Marketing / 05.12.21
The Story Behind the Click: Reimagining Email
Could email, our most valuable marketing channel, have more to offer? We know there is a story behind every click, including a motivation and a person. But how do we get to that story, and what do we do with that information? In a presentation on the SecuTix Inspiration Stage at the INTIX Live! 2021 Digital Conference, experts explored the vast opportunities that open up when you move beyond numbers and statistics to observe and understand people.
Einar Sævarsson, CEO and Founder of Activity Stream, took the stage to open the session as “an expert on the subject I like most,” a line that will not be lost on fans of the 1951 Broadway show tune from “The King and I,” “Getting to Know You.” And how appropriate is it that this very song title from the past pretty much sums up what theatre impresarios in 2021 need to know to sell more tickets to their shows in the future?
It is a message Sævarsson and his co-presenters brought to life as they told attendees the story behind the click, the reimagined future of email marketing. Behind every click, there is an individual — and the more you get to know that person and the better you know their story, the more likely you are to get them into your venue.
“Looking at email marketing through a statistical lens is not enough,” Sævarsson said. “I think there is a lot of opportunity when you move beyond those statistics and beyond those numbers and you start focusing on that person. Why are they clicking? When are they clicking? What are their intentions? Can we, if we observe them and learn from them, provide a better and a more engaging experience? And how can we use this information to be more effective, and more helpful?”
But Sævarsson was not at INTIX to wonder and ask questions, but to tell a story. He was joined by two experts from Roundabout Theatre in Manhattan — Elizabeth Kandel, Director of Marketing, and Gabe Johnson, Director of Sales and Analytics — who helped demonstrate that the story behind the click was not some imaginary tale, but reality waiting to happen.
As email marketers already know, the job starts with gathering data, something Johnson said Roundabout Theatre has been able to do over a long period of time. “The fact that we have been producing for decades and actually collecting valuable data for so long has allowed us to have a step up when it comes to trying to recreate what we have done in the past, or at least create benchmarks for what we should expect.”
Kandel quickly picked up that thought. “From there, we create lists of previous attendees to those comparable shows, look at how far out they have purchased as compared to when they attended, look at how much they spent on tickets, look at their constituencies to learn about as much as we can about potential buyers for the upcoming production. We have different things to test with. We play with early-bird discounts. We play with price points, messaging, content. When we find the thing that moves the needle, that is something we will stick with or make note of for future campaigns.”
Of course, said Johnson, “This is all basic transactional work that everyone can do. Data that you are already collecting every time someone makes a purchase. It is just a matter of looking at it, grouping people together and continually testing.”
It was the system that Roundabout Theatre turned to in 2018 when it started to presell tickets to Alexi Kaye Campbell’s play “Apologia,” starring Stockard Channing as a woman facing the repercussions of her past. But, in this case, it quickly became apparent that something was different. They looked at what was coming back transactionally, not expecting a lot of out-of-town purchases, but there were actually a lot, and it did not take long to discovery why.
“While Stockard Channing is a major star,” explained Kandel, “we underestimated that her fans would travel to New York to see the show, especially since it was off-Broadway.”
Once that became apparent, everything changed. They began to treat the show like they would any other star-driven Broadway hit and spent a considerable percentage of their marketing budget on a big, qualified national email blast. That gamble garnered them even more information.
“Generally, it is full-price or premium ticket buyers, and we have seen great ROI with it on our Broadway shows with major stars, so it made sense that once we had that little indicator just say it was worth the financial gamble … It has more real estate, there is more opportunity to explain what the show is, particularly with a weird title that was hard to pronounce, so it was more beneficial to have that medium because we could explain more about the show. We could really reinforce her involvement. And with our internal emails, we had tested two different discount offers early on among people who we anticipated to be our early-adopter audience to see if they needed that additional incentive,” Kandel said. “We found a higher engagement rate and higher return from the higher-priced list. That told us that the early-adopter segment on this show were not price sensitive and were more interested in better seats, which further proves this was behaving more like a Broadway show with a major star, where ticket buyers want to sit as close as possible. So this showed us to move our discount strategy to closer to the beginning of the run because the discount seekers — people who are more price sensitive or more driven by a discount — those are the people who are purchasing two weeks out or sometimes during previews once we are in performance, whereas the early adopters are making the decision based on factors like either plot or star, less so for price.”
Kandel continued, “We changed the paid campaign in a big way because that one paid email cost what three or four of our normal paid blasts would cost, so we really put all our eggs in one basket with a positive return. Internally, we noticed that same sort of behavior.”
From there, the show was treated more like a Broadway show in the higher price point offer and in terms of communicating with nonbuyers.
