salzburg Festival, the Berlin Philharmonic, etc.] to increase audience engagement, bring back their audiences, and reach out to NextGen patrons.”
Graf and his colleagues use a digital and mobile-first approach. “We provide innovative digital solutions (e.g., White Label Apps, Streaming Connector) for audience engagement and to connect with NextGen patrons by seamlessly integrating with existing ticketing systems. It all starts with innovative content presentation, including video and audio samples, to increase reach and lower barriers of entry.”
From a technical standpoint, easy-connect has real-time interfaces to different ticketing systems so that the user experience for buying tickets to various live event venues becomes as smooth and intuitive as possible. The goal is to eliminate the need for redirecting. Most importantly, cultural organizations are provided with all customer and transaction data to ensure effective audience development.
Graf adds, “We offer automatic [student] ID and age verification out of the box to enable cultural institutions to open their discounted student/young audience and young professional sales in advance. This creates much easier access, with significantly improved user experience, while having the benefit of receiving all the data. We are particularly focused on social and community features in our apps, as our data shows that, on average, every young customer brings 1.5 new people to the venue, with outliers bringing up to 15 new patrons within one season who weren’t already entries in the ticketing system. That’s a sales force stronger than any marketing campaign could be!”
Graf is especially high on the solutions easy-connect offers to build younger audiences. The company’s white label solutions are designed go hand in hand with digital membership programs, especially young professional/student schemes that already exist across most arts institutions. By fully digitalizing the sign-up process and creating direct access to discounted tickets, arts and cultural institutions no longer have to rely on manual, often last-minute and in-person processes at the ticket office. This removes a very big barrier for entry that younger audiences face.
Graf says, “A huge issue among younger audiences is providing a welcoming experience at the classical arts venues, in what can often be a very alienating environment. By making it easier to communicate with friends and other app members directly — using shared wish-lists, sending referral links via social media, purchasing on behalf of other users — greater reassurance is given to new audiences and the social aspect of the arts experience increases.”
He adds, “Thanks to all the different data touchpoints you can access through an app rather than a website, communication can be direct and personalized via push-notification and in app messages based on user interests and behavior. Research also shows that the conversion is more successful, especially among younger Gen-Z audiences — 157% better according to a study presented at INTIX 2023 — in a mobile app than via a mobile-responsive website.”
Graf further notes that an app can also be used as a “speed boat” to try new ideas and approaches for increased customer acquisition and patron retention. One example he gave is trying out new membership models or digitizing existing ones. “Some institutions have already opted for a more flexible, flat-fee model, similar to Netflix,” he says. “For those that have already ventured into this new and unfamiliar territory, retention of members has become more important than ever. That means being able to target members with information of events and performances they’re interested in is vital.”
Graf is clearly passionate about his work. So what does he consider to be the favorite part of his job? “Meeting with amazing, nice and intrinsically motivated people and having energizing discussions on how to make sure arts and culture stay relevant. In the cultural sector, we all have the same mission. And I am very happy if our company and technology can help make a difference and support cultural institutions to increase their visibility and contribute to the preservation of rich cultural heritage. Making sure culture stays relevant and attractive for NextGen audiences is also a constant driver behind what we do. Of course, a nice perk is being able to travel a lot and meet inspiring people!”
Still, pitfalls and roadblocks remain. Graf finds marketing innovations to always be a challenge. After all, the digital space is very fast, vibrant and quite dynamic. “Most cultural institutions have to face long decision-making processes with many departments and people involved, which often makes it hard to keep momentum going,” he says. “And, of course, budgets are always an issue.”
But with a new year, hope springs eternal. Already easy-connect was a popular vendor at INTIX 2023 in Seattle last month. Looking ahead to the rest of the year, Graf expressed optimism for where his business is headed. “From my basic mindset, I’m an optimistic person,” he says. “The past few years have changed our industry and presented a lot of challenges that cultural institutions are now facing, like some audiences being reluctant to return. But it also ushered in a structural change as we’ve seen a huge digitalization booster on the audience side. We need new digital tools and possibilities to engage with patrons.”
“Regarding new innovations we’re working on, the use of new pioneering tools is evolving,” he says. “Just think about the latest developments in AI. We believe that this is a game changer and is also a huge opportunity for the cultural sector. We want to use AI to address audiences in an even more personalized way, and we are already in fact working on AI implementation as part of our app solutions. Netflix watch your back!”
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Tags: Technology , Digital Solutions