No! Theatre NEEDS to be MORE like Ryanair!

In my twitter timeline I have seen tweets from BONCulture and Theatre2016 advertising the report of their conference, along with a headline of Samuel West “Theatre is not Ryanair”.  Today I gave it a read.

The “Ryanair” part is actually a very small part, and talks of drinks and programmes at high prices in theatres. Of course, I agree with this. The headline is very weighted to one part and, actually, I firmly believe theatre NEEDS to be more like Ryanair – whoa! I can already hear teeth grinding, so just give me a chance on this one…….

For all that is sometimes portrayed to be bad about Ryanair, some fairly, some unfairly, “Rip off Fees” “Pay-per-use Toilets” “That DAMN Bugle” it has achieved many things that need to be applauded and that theatre could to well to at least strive for.

Price and Location Accessibility

Not twenty years ago, if you wanted to travel to Bucharest, for whatever reason, your choice was not really a choice. It probably started with “Drive to London” – your choice was then Gatwick or Heathrow and a choice of BA or Lufthansa / KLM via Munich or Amsterdam. All for the “bargain” price of perhaps £300 per person.

It’s great you can see them, folks living in London

So for those of you in the deep South-west, North-east England or Scotland, you were basically excluded from easy access for a weekend break by your geographical location. You would have to leave late Thursday/early Friday and and return early Sunday, and you’d spend more time travelling than enjoying the break.

The same is true of many shows that perhaps are born, live and die in London. It’s great you can see them, folks living in London, but those outside the South-east cannot see them, without an overnight and travel, yet more expense on top of a ticket, without even counting another day away from work.

Queue all day schemes are great, but again, if you have time or are geographically advantaged.

Price is a fun subject to talk about in ticketing or theatre. Let’s also face facts that not all, or perhaps ANY seats on Ryanair on FR2005 (yes Stansted is a London Airport!) – actually sell for £4.99 – but there are now examples of at least SOME seats being readily and fairly available to flyers around the country at this price. Theatre ‘queue all day’ schemes are great, but again, if you have time and/or are geographically advantaged.

So, making a range of accessible prices to people at locations across the UK (not just the South East) is a trait of Ryanair I would welcome in Theatre.

Experimentation

I have taken a fair few ‘punts’ on shows before. We all have, most likely at things like the Fringe. I have seen some from the awful, painful to the down right embarrassing. There have been some superb shows, though, not just at festivals. A trip last year to Welsh National Opera kicked me back into seeing Opera and also Symphony Orchestras. Not as a subscriber, but just enough to be engaged.

Looking back at that Bucharest trip – didn’t a lot of us get our first taste of European city breaks from Ryanair, Easyjet, Go!(remember them?) or BMI-Baby? For sure, now we are older, and, hopefully, with a better income, we can spend four days in Rome, then go onto Pisa and Milan.  But in the past, unless you went Inter-railing (or lived in the South-east), it was budget airlines that opened up your mind to travel, to new ideas, architecture, food, drink or fashion.

New audiences come from experimentation

Without that £9.99 fare would we have been willing to experiment with a weekend away? It may seem like I am repeating myself here, but it’s not so much about the price but about the opportunity to experiment.

“Pay what you like”/”what it was worth” or ‘no-quibble’ refunds can be very risky, but the value conscious consumer likes service providers putting their money where their mouths are.

This is not the solution to all of the problems though. I remember talking to my bank manager about WNO and their “£5 Under 25” tickets (yes he was only 23) and he said he was not sure whether he would “risk it” – as it “wasn’t for him”.

New audiences come from experimentation or through recommendations after experimentation, so we need to help people broaden their consumption to new arts forms, just like Ryanair did with getting us to a weekend in Stavanger.

Equality

In the past I have blogged on airline loyalty. I love it and have recently ascended to another tier on my current programme. Board first, extra bag, upgrade, lounge – I’m sure many of you are familiar with the perks; these don’t really have a place in theatre, although some chains have their lounge programmes.

There is a snobbery with loyalty, or even among  regular flyers – looking down on those who are in economy from their lie flat beds, or a snigger at someone not understanding a closed luggage bin means it’s full.

We must make all customers feel equally welcome

Let’s not forget that theatre – or let’s widen the definition to “buildings that show performances” – have rules, ettiquette as well as names and sounds that people don’t understand or appreciate exist.

Budget airlines stepped forward and wiped away a large amount of exclusivity or elitism.  Yes there is “Speedy Boarding” (first to board the bus to the aircraft), but that was mainly used for you to be able to sit together. On board, there is no little curtain  to separate rows 5 and 6, no different toilet etc., etc.

If you’ve flown in the past four years, you’ll be familiar with the announcement “we know many of you have heard this before, but please spare us a few minutes of your time” – frequent flyers may tut, but it is yet another inclusive, welcoming policy or wording that explains things.

We must make all customers feel equally welcome, that they are just as valued in the £15 seat as the £100 ones, just like Ryanair.

Becoming a Common Thing to Do

A week or two ago, I got chatting to a guy who I was fishing next to. He told me he was taking his first flight in September. (he is in his early 50’s).  I was actually shocked, as I have chatted to him before and he did not strike me as a flight virgin. He asked me if I had flown before, so I replied “yes, 43 times this year”; he was equally shocked by my binge flying.

His is perhaps now becoming a harder to find story, just one of not getting round to an experience or wishing to do it.  I am guessing, outside of medical or psychological issues, most of us, our family and friends have flown. A great many people’s first flight  is on budget airlines (or only flights), because of price and accessibility issues.

Theatre must reach out to those who don’t feel this way about going to the theatre.

This has led to flying being a normal thing to do: most people fly, have flown, have views on flying, airlines to compare, stories about great flights they have been on, as well as the odd unhappy ones or plain awful ones. In short, reviews, sharing, recommendations, talking about experiences, what we ALL want people to do about theatre. Share, recommend, encourage, organise group trips and bookings.

For sure Ryanair don’t make people share stories, but by breaking down barriers, they have, along with other airlines, made air travel more and more popular and something we regard as normal activity. Theatre must reach out to those who don’t feel this way about going to the theatre.

