Meeting needs – localisation, customisation (and versions)

Having recently debated exactly what defines a ticketing system – and these days one that needs to drive marketing, CRM and fund-raising for many organisations – the next question was about what constitutes “fitness-for-purpose” in terms of meeting the needs of arts and entertainment organisations?  One venue manager, wanting to change from a long established but also long-time legacy solution, was surprised to find how many systems could not match what their “old” system had done for years, especially what Andrew often calls the “bells and whistles”.

Fitness-forPurpose

Managing tender processes in multiple countries to procure ticketing solutions, the names of major international suppliers recur fairly often.  Of course there are some decidedly European focused and some North American, and some from ‘down under’.  But what do we get in terms of localisation to meet the needs of individual countries?

Some say it starts at the level of languages.  Some systems to our surprise have the language used in field names hard-coded, whereas others have a table where multi-lingual field names can be added.  The ones where each operator can choose the language for their terminal are preferred by those in bilingual countries.  There are those, including me, that argue there is psychological disruption if we expect an operator to talk in one language while reading another.

But the biggest challenge comes on customer-facing web pages.  We see the repeated problem that field names on web forms are not carrying the local language but are using the system core language.  That can mean a system running in English but in Sweden for example, puts up English terms on a web page otherwise in Swedish.  More difficult, for those systems with customers speaking more than one language, when no matter what the browser language the customer has chosen, the field names appear in a different one.  The “fixes” we have seen to these difficulties are sticking plaster patches and not solutions: editing the registry seems high risk and won’t survive upgrades without causing pain; creating single multi-lingual field names strains the length of fields when presented on-line, especially in forms, and is not user-friendly.  Just how far do we need to go to make systems “international”?  What do we expect in localisation and if necessary, customisation?

Localisation

I have recently been surprised to see responses to our Functionality Builder which indicate that some suppliers could not provide integrated ‘chip and pin’.  Why?  Well of course in their home country this is not needed so they expect venues to use a Work-Around to cope.  Is this reasonable?  Another supplier says VAT – an EU-wide requirement which must be accommodated inside the price and extracted separately – is also a Work-Around.  Most European countries have multiple rates of VAT, often different rates for tickets than merchandise, so systems need to accommodate more than one VAT rate, but quite a few don’t.  Another says it cannot do US Sales Tax – the opposite of VAT and outside the price.  How is this ‘fit-for-purpose’?

Another says it cannot do US Sales Tax….  How is this ‘fit-for-purpose’?

I remember from my days at Tickets.com, working with Vicki Allpress-Hill on researching the payment methods and banking practices for each European country.  The one common factor was that they were not the same.  Only in Germany could you have your payment charged to your mobile phone provider account if you wished; the Benelux countries had a variety of Giro payment mechanisms – based on authorising payment from the customer’s bank account – but similar looking solutions in Scandinavia turned out to be different in detail.  Payment gateway providers would all say they could accommodate different country needs, but in fact failed to understand the nuances to ensure connectivity, reliability, and successful transactions.  Let us add Direct Debits as a payment method say venues.  Who knew this term describes a quite different method in Canada from the one in the UK?

Customisation

Well I can tell you that venues in these different countries expect their potential suppliers to meet their needs with full local conformity.  Some suppliers talk about using “customisations” to meet those needs.  Now I understand that in these days of sophisticated report writers and business intelligence analytical tools, that systems can be set up to deliver reports based on complex/complicated routines.  Not sure how the UK’s HMRC would accept these for VAT, when they used to check on what basis the rounding had been calculated in separating the tax from the price!  But customisations are intended to be venue specific, rather than country-wide.  And many customisations are venue (and version) specific and don’t survive upgrades unscathed.

many customisations are venue (and version) specific and don’t survive upgrades unscathed.

You have to acknowledge that those single iteration web-based systems have an advantage if everything they do goes into the core product and there is only one version in use, though I imagine meeting every venue’s needs in separate countries strains the ingenuity to keep one configurable solution.

Version Control

Distressingly for those systems where there are local servers or externally hosted separate solutions, there is an increasing issue of ‘version control‘ and ensuring most users are on the same (and current version).  We find too often venues criticising their system when if they were running the latest version their complaint would be invalid, with issues fixed and huge amounts of functionality added.  But the common refrain is cost, fear of disruption, bad past experiences, and insufficient attention to their specific needs, whether in terms of hand-holding through the upgrade process or understanding all the localisations and customisations involved.  And of course, many venues do decide to change their system because of not being up-to-date and feeling neglected by their supplier.

many venues do decide to change their system because of not being up-to-date and feeling neglected by their supplier.

