Walk in Your Visitor’s Shoes: How to use the Buyer’s Journey to Increase Attendance at Your Arts & Cultural Organization
The buyer’s journey is a fundamental marketing concept in the corporate world. Why? Companies understand that they can no longer just “push their product or services” or claim they’re “the best” and expect to see revenue growth. The concept of mass marketing (sending out the same email to everyone with the hopes that something sticks) no longer works. In today’s digital world, consumers are inundated with messages; in order to cut through the noise and grab their attention, you need to be relevant. The buyer’s journey is a way for companies to change their thinking from “inside out” to “outside in”. It’s a framework that promotes customer-centricity. Arts & cultural organizations can use this framework to send the right messages to the right people at the right time.
What is the Buyer’s Journey?
There are many interpretations of the buyer’s journey, but at the core it’s a way to organize your communications into the steps a buyer goes through to make a purchase. It forces organizations to think about where the buyer is in the purchase journey and what content/messages would be the most relevant at that time.
A simple buyer’s journey consists of 4 main stages, but more complex journeys can include more stages.
Awareness → Consideration → Purchase → Retention
Let’s consider each stage from an arts & cultural point of view and for our purposes rename this a visitor’s journey.
Awareness is the first step of the visitor’s journey. A patron can’t visit your organization if he or she doesn’t know about you. In the awareness stage, you want to introduce potential patrons to your organization and mission. Typical marketing channels used at this stage are PR and advertising. Look for ways you can get exposure in the media – many local NPR affiliates will cover cultural events, particularly if they involve partnering with another organization or doing community outreach. The most important thing to remember is to find channels to reach your target visitors: the people most likely to visit your zoo, museum or aquarium or to attend a performance.
When talking about your organization during the Awareness step, you’ll want to keep it at a high level. Thought leadership such as high–level reports, white papers or blog posts that introduce or educate the audience to a topic would all be appropriate. Examples of topics could be “The educational value of visiting zoos for young children” or “A backstage look into the making of a ballet” – keep it broad, with the goal of teaching the reader something rather than a deep dive into your organization.
Once a potential visitor is aware of your organization, you want to communicate with them in a different way. In the consideration stage, you want to entice patrons to visit your museum, aquarium, zoo or attend a performance. At this stage, you can talk more about your organization and ideally, you’ll have a contact name and a way to communicate with them. You’ll want to get as much data as you can on this contact so that your communication is relevant. For example, if you know that your contact is a mother of small kids, you’ll want to talk about what your organization has to offer for young kids. Marketing channels that work best at this stage include email, social media and digital retargeting.
In Consideration, you want to talk about reasons to visit or attend. Examples could include introducing a few of your popular exhibits, sharing a calendar of events, or providing visitor testimonials.
At the purchase stage, your potential patron knows about your organization, and is interested in what you offer. Your goal is now to get them to purchase tickets and visit your organization or attend a performance. At this stage, you can send pricing, purchasing options (online, phone, at the door), special offers (including membership options) and tickets for special events. Marketing channels to leverage include email, digital retargeting and your website.
Communications I’ve received in the purchase phase include special holiday events, such as a special Halloween night of trick or treating at a zoo or gingerbread house making at a children’s museum. I’ve also received offers like a discount for purchasing a membership prior to the busy season (i.e. purchase prior to the summer) and emails from performing arts centers with their performance line-up and when tickets go on sale.
The final stage is retention. Once someone visits your museum or attends a performance, how can you keep them coming back? Communication channels to use include email and social media. You want to engage your visitors and encourage them to like or follow you on social media channels like Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter. Provide interesting content to keep them engaged and informed about new programming and exhibits. Feature different aspects of your organization that your patron might have missed, will want to see again or may be interested in based on their previous visit. Give them a reason to come back. You’ll want to look at the patrons who will most likely turn into members and donors. Build a relationship with these patrons and use data to deliver the right messages to increase their engagement with your organization.
Being Customer Centric
The visitor’s journey provides a framework for you to put yourself in your patron’s shoes so you can engage with them in a relevant way to grow and further your mission. This concept can be adopted no matter how small or large your organization. You’ll be much more successful and see better results if you think about communicating what your patron wants to hear rather than what you want to tell them.