Selling the symphony

I suppose that in the Best of All Possible Worlds, it wouldn’t be necessary to do any marketing for classical music: the audience would be there, and more important, it would be there, actually having paid for tickets.

This world being several dozen notches down from that, orchestras have to do their marketing research just like everyone else, which usually means “badly.” Hence this project:

A pro bono third-party study by Oliver Wyman (Audience Growth Initiative) found that on average, symphonies lost 55% of their customers each year; churn among first-time concert-goers was 91%! The study also confirmed that the solution to churn was to move beyond “averages” and to begin looking at the wide variations between starkly different customer groups.

The symphony audience was divided into a core audience, trialists (first-time concert-goers), non-committed (a few concerts a year), special occasion attendees, snackers (people who purchase small subscriptions for years), and high potentials (frequent attendees who haven’t bought a subscription). In Boston, for example, members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) core audience represented just 26% of the customer base but bought 56% of the tickets. Trialists composed 37% of the base, but bought only 11% of the tickets. In monetary terms, core audience members had a 5-year value close to $5,000; trialists, just $199. With that data, the orchestras’ new mission became more targeted. The goal wasn’t broadly to reduce churn but to convert trialists into steady customers.

So the orchestras decided to find out what would keep the trialists in the fold, and it turns out, quality of the musical offerings wasn’t that much of a factor. The novices were discouraged by more trivial matters:

The most powerful “driver of revisitation” was parking! As with other orchestras, veteran members of the core BSO audience had figured out where to park, but trialists identified it as a huge hassle — so they didn’t come back. Another driver was the ability to exchange tickets; trialists found the “no refunds, no exchanges” policy a deal breaker.

Of course, in Boston you can take the Green Line to Symphony Hall and avoid parking matters altogether.

Now I’m curious as to where folks are parking to attend events at Civic Center Music Hall — or where they’re going to park once they’ve finished reorganizing downtown again.



  1. Jeff Brokaw »

    3 November 2011 · 9:18 am

    Parking in dense urban areas is a hassle?

    Who knew?

  2. Brett »

    3 November 2011 · 10:12 am

    A lot of the same kinds of issues show up for us in the church arena — especially parking. Some of the research I’ve read is that the best kind of space for a visitor to have is near the building but NOT marked with a “visitor” tag so they can navigate easily but don’t feel targeted.

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