Cost is an interesting issue for upgrades.  Many suppliers assure their users the upgrades are free – and get cross with those Cloud-based suppliers who guarantee there are no costs for upgrading and criticise the alternative model – but the training and professional services, and sometimes even data migration requirements, can soon add up to significant sums beyond the reach for hard-pressed arts organisations, with grants being cut.  And it can seem a cost too far to be charged for testing the localisations and/or customisations, and to then update them.

There is not an easy answer to these challenges, but if there is a shift in the balance in the relationship with suppliers/vendors, it is that venues want their needs more clearly met, with no hidden costs.  And do we need to re-define what it means to be an international supplier?

Banking on your income

Innovation is a good thing, but I sometimes worry about what is the motivation driving it?  Sitting in yet another conference session where service providers have identified that, because people want to buy tickets and have to pay for them, and we need to sell those tickets, that there is money/margins to be taken from our transaction chain, I have to ask if all this is really necessary?

TheTicketingInstitute generally welcomes innovation, including in payment methods and on new devices, creating new channels, especially if they make it easier and quicker for customers to buy.  Yet too often there is a sting in the tail.  One ‘solution’ being touted did provide a new way of listing ticketed events, combined with one click purchase, and the ticket purchaser “only paid a 1.50 euro booking fee” and the seller a 10-15% commission.

The switch to the smartphone is seeing a race to provide effective secure, minimal input, purchase solutions, with banks and their competitors bringing out alternative solutions, swiping, near field, account based, etc.  Apple are clearly in a significant position here, and integrating that with Passbook will give them an advantage, if venues accommodate to it.  The questions will all be about charges.

But in an ideal world, venues and their solutions providers want to keep it simple.  Why can’t the payment gateway providers extend to offer a variety of tools within a single suite to accommodate the obvious payment methods, including credit card one-click purchase on smartphones?  Ironically, the latter is one of the most secure payment methods since the device ID is communicated along with the customer’s details.

In that conference session referred to above, PayPal were again advocating their solution, as an alternative to Visa and Mastercard channels.  Yes they have now improved their protection for sellers and buyers to bring it nearer to that of the credit card providers, but they still treat tickets and their sellers as “intangibles” with less protection.  Of course, with their App they are targeting young mobile consumers so venues may need to offer that payment channel.  But the question must be: how much is being taken out of the income supposed to be in the ticket price?

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.

 

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.

Read more

Advertising ticket prices the right way

What price that ticket?  Are we making sure we are advertising ticket prices to comply with UK law and codes of advertising practice?

The Theatrical Management Association has issued new guidance to its members in the UK on the advertising of ticket prices.  Essentially, ticket prices when advertised must be inclusive of the booking fees and service charges imposed on the purchase.  Advertising, in a common misunderstanding, extends to a venue or producer’s own print and posters, websites, social media and other distributed information and not just paid-for advertising.

The TMA has acted after the Ambassadors Theatre Group chain of theatres, the Old Vic in London and the Cheltenham Everyman Theatre were approached by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Committee on Advertising Practice (CAP) following on many public complaints about imposed booking fees which cannot be avoided.  There is considerable argument about the right way to present this, but Jonathan Brown of S.T.A.R. confirms “If you advertise a ticket price, you have to be able to buy it for that price, somewhere”.

The CAP and the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) have published guidance and interpretations in relation to ticket prices and purchase Terms and Conditions, which have largely been ignored by many venues, since December 2001!  These codes of practice supplement the law and the new ASA rulings are intended to set a benchmark for all adertising of tickets through all media across the ticketing sector.

In common with many other venues, it is easy to find examples: the Cambridge Arts Theatre advertises the ticket prices for performances, but imposes a booking fee of £2 per ticket on top of the advertised price, which has to be paid through all purchase channels.  The CAP guidance is clear – the ticket prices are in fact £2 higher and must be advertised as such.  Correctly, the current Michael Grandage Season in London’s West End advertises ticket prices inclusive of their booking fees, and only in the shopping cart are the ticket price and booking fee amounts revealed separately.  ASA found that in some cases the actual total purchase price of tickets was 30% above the advertised ticket price, once all fees and charges were included, and this is ruled as unfair advertising.

This is fairly simple: you cannot advertise something using a price to attract attention and then for consumers not to be able to buy it for that price.  Debbie Richards of Baker Richards points out that this will require detailed presentational changes for venues that have chosen ‘per transaction’ fees and charge different fees for different channels, but it will still be possible to comply if the information is given whenever prices are quoted.

