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3 Proven tactics to increase subscriptions

Declining subscription rates are forcing many theatres to consider alternatives to the subscription model.

In searching for ways to increase subscriptions I found two people asking the right questions about dynamic pricing.

One successfully integrates dynamic pricing as a tactic in an overall marketing strategy. The other is an academic with an outsider’s point of view.

Three proven tactics. Two thinkers.

I offer their ideas as food for thought and conclude with an excellent free tool to help promote your offerings on social media, regardless of your ticket price.

1) Chad Bauman is the Managing Director of Milwaukee Repertory theatre and former
Associate Executive Director of Arena Stage
Mead Center for American Theater

“Gone are the days when you can create one beautiful season brochure that speaks to all of your patrons, and then mail it over and over again until you beat people into submission.”

From 2002 to 2007, Arena Stage lost 40% of its subscriber base.

Bauman reports that after much research into why subscription were dwindling, and a concerted effort to reverse the numbers, by the end of the 2012-13 season Arena Stage experienced significant increases in its subscription base for four consecutive seasons.

Since 2008, they’ve increased their subscription revenue by 115%.

Baum outlines his strategy and tactics in this excellent blog post.

His proven tactics include:

1) Develop a strategic plan to increase subscriptions that includes lengthening the subscription campaign.

2) Develop a sales pipeline to convert single-ticket-buyers to subscribers. This was driven by Bauman’s research indicating “once a patron had seen two or more shows, the likelihood that they would then respond to a subscription solicitation quadrupled.”

3) Implement dynamic pricing that rewarded single ticket purchasers who purchase early.

2) Diane Ragsdale
Doctoral Candidate
Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication

Ragsdale questions the long term implications of dynamic pricing, asking “can the arts really afford to risk engendering the feelings of mistrust and frustration that airlines seem to breed by engaging in similar pricing shenanigans?”

Her 2010 blog post on dynamic pricing was one of the first academic approaches to the topic. It provoked an excellent discussion about the practice of posting ticket prices that may be lower — or, in some cases, higher — than the prices in the theatre’s seasonal brochures or online.

Check out all the comments on her post.

She notes that “While [dynamic pricing] may be appropriate on Broadway, I continue to question whether it is appropriate for an organization with 501(c)(3) status that gets tax breaks, and has a social mission.”

Research suggests that dis­count ticket prices might have had a neg­a­tive impact on Broadway ticket sales and grosses.

Ragsdale doesn’t recommend dynamic pricing for theatres with cultural mandates, receiving public funds.

Rather, Ragsdale is an advocate of traditional discounting practices like setting fixed prices based on seat location, day of the week, etc.

Bottom line: You Must Add Value

Both Bauman and Ragsdale advocate for “value—added” offers. Offer theatre patrons optional services like valet parking, meals and pricing strategies aimed at providing accommodation. These offers should be targeted to specific constituencies (newcomers, seniors, students, families, low income earners, etc.).

Bauman had success encouraging subscribers to upgrade their subscription packages. He says “In FY13, almost ten percent of our subscription base upgraded into larger packages, which doesn’t sound like much until you consider that amounts to roughly $175,000 in additional revenue.

Consider using social networks to promote your organization’s core values by launching campaigns like: “Local Theater with a locally sourced gourmet meal ” or “Bring your kids to the theatre discount” discount or even “Special discount for students who attend with a special senior.”

Over 40% of email is opened on mobile devices.

If you don’t already have a strong direct email marketing management tool, consider using Mail Chimp. I use it and I love it!

It’s easy to manage lists and track clicks within an email to assess the respondent’s interests (in my experience videos get the most clicks, followed by ticket info).

Tracking clicks also provides consumer insights that allow you to respond with a message specifically targeted to the receiver.

One of Mail Chimp’s most important features is that it also publishes to most social media platforms and allows you to test your email campaign on a variety of mobile device operating systems.

With over 40% of email being opened on mobile devices your emails must be compatible with mobile browsers.

Next Week Twitter – Who reads it?
Which Toronto companies are the top influencers?

Previous post in this series:
The Theatre Experience Begins and Ends Online
Are Broadway Grosses Down Due to Discounts?
Toronto Theatre Klout Rankings
Engagement converts followers

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3 Proven tactics to increase subscriptions

Keith Tomasek
4 March 2013
Theatre Marketing

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