Yes on Ryanair the drinks are overpriced and £20 EACH WAY for a suitcase may sound extreme, but this is just like the booking fees of some theatres.  So we need to look at the overall contribution and barriers we need to remove.

Looking for what WORKS

No, we don’t want a bugle for another “On-time curtain up” for sure. It’s not that I am against Samuel West’s comments, but more the headline.  Let’s look at what we can GAIN from other sectors to help ours succeed.

There are enough challenges for us right now, we should all be looking at opportunities.

 

Baker Richards & JCA announce Segmentation Engine

Initially available for Tessitura system users – launched at their conference this week – Baker Richards and JCA Arts Marketing are releasing what they are calling a Segmentation Engine to help arts marketers profile and segment their customers more accurately, making it “more viable for marketing, development and ticketing professionals”.

to help arts marketers profile and segment their customers more accurately

The new web tool takes data from ticketing systems transactional and donor data so it can be configured to automatically score and profile customer records on the basis of the classic ‘recency, frequency, and value’ criteria and other variables, and, if users wish, tagged with socio-economic and demographic segmentation profiles.  Key factor is that this is then written back into the customer record and enables selection for direct marketing or donor campaigns based on real behavioural data. So e-campaigns can be immediately generated to targeted lists from an instant segmentation.

Their announcement says:

“The Segmentation Engine is a new web application that allows anyone to create a sophisticated audience, visitor or donor segmentation. It brings together transaction and donor data to provide a full picture of patron behavior and allows users to create and customize a range of behavioral variables. The tool then automatically generates a range of alternative segmentations, based on those behavioral variables, and creates tags which are imported back to the organization’s ticketing system to populate patron records with variables and segment information. This allows organizations to:

  • Incorporate a deeper understanding of their patrons as input to strategic planning.
  • Deliver more targeted communications to increase Return On Investment (ROI).
  • Manage customer relationships more effectively.

The Segmentation Engine builds on extensive experience in undertaking highly detailed data analysis and consulting for hundreds of arts organizations worldwide. It is currently available for users of Tessitura® software, with wider distribution to follow.

Baker Richards and JCA are also joint developers of their Revenue Management Application, used by over 80 licensees worldwide to optimize their pricing decisions, and of the arts data warehouse that drives The Audience Agency’s Audience Finder dashboards, which benchmark customer and ticketing data across over 100 arts organisations in the UK.”

This looks to be an intriguing development in the light of the Segmentation Wars we have blogged about before.  We need tools that use real data on customer behaviour and take directly into account their individual ticketing history, attendance patterns, and relationship with the arts organisation, such as whether they are Friends or donors.  It will be good to see this available to more system users than just Tessitura.  Tim Baker will be talking about this and all things pricing at the Ticketing Professionals Conference in Birmingham at the ICC on 25/26th February 2016.

Baker Richards say that “Segmentation is one of the hottest topics around for arts and cultural organizations seeking to improve their communications and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) strategy”.  For more information:

For North America contact JCA: Susan Hornung, +1 212 981 8418, susan.hornung@jcainc.com

For Rest of the World contact Baker Richards: Debbie Richards or Rachael Easton, +44 122 324 2100, debbie.richards@baker-richards.com or rachael.easton@baker-richards.com

Segmentation Wars?

There was an under-current of discussion at the Arts Marketing Association’s great  ‘Stay Curious’ conference in Birmingham this July. Kicked off by The Audience Agency’s breakfast briefing about Audience Finder and Audience Spectrum, with the former now free to UK arts and cultural organisations (previously only free to Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisations), and reinforced by the frequently repeated references to Morris Hargreaves McIntyre’s Culture Segments from the conference stage. There are pilot MHM projects in the Northeast and in Auckland, NZ and we await the results. With consultant Katy Raines also talking about segmentation, this subject is clearly rising high up the agenda.

Andrew @TicketTattle Thomas and I have wondered in the past whether in practice the application of a ‘profile’ to a customer record really makes that much difference compared with reliable factual information on the customer from their purchase behaviour.  This is very much a matter of statistics. Those of us with long memories remember working with CACI in the early 1990s on what we hoped would be an Arts ACORN, combining ticketing history data with CACI’s socio-economic and demographic data. Duncan May, now at ATG, worked closely with them on building the profile. But in the end they said the results were not statistically significant and an Arts ACORN did not emerge.

Degrees of statistical significance was of course Peter Verwey’s mantra

Degrees of statistical significance was of course Peter Verwey’s mantra at the Arts Council of Great Britain about the use of the Target Group Index data at postcode sector level. As a lottery funding assessor I read quite a few marketplace analyses in business plans which were written on the basis that a small number of people in a rural catchment area were for example factually “contemporary dance attenders” when in practice such data was only a projection and unreliable in a small population at that level. One of the benefits of Audience Spectrum is to build in real attendance data from across the country to inform the accuracy of the profile – I must declare an interest as an adviser to The Audience Agency. And MHM’s Culture Segments uses some qualitative “golden questions” to get at attitudinal and motivational factors.

 Just how much information did we already have on customers

At the AMA conference Andrew and I also had a few quiet conversations with honest folk who wondered why segmentation profiles were apparently so important, just what difference could it make, how should they use it, and would it in fact really make a difference for them? This took me back to 1993 and the conversations with Duncan May, Christopher Travers, John Matthews, Vivienne Moore, Jonathan Hyams and others when I was writing BOXING CLEVER. Just how much information did we already have on customers in the new computerised ticketing systems and what should we be doing with it? My late colleague Tim Roberts mused 20 years later, after two editions of FULL HOUSE, published in multiple languages, that people were still not understanding frequency of attendance or using it to segment attenders according to their behaviour, and our 15:35:50 frequency formula remained neglected (and you can refine data today much better than that simple formula).

Michael Nabarro of Spektrix has blogged about arts organisations needing to get their heads around customer data, and they and PatronBase have expanded the tools to make analysing customer behaviour and grouping people together easier. If you want to, you can directly add in segmentation profiles. Of course, going back to 1993, we knew that actually it was not the group that was important, but each and every individual customer; CRM consultant Helen Dunnett reminds everyone about the “niche of one”: they know about their relationship with your arts organisation, but do you know about your relationship with them, and do you use that data in the ticketing system to drive the tailored communications to them?

