Revenue / 05.24.19
Innovative Strategies to Engage Subscribers and Attract Fundraising Dollars
The Fox Theatre in Atlanta is the third most successful theatre in the world for ticket sales. And yet, as Jamie Vosmeier pointed out during a presentation at INTIX 2019, it is fortunate to still be standing, let alone prospering. In telling the story of the venue, where he is Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Vosmeier applauded the community for coming together to save the historic theatre from being demolished and the site turned into a parking deck for Bell South.
“It was purchased by the citizens of Atlanta in the 1970s,” recalls Vosmeier. “They held bake sales and car washes. Schools collected pennies. And people wrote ‘Save the Fox’ on their phone bills. Lots of wealthy folks wrote big checks. It was truly a magical story.”
However, saving the theatre and sustaining it are two different things. While the nonprofit venue made a commitment to operate like a business to help ensure its survivability, it found that good intentions are not always enough.
“It wasn’t sustainable, and it wasn’t realistic,” Vosmeier told the audience. “So about 10 years ago, we started a program called Friends of the Fox. Today our donor program is thriving. We literally started with about 20 members, and we now have approximately 150. While that might not sound like a lot for a theatre that seats 4,600 people, you have to remember how we started from a shoe box.”
Rick Gehman, Marketing Automation Manager for Paciolan, was quick to agree that few live events venues can survive for long operating out of a shoe box.
“It’s about getting someone to connect with you on a single ticket purchase and then convert them into something more, like a series or small donation. The end goal is to get them to be a lifetime subscriber and/or a lifetime donor.”
Gehman, Vosmeier and Mike Prosise, Director of Ticket Services at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, came to INTIX 2019 with a slideshow of examples, best practices and trends to demonstrate the importance of multiple touchpoints and how they help to engage potential donors, members and subscribers to drive revenue.
“There are a lot of different ways that we can do this,” Gehman notes. “We want to help you discover what works best for you.”
Here are 12 strategies gleaned from the presentation:
Gehman’s first example was a simple lightbox that pops up on the Cincinnati Arts Association website offering the opportunity to make a donation during the ticket purchase process.
“As the user, it’s very nonintrusive. I think generally [ticketing professionals] would say 'oh this is annoying, this is intrusive, I don't want to put this in as part of my process', but the metrics don't really bear that out. This is a very simple, 'hey, I'm going to click and continue; I'm going to click off, it’s going to go away; or I'm going to exit out, it takes me two seconds to take action on this.’ There's no indication of bounce rates where people are so offended by these pop-ups that they are actually leaving and not completing their purchase or their donation or whatever that might be.”
The University of Indiana takes a slightly softer approach, according to Gehman.
“As fans are going through their renewal process, a lightbox pops up, and all it asks is whether you are interested in premium seating. It’s not asking for money immediately, and it’s a simple form: ‘yes, I’m interested’ or ‘no, I’m not.’ No one is leaving the page or abandoning their purchase over this very simple question. It’s easy to say yes or no,” he says.
Responses to the forms are collected in a marketing automation database for appropriate action and follow up. If a fan says yes, they are going to receive an email about premium seating options and benefits. There is also an internal notification sent to a sales rep.
2. Interactive lightbox
Portland’5 Centers for the Arts takes the lightbox one step further.
“This is the next step in this lightbox or pop-up world that we live in,” explains Gehman. “I can actually just punch in [the amount I want to donate] if I want to give $5 or $10, $25,000 or $10 million, whatever it ends up being. It’s a simple add-on … and it’s customizable. You can change out the creative for different campaigns. It’s very simple, and it all operates on the backend.”
3. Banner ad ask
For those who worry about being too intrusive, Gehman showed how Texas Performing Arts is making its ask for a $1 gift in a simple banner ad at the bottom of the cart page.
“It’s part of every purchase,” he says. “When you have so many customers and donors going through the checkout process, this is like gravy on the top. If a handful of them click through, it can really add up. This is also a very low-maintenance option. This banner ad can stay here indefinitely; it’s evergreen; it’s something that you can set and forget.”