“As the run progressed, we were targeting people based on their interaction with the earlier email campaign. While the lower price discount did not perform early on, we suspected it would perform once the run had begun. So we were still talking to that segment; we were just talking to them when they liked to be talked to, which is closer to the performance that they are interested in,” said Kandel. “This worked very well. Openers who were nonconverters early on were hit with a continued discount strategy, and we started to see a higher return from that. We also had triggered abandoned cart and abandoned browse emails targeting any authenticated web visitors, so anyone who came to the website, once they were de-anonymized, they were getting those same messages with the discounts, which I think did really well for the show. This was also around the time we were able to start to pull CRM lists into paid social campaigns, which was only maybe a year or two old by then, so we were able to look at those early adopters again, those converters, and based on that behavior, create lookalike campaigns, or add in paid social as an additional touchpoint. So now you are getting our emails, and you are being served an ad on social. This was from our playgoers CRM list. We were also able to layer in a niche Facebook audiences like feminine culture vultures.”
Roundabout always had a celebrity seeker category. They also created a strong female lead category — and these marketing efforts were a combination of both.
“Our strong leading lady approach had the highest open rate of the campaign’s promotional emails, surpassing even our traditionally high-performing direct mail email follow-up. We really did craft the campaign around what we were learning about the buyers. It was looking at their past purchase behavior and identifying trends that they were specifically interested in strong female leads that geared us toward this idea.”
With the success of the tweaked “Apologia” campaign, Kandel and Johnson quickly realized that moving beyond numbers and statistics can create vast opportunities. With that in mind, they are already thinking even further ahead. Kandel would like to see even more highly personalized emails but thinks we still have to figure out what that looks like in the theatre space.
“It makes a lot of sense for e-commerce when there are 300 SKUs on a website and you can really say, ‘Because you looked at these 12 items, we are going to show you this.’ It will be a little bit harder when in our best season we are probably only offering nine products, but I would love to see a way where you can start emailing content based on your purchase behavior, your website behavior, based on which of our ads you may have clicked on. I really want to find a way to integrate all of those touch points so that we are telling you what you are most interested in as a consumer — the thing you want to hear from us, as opposed to simply saying what we are saying right now with our website, which is, ‘Here is everything. Here are all of our shows, here are our events, you may not be interested in any of this, you might be here to find out about our education program, but we are telling you all of this anyway.’”
Johnson put it this way: “Basically, what we want is a choose-your-own-adventure model for our website, but more importantly for our emails, where we create a lot of content. So, what you actually get served when you get sent that email every two weeks is based on what you want to see. That can be very different for anyone else that is getting that email … I think if we start looking at people not just from their transactional side, but from every single interaction we have with them, we will get a much broader picture of who the person is and what their interests are; then the way that we target them becomes a lot more focused to the point where I know you well enough where I can send you one email. Of course, that is not the way it is really going to work, but I know enough about you where I have a pretty good idea of what I need to show you in order to get you to buy a ticket.”
Of course, much of their imagined future hinges on technological advancements that will truly bring their dreams to life. “We have all of the data,” said Kandel, “but we need the technology to integrate better so it is not such a heavy lift for our human resources.”
Johnson added, “In theory, if we were to tag people based on their activities, all of that could be automated, and then our human resources are used to create content that is far more interesting that can then, based on those tags, be personalized to the buyer.”
At that point, it is just a matter of figuring out who we need to tell what and when.
“We like email because it gives us flexibility to really elaborate on a message to a person,” said Johnson. “What makes it even better is when we create content and let the technology create the email based on what that person actually wants to see.”
“With technology at our fingertips, the options are limitless,” Kandel said. “Right now we are working from whatever we can get done manually, which is a fair amount. This was a very successful campaign, the legwork of which was almost entirely manual. But just how much better could it have been and how much better could it be in the future if the technology were doing some of this for us?”
And with that, it came back to Einar Sævarsson, whose Icelandic-based company is working with Roundabout Theatre to unlock the potential in email marketing. He summed up the session this way:
“For me, the three main highlights are, first, the power of tagging. When you tag a customer and you tag a show, and you use that to start to mix transactional and observational data, you start to see some really interesting and valuable patterns emerge. Which customers show affinity toward a strong female lead? When and how do they like to buy? How do they like to be talked to? Are they price sensitive? Second, the value of the iterative process. You test, you learn, you test, you learn. You start with a hypothesis; you try it out, and you see what happens. It can be far more valuable to observe how people act then to ask them questions or to survey them. And although both can be smart, the observational data tends to be less biased. Third, creativity is enabled by technology, and this can be a challenge. Creativity is often limited by the lack of resources, or by the lack of technology, or both. And this is probably truer now than ever.”
“Allowing our human resources to focus on creative work, while pushing our data analysis and execution through technological resources, will allow us to make the most of the resources that we already have,” Johnson said. “If the past year has taught us anything, it is that we need to stop taking our resources for granted and make sure that we are investing in people and products that provide the greatest return.”
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Tags: Consumer Behavior , INTIX 2021 , Marketing