The ticketing system suppliers are mostly collaborating with the proprietary segmentation tools emerging, but in most cases these are projecting on to individual customers a profile derived from large samples. In the past when there was just ACORN and Mosaic we wanted to test out which was “better” for targeting. But Stuart Nicolle (“You can get 35 pieces of data from 7 collected in the customer transaction”) with his “Balanced Database” tool at Purple Seven demonstrated repeatedly that real data could be used to focus and sharpen marketing effort, contacting fewer people with bigger results – we know, Helen Dunnett and I helped carry out a test at Colston Hall in Bristol with him.

“just push the button” marketing

Peter Verwey joked about one day reaching the stage of “just push the button” marketing. We are not there yet, and we can watch the segmentation wars, while recommending that people should perhaps concentrate on their actual customer data for targeting until something proven to be better comes along.

 

Roger Tomlinson

August 2015

Jack Rubin: ‘pilot’ or ‘captain’ of the good ship Tessitura?

His name has been inextricably central to the Tessitura message since it launched fully fledged into the ticketing marketplace in 2000, with its unique ‘not-for-profit’ business model and radical way of working with its co-owning users. I think he sees himself as a ‘pilot’ in the shipping sense, nudging with his experience and knowledge the Tessitura crew in the right strategic direction; others, including me, credit him as ‘captain’ leading and motivating the crew and keeping focus on their mission, especially good at articulating that “fitness-for-purpose” of the system as a solution and the Network as a community.

service levels in the 1990’s inhibited by the available technology

Tessitura, the system, came out of New York’s Metropolitan Opera (The Met). Like many other arts organisations, they saw their service levels in the 1990’s inhibited by the available technology, and their patience with their suppliers meant they were always behind the customer curve as the on-line wave broke. That turned to impatience, and, unwilling to wait for consultants and techies to fix it, they decided to develop their own in-house solution, creating a unified ticketing, CRM, marketing and fund-raising system. They appointed Chuck Reif as Senior VP of Technology and allocated a budget of $5M over 3 years to build their unified system. They succeeded where others failed. Chuck of course remains in charge of Tessitura technology.

Originally called Impresario, The Met wanted to achieve some return on their investment and licensed the system to a couple of other users, and even investigated the possibility of selling it. This is where Jack enters the system’s history in 2001. From a background in finance and marketing in international corporations, being involved in some start-ups and acquisitions, and having worked at Hotels.com to help take them public, he was running a venture capital backed Internet e-commerce solution, and was one of the people The Met talked to about the future of their system.

Jack was invited by The Met to facilitate a discussion with other interested not-for-profit arts organisations, leading to a meeting in Santa Fe with 35 people from 7 different arts organisations. Was there a business model that could work better for them, certainly better than the increasingly problematic investor-driven model that was causing problems for former market leaders in ticketing systems – evidenced for me by the difficult times with Tickets.com?

Was there a business model that could work better for them, certainly better than the increasingly problematic investor-driven model

That Santa Fe meeting drew up a mission statement which is virtually word for word in the Tessitura mission statement of today. There was a confluence of need, critical to their success, for arts organisations to deal with a changing world, changing communications, with Internet, email and new e-commerce models. The goal was about making arts organisations more successful by working smarter and working with an “enterprise solution”.

The seven organisations that were the early adopters of Tessitura invited Jack to form a new company with Chuck Reif, but not one that could be commercially morphed into something else. They set up a not-for-profit corporation with a Board from the users of the system, creating the co-ownership Network model. The Met saw themselves as helping benefit arts and culture while getting some of their investment returned through licensing, initially at a higher level than is now charged today.

It is worth saying that the targets for growth were modest, originally for 50 users, reflected in the Network’s decisions to be a virtual organisation, with Jack as the front man presenting the system and its business model to potential users, and Chuck and his team concentrating on keeping the technology at the leading edge. Users felt trust and confidence in the business model, but wanted the system to exceed their expectations, with core functionality as the key to meeting their needs.

The Network’s membership model is now based on variable licensing costs and annual membership fees according to turnover – in 14 years only 4 membership fee increases. Licenses are for a lifetime, unlimited, without charges per user or any transaction fees, and all Tessitura functionality is bundled in so Tessitura does not play the module game that some suppliers do (there are some add-ons available which are separately charged).

147 people on the Tessitura team worldwide, working in 8 countries

So in 2015 there are 147 people on the Tessitura team worldwide, working in 8 countries, with over 515 organisations using the system. The team did not include a marketing person until 2014. And over 200 of the user organisations in fact share their system with other organisations, such as the Wales Millennium Centre model in the UK; the largest of these has 14 regional theatres in Philadelphia sharing their system. Since 2001, retention has been over 99% for users and 85% for staff from their first employment. Tony Barnes has been regional operational director for the UK and Europe for 10 years now.

Jack reports to a Board drawn from license holders – small, medium and large – covering geographies, genres and skill-set, driven by a desire to lead innovation, provide great service, and keep costs down. That innovation is driven by a Member Advisory Committee, working with Chuck and the Tessitura development team, that prioritises the ‘road map’ for development. 70% of ideas come from users and 30% from the team, who spend their lives on the road with Tessitura users. They deliver a new release every year in a transparent process, with new code posted to a ‘sandbox’ so users can review and test, see every change, and help prioritise and identify enhancements. Some users then beta test the latest version as it goes through quality assurance. Hundreds of enhancement requests, big and small, are also submitted each year, and many of them are also added, in addition to the big road map-driven items.

by users, for users

Reflecting the co-ownership model, they chose to hold an annual conference from the beginning, driven by a planning committee of the users (apparently 200 people on it for this year’s this month) as Jack says “by users, for users”. This is now quite definitely the world’s largest arts and cultural conference, with much more than ticketing on the agenda, since it is cross genre, cross functions, cross geography, and open to all ideas. There are twelve concurrent tracks, covering all functions such as ticketing, philanthropy, web, CRM, marketing, etc.  Reflecting this, American opera singer Renée Fleming will give their keynote on August 18th in Orlando on topics for which she has long been a strong advocate – audience development, community engagement and arts education.