Nothing makes an emotional connection online better than video. Gehman said the University of Michigan is doing this particularly well, then showed a video featuring hockey players making the ask. Indeed, the school’s student-athlete stories are a compelling way to introduce individual athletes and show how a donor’s dollars can make a difference.
“We’re seeing a real trend with this emotional type of messaging, which gives you an opportunity to really connect with your potential donors [and show them] what their dollars are going to be spent on,” he says. “There’s an easy ‘donate now’ button that will take you to a quick donation page. If I’ve gotten this far, that emotional message has worked and now there’s an opportunity for me to make my contribution.”
5. VIP Experience
Speaking of lost (but then found) opportunities, the Fox Theatre invested $10 million into its new Marquee Club, a 10,000-square-foot exclusive space for ‘members only,’ after realizing it was one of the only premier venues in Atlanta that didn’t offer guests a VIP experience. Memberships start at $3,000 annually, and it’s not tax deductible because it’s a membership, not a donation.
“Memberships really started selling once the club opened,” says Vosmeier. “Our lightbox … is our No. 1 way of selling Marquee Club tickets. When folks are in the buy process and they really want to see John Legend and we say, ‘elevate your experience with John Legend, you don’t have to buy a membership, come try us out for an extra $65 and live like a king for the night.’ Nobody complains, and it really is an amazing tool.”
Personalized URLs, or PURLs, are meant to increase direct marketing response and conversion. If you haven’t used PURLs before, think of them as a custom microsite for every customer. Among other things, they can show each individual fan where they rank in terms of generosity and how to get to the next level.
If the University of Michigan is any example, they work. Gehman told his audience that this university and vendor managed campaign raised an additional $150,000.
“This is a really great example of saying 'OK, here's your current [fan, customer, alumni] priority rank. The way to increase your priority rank is to donate more money.’ What this does is it allows you to show the specific user how far away they are from the next benefit level. What we tend to see a lot of is, ‘oh, I didn't know I was $50 away from the next level’ or ‘I didn't know that the benefit of that was x, y and z;’ ‘I didn't know I could receive these things.’ Something like this simple disclosure and communication removes a lot of that inaction or questioning … and you're able to actually donate the correct amount to get to the next level.”
Gehman added that every time the university sent out an email linking to fan PURLs, they saw an increase in donations. PURLs can also be used for renewals.
7. Personalization communications
“What we’re seeing across the industry is [that organizations are] no longer blasting out every message to everyone in their database. That doesn't work anymore. It’s about personalization,” says Gehman.
It’s perhaps no surprise that a personalized email is more likely to be opened, even if it’s just putting the customer’s first name in the subject line.
“I fall for that every single time,” Gehman says, adding that personalized communications can save time and money, too.
“What we've also found is that this can solve a lot of pain points for you. As far as personalized information goes, I'm going to include your account number in your email and your pin because I get 100 phone calls a day that say ‘I forgot what my account number is’ or ‘I forgot what my pin number is.’ [Another idea that works well is to say] ‘hey, we're going to mail you your tickets, here is the mailing address we have on file for you, is this correct? If not, call us or go to your account and change it.’ These are things that are usually tying up your phone lines or you're dealing with customer support. In its simplest form, it’s a mail merge where the recipient receives their actual contact information.”
8. Behavior-based tracking
Behavior-based tracking is now fairly common across the internet, and Gehman stressed just how important it is to the ticketing industry.
“What we're trying to accomplish is targeting messaging based on what you've actually done. The web pages that you've visited, if you've interacted with emails, if you have not interacted with emails, how do we treat you differently.”
One of the examples was new donor welcome emails after they give for the first time. What happens next?
“This is your first opportunity to get in front of someone who has never interacted with you before. Or now you can say, ‘here's what you can expect from us: you can expect exclusive content, you can expect x, y and z, whatever those benefits are.’ These emails, no surprise, have open rates that are six times the industry average,” says Gehman.
