Steven Roth
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Grow arts and culture revenue

Ask Me Anything: Permission Marketing

Ask Me Anything Question

I’ve heard the term “permission marketing” used a lot recently. Does it apply to arts marketing?

Steven Roth’s Answer

In 1999, marketing guru Seth Godin published a book titled Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends, and Friends into Customers. To summarize, Seth’s premise is as follows: “For ninety years, marketers have relied on … Interruption Marketing. Interruption, because the key to each and every ad is to interrupt what the viewers are doing in order to get them to think about something else.” Today this “interruption” manifests itself in TV ads, newspaper and magazine ads, billboards, junk mail, SPAM emails, and many other forms.

It’s likely that you’re ignoring, deleting, trashing, unsubscribing from, etc. these ”interruptions.” This response is expected because you have no existing relationship with the organization that is interrupting your life. Because you have not given these organizations permission to contact you.

As an arts marketer, how do you gain permission? First of all, the person you are trying to connect with has to have “raised her hand” in some way that indicates she wants to start/continue/renew a relationship with you. These “hand raisers” can run the gamut from long-term subscribers, to someone who is just interested in finding out more about your organization, and all types of behavior in between.

It’s important to note that not all permissions are created equal. We’ve all heard the story of the first-time ticket buyer who, in the first month after her first attendance receives: a welcome/thank you/recognition email, a survey, a phone call to become a subscriber, a mailing about upcoming productions/performances, a Facebook post asking her to “like” your organization, a banner ad, and a solicitation to make donation. The poor new-to-file may have raised her hand by buying her first ticket, but that does not mean she has given you permission to inundate/interrupt her with offers and messages she is not ready for.

"Permission marketing may be something you've been doing all along."

So how can you manage your permission marketing to make sure you are respecting your patron and working within the somewhat-undefined permission boundaries? Here are some suggestions.

  • Play close attention to patrons’ purchasing behavior. For example:
    • What did they purchase?
    • How close to the performance did they buy their ticket?
    • How many times have they attended one of your performances?
    • When’s the last time they attended?
    • How much did they pay? Did they respond to a discount? Did they purchase a dynamically-priced ticket?
    • Where did they sit?
    • What day of week/time of day did they select?
    • What type of programming did they favor?
    • Did they make or have they made a donation? When? How much?
  • Segment your patrons based on their behaviors:
    • What similarities and differences can you find by analyzing data and answering some or all of the above questions?
    • Determine how those similarities and differences relate to your marketing strategies
  • Group your audience into “permission” segments and talk to them accordingly:
    • How long is your relationship?
    • How strong is your relationship?
    • Do you still have permission to contact them?
    • Do you have a handle on your overall communication plan (i.e. do marketing and development have a communication plan that, when combined, is in sync with the level of permission you have with a patron)?
    • How will your communication strategy impact the customer experience, which includes more than just the attendance of the performance?
    • Has recent patron behavior caused a move into a different permission segment (e.g. have they migrated from a new-to-file to a multi-buyer, have they made their first donation, etc.)?

“Permission marketing” may be something you’ve been doing all along, but re-framing the concept and digging deep into appropriate messaging helps arts organizations create better long-lasting relationships with their patrons.

JCA Arts Marketing collaborates with cultural organizations to increase revenue, boost attendance and membership, and grow patron loyalty. We provide consulting and software services to hundreds of cultural institutions across multiple genres, including dance, museums, opera, performing arts centers, symphony, and theatre. We can help you achieve your marketing goals.