Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Too Many Tryers to Sustain the Arts

Today marks the beginning of Patron Loyalty Week at TRG Arts. We’re engaging in dialogue about developing longer, stronger patron relationships on the blog, at industry conferences, and on Twitter at #LoyaltyWeek

What, you may ask, is a Tryer?   In our firm’s decade of arts consumer research, Tryers are the most prevalent type of patron behavior.  They are households that have infrequent, one-time, or long-ago transactions with your organization. Right now your database–like those of most arts and entertainment organizationsis likely comprised of 90% Tryers.  And most of them are patrons you’ve allowed to lapse.  

Tryers, TRG research has found, are the least loyal, most expensive to acquire, and most difficult to retain patrons. That most audience or visitor bases are built on Tryers is a real threat to the sustainable future of arts and entertainment organizations.

We’re sounding an alarm, and purposefully so. Too many Tryers place the arts on a crumbling foundation. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Ten years ago we began using Patron Migration Analysis to track and quantify how patrons begin, end, and continue their patronage. We call the pathways to patron loyalty, Entrances, Exits and EscalatorsTM. Two seminal findings that are now generally accepted emerged: 
  • New single ticket buyers churn out at an alarmingly high rate after their first attendance. Since most patron entrances happen as an admission purchase, it became clear that single ticket buyer attrition was creating a proverbial hole in the patronage bucket. Often, organizations lose more patrons than they bring in annually, and that trend triggers institutional decline.
  • Specific patronage programs – subscription, annual fund giving, membership – are escalators toward lifetime loyalty. Patrons who stick with a company over time and through continuing investment—loyalists-do so through these programs.
Loyalists Are Made, Not Found
Intensified study over the past five years has come through Patron Loyalty Index (PLI), an analytic tool that we developed that ranks an organization’s entire database from top to bottom. Cumulative PLI study showed us the three distinct, measurable patron behavior groups, the Advocate, Buyer, TryerTM model.  

Tryers:  Move Up or Out  
This largest patron population comes into organizations through a single ticket admission, the Entrance for more than 90% of all patron newcomers. The high rate of churn and inactivity among Tryer are primary risk factors for arts organizations today. To turn that situation around requires organizations to mobilize their efforts around re-engagement of Tryers, either from first time to second or last time to now.   

Buyers: The Magic of “And”
We think of Buyers as an analytic statement:
  • Patrons do this (buy a subscription)
  • And this (purchase an additional single ticket)  
  • And that (make a small donation).
In other words, patrons become Buyers when they engage more–add “ands” to their transactional behavior. Buyers generally account for only about 10% of patrons in the database, and their behavior can be make-or-break for organizations. The more “ands” Buyers transact, the more likely they are to escalate to the highest levels of loyalty and investment. According to our study, escalation doesn’t happen unless Buyers are appropriately and continually cultivated. There’s huge risk when organizations don’t work productively together to leverage Buyer behavior. Today, the numbers tell an unfortunate story. Many patrons stay forever a Buyer. Or, worse yet, they are left unattended and take the Exit into Tryer-land. 

Advocates: Donors and Consummate Loyalists
At the top of the loyalty pyramid is this relatively small group, less than 2% of an organization’s patron households. They are patrons who have arrived at this most-loyal status with frequent, consistent and current engagement. Advocates are responsible for the largest revenue investments on a per-household basis. In 99% of cases, Advocates are defined through philanthropic behavior. Whatever else they do, they are also donors. And what level of philanthropy is the qualifier in most organizations for Advocate status? It’s $1,000-$2,500. Even in large organizations, a relatively small gift will promote a patron into this top rank of loyalists.

Getting more patrons on the loyalty escalator and moving up is the key to sustaining arts organizations. How? We need to put in place smart loyalty programs that can increase the number and proportion of Buyers and Advocates.

Jill Robinson will present The Escalator Effect at the ArtsReach Marketing, Development, and Ticketing Conference in New York on Saturday, March 17.  Participate in the dialog on loyalty by commenting here or on Twitter under the hashtag #LoyaltyWeek.

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