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Happiness Coefficient: rethinking patron loyalty in the Performing Arts

What lessons can we draw from Amazon subscriptions and Metro points cards to fill our theaters? Observations and ideas.

Let's remember the time when choosing a subscription was agonizing. We would spend hours poring over season brochures to weigh the number of shows that appealed to us in order to make the most informed decision possible. Because subscribing was a firm commitment, almost sacred, where we endorsed an artistic direction. Loyalty was unwavering: renewing the subscription to the same theater year after year was a given to keep one's favorite seat, privileges, and save on regular ticket prices.

Today, as Netflix, Amazon, and other Apple have adapted the subscription tradition (born in our sector) to create dependence among their customers, the same strategy has lost its appeal among live arts audiences. In the United States, the most common subscriptions are now for electronic device protection plans rather than artistic content - even Spotify is less popular than AppleCare!

To succeed in standing out, the performing arts sector must therefore rethink its methods to foster loyalty among its audiences.

Emotion was the beginning

For solid and enduring loyalty, it is important to create a customer experience that appeals to emotion. In the airline industry, this task has been well understood: from lounge access to in-flight entertainment and related hotel services, we hear little about the journey and more about what it will make us experience (adventure, discovery, relaxation). In this sense, everything has been designed to maintain an impression of luxury and rigor that unburdens our minds until we arrive at the beach or the mountaintop. What we touch upon here is the emotional aspect, and it works.

Theaters can find many correlations in this strategy, starting with their primary mission: to evoke emotion. The programmed works aspire to reach the hearts and minds of the audience. To achieve a successful customer experience, everything surrounding the performance must work towards this goal: from the website to the reminder email, from the way of welcoming the audience to bidding them farewell, from the bar to the opening message. By fully investing in these spaces with its identity, a presenter enhances the audience's experience. The strength of culture is to engage the individual not to force them to consume, but to think, to dream. Overflowing this extra soul from the theater into every contact between the audience and the presenter will lead to creating more human and, thus, tighter bonds.

Subscription or Membership ?

Beyond a sense of belonging, loyalty also lies in the quality of interaction and in understanding the bilateral needs of each participant in the transactional system. In other words, a venue that shows sensitivity to the desires and needs of its audience will receive their attention and loyalty. Indeed, the audience constantly seeks to get more for the investment - in time, money, or energy - they give to a company, while relying on the understanding and flexibility of the company if something unexpected were to happen. Thus, by committing to Uber One, the member expects faster delivery; but they also want to maintain an illusion of freedom with the option to unsubscribe at any time if their finances or imperatives change.

In this sense, presenters stand to gain by bringing their subscription offerings into the realm of membership. This strategy bases its loyalty pact on concrete gains by offering flexibility that fosters a sense of freedom, which paradoxically encourages individuals to commit more firmly. This kind of contract between the public and the company comes in two main types:

Mechanical Membership

This type of relationship is based on a transactional system where the public accumulates rewards by frequenting the same service or group of services.

  • Example : The MOI card that allows customers to accumulate points that convert into discounts and cash at participating retailers.

  • Cultural adaptation : Frequenting a venue or a network of presenters to get free tickets.

Emotional Membership

This approach relies more on offering benefits to members that directly appeal to their feelings: feeling important, prestigious, complicit, privileged, elevated, supported, close to the artists, etc.

  • Example : Éconofitness, which offers its basic members simple access to the gym, but access to showers and massage chairs to members who wish to pay more.

  • Cultural adaptation : Offering members the best seats, early access via email, backstage access, higher quality wine, pre-sale discounts, valet service, VIP lounge, etc.

In the long run, the public now seeks more humanity: an unexpected event occurs, we want to be able to reschedule our date. It is also noted that presenters who have adopted such strategies in Quebec and France have more consistent attendance.

Give ourselves the 'data' to achieve our ambitions

At the heart of all these discounts, benefits, and privileges offered by large companies to their members, a constant emerges: data. Customer experience and membership are focused on data collection. We exchange pleasantries and discounts for well-filled identification forms and rights assignment contracts on our profile - or even on our purchase history and geolocation. Indeed, many companies finance their loyalty activities by reselling their users' data to third parties who themselves benefit from this information to entice their customers.

By knowing the age, gender, preferences, and habits of individuals, we can better target them with thoughtful communications to appeal to them directly. Tools and algorithms then become our allies in personalizing every website display, every newsletter, even every ticket and season program according to their interests. But the strength of data and tools lies in those who manipulate them: by surrounding themselves with a team trained to rebuild humans behind the numbers, graphs can then turn into full theaters. Ongoing training and the integration of data distillation into professionals' practices are the keys to a competitive cultural environment on the virtual stage.

If the time of the classic subscription is perhaps soon past, the time of identity assertion is finally arriving. It is time to fully immerse ourselves in this unique emotion, this inimitable character of culture to remind audiences that our performances can dazzle them as much. Proudly displaying one's colors and extending them into every detail - from the color of the carpet to the ticket purchasing experience - helps create a strong sense of belonging by inviting the audience to step out of the ordinary as soon as they enter the universe of your theater. Rather than aiming for satisfaction, we must aim for the happiness of our audiences by focusing on their real needs. And instead of molding culture to marketing, we must inhabit marketing with the magic of art to bring the spectator / presenter relationship back to a relationship from human to human, from heart to heart. For what greater mark of loyalty than true love?

o learn more, don't miss the panel discussion conceived and moderated by Evelyne Boudreau and Mickaël Spinnhirny at FORUM RIDEAU 2024 : Perspectives croisées en aviation et arts de la scène

With Jean-François Ermel - Director of Marketing, Communications and Customer - Grand Théâtre de Québec, Pierre Daems - Président - Aube Conseil, Carolina Garibay - Senior Manager, Line Marketing, Air Canada


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