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How arts organisations can get more out of e-marketing

Email marketing in some form is already prolific in arts organisations, because it is low cost, targeted and easy to track. With funding cuts looming and a general fall in corporate sponsorship, email is going to be increasingly important in trying to stretch marketing budgets further. At the same time, the digital ‘noise’ surrounding your audience continues to grow so there has never been a better time to re-examine your approach to make sure that your emails are converting into a visit or a ticket purchase. Here are some critical points to consider.

email marketing museums

Some initial desk research from organisations like Marketing Sherpa shows that over the past year the number of people subscribing to arts organisation e-newsletters has been falling, while the number of people unsubscribing has been slowly rising. In addition to volume vs attention-span issues, I believe this is in part due to the changing expectations of web users, who are increasingly demanding a more customised experience from the web, and the failure of email marketing to adapt.

This is a symptom of a general lack, or lack of understanding of, e-marketing strategy. Some of the Sumo team recently attended a talk by PR Smith organised by AMA who demonstrated the dramatic differences organisations experienced when they strategically approached their e-marketing from their audiences’ perspectives, rather than a vague idea of what they thought people wanted to know or simply what they wanted to tell people.

Your emails and website should work closely together: the website is a source of new subscribers to the newsletters and the newsletters are tools to drive traffic to the website. Don’t try and fill the newsletter with information; it is just a tool to channel users to the website, where you can then inform, persuade or inspire your audience, depending on your e-marketing strategy.

Newsletters and e-shots
Your tactics to achieve your strategy should include two distinct types of emails: brand building emails and sales messages. Sales messages should be bright, short, enticing shots: direct mail or advertising in an email format. In a perfect scenario, you would send such an e-shot at just the moment when a consumer is in a position to want the proposition on offer and they would click on the link and take you up on that offer. With careful targeting, this will sometimes happen: ‘Oh, look, there’s a Private View on Friday, let’s go’. In other instances you will instead miss the opportunity-consumer match and the recipient will switch off. Too many of these and the recipient will consider you are just selling ‘at’ them, and start to ignore, or unsubscribe from, your emails.

Therefore, you should support these sales mails with brand building news about the kind of projects you’re involved in, some background information, related news etc. depending on your brand; keeping your brand in the consumer’s mind. Using the above example, the next time that person is wondering what to do on a Friday night, they will look at your website first.

Stuart Nicholle of Purple Seven, also speaking at an AMA event, said that his research has shown that, on average, consumers will accept up to two sales messages in addition to each regular newsletter before they sense overkill. He demonstrated numerous examples of organisations mixing the two kinds of messages, thereby diluting their impact.

Relevance is the key factor in whether or not users will read your newsletter. There are myriad models for segmenting an arts audience, such as for the purposes of e-newsletters and there isn’t space to fit it in here.

In summary though, creating a more customised e-newsletter starts with asking your subscribers what interests them when they join your mailing list. You can then either send different newsletters to different groups, or some programmes will allow you to send the same newsletter but the priority of information is different depending on who is opening it.

If you are a free entry venue then this may be your best opportunity for learning about your audience and it’s general make-up since you aren’t able to gather booking office information.

Feeling special
Sumo’s own research has shown that website users are more likely to sign up for a newsletter if they will be getting special treatment; early or behind-the-scenes information or special offers, as part of their subscription. This might be part of a wider strategy of a Friends organisation or Members club. Either way, if you are able to provide this kind of information then do, and make sure that your audience, both existing and potential, are aware that this is an advantage of newsletter subscription.

Don’t miss an opportunity
Whether you get your subscribers through your website, a sign up booth or at your box office it is important to put special consideration in to the first email that people receive once they have opted in, unlike a standard monthly e-newsletter which can expect to be opened by 30 – 40 percent of recipients, the ratio of people opening this first email is much higher, yet it rarely gets the special treatment it deserves.

Most organisations send subscribers a plain text ‘thank you for subscribing’ email when they sign up, this will either be binned or, worse, sent to the spam folder, ensuring that future emails from you are also treated as spam by the email browser.

With a high opening ratio, the first email users receive from you should communicate information about your organisation, any key exhibitions, events or performances you are currently promoting and list the benefits of subscribing. This will remind subscribers of why they signed up and make them more likely to open an email the next time they receive one from you.

Looking for help with your Arts Marketing? Speak to General Public

About the author – Jim Richardson

Jim Richardson is the founder of MuseumNext. He has worked with the museum sector on digital and innovation projects for more than twenty years and now spends his time championing best practice through MuseumNext.

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