Indeed Tessitura is becoming a TEDx of arts and culture with its free webinars sharing knowledge on a global scale with the Innovator Series and posted on a Tessitura YouTube channel.

secret sauce

Unusually for a ticketing/ CRM system supplier, Tessitura has a VP of Community, headed up by Don Youngberg who leads what is effectively a full time community team.  Community is their “secret sauce”, since the Network has proved to be founded on sharing to help each other and make each other better. That seems to irritate other ticketing system suppliers, who see Tessitura relating to CEOs and Artistic Directors, and running a conference that attracts people from all parts of user organisations. There are also large regional conferences: in November, the Tessitura Network European Conference will be in Nottingham with likely 350 or more attendees; there will be an Australia/New Zealand conference in April 2016 in Sydney.

Tessitura has behaved differently from other ticketing systems from the beginning, since you might say it has been clear from the beginning that it is not just a ticketing system. Chuck Reif came to the UK for six months to install the first UK clients, working on localisation and specific needs. Given that users see this as mission critical, the “enterprise solution” has delivered both “out of the box” configurable functionality, and a platform on which users can build their own customer experience tools. So far they say the users have not found a technological restraint in Tessitura. And they continue to innovate to help arts organisations facing financial challenges and to enable audience development and to raise funds via philanthropy and memberships. Tessitura was designed from the onset to be equally strong for fund-raising as well. The biggest release in the history of their software is about to roll out to complete a major expansion of the system and the user interfaces.

Tessitura has added a small services division to help provide techie and database administration skills to user organisations, and now has an enterprise consulting division on marketing and fund-raising to help build the business capabilities of user organisations.  Jack says their success is partly because they avoid a corporate culture and focus instead on anti-bureaucracy and on collaboration, with themselves as partners, not vendors.

Jack talks well about the Tessitura Network and his belief that the right staff with the right business model can deliver the success the users want. With strong staff retention, they have a sabbatical system, with a 7 week paid break every 7 years to help staff re-charge and re-think. Jack seems to me to have been the Network’s leading salesperson since the effective consortium was formed, and he has certainly been reticent about adding marketing people (first one in 2014) and expanding client development functions (some churn in this function in the UK), and he remains careful about the solution and how it is presented. With the team all wearing their Tessitura logo dress shirts, focussed on the corporate mission and values, and with a coherent core message, and users that all have a good word about “their” system, you can see why arts and cultural organisations sign up to join something much more than a ticketing system.

How much credit do we give Jack Rubin for what has been achieved?  He has certainly made a big difference.

There will be some live streaming from this August’s Tessitura Conference, week of 17th August 2015: http://www.tessituranetwork.com/live

Roger Tomlinson

August 2015

How bad before intolerable?

I am a frequent attender at the Arts Picturehouse in Cambridge.  It has an audience that seems to book the majority of seats in advance online – the Box Office is rarely staffed and the few people on the door buy tickets from the bar or merchandise counters.  That audience takes advantage of reserved numbered seats and the ability to take drinks into the auditoria in glasses (not plastic).  There is also a very successful membership scheme which eliminates booking fees, gives some free seats and discounts on tickets, and there are wine and snack packages.

Until 2014 the Arts Picturehouses chain was independent, but was then taken over by CineWorld.  At first we saw little change in Cambridge, except that operation became somewhat more chaotic and staff less informed – especially if asked about the many live relay streamings.  Not knowing the actual performance time or interval details is unhelpful to audiences attending a screening due to take nearly 5 hours.

the online booking service seriously deteriorated

However, in February 2015, the online booking service seriously deteriorated.  With failing bookings online, beleaguered staff when phoned said it was due to the introduction of a new website, and later that it was a change in the ticketing system.  Arts Picturehouses were apparently migrating from their Newman system which had fully met their needs, to Vista, used by Cineworld, which plainly didn’t.

Now, changing systems and the likelihood of some short term disruption is possible, and this runs the risk of upsetting some customers, but surely five months is too long a time to not get it right?  Especially for members.  For a period, advance booked screenings of streamings could not be accessed, and tickets weren’t accessible for many events.  The basics can be frustrating.  Are the seating plans accurate in layout and in showing availability – apparently booked seats remain empty through a screening.  And increasingly they offer only “General Admission” screenings, removing one of their core USPs.  Membership numbers are repeatedly not recognised , denying access to discounts.  QR codes to validate tickets have mostly disappeared.  Often the purchaser will see an error message that their transaction was successful but they can’t send the tickets through.  We now have to phone very often to complete/check our transaction.

I hope they didn’t think we were just “bums on seats”

The staff on the phone acknowledge the difficulties – it is as bad for them as for the public – and are endlessly patient in resolving the issues, usually satisfactorily. But the core of the business has been disrupted, and relations with customers badly damaged.  Arts Picturehouse customers are not just consumers of movies, and the chain markets itself as a different and more engaged experience.  So why risk alienating the audience with apparently bad technology?  I hope they didn’t think we were just “bums on seats”.

What do we put customers through when we give them an unsatisfactory purchase experience?  Andrew Thomas and I will be reviewing how you can use Google Analytics to help optimise the purchase experience in the Digital Hub at the AMA Conference in Birmingham, or visit us at Consultants Corner on Tuesday afternoon 21st 2-5pm at the Rep – you don’t have to be attending the conference:  http://theticketinginstitute.com/consultants-corner-pre-ama/

Roger Tomlinson

PatronBase ‘does it different’

Apologies to English grammar and the original Apple ad, but in the same way that Apple intended, I think PatronBase defies convention, and ‘does it different’. A string of new developments prove that to me, being no way conventional.  I acknowledge that other system suppliers defy convention to a degree – Tessitura and Spektrix are examples – but the particular emphasis of PatronBase is intriguing.

 chief evangelist

I first saw the PatronBase system at the Fortune Theatre in Dunedin, New Zealand a decade ago, asked by Creative New Zealand to informally evaluate the system. I was on a speakers’ tour of the major cities with Tim Roberts. John Caldwell, the proprietor and “chief evangelist” of PatronBase, turned up at every one, not only taking notes but talking to us about how he could further develop his software. At the time I dubbed it as “the Databox of the Southern Hemisphere” because it reminded me of the refreshing innovative approach of Jonathan Hyams – always exceeding expectations – and his commitment to empowering arts organisations at an affordable cost.

