Marketing, when effective, reaches the right audience at the right place at the right time. It connects ideas and benefits with the people who want them. Arts marketing is no exception. In fact, it is one of the most challenging sectors since we, as art marketers, rarely have any control over the “product” for which we are raising awareness and creating demand.
We usually are handed an exhibition, a season, or a premiere and are asked to deliver an audience and foster loyalty. Sometimes it seems like the content makers are in space and we are on Earth.
I started thinking about and dealing with this a long time ago—I have worked in dance (Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham), in museums (Whitney Museum of American Art, Virginia Museum of Fine Art), in opera (The Santa Fe Opera, Virginia Opera), at a commercial art gallery in San Francisco, and with the New York State Council on the Arts for a brief but educational stint.
Throughout my 25 years in the field, I’ve developed a system that helps arts organizations enforce their message successfully. The STARS© system visualizes and articulates the five interconnected ways to engage an audience. (Here's a video explaining it in 90 seconds!)
As arts marketers we think too internally; we often assume our audiences know as much as we do, and that leads to blockages in audience development.
The elements of the STARS© system are Surround, Target, Align, Remind, and Serve. The system covers awareness-raising campaigns, targeting, cultural alignments, well-timed reminders, and delivering excellent customer service that keeps customers coming back.
Let’s break down each part of the system:
Have you ever heard that information sinks in after it’s repeated 8 times? Well, you’ve probably heard that at least 8 times. This is the logic behind Surround, except I think it should be more like 100 times in the early 21st century.
Your advertisements need to be seen by a large volume of people, across all types of demographic profiles, to establish awareness of what you do and, importantly, its benefit to the consumer. This cannot and must not simply be the “here’s the product” messaging that we fall back on so often in arts marketing.
When you deliver heavy impression levels through highly visible placements in billboards, phone kiosks, transit posters, and general-interest print media, your product can become part of everyday life. Audiences become familiarized with your messaging and will be more receptive when they see it again across the STARS© system.
One of the most powerful tactics you have in your arsenal is to pinpoint the people who will most likely be interested in your product and then to message them directly.
Why? Past precedent is the best predictor of the future. With the ability to track signups, site visits, and other consumer behavior, you will know ahead of time exactly who will be interested in particular advertisements and messages. Through highly specific direct mailing lists, email list exchanges, SEM and behaviorally-targeted online and mobile ads, you can deliver content to audiences that have shown a proven interest.
Associate your paid media with the editorial content of specific media in order to elevate your message to readers’ interests.
For the arts and culture world, we inveterately think of the New York Times and for good reason, given the amount of coverage and the known effect of their editorial. It doesn’t mean that advertising in the New York Times will result in instant response. Rather, it means that adding it to the mix—including it in your STARS© system—is a smart way to reach those who should care about your product.
Using these publications, websites, and channels can be a great opportunity for marketers to associate their brand with the general interests of a large pool of potential customers.
Once you’ve connected with interested audiences, follow up. Send an email, post to Facebook, or offer them a deal. “Reminding” also gives you an opportunity to leverage timeliness. (Think of a health provider reminding patients about sign-up deals during flu season).
Treat your customer well—make them feel welcome, wanted, and important—and they will come back and bring friends.
Once you have reached the audience that’s appropriate to you, keep them. Make your customer feel welcome, wanted, and important when they engage with your service/product. Ignore this advice, and all your hard work gaining their interest is lost. Follow it, and your customers will do your best marketing for you—for free. On social media, design your content to be appreciated and shared. A loyal, enthusiastic audience is more valuable than any media buy.
Important details to keep in mind:
- Creative is essential. Your creative needs to fit your brand, and it needs to be tailored to different media formats. A billboard ad and a mobile ad have very different visual needs.
- The STARS© system has lots of dynamic overlaps. Many media platforms apply to different parts of the system. For example, radio can Surround, Target, Align, or Remind, depending on how you use it.
- Use data and analytics as a basis for each aspect of the STARS© system. Conduct audience research, monitor online interaction, and use your findings to improve your next campaign.
STARS© In Action
Let’s take a look at a single-performance project, Arvo Pärt’s Carnegie Hall concert at Carnegie Hall.
WiT Media was tasked with selling out Stern Auditorium’s 2,804 seats in a one-night-only performance. Grammy Award winner Arvo Pärt is the world’s most performed living composer, but he is little known to general audiences, the exact group we would need to engage in order to achieve a full house.
We needed not only to speak to devotees, but also to grab the notoriously fleeting attention of skeptical New York consumers, all while promising an extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime experience. To do so, we began by crafting a creative concept that spoke to Pärt’s fame in select music circles, while also creating a message that applied to all.
The creative needed to reflect a few things:
The emotional benefit of Pärt’s music and the experience. The music is ethereal. It has a Zen quality. It is often used in films as it has the ability to reflect and express feelings well. In an interview with the Estonian publication Eesti Ekspress, Pärt speaks about another musician’s response to one of his compositions. "Feel the world stand still. It means that although musically we are from quite different worlds, the feeling is the same. The desire is the same. It’s as if we’re in different trains but going to the same destination.”
His impact on other musicians, artists, and thinkers. Names that are meaningful to people who love music have recognized Pärt as a genius and an influence—Michael Stipe, Thom Yorke, Bjork, Nick Cave, Steve Reich, among others. So we made sure to put that into the marketplace as a carrot to get people interested in checking it out.
The uniqueness of the opportunity. It had been many years since Pärt was in New York. This was perhaps a final chance to be in the same room as the most genius composer alive.
We developed a few options and ultimately agreed that “Feel the World Stand Still” and the artist quotes were the right mix of messaging to bring to market.
Having determined the proper messaging, both contextual and visual, it was time to implement STARS©.
Surround: NYC Subway, Phone Kiosks
Target: Direct Mail, Programmatic Digital
Align & Remind: Classical Music-oriented Public Radio, select culture outlets like the New York Times and The New Yorker; Emails
For the final element, we trusted that Arvo Pärt would Serve the campaign’s creative promise: “Feel the World Stand Still.” We charted the campaign to illustrate its pacing, as timing is essential.
After charting sales against media, the build up of STARS© is clear. Results become stronger and stronger with each layer, growing the most in April and May as the Surround, Target, Align, and Remind elements reach their peaks. Not only did the concert sell out, it was Carnegie Hall’s most well attended classical concert that year and second overall. (Neil Young was #1).
When you Surround, Target, Align, Remind, and Serve, you leverage modern media’s endless possibilities. Instead of staring blankly into a never-ending menu of strategies that all seem equally genius, you pick a select mix that will collectively deliver bigger, better results.
If you can balance these elements successfully and connect them with smart research, alongside compelling creative, you will create better marketing plans with the STARS© system as your guide.