When a customer makes a purchase, they expect to receive confirmation messages. Everyone opens them.
“When someone clicks on a link in your email, our marketing automation software places a cookie on your browser. Once we have that cookie, we can see where you are going on the website. I can see when you have gone to a donor page or when you are on the events page 10 times in a single day, which is pretty important to know. This is also your opportunity to collect more information or weed out bad email addresses because the automated email failed to that user. The reason we like to send it out immediately on that first donation is to get that interaction so that we have cookied you from day one.”
Gehman went on to talk about placing tracking tags on high-value pages, like your events list, donor packages or your version of the Marquee Club.
“If someone is visiting a Marquee Club page three times a week every week and they’re not in the club, someone should call them. Someone should do something about this because they’re obviously interested, so we’re looking for that explicit intent based on their behavior,” says Gehman. “Then when they receive communications about this, usually through email, it looks like a coincidence.”
What doesn’t necessarily look like a coincidence to end users is cart abandonment. These types of follow-up communications are more mainstream than web tracking.
“If I go to Amazon and put something in my cart but don’t buy it, I know I’m getting an email. Every time,” notes Gehman.
Whether it’s Amazon or a local theatre, who can afford to leave money sitting on the table?
“This is an opportunity to send out an email and at least ask the person if they want to come back and complete their order. These are what we call ‘warm leads’; they are as close to a customer or donor as you can get. They’re one click away. They are your warmest of leads. If you’re not following up on these, you can imagine the revenue or donations that are being lost,” he says.
9. Marketing automation
The Fox Theatre is using marketing automation to follow and engage with customers until they become members.
“Our marketing automation campaign is incredible. It’s very robust and sophisticated,” says Vosmeier. “We are going to email you and we’re going to follow you until you’re a member. After someone has shown interest in the Marquee Club, our sales team is alerted, and we use that as a lead. That’s a huge tool for us. And we’ve also integrated the Sales Force CRM to help track our Marquee Club members. Both our group sales team and our donor team also use this incredible tool.”
Additional campaigns you can automate include pre-show emails with start times, parking information and anything else attendees need to know, reminders for payment plans and pledges, and membership renewals. On the day of an event, you can schedule automated emails to send after attendees scan in, informing them of discounts on concessions and merchandise, or anything else you’re looking to push while people are at the venue. Post-event emails can be automated too, including thank you notes and surveys. You can also say ‘sorry we missed you’ to anyone who didn’t scan in.
10. View from seat
“All our seats are the same price no matter where you’re sitting,” notes Prosise. “So, of course with our pre-sales, the donors buy up the best seats. Then we’ve got other seats on the outside that remain. Looking on the map, they may not look very desirable, but if we introduce [view from seat functionality], these spaces are aesthetically great, so even if you are sitting off to the side, the sound and view are terrific. We found this really helps to sell the space if people are looking at it for the first time online.”
11. Round up pricing
If you’re looking for a passive source of revenue, Prosise suggests giving patrons the opportunity to give a little every time they purchase a ticket.
“We enacted round-up pricing three years ago,” he says. “At the end of every online and in-person transaction, we just ask patrons if they want to round up their ticket price to the next $5 or $10. It’s completely passive income, and if you do high volume sales, it can really add up quickly.”
12. Gift cards
“We have a gift card program through Givex,” says Prosise. “We have a very liberal return and exchange policy, but instead of having those dollars walk out on us, we add the ticket value to a Givex card and tie the card to their account so they can come in and use it at the bar, in the gift shop, at the cafe or for a future ticket purchase. It doesn’t expire and can be used over the phone or online. We also find that customers will add value to it at the beginning of the year. Also, since we switched from paper gift certificates to these gift cards, our gift card sales this past holiday season were exponentially greater than what they used to be just because they are so much easier to use.”
You May Also Like
Want news like this delivered to your inbox weekly? Subscribe to the Access Weekly newsletter, your ticket to industry excellence.
Tags: Accessibility , Theater , Mobile , Digital Marketing , Consumer Behavior , Consumer Preferences