How do you segment your theatre audience?

998424_76965650-sxc-jaylopeHow many community theatres base their marketing around creating one big season brochure that goes out to everyone on their contact list? I’m guessing the percentage is remarkably high. I get it. You have an item on your to do list: send out a promotional piece to every name on your list. The cheapest and easiest way to accomplish that is to create one piece that can go out to everyone.

But pause for a second. Is the goal of theatre marketing really just to send something out to everyone? I hope not. Your goal is to get more people buying tickets to your shows. Your goal is to fill the house. You need to turn a profit while you’re at it, but if spending a little more time and money on your collateral pieces brings in more than it costs you, that’s a win.


Willing to work a little harder to sell out your runs, but you’re just not sure where to start? You need to think about your audiences in different groups. The simplest demographic to identify is gender. Do more men or women come to your shows? That was pretty easy, but do you know for each one of your shows whether more men or women attended?

How about age? Of course you aren’t going to know the exact age of everyone that comes to a show. You might not even know the age of all of your season ticket holders. It’s okay to think in terms of generalizations. Would it be that hard to keep a piece of paper with four columns labeled under 18, 18-35, 35-60, and 60+? For every person that walks into the theatre place a tick mark in one of the columns. You might guess wrong some of the time, but you’ll have a pretty good set of ball park numbers.

The other popular demographic that’s a little harder to capture is location. You have that for your season subscribers, but a casual customer walking in off the street isn’t going to volunteer their zip code unless you provide a good incentive. I’d share my zip code for a chance to win free tickets to come back and see the show again.


Now that you have identified at least some general groups within your audience, what do they have in common? Maybe the men mostly go to comedies, and they almost never attend a musical. (Or maybe the opposite is true in your market.)

Here are some of the behavioral segments to look at. Does each segment…

  • prefer comedies or drama?
  • enjoy musicals or avoid them like the plague?
  • stay with the safe shows that they’re familiar with or do they like to branch out and see brand new shows?
  • turn out for a large cast with lots of costumes and a realistic set?
  • dig minimalist, conceptual theatre?
  • gleefully attend (or at least get roped into) family-friendly shows?

Getting personal

At this point you have some useful information, but there’s one more step that really changes your marketing and how your audience perceives you. Talk to someone directly. You’ve identified how they are different. Don’t send the generic season brochure to your subscribers. They deserve better, and you can give them better. You know what shows each subscriber comes to see. So use that information.

If Mrs. Patterson loves your musicals, send her a brochure where the front cover shines a spotlight on your musicals. The inside pages can talk about everything else in your season, but grab Mrs. Patterson’s attention with what you know she loves. And Mrs. Patterson is probably not alone. You have a big chunk of subscribers that care about your musicals more than anything else. So do a small run of musical-themed brochures to send to them.

You have a big chunk of subscribers that care about your musicals more than anything else. So do a small run of musical-themed brochures to send to them.

If you contact your subscribers with email, this becomes even easier and more cost-effective but that may not be an option for many of your audience segments. If email isn’t an option and you are trying to control costs, you don’t need 10 different versions of your brochure. Just pick a few of your largest audience segments like comedies or family shows and identify the subscribers that should receive specialized brochures with that theme.

You can also give some special attention to your VIPs. Maybe donors get a collateral piece that is unique to them. They are special people, so you should make sure you take every opportunity to make sure they feel special.

Other messages

The show itself isn’t the only thing that factors into someone’s decision to buy a ticket. You may need to dig a little deeper or make some assumptions, but you may have certain groups that really care about amenities that you offer. Maybe the college crowd and parents of young kids are really drawn to discounts. You can lead with that message if you find a big part of your audience will respond to that. Maybe your older patrons appreciate valet parking and reserved seating. If that’s the case make a big deal about that on the brochure you give your older patrons.

You might have to spend a little more money to do this, but not as much as you might think. You’ll definitely have to spend a little more time to do this, but again not as much as you might think. Start identifying the segments of your audience. The more specific you can get with who you are talking to, the easier marketing gets. I promise.

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