Clearly proprietors/founders have a significant influence on the businesses they set up, not just Jonathan Hyams, but Richard Leggatt at BOCS then Galathea STS creating ENTA, and more recently Michael Nabarro at Spektrix, and in a different way Jack Rubin at Tessitura.  So when John Caldwell decided to introduce PatronBase into the UK, encouraged by Stuart Nicolle at Purple Seven and myself, this was a welcome addition to the available ticketing, marketing and CRM solutions, meeting a need from those arts organisations who simply could not afford many of the systems on the market. He said recently “the system does not have a higher price, perhaps commensurate with its features and its competition, because that would take the system outside of the price bracket of the very customers that we are committed to serve”. But PatronBase goes further in defying convention.

 published tariff

First PatronBase surprises people by having a published tariff, which is inclusive of upgrades and “continuous improvement”, supplied at relatively very low cost, without any fees or charges, just a modest annual software support and maintenance charge. Second PatronBase selects who should be customers, preferring to work with creative, usually producing, arts organisations that share their philosophical commitment to delivering the arts effectively and to developing audiences. Third it goes an ‘extra mile’ in implementation in making sure users can fully utilise all the opportunities of the system, without charging extra.

In September 2013, PatronBase was celebrating over 100 users in New Zealand, Australia, UK, Ireland and Spain (more than 160 now), and I was invited to meet their development team, drawn together from around the world to Christchurch, NZ, to talk about the future. I saw some exciting ideas being brainstormed, and, as ever, had my views on what the next generation systems should offer. So in February 2015 I was looking forward to seeing the outcome being presented to users in Auckland and Christchurch.

 what constitutes a “new” system

Afterwards, I found myself debating with David Martin, an experienced and knowledgeable ticketing consultant in NZ, exactly what constituted a new iteration of a system, or a new version, or a completely new product. Because what we had seen confounded our expectations, by defying the conventions.

For a start, we had seen a new browser-based “front-end” to the system – called the Web Hub – which offered a completely different ‘look and feel’ and user experience, with specific functionality, with touch screen capability and a breath-taking ease of use. Yet this was additional – the whole of the existing system with all its functionality and screens was still there to be accessed – this was almost as an alternative to the core offering, with a focused set of tasks. On top of the dashboard for senior management, running on Macs as well as PCs, and a ‘chat’ solution available locally or across a community of users, this felt like a new system.

 ship in a bottle

This was the core of what John Caldwell presented as his “ship in a bottle” upgrade, as in drawing together a large number of parts all working together to create the finished item, and he quoted Buckminster Fuller: “You can’t change the way people think, all you can do is give them a tool, the use of which will change their thinking”. The focus of this release was entirely on “the patron” and their interface with users’ organisations, and the means to reach them based on deeper knowledge and understanding of their behaviours, and to make sure for example that the loyalty points scheme was part of all the customer’s spending and purchases.

Back in 2013, John Caldwell had been keen on the next generation of integrated CRM functionality, going beyond what in practice many venues use, and accommodating the demanding needs of audience and fund-raising development, multiple ways of segmenting and profiling customers, with as much customisable functionality as possible, so venues could manage their specific needs. The emerging Patron Attributes tools, not quite complete because of the decision to incorporate Culture Segments natively into the application and not just for individual users who signed up, extends the suite of tools and the content of customer records to combine/create that 360 degree view of customer relationships from all their inter-actions, recording all the factors relevant to their record. There are then great tools to deploy, manipulate and utilise the results.

Combined with significant additional functionality for memberships, to track multiple memberships, people can also be linked together in groups, if necessary making group membership visible on customer records.  This is ideal for family or workplace groupings and greatly adds to the potential for what I call ‘US-style ‘task-based’ CRM’.  My late colleague Tim Roberts, who always questioned whether ticketing systems were true CRM, would have been impressed.

Also back in 2013, John Caldwell had referred to developing a “merchandise module” to extend the PatronBase ability to manage inventory and sell items other than tickets, part of a strategy discussed with Chapter in Cardiff and ONFife in Scotland to provide a “one-stop-shop” solution for customer-facing inter-actions such as purchases of food and drink, ice creams, programmes, merchandise, etc., helping join up the thinking by “following the patron” through all their F-o-H and purchase experiences.

Having evaluated epos, retail and catering systems for venues, where the software costs are significant factors, I was well aware of the wrinkles that make such solutions challenging, and too many fall short. So it seemed realistic to expect a cut down simplified solution. No, that is not what was revealed, but a full stock control inventory management solution, right down to handling items bought in larger units and dispensed in smaller ones such as bottles and glasses of wine, coping with stock and re-ordering, and deliveries and stock in multiple locations. And of course this functionality surfaces soon in the Web Hub and the Internet Ticketing engine for customer pre-orders with advance payment, all in the one shopping cart. What is there now is a QuickPOS front-end with catalogue, size, style and colour options, all reconciled back to both the customer and the stock control, right down to refunds and exchanges, optimised for various screens. What’s not to like?

 tools to ‘join-up thinking’

There were general managers, producers and directors as well as marketing and ticketing staff in these user sessions, and I was struck by the strong reaction of those senior managers to the tools to  “join-up thinking” that they were seeing. Some updates for the Venue Manager module nearly got a round of applause, since they confirmed that this was not some cut-down tool as a bolt-on, but a key co-ordinated module enabling them to manage resources and usage, room bookings and events across multiple spaces, completely integrated into the ticketing system.

I was surprised to hear John Caldwell talking about the “steady stream” of customers signing up to the “hosted version” of PatronBase in New Zealand, with existing customers migrating to the hosted solution, since this was news to me. Yes this is in the Cloud, but not a SaaS (Software as a Service) model, in this case with PatronBase handling the server hardware, inter-connectivity and software management for the users for a set annual charge. This is already an option in the UK. Once again PatronBase are offering this for a much lower cost to venues.

