Removing Barriers Through Authentic Communication
As arts organizations, we are really good at putting up barriers for attendance. Some of these barriers are real and some are perceived. Some of them we can’t easily change (like a clunky mobile ticket buying experience that is, unfortunately, par for the course with basically all ticketing CRMs) but for others, change is totally within our power.
How we communicate about our organization and programs is one of those things.
MAKING THE CASE
We are bombarded with hundreds, even thousands of messages each day. What cuts through that clutter is engaging, authentic content to which your target audience can relate. A recent article in Forbes backs this up.
63% of consumers would prefer to do business with a brand they view as more authentic than its competitors.
One example of this that sticks in my mind is a recent Wallace Foundation-funded program at Ballet Austin. (I know this isn’t a museum case study, but stay with me here — I promise it will be applicable.)
In a nutshell, they had assumptions about how ticket buyers moved through an engagement path that, they thought, went from the entry point of The Nutcracker to more unknown mixed repertoire performances.
However, when they did research and looked at the data, they found some things they didn’t expect. (One more reminder not to rely on anecdotal data or assume you know how “your people” behave or what they like. But I digress…)
“The research showed that images as well as the language used in promotional pieces, ads and even program titles, often created a disconnect. “What we thought we were saying was not what people were hearing…
The problem was especially glaring for abstract productions. Based on the promotional materials in some cases, prospective audience members simply couldn’t fathom what they would be seeing.
As for language, Ballet Austin was advertising and talking about the productions in what many prospective ticket buyers considered incomprehensible jargon, which made them feel ignorant and uncomfortable. Even a phrase as basic as “mixed repertoire” was alien to some.”
Let’s let that sink in for a minute. The one thing that they control completely, namely how they talk about their productions, was the very thing that was creating a barrier. Add to that, a fundamental phrase in their industry (“mixed repertoire”) was part of the problem.
We can do better.
Before you embark on any sort of communications campaign, ask yourself these questions:
- Who is my target audience?
Zero in on exactly who you are trying to reach. Even if the thing you’re promoting might be suitable for “everyone,” dial in on with whom it will resonate the most.
- What messaging platforms do they use?
Keep in mind that, depending on your target audience, these platforms may be ones that your organization doesn’t use already.
- What type of voice will best resonate with them?
I can definitively say that jargon and org-speak won’t work. The voice of the campaign should be one that will be engaging to your target audience and one that will make them feel comfortable and welcome.
- What is my desired outcome?
Right from the start, identify what you want the result of the campaign to be. Is it simply for engagement? Is it to sell tickets to a particular event? Is it to court a new audience segment? This will inform your messaging.
Start from a place of putting yourself in the shoes of a totally new patron. This is a good approach not only for genuinely new patrons but also for existing patrons. Just because someone has attended before, doesn’t mean that they are totally hip to industry jargon or your particular brand of org speak. Case in point:
There’s a reason why so many successful CEOs and their ad campaigns use third-grade vocabulary to explain complex things using simple language. “Simple” doesn’t mean that we should assume our patrons are stupid. Quite the opposite. We should simplify our messaging so that we can make a more meaningful connection with them. So that we can genuinely engage with them. So that we can share with them what is so great about what we do.
I know that many of us are too close to the product to really achieve totally jargon-free messaging. I certainly feel that way sometimes, particularly when talking about opera (I’m a recovering singer). Don’t be afraid to reach out to a copywriter who can bring a fresh perspective to what you are trying to communicate.
Here’s an example of some work we did a few years ago at Palm Beach Opera with a copywriter to democratize our messaging:
Notice the lack of jargon here?
The moral of the story is to speak to people like regular human beings. Often, we use jargon to make ourselves sound smarter. That doesn’t do a whole lot of good if it is creating a barrier between us and those we’re trying to reach.
Because, after all: