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Brian Franko
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Grow arts and culture revenue

Segmenting Arts Patrons: Understanding the Why


Arts marketers have been taught to segment marketing and fundraising initiatives. However, I’m not sure we always understand why we do this or if we’re doing it “right.” What’s the best way to segment? What should an effective segmentation strategy do? At JCA Arts Marketing, we believe customer segmentation helps you:

  • Structure your initiatives.
  • Identify and prioritize the most likely patrons to reach specific goals.
  • Make your communication strategies more efficient (less marketing, not more).
  • Create a framework for developing a customer-focused organization.

First and foremost, segmentation simplifies to good project management. It provides the structure necessary to achieve your goals, and it breaks those goals into manageable pieces. Building a skyscraper is a daunting task, which is why the job is broken down into many smaller tasks, all of which add up to a beautiful addition to a city’s skyline.

If your segmentation strategy isn’t providing structure, consider adjusting it.

Once your structure is in place, you must then determine which patrons will help you achieve each goal. Let’s say one of your goals next year is to sell 20,000 subscription tickets. You may ask yourself, “Who is most likely to buy those tickets?", but we at JCA Arts Marketing firmly believe that effective segmentation strategies are rooted in behavior. We’d therefore suggest you think of it instead as, “Who exhibits the behavior of someone most likely to buy these subscription tickets?”

Beyond renewal efforts, look to patrons who moved from Single Ticket Buyers (STBs) to subscribers this year. Let’s say 85% of your new subscribers this year had previously made at least two separate single ticket purchases, attended twice within the last 18 months, spent at least 15% more than your average ticket price, and usually purchased tickets about 3 weeks before a performance. With that information, you can quickly identify the segment of current STB buyers most likely to purchase a subscription.

If your segmentation plan is not incorporating patron behavior (and continually updates as patrons make transactions), you should consider some adjustments.

Next, effective segmentation creates efficiencies. Very simply, we talk to the right people at the right time. Just as important, perhaps even more so, we stop talking to the wrong people at the wrong time. At minimum, we learn to talk to them differently.

It’s tempting to send everyone your gorgeous 10-page glossy season brochure for a full-season subscription ask (yes, I know you worked really hard on it and it took 14 drafts before going to print), but you need to ask yourself if that is really the best way to allocate your resources.

If your segmentation strategy isn’t reducing the number of communications a patron receives, re-examine it.

Finally, the highest level of an effective segmentation strategy occurs when an organization begins to reimagine how seasons and projects are planned. Instead of saying, “I have these 20 classical music concerts. Who can I sell them to?”, you shift towards, “I have these types of audience members. Which classical music concerts should I program?” Your segmentation strategy informs your programming, which in turn informs your forecasts, which helps you to ensure you hit your organizational goals: financial, artistic, and beyond.

No doubt part of your organization’s mission is to celebrate and share your artistic/cultural offerings, but we must also remember our patrons and communities at large. If we really want to engage with those groups, we need to learn to meet them where they are, which is rarely the same for your entire audience.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither was the Empire State Building, and neither will your audience. Focus on smaller goals that all add up to full houses and loyal patrons. Segmenting your strategies based on audience behavior is the key to tackling those smaller goals one by one.