It’s a frustrating cycle. Each season, a parade of new single ticket buyers march through the doors of theatres and concert halls across the country. Once the show ends, they applaud, gather their things, march out the door, and never come back. With fewer repeat buyers, marketers are forced to attract (and lose) new audiences all over again in the next season.
How do you break the cycle? An obvious strategy is to convert new single-ticket buyers into subscribers. Subscribers account for the bulk of a performing arts organization’s earned and contributed revenue. They’re likely to purchase additional tickets, renew, advocate, donate, and, if properly engaged, predictably increase their giving level over the years.
When is the right time to ask single ticket buyers to become subscribers?
One approach, recommended by Oliver Wyman consultants, is to take things one step at a time. Don’t telemarket first-time buyers and ask them to subscribe. Too pushy. Instead, tempt them back with a killer promotional offer (half-price tickets or buy one get one) tailored to their preferences and interests. Sell another ticket or two before asking for a commitment.
Reasonable advice if you’re trying to fill seats. But if you’re trying to grow your subscriber base, I can suggest three reasons why you should get right to the point with first-timers instead of taking things “one step at a time”.
1. First impressions are lasting impressions. From one of our most popular blog posts: The Loyalty Ladder: A Sideways Look. “[W]e often commit on the first visit. This first commitment is instinctive and emotional. It springs from our basic sense and appreciation of something done right. Customers don’t scrutinize the relationship every step of the way. They take leaps. What they’re doing in subsequent visits is continuing to explore and revisit an original experience they’ve already committed to, not finding reasons to commit at a later date.” When you ask first-time single-ticket buyers (who have had a wonderful experience) to subscribe, you’re not asking them to commit (the performance has taken care of that); you’re showing them what form the commitment they already feel can take.
2. They’re just as likely to subscribe now as later. Part of the logic of taking things one step at a time is that you’re more likely to get a yes later on than right away. In the attendance data that we’ve seen, this logic is flawed on two fronts. One, the same proportion of single ticket buyers who have attended one performance purchase a first subscription as do single ticket buyers who have attended from two to six performances. And, two, fewer customers come back a second, third, or fourth time, so, if you wait, you’ll be pitching subscriptions to ever smaller groups.
3. Offering the right option encourages the right behaviour. You want single ticket buyers to become subscribers. But when you offer them another performance instead of a subscription, you’re encouraging them to experience your shows and your venue as single ticket buyers. The habit they may very well develop is to attend once or twice in future seasons, and it’s a difficult habit to break. Repeat single ticket buyers continue to enjoy their visits. They feel good about supporting the arts. But they’re not quite in the fold. They’re a missed opportunity.
The right time to ask single ticket buyers to become subscribers?
Very soon after they attend their first performance. Give first-timers a killer price incentive on their first subscription to mitigate the risk. Help them see themselves as subscribers: where they’ll sit, their privileges, the upcoming shows. Describe the importance of subscribers to your organization. Use the enthusiasm and excitement they felt in the first performance to help them take the leap. And ask for the sale.
If they say no, by all means, follow up with a killer single ticket offer (and continue to ask them to subscribe at the start of each new season). That’s Plan B. Plan A is to always ask single ticket buyers to subscribe very soon after their first performance.