6 Warning Signs You’ve Fallen Into the Checklist Marketing Trap and How To Fix Them

Normally I’m a big fan of checklists. I love breaking down a big task (like promoting a show) into bite-size tasks that I can wrap my brain around. I love the feeling of progress as I tick items off and seeing my big to-do list gradually convert into a to-done list.

The problem comes when you introduce checklists into your marketing too soon. Early on your marketing must be creative and organic and taking you in new directions. Checklists stifle all of those things. They’re great for efficiency and focus, but you only need that when you are executing your marketing plan. When you’re still dreaming it up, a checklist can actually hold you back.

We’ve all seen promotions that obviously fell victim to checklist marketing. Someone was just interested in getting the campaign finished – and off their plate. They clearly weren’t thinking about how the campaign would play with audiences or even who the audience for this show was.

But at the time the promotions were being created, everyone probably felt pretty good. Stuff was getting done. Collateral pieces were completed, press releases were sent, and marketing tasks were checked off. Everything seemed to be going along right on schedule.

Until they noticed opening weekend that the crowds weren’t showing up. Only then did they look back at the marketing they had created and realize they had just been going through the motions. No real thought had been put into it. Just an urge to race through the required tasks to be able to say you had finished “marketing” the show.

How could they have noticed early enough to shift gears and make their marketing efforts count? (And how can you avoid the same fate?)

Here are a few warning signs that you have fallen into the trap of checklist marketing:

1.) You have a poster designed before you’ve talked about who is the audience for this show.

I won’t pretend I am an expert at graphic design, but I know enough to recognize that really good design is intended to evoke a response from the people who see it. In a broad sense the response we want is for people to buy a ticket, but we do that by targeting a specific group of people and giving them a message that will resonate to them. The best designer in the world can’t do that if you haven’t identified who those people are.

Fix: Have a marketing strategy discussion (or three) first. Design comes after.

2. ) There’s nothing in the marketing of this production that you haven’t done before.

When you sit down and talk with a couple of other smart people about what makes this show unique, an amazing thing happens. You naturally start discussing who would care about this show in particular. You start thinking about where you can get in front of those people and how you can communicate this production’s particular quirks. If you haven’t stumbled upon a new way of talking to people about the show, you haven’t spent enough time talking and thinking about what makes this show special.

Fix: Have a coffee or beer with a few other bright people and talk about why you are doing this show.

3.) You haven’t identified the least effective marketing tactic from your last production (and cut it).

So you came up with these great new ideas for marketing this show. Maybe it’s a tactic; maybe it’s a new message. Unless you suddenly gained a full-time employee that’s already trained how to do everything just the way you like, you need to drop some of your old marketing activity before you’ll have time to pull this new stuff off. How will you decide what to cut? A good place to start is looking at what hasn’t been working. Once you’ve identified the dogs you could still decide to try them again if you think it will work on this show better than the last one – but you still need to drop something. And make that an intentional decision. Don’t just be swept along by the inertia of what you’ve always done.

Fix: You might have to do some ball park estimation along the way, but list out everything you did last time and identify what didn’t work.

4.) You don’t know your marketing cost per ticket for each of your last year’s shows.

Measuring how effective your marketing is can be daunting. There are a lot of variables to calculate, and depending on your resources it could be tough to try to get much detail. But there’s no excuse for not calculating your marketing cost per ticket. How much did you spend on marketing that show? How many tickets did you sell? Divide the first by the second.

Why does this matter? It gives you a very high level – but very concrete – view of how your marketing is working. Which shows did well, and how were they marketed differently? You can make some assumptions about name recognition of the show or competing events at the time, but at the end of the day you need some sort of data to look at. Even imperfect data is better than no data at all.

Fix: Look at your records for what was spent on marketing and how many tickets sold for each show. The math is not hard.

5.) The marketing calendar looks more or less the same for every show this season.

I happily provide a template you can use to start building your own marketing calendar. But it is just that: a template. It’s critical that you go in and flesh out some details that are specific to each show. If the only thing you change from show to show is the title and the dates, your audience is (very) quickly going to get bored of your marketing. Even when you’ve had great success with your marketing for several shows in a row – especially then – you need to keep innovating and changing how you talk to your audience. People will tune out if you don’t.

Fix: As you’re putting together your marketing calendar, highlight what is unique for this production. It helps you see when and where you might need to build an extra buffer of time because you’re doing something new – and if you don’t see anything highlighted, you’re not done creating your calendar yet.

6.) You know exactly how all of the marketing is going to turn out.

Look at the new ideas that you’re experimenting with for this show. You should have a hope and maybe even an expectation about how they will affect your ticket sales. But do you feel like deep down in your gut that you know? If you know an idea is going to work, you aren’t dreaming big enough. Take a chance on something that scares you a little. Can you pull it off? Will people react the way you want them to?

(And if you know it won’t work, don’t pick that idea just so you can say you did something new.)

Fix: Your marketing should make you feel like you’re getting ready for a first date. Sort of scared, and sort of excited to see where this goes.

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