It was this that ultimately reminded me that ‘PatronBase does it different’. The PatronBase commitment to supplying low cost fully fledged solutions to arts organisations, joining up their tools and saving on having multiple software solutions for different functions, not charging for upgrades as such, and genuinely delivering continuous improvement, is remarkable.

the M.E.A.T. principle

I know some people in venues in the UK struggle to understand how such a highly developed system could be a modest cost, and effectively ask why doesn’t it cost more? It almost seems some people don’t want to be thought they are buying a low cost solution – “Cheap?”.   Clearly, it is the PatronBase philosophy to ensure the cost is modest.  Charity Finance Consultant Steve Mahon pointed out to me that Finance Directors of charities are supposed to follow the M.E.A.T. principle – the Most Economically Advantageous Tender – and secure certainty with containment of costs. Perhaps we need to remind cash-strapped arts organisations of this principle?

not just for profit

The philosophy of the company is part of the product: not just for profit say PatronBase.  Has PatronBase delivered a new version of their system, or just confounded us all by doing something different, which ironically presses the very buttons that many arts organisations want?

Representative Audiences?

This article was commissioned by the Arts Marketing Association and published by UK Theatre in November 2014 on the provocations from politicians and the desire for “representative audiences” and culture for all

This June 2014, in a surprising co-incidence, both the new UK Culture Secretary and his Labour Shadow made speeches within days of each other about “cultural exclusion”.

“A lot of people who are paying to support culture through their taxes and lottery tickets seem to think that consuming it is simply not for them. That the work they subsidise is for other, richer people.” That’s Sajid Javid, the UK’s Culture Secretary in his first speech on Friday 6 June, at St George’s in Bristol. https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/culture-for-all

“It is every child’s right to open up and explore their artistic and creative potential which should be a journey which goes on for the rest of their life…How, then, can we accept a situation where some get that opportunity and others do not? How can we tolerate cultural exclusion?” That’s Harriet Harman, the Labour Shadow Culture Secretary the following Monday, at the Roundhouse in London. http://press.labour.org.uk/post/88265413304/speech-on-young-people-and-the-arts-by-harriet-harman

Both of them laced their speeches with personal experience. Like Sajid Javid, Harriet Harman made the point about who the arts was actually reaching: “when I went to the Opera House last week – even from the cheapest seats in the house – I couldn’t see in the audience anyone who wasn’t like myself – white, metropolitan and middle class. For institutions which get public funds, it can’t be like that. To change audiences, there has to be committed, focused intervention.”

Sajid Javid: “Never forget that every penny of taxpayer support and lottery cash that goes to culture has been provided by hard-working people from every community in the UK. Communities like the one I grew up in. My family lived on a road that has been described as “Britain’s most dangerous street”. And for a bus driver’s son in that world, the idea of popping along to the Donmar Warehouse – or even the Bristol Old Vic – to take in a cutting-edge new production was simply not on the agenda. It wasn’t what people like me, people from my background did.

Harriet Harman went on to say “we must have state support through public funds for the arts. It cannot be left to the private market or philanthropy. But there is a democratic imperative for the arts to show why the hard-pressed tax payer – struggling with the cost of living crisis – should fund the arts.” Sajid David pointed out “I want you to make what you do accessible to everyone. That doesn’t mean striving for popularity and aiming for the lowest common denominator. It means ensuring that everyone in the UK has the opportunity to engage with our artists and actors, our history and heritage. It means giving everyone a chance to develop their own cultural tastes.”

Arts Council guidance

 This ought to be the outcome of policy combined with the knowledge and experience of the sector. Current Arts Council England guidance to National Portfolio Organisations (NPO) is that they “will demonstrate how they are sharing their work with as large and wide an audience as possible, including those who are currently least-engaged with arts and culture.” Every NPO must have an audience development plan and priorities could be that:

  • “current audiences are not as representative of the local population as you would expect”

It does seem reasonable for every publicly funded arts organisation to make itself welcoming to the whole community around it, and to seek to engage with as many people as possible in appropriate ways, so that most sectors of society are “represented” in their audiences.

I often ask staff in arts organisations: When you are thinking about your customers, the potential attenders, what’s your perspective? Are you standing inside your venue looking out at them? Or are you standing out there with them, where they live, understanding their circumstances, and looking at your organisation from their perspective?

Not for the likes of you

Standing with them, what do they see in terms of the communications and messages coming at you through all the different media, all the different channels, the print and the advertising? If you were them, how genuinely friendly and welcoming is your organisation; how do your marketing messages and their means of communication relate to their circumstances and lifestyles? In arts marketing this is defined as “positioning”, often complicated by the apparent “ownership” of the arts in the UK by people of particular ages and socio-economic groups, with similar higher education levels.

This is also the ‘Not for the likes of you’ argument, based on extensive action research on 32 different cultural organisations in the UK. Though dating from 2004, it is even more relevant today than then. Their focus was on how a cultural organisation can become accessible to a broad general audience by changing its overall positioning and message, rather than just by implementing targeted audience development schemes or projects (though those of course are entirely necessary). http://culturehive.co.uk/resources/not-for-the-likes-of-you-how-to-reach-a-broader-audience There are many resources in the AMA’s CultureHive to help.

People working in the arts have long recognised that there are not just geographical barriers to attendance, but physical, social and psychological barriers, and the Arts Marketing Association conferences and workshops have regularly addressed the issues. Previous UK Government and Arts Council England policy had been criticized for trying to correct the imbalances in society, described by some as “social engineering”, but, though the emphasis may have shifted subtly, even today NPO guidance defines diversity as encompassing “responding to issues around race, ethnicity, faith, disability, age, gender, sexuality, class and economic disadvantage and any social and institutional barriers that prevent people from creating, participating or enjoying the arts”. ‘Representative audiences’ need to reflect all the communities they come from.

You will still hear criticism that being “more accessible” equates to “dumbing down” and is more “worthy” than realistic, but the practical “experience is that, far from suffering as a consequence of taking access seriously, your product gains new life, vibrancy and meaning. It connects with people in a new way, and so moves them as it was not able to do before” report the Not For The Likes of You researchers. It is do-able.

