Nail Down the Exact Marketing That Makes Your Audience Buy a Ticket

One of the most popular blog posts on Sold Out Run is about finding inspiration for theatre marketing. I know from my search traffic that a lot of people are scouring the web for ideas to promote their shows. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I certainly do it from time to time. It’s a great way to find crazy out-of-the-box ideas that you’d be hard pressed to dream up on your own.

You can’t market a theatre solely on out-of-the-box ideas, though. You need some good inside-of-the-box ideas, too, and those are a lot tougher to find online. They aren’t flashy enough to get talked about, but you can identify marketing tactics that verifiably motivate your exact target market to buy a ticket.

What will it cost you? The price of a few Starbucks.

It’s hard not to notice the posters and social media campaigns that other theatres in my area put up. I’m drawn to them, and I can’t help but make an assessment of whether or not I like the marketing pieces I see. Whenever something catches my eye, I think about how that idea might be adapted and reconfigured into one of my promotions.

Sound familiar? Here’s the problem – this means I’m letting my marketing ideas be steered by my subjective reaction to a compelling photo or a clever tagline.

So I got some warm fuzzies when I looked at a billboard. Let’s say for the sake of argument that everyone who looks at the billboard gets warm fuzzies just like me (which is already a huge assumption, but go with me for the purposes of this point). Do those warm fuzzies translate into a ticket purchase?

(I love the hilarious Super Bowl commercials that Budweiser produces, but I don’t think I’ve purchased one of their beers in over a decade.)

Keep in mind whether or not I personally buy a ticket doesn’t have much bearing.

Simply by being actively involved in the local arts scene, I’ve lost all objectivity. I see shows because I’ve worked with the people in the show… or I want to see how they pulled off some technical element… or I’m doing research for a production of this show I’ll be doing down the road… you see my point?

Yet how often have you been inspired by a piece of marketing without ever having a conversation with someone who bought a ticket directly because of that piece?

What if we could remove the assumptions?

Of course it’s nice when you can be proud of your marketing because it’s beautiful or funny or clever, but it’s even better to be proud of your marketing because it motivates people to buy tickets. So what motivates your audience to buy tickets?

If you think I’m leading up to, “Ask your audience!” you’re right, of course. But it’s the way that you ask them that can make such a difference.

Find someone who fits your audience profile. This might be a friend who fits your audience profile. Or it might be the person who buys your one-millionth ticket. Maybe it’s a random stranger that you introduce yourself to in the lobby at intermission.

You want to know why this person buys a ticket to something right now. I’m not talking about what they think they might buy a ticket for in the future. I’m not even talking about what they think they remember about why they bought a ticket for something in the past.

What makes them buy a ticket right now? You need to enlist someone from your target market share their thoughts with you right when they make the decision to buy the ticket. This can’t wait until after they’ve seen the show. Their experience watching the actual show will influence their perceptions and memories too much.

You need someone who will purchase a ticket, then write you a few sentences over email or record 30 seconds on your voice mail explaining exactly why they want to see this show.

A few rules:

  1. They have to buy a ticket. Getting in free to a show or tagging along because a friend had an extra ticket doesn’t count. We want to understand why someone feels compelled to spend money, not just show up because it’s convenient.
  2. It can’t be your show. Good luck getting an honest answer out of someone about why they decided to see a show you’re affiliated with. We’re all subject to social protocol, and people will inevitably tell you what they think you want to hear about your own work

That’s it. No other rules. I suggest asking them to do this for the next 3 shows they buy tickets to see. Promise them a Starbucks gift card in whatever increment is necessary to get them to play along.

Also note you want to make this easy on them. Give them an email address that they can immediately send a quick note to after buying a ticket. Or use a voice mail service like SpeakPipe, and set up a special voice mail just for these responses from people.

What to do with the responses

If you do this with multiple people in your target audience (and you should) you’ll see a lot of different responses. Different people are attracted to the subject matter, the artwork, people in the show, particular performance dates, and other factors you might not be able to predict.

Look for the commonalities. Does your target audience gravitate toward musicals? Shows with older characters? Avant garde show art?

Do they mostly respond to social media campaigns? Radio ads?

How much does ticket price factor into their decision? Who do they go the show with?

Of course you can try to guess some of these things, but marketing gets a lot easier the less guessing you have to do. How about some knowing? How does knowing sound to you?


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