Live & Touring

Building a loyal Audience Community: a new frontier in Performing Arts

Learn about the importance of nurturing a loyal community of superfans, using data analytics to find new fans, and getting an audience fully engaged.

By Sune Hjerrild, CEO of Artelize

Audiences can be fickle. Engaging audiences consistently can be as challenging as navigating the uncertainties of dating. Just as one might ponder the impressions left after a first date or agonize over whether someone will text you back, performing arts organizations similarly grapple with trying to understand their audiences and wonder why they don’t come back for more. 

What many arts organizations can sometimes forget is that audiences aren’t homogenous. They are complex and diverse individuals, not simply numbers on a balance sheet. By understanding the needs of these individuals and cultivating meaningful relationships with them, arts organizations can build a loyal community that will return for performances time and time again. 

Cultivating an engaged community

The live performing arts sector’s vulnerability was laid bare when the lights were turned down during the dark days of the pandemic. Many believe that the industry has never fully recovered, as audience numbers continue to fall. But let’s not kid ourselves – many of the issues we’re currently grappling with were present before the pandemic. Covid simply exacerbated a problem that was already rearing its ugly head. 

The relationship with audiences is the key to the survival of the industry. This isn’t just about ticket sales. It’s about cultivating a dynamic, engaged community that breathes life into the very fabric of the performing arts.

The vision? To nurture a loyal community of superfans, individuals who are not just passive spectators but active participants in your artistic journey. This community doesn’t simply attend; they advocate, contribute, and play a pivotal role in the narrative of the performing arts.

Relying on traditional strategies to engage audiences to achieve this, simply because they were effective in the past, is no longer viable. We need to evolve into a savvy performing arts industry that actively embraces data-driven marketing and engagement strategies. 

Understanding your audience and fostering superfans

The superfan is one of the most prevalent buzzwords in the music industry at the moment. And for good reason – 5% of the most devoted fans provide 50% of the share of revenue in the performing arts sector. Indeed, superfans make up 2% of artists’ monthly listeners on Spotify, but account for over 18% of monthly streams. That’s why major players like Universal Music Group are getting in on the action, with their next artist-centric step being ‘superfan experiences and products’.

They are not just fans; they are the lifeblood of audience engagement, driving return visits, evangelizing content, and ensuring repeat attendance. Engaging these superfans by tapping into their wants, providing them with unparalleled value, and creating a dedicated community hub, can transform them into a potent source of support and revenue for artists and organizations.

Every performing arts organization should aim to build a community of superfans if they aren’t already doing so. However, the industry shouldn’t just treat them as ATMs and throw poorly devised marketing strategies at them to make easy revenue. Rather, this is a two-way relationship where value is being exchanged both ways.  

But there are other types of audience members that we need to identify, invest in and engage with. There are influencers – these trendsetters generate attention and attract younger audiences. In short, they are the future of marketing.

There are first-timers. They are pure potential, a blank canvas that could be converted into a returning customer, your most loyal subscriber – even a donor or a superfan. If you can give them the ultimate first impression they are so much more likely to return.

And finally there are donors. Their contribution is paramount to your organisation. They are driven by the community and connections you provide. They are donor magnets themselves and are proud to bring in their own network. It’s important to nurture them.

By identifying your segments you can then nurture your superfans, first-timers, influencers and potential donors – and that’s where data and metrics come in.

Audience Growth Hacking 101

Let’s be honest, the creative people in the world of the performing arts tend to see data and metrics as a tad dry. But they can uncover some fascinating stories about your audience and their preferences. To put it bluntly, leveraging data and metrics isn’t just an optional addition—it’s critical for the industry’s survival.

In a recent Artelize online event on ‘Rethinking Audience Engagement’, Markus Petersen, SVP at Warner Classical, highlighted the need for artists and organizations to filter through the “noise” with technology, emphasizing the crucial role of tech infrastructure in building trust between artists and their audience.

That’s where something that we call Audience Growth Hacking comes in. This may sound like techie jargon, but in reality it’s very simple – it’s a way of using data-driven strategies to not only expand but also deeply engage audiences. 

The first step is owning your audience. For far too long the industry has let DSPs and ticketing platforms like Ticketmaster own audience data. Why do we let third-party platforms have their cake, eat it too, and then ask for seconds? Artists and organizations need to engage with their own email lists and community groups, while consistently focusing on social media followers. 

Success can only be achieved with advanced analytics and segmentation of customers – allowing you to identify those superfans and other audience members that we’ve discussed. Once you’ve done this, experimentation will allow you to see which engagement approaches work and which don’t. 

Speaking to Matthias Röder, CEO of The Karajan Institute, he underscores the importance of authentic contact and the challenge of “scaling intimacy”. There’s a whole toolbox out there designed to scale intimacy effectively. They automate personalized experiences for audiences, for instance by sending emails after an event to request feedback and gauge attendee satisfaction. They also allow you to follow retention rates, referrals, campaigns, and growth experiments closely, with the aim of finding the best route to customer success.

Speaking to Donagh Collins, CEO of Askonas Holt and Opus 3 Artists, in an interview, he also emphasized “understanding the use of data in the ecosystem of communicators and enablers, to grow audiences and to have even more confidence in our future”.

The essence of community

By embracing technology and data, we aim to deepen connections, fostering a vibrant community bound by a shared passion for the arts. The future is promising, filled with opportunities for engagement that blur the lines between artist and audience, enriching our cultural landscape.

However, while we’ve been diving into the world of data, metrics, and superfans, and stressing their importance for the performing arts sector, let’s not forget the real star of the show: building genuine connections with our audience. 

It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers game, focusing on boosting attendance and revenue, but as we said at the start – our audiences aren’t just figures on a spreadsheet. They have unique needs, preferences, and the desire to be seen as individuals, not just as revenue sources. Let’s remember to keep the human touch in all of our strategies.

Sune Hjerrild is a former international opera singer who ranked high at both the Placido Domingo Opera Contest and BBC Cardiff Singer of the World. This led to numerous international engagements all over the world. Since launching a specialized digital platform for casting and talent discovery, named Truelinked Classical Artist Network, Sune became highly specialized in innovation, SaaS tools and services, and commercial strategies. Sune subsequently launched Artelize in August 2022 – an AI-powered data aggregation creating a one-stop discovery platform for the world of performing arts.

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