 Many Voices

 Francois Matarasso in ‘Many Voices’ points out that arts organisations “need to build trust in their good faith as convenors of a cultural discourse that is fair, inclusive and open. There is no reason to expect those who feel marginalised by existing public cultural policy to accept the legitimacy of public actors”. He was speaking in 2006, but this is a particularly interesting question in the changing make-up of UK society today. Though ethnic “minorities” remain such in many parts of Britain, the not-white populations of some of our major cities such as London, Birmingham and Leicester are reaching proportions that could question that “legitimacy”. What should city centre audiences look like in the cultural institutions in those cities? How should cultural institutions reflect the plurality of their surrounding societies? Some arts organisations – the Royal Shakespeare Company is a good example – work hard to ensure that their staff and actors are representative of contemporary society, but the continuing challenge is to achieve representative audiences. http://culturehive.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/24446185-Many-Voices-by-Francois-Matarasso-2006_0.pdf

 Genuine targeting

 It remains the case that, despite the tools for segmentation and customer relationship management, many arts organisations messages are not ‘broadcast’ but ‘narrowcast’:– a single ‘message’, one tone of voice, one vocabulary, often using “insider” jargon and imagery. So while the tools for reaching different ‘target’ communities with appropriate ‘tailored’ messages for them are available, they are just not used as they could be. However, understanding the diversity of the opportunity needs dialogue and understanding, getting closer to people and listening, to find what is relevant to them. Experian reports that “52% of consumers would walk away from a company that tried to sell them something they weren’t interested in”. But where does the lack of interest come from? We can say the problems of arts education in the UK in recent years are not helping, but ‘Not for the likes of you’ action research demonstrated that real change was possible from arts organisations own holistic efforts.

Resources: http://culturehive.co.uk/tags/diversity

 

 

The future of the Box Office?

This article was commissioned by Musical America and published in October 2014.

“If the Box Office didn’t exist, would we have to invent it?”

In 2001, the BBC Technology Correspondent Bill Thompson said that the Box Office would be dead by 2010. He thought the Internet in all its facets would ultimately replace the need for face-to-face ticket sales counters or phone bookings. His prediction, despite being overtaken by the impact of the Smartphone and hand-held Tablets, has not yet come true. But there is an increasingly loud debate about the future of ticketing and the role of the Box Office.

It is an old truism that, to get into a performance, someone in your group will have to pay for tickets – in the current debate that is the only constant, with questioning of how they might book, how they might pay, and what form the “ticket” will take.

 New questions: What channel will they use to book? On what devices? How will they pay? What form of “ticket”?

These are key questions around the technology: the ticketing, marketing and CRM computer systems now at the heart of interactions with customers. Some of these have become “platforms” to enable organisations to link their software solutions around the central customer record. This provides the “database of truth” so all customer interactions are recorded in one place, and can be used in communications and when staff are handling customers.

Systems such as Tessitura are a great example of this, its’ not-for-profit model meaning it works with its users to provide solutions throughout their enterprises. Stalwarts in the past such as Theatre Manager have ‘joined-up the thinking” to provide comprehensive solutions, but now market leading technology from the likes of AudienceView, TopTix, and Spektrix enable interfaces deep into social media, state-of-the-art web sales tools, and the ability to serve multiple sales channels on different devices.

Getting closer to people through data

Clever marketers recognise the power of the data in the customer records from all those interactions, and now want their systems to profile their customers, enable them to segment them meaningfully, and help them deliver more interactive relationships. There are already specialist suppliers emerging that can offer socio economic profiling tools for arts and entertainment customers, such as Culture Segments from mhminsight.com.

Instead of pushing carefully targeted information out to segmented customers, venues are starting to pull responses from their attenders, canvassing their opinions, polling them, for example, about performance times and dates. There have been successful one-off examples of this, but the tipping point is coming for venues to engage closely with their audiences on creating and delivering their experiences. (See Changing the Vantage Point). All this needs more dialogue.

Big Data needs more dialogue, not less, using intelligence to get closer to customers

Ironically, it is a truism that in many venues, even today, the people that customers get to talk to most are either sales staff in the box office or the ushers checking their tickets, if they speak to anyone at all. Could it be that if the Box Office did not exist, we would have to invent it?

 Keep on talking

In these difficult economic times, we need to move from a transactional relationship with attenders to one based on deeper engagement and longer term personal relationships. Just when we need to personalise and tailor communications to the individual customer and their specific needs, the Internet, e-marketing, online ticket sales, have meant that we are in fact in less direct dialogue with customers. Even when communicating personally on Smartphones, Tablets like the iPad, we are using emails, texts and Apps.  Social media is providing an open channel of communication, and we are seeing engagement via Facebook, crowd-sourcing and even content creation from attenders. But how real is this as actual dialogue in practice?

 But how real is this as actual dialogue in practice?

Real dialogue with individual customers remains essential if engagement is to include donations and other personal support for your organisation and further, deeper, involvement. The dilemma appears to be for those organisations that developed separate offices to provide personal help and service to say subscribers or members and friends, when now they face an apparently inexorable trend to transfer to a self-service Internet model, as part of saving costs and ‘working smarter’. The good news is that some organisations are rationalizing to a ”One-Stop-Shop” point of contact for all customer service. And seeing some opportunities in this for providing added-value concierge-type services to certain categories of attenders.

It is possible to categorise the types of customers whose needs must be addressed by real dialogue:

  • New first-time attenders who need help with the buying process
  • Returning single ticket buyers who want personal service
  • Subscribers: assistance with subscription purchase; in season customer service
  • Members, Friends and/or participants in Loyalty Schemes who have specific benefits
  • Donors, Funders, Sponsors and Board Members given special service
  • People with special needs for accessibility
  • Older attenders not using Internet and smartphone technology
  • People with enquiries seeking information of all kinds

It is hard to see the Box Office becoming redundant as a customer-service point for real dialogue with potential ticket purchasers and attenders.

 Taking the time to talk

After all the years of pressurizing staff to complete transactions with customers as quickly as possible, either over the counter or on the phone, now some organisations are stressing that staff can take their time and use the dialogue to find out more about the customers, possibly finding up-sales opportunities or enabling conversations about fund-raising.

Of course, the volume of online sales through various devices is steadily taking ticketing into a virtual environment for most customers. When organisations can see more than 40%+ of their ticket sales happening online (some over 60%), there is clearly a reduction in phone and counter sales traffic. There is also a change with people printing tickets at home, having tickets sent to their Smartphones, going straight to the door of the auditorium, possibly swiping past access control devices as they go in.