Essential links:

CAP code: http://www.cap.org.uk/Advice-Training-on-the-rules/Advice-Online-Database/Ticket-Pricing.aspx

Help Note: http://www.cap.org.uk/Advice-Training-on-the-rules/Help-Notes/Ticket-pricing.aspx

The arts and entertainment industry needs a fair and healthy relationship with its customers, especially in a time of cuts to funding.  Many venues, especially presenting theatres and concert halls, are introducing or increasing booking fees, which in a recession may itself upset some customers.  Advertising the new “prices” in the right way is essential.  There is an irony here: according to the OFT, consumers prefer inclusive prices, so advertising inclusive prices is likely to be viewed by ticket purchasers as a benefit.

In a similar way to the airlines, the various regulations and rulings now require that most charges are included in the advertised price, presented from the start of any advertising or on-line purchase process, and never added only at the shopping cart stage of an on-line purchase.  While explaining the fees and charges up front is good practice, the advertised price has to be comprehensive of fees and charges if that is what the purchaser has to pay.

Of course this might be thought bad news by some ticketing system suppliers.  In the competition in an over-crowded marketplace, it appears that some sales teams’ approaches to venues are using the venue’s current vulnerability to argue for pay-as-you-go charges which “can be easily recovered from customers in the booking fees”.  Venues need to do the arithmetic and recognise that fees cannot be a hidden surprise to the ticket purchaser at the end of a transaction.

Drip-Feed – Olympic tickets’ slow release

With little publicity until after the on-sale started, the London Organising Committee of the 2012 Olympic Games made some new tickets available and released further unsold tickets on Friday 11th May at two hour’s notice to those ticket purchasers initially disappointed in 2011 when tickets first went on sale.  This is apparently part of a strategy to reduce presssure on the ticket sales website by drip-feeding the release of additional tickets over the next fortnight, until a general release to the public of all remaining unsold tickets on 23 May.  There are also additional tickets for events to be added on 29 May.

Over a million people were “disappointed” in the original on-sale – some believing they had been successful then told there were no tickets for them – and they can now purchase up to 4 tickets for one session provided they apply before 17 May – and are successful.  According to Locog announcements, tranches of seats for specific events will be released each day, with unsold tickets being carried forward to be generally available on subsequent days.  Already there are reports of further disappointments, according to BBC News.

BBC sports news correspondent James Pearce said: “Presumably they had kept quiet for fear of demand being too great for a website which has sometimes struggled to cope.”  Once again media coverage is questionning the fairness of the sales method, with restricted access to particular groups of customers and not all events being on offer at the same time.

Lord Sebastian Coe, defending the LOCOG ticketing arrangements on BBC TV’s Sunday morning Andrew Marr show said: “75% of the 11 million tickets that were available are in the hands of the British public. That’s a commitment we made right at the beginning of this process, and at the end of this process we will deliver it.”

With little publicity until after the on-sale started, the London Organising Committee of the 2012 Olympic Games made some new tickets available and released further unsold tickets on Friday 11th May at two hour’s notice to those ticket purchasers initially disappointed in 2011 when tickets first went on sale.  This is apparently part of a strategy to reduce presssure on the ticket sales website by drip-feeding the release of additional tickets over the next fortnight, until a general release to the public of all remaining unsold tickets on 23 May.  There are also additional tickets for events to be added on 29 May.

Over a million people were “disappointed” in the original on-sale – some believing they had been successful then told there were no tickets for them – and they can now purchase up to 4 tickets for one session provided they apply before 17 May – and are successful.  According to Locog announcements, tranches of seats for specific events will be released each day, with unsold tickets being carried forward to be generally available on subsequent days.  Already there are reports of further disappointments, according to BBC News.

BBC sports news correspondent James Pearce said: “Presumably they had kept quiet for fear of demand being too great for a website which has sometimes struggled to cope.”  Once again media coverage is questionning the fairness of the sales method, with restricted access to particular groups of customers and not all events being on offer at the same time.

Defending the LOCOG ticketing arrangements, with varying degrees in the past of acknowledging the role of Ticketmaster, Lord Sebastian Coe told the Andrew Marr show: “Seventy five per cent of the 11 million tickets that were available are in the hands of the British public. That’s a commitment we made right at the beginning of this process, and at the end of this process we will deliver it.”  He acknowledges that there is a huge disapoointment factor for an event with such high demand but does not address the many questions about the fairness of the ballot process, and the website failures and time-outs which have dogged the on-sale process.

A session is planned for Europe Talks Tickets in Madrid 23-25 May 2012 to hear about the progress and process of London 2012 Olympics Ticketing.