 Negative scenarios: Reduce staff? Shorter opening hours? Fewer people on the phones? Close the counter except pre-performance? Self-service kiosks?

What is the constructive way to respond to this? Some venues are simply reducing their staffing levels – fewer people behind the counter or answering the phones. Others are reducing their opening hours, only providing service at limited times of the day. Others are providing self-serve kiosks for in-venue purchase. Some are even encouraging purchase on Smartphones right up to the performance start-time. Some new venues are being built with Box Office facilities that could not serve the entire audience any more.

What is convenient for the ticket purchaser and what appears to be convenient for the venue may clash here. Remember that those customers making purchases online, or in kiosks, or when in the venue on their Smartphones, often need help from a person when they have queries or are experiencing problems.

Customers are valuable and we still need to invest in relating to them and helping them buy.

 

The changing vantage point

This article was commissioned by Musical America and published in October 2014

When you are thinking about your customers, the potential ticket purchasers, what’s your perspective? Are you standing inside your venue looking out at them? Or are you standing out there with them, where they live, understanding their circumstances, and looking at your organisation from their perspective? Standing with them, what do you see in terms of the communications and messages coming at you through all the different media, all the different channels, the print and the advertising?

That perspective is important, because a huge proportion of the potential audience is now receiving your communications on very personal devices, directly related to them, such as smartphones and tablets. They don’t share these devices with other people and this is your opportunity to communicate with them in a personal, tailored, specific way, exclusively relevant to them.

Interactive chart of Smartphone usage to access the Internet:

http://thenextweb.com/shareables/2014/08/19/watch-world-move-towards-smartphones-one-simple-chart/

 Mobile phone usage in the US:

http://heidicohen.com/67-mobile-facts-from-2013-research-charts/

It is a moot question as to how ‘virtual’ marketing and sales for the performing arts has become? You may be maintaining all your traditional print and advertising methods, and these are very important in communicating brand values, but the data suggests that a majority of customers are now relying on smartphones and tablets for your e-mails, social media, and indeed, for ticket purchases.

The debate amongst marketers and in the software industry is how much this affects the way we do business with our customers, and the way we relate to our repeat attenders. It is an old argument that most companies accommodated to the Internet by designing software interfaces that reflected how they did business off-line. That process is reflected today in many Internet ticketing engines, where customers click through a multi-stage step process to make a purchase. Data entry is required from them at various stages, especially at the point of payment. On the desktop computer it can be clunky, on the laptop it can be awkward if key information and navigation is “below the fold”, so off the screen, and, if there is no adaptation for smartphones, It can be a near impossible process. While smartphone suppliers have innovated, For example, how many venues have ticketing systems which accommodate Apple’s Passbook and now their one-click Apple payment method?

Some audience members have always complained that the Box Office is home to ”Control Freaks”. See that page in the season brochure that says ”it’s so easy to book” and then has a whole side of details and conditions in small print that suggests it is more complicated than at first glance. But if we change our vantage point, and look at it from the point of view of the customer with a Smartphone in their hand, or on the sofa at home with their Tablet and the family around them, what should we be seeing on the screen?

For a start, we have to get the ‘form’ factors right. Exactly which device are they looking at, what size of screen, portrait or landscape?

Of course,  Internet Browsers can recognise form factors; some operating systems are now restricting views to specific formats e.g. only Portrait on larger screens; the display of key information and importantly, navigation, needs to be optimised to the form

After ‘form’ comes content, itself relevant to the recipient and the device. Have we just e-mailed them about a particular event with a deep link in the message that identified them, so when they clicked through they were recognised and their data input hugely reduced. Or did they click through from a post on Facebook? In these cases we can be absolutely specific to them. There is clearly the option of one click purchase for them to complete their transaction using stored encrypted card numbers.

Of course they might have clicked through from a deep link in a Tweet and, though we cannot recognise them immediately, we can at least ensure they land on the right information, especially if that is a specific offer or sales promotion. In this case, ”cookies” can be valuable because a ‘returning’ smartphone or tablet can be recognised and it is simple to quote the customer name and ask them to confirm it is them at the start of the process. It certainly works for Amazon.

Cookie Cutters

Cookies can manage basic profiling of your customers, remembered in each step:

Previous web visitor

Known single ticket-buyer

Member or Friend

Subscriber

Donor

Sponsor

Supporter

Volunteer

In both advertising and software development, they now talk about this enabling us to put a ”code halo” around this specific customer. From now on, we know who they are, the past purchases that they have made, whether they are a single ticket buyer or a subscriber, how many tickets they buy for their family, whether they are a donor or a sponsor, if they are a supporter or a volunteer. At every step of the way we can communicate with them based on their personal profile and their ticketing history, and we can remember their status in any transactions with them, giving them say their membership or subscriber benefits or acknowledging the value of their donations. At every step, the functionality we offer can be appropriate to what the customer wants to do and our offers and promotions.

And of course that functionality can be about canvassing their opinions, polling them, and seeking their responses as well as helping them buy. It can also ensure that they pay by the most convenient methods to them, ideally one-click, and their tickets are provided in the most convenient way with least effort.

That’s a lot to re-think, but the customers have already made the leap into this new environment and know what information they want to pull out of organisations they relate to. And whether those organisations are treating them as individuals with specific needs and interests? How many of our customer service procedures are designed for our convenience instead of for the customer and what they want to do when they want to do it?

This won’t make the Box Office redundant (See post on the future of the Box Office) but it does transform how customers relate to us and therefore how we need to think and behave towards them. And maybe when the customers are looking at us from their perspective, they won’t like everything they see about our ways of doing business and welcoming them. Can we change to be more open to them?

Down the Loyalty Ladder – The need to make customers feel good

August the 1st 2014 is a day I have been dreading for several years. The reason why?

For a number of years I have enjoyed the benefits of being a Gold Executive Club member with British Airways, the expiry of that status was on 31st July.

It is important to note that I only obtained this status after the acquisition of British Midland by BA in 2012 where I had an elite membership, but with less benefits, so was never really a very frequent flyer with them.

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