BBC News coverage: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18045550

 

ATG launches UK Theatre Card scheme

The Ambassadors Theatre Group (ATG) CEOs Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire have announced what is likely to be the UK’s largest theatre membership scheme and also the UK’s first ever nationwide theatre loyalty scheme: The ATG Theatre Card.

Extending to all their 39 venues, including the West End, the paid-for membership card offers a range of benefits that customers can use in their local theatre, other ATG theatres in major cities (including ATG’s West End venues) and tourist areas around the UK. Costing £30, the card allows members to buy up to four tickets per show and will give them priority tickets, and probably most importantly for many members, no booking or postage fees on most shows, with fee free ticket exchange.

In what is clearly designed as an added-value “customer experience” package, other benefits include 10% savings on pre show and interval drinks, free cloakroom, etc. and the chance to attend special events such as launch nights and Q&A’s with cast and creative teams. ATG says the biggest bonus is that the exclusive card is accepted at their 39 venues across the UK and in the West End, and will bring priority brochure mailing, priority booking, and ticket offers (including half price on selected shows). The opening ‘special offer’ is an upgrade to premium seats for Ghost the Musical, saving £35.

Karen Cody, ATG Theatre Card Manager, said: “It is the perfect membership card to ensure customers get the seats they want, for the performance they want and at the price they want.” There is also one website address and one telephone number for all ATG Theatre Card members, www.atgtickets.com/theatrecard and 0844 871 7633.

Howard Panter, ATG Joint CEO & Creative Director, said: “The unique feature of the ATG Theatre Card is that it gives our loyal customers exclusive access to benefits and special offers across our entire portfolio of UK venues including 12 in the West End.”

No doubt this is all enabled by the migration of ATG venues to a single ticketing platform, currently ENTA, prior to their move to the AudienceView system over the coming months. The Theatre Card replaces the Ambassadors’ Friends and Live Card schemes, whose members will automatically become Theatre Card members on renewal.

Half-price arts tickets: deep discounts or new opportunities

Half-price tickets are hot. From the TKTS booth in New York City, to your local arts service organization with a half-price ticket list, the idea of “half-price tickets” activates the brain in an exciting way. First, there is the idea of the huge discount — similar to what you might feel when you say a $200 awesome leather jacket marked down to $100. A steal, right? Then there is the idea that they are limited (and we recommend limiting them) — get them while they’re hot, as they won’t be around long. Two powerful incentives to buy those tickets right now!

Let’s pause for a moment and ask ourselves “what’s the purpose of selling a half-price ticket?”

In my last post, I spent some time talking about advance sales and discount ticketing strategies, as well as how it’s too easy to train the patron to wait for a better deal if you offer large discounts late in the game. I mentioned that “the right thing to do here is create a marketing strategy that offers the most discount to people who give up the most convenience.” It’s enticing and effective to trade one thing for another (in this case, giving up convenience to get a discount back). I think we’ll see this idea of “trading something for something else” pop up again later on.

I also began to talk about discount ticketing, and I’d like to talk a little about some of the group-based buying programs (the half-price ticket program being an old favorite, and new group-purchase sites such as Groupon.com and LivingSocial that have recently come on the scene).

Half-price arts tickets: deep discounts or exposure to new opportunities?

Half-price tickets are hot. From the TKTS booth in New York City, to your local arts service organization with a half-price ticket list, the idea of “half-price tickets” activates the brain in an exciting way. First, there is the idea of the huge discount — similar to what you might feel when you say a $200 awesome leather jacket marked down to $100. A steal, right? Then there is the idea that they are limited (and we recommend limiting them) — get them while they’re hot, as they won’t be around long. Two powerful incentives to buy those tickets right now!

Let’s pause for a moment and ask ourselves “what’s the purpose of selling a half-price ticket?” If opening night is tomorrow night, and you have no tickets sold, half-price ticketing the house is not a good solution, for all the reasons I mentioned in the last post. So what else can we do with it? With a thought-out strategy, I believe that:

  • Half-price tickets are good to move unsold inventory — as long as you limit the number of tickets to a small amount and/or control it in some way.
  • Half-price tickets are a good way to sell obstructed seats — look at Cirque du Soliel… they will often sell a discount ticket for seats that have the tent pole in the view of the patron. If you’re ok with that, they’ll hook you up. Great use of a discounted seat.
  • Half-price tickets theoretically allow people to see experiences they wouldn’t normally go to — for example, a 50%-discounted theatre ticket might push you over the edge to seeing a show that is outside your normal genre of arts events, and you might discover you like it.
  • Half-price tickets theoretically allow people to experience twice as many arts events than they could on their previous budget — if people are devoting twice the amount of time to the arts than they were before, that’s a good thing.

The first two are pretty clear. On the last two, I say “theoretically” because although I’ve heard patrons say they use half-price tickets for these things, I’ve never seen any hard data that proves that they behave in this way. If you’ve got a half-price ticket program running on a strong CRM, let me know and perhaps we can look at the data together and find out.

Additionally, when selling a half-price ticket, you MUST put some mechanism in place to record the patron’s contact info. This might come with selling the ticket (they buy an e-ticket for which you have an email address, for example) or you may need to get it in other ways. Remember that idea of “trading something for something else”? Here, you’re trading profit on the ticket for the ability to market to the patron later on another show.

Super-deep discounts: Groupon and LivingSocial for the arts

There is a lot of buzz about Groupon and Living Social. here in the U.S. (check online for their U.K. urls). If you’ve been out of the loop (hey, welcome back!) you may not know that these services use a powerful combination of time limit, offer limit, and a need to have a certain number of people agree to buy the deal before the deal switches “on” and folks can redeem the highly discounted offers for restaurants, spas, vacation packages, and often, arts events. So you have a natural wish to share these offers with your friends, so you can get the deal yourself. These services move a LOT of offers. Here’s a short video explaining how these services work:

If you do some searches on the web, you can find both positive and negative experiences of those who have placed ads with these services. Just do your homework. Ask others in the arts community who have used these services to tell you about their experience. These services offer a huge amount of exposure at no direct cost, but can often have a high indirect cost (what you’re losing on the sale when the customer redeems the coupon). The exact terms of the deal with these services is up to the two parties, but the rule seems to be you’ll offer something at 50% discount, and the service will take 50% of the sale, leaving you with 25% of original revenue. So, $20 ticket, sold for $10, the service gets $5, and you get $5. $5 instead of $20 is a pretty large drop, so what are you “trading” for here? In this case, it’s profit now for exposure + potential sales later, and there is nothing wrong with that, as long as you understand it going in. Just remember that if the patron is going to get a benefit (lower cost), they should give up some value for it (restricted days to attend? Obstructed seats? Back of the house only? Use your imagination). But doing these with no restrictions can cause real problems as you might imagine. If the service doesn’t allow you to cap the number of offers sold, then you’ll need to design your offering options so there is some way for you to control the fulfillment.

How can your arts event ticketing system help?

Your ticketing system can play a big part in discounting as well. I’m surprised that I don’t see more promotion-code use in online ticketing, where several unique promotion codes are used through different marketing channels so the arts org can track which campaigns are bringing in the most ROI. That’s easy to do… mention the use of one promotion code on Facebook, and use another promotional code on Twitter, or on radio, or on TV. It’s a great way to look at actual ROI on advertising and marketing spend, because it means you’ve actually sold a ticket.

I also really like that some ticketing systems are now allowing you to connect with social media in the middle of the transaction. As part of the checkout process, some systems allow you to share on Facebook and Twitter that you’re buying a ticket to a specific performance, and when the message goes in the newsfeed, it asks your friends if they’d like to buy a ticket to go with you to the same specific performance. I don’t have any data yet on how often this feature is used, but I am seeing it included in more ticketing systems, and I sure like the idea. I think it will be commonplace in all ticketing systems within the year, so if you’re looking at a new ticketing system, make sure it’s on their radar.

Bottom line, there is nothing wrong with changing the price of the ticket to gain other things (trade paying less for buying in advance, trade paying less for giving over your contact information, trade paying more for convenience of last-minute decision making, trade paying more for a premium experience, etc.). Just make sure you’re considering the tradeoff, and including that in your calculations. And above all, experiment, share your results, and learn from any failures, so that you can improve your results over time. For further case studies and discussion on these issues, I recommend you check out the smart work at http://www.thinkaboutpricing.com. They are collecting quite a fine library of articles and know-how on the subject.

If you’re looking for a new ticketing system in the U.S., I’m happy to talk to you and point you in the right direction. Are you reading this post on http://theticketinginstitute.com? Then you already know about the work of my friend Roger Tomlinson who is a whiz at ticketing software selection in the UK and Europe. Additionally, you may want to check out the 2011 Ticketing Software Satisfaction Survey Report from the good folks at Technology in the Arts to see what people are saying about their ticketing systems in the US. Good read.

Happy ticketing!

-Ron

Ron Evans is an arts marketing and consumer psychology researcher, and principal consultant at Groupofminds.com Arts Marketing Consultants in Sunnyvale, CA, USA. When he’s not guest blogging for us, he helps arts audiences increase their understanding, appreciation, and frequency of attendance through innovative uses of technology. This article was originally published on the Groupofminds.com Arts Marketing Blog.