Ask the Industry features advice from arts marketers in their own words. We hope you can learn from them and it will spark new ideas at your organization.
This month, we’re asking, “What are some unique ways to highlight the benefits of becoming a subscriber or member?"
Kerry Ingram (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston), Karina Kacala (Opera Philadelphia), Jackie Ortiz (Pasadena Playhouse), and Vanessa Ramirez-Sparrow (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston) answer everything from creating unique content for different audiences to keeping subscription and membership campaigns fresh each year.
What’s a subscription/membership campaign (or campaigns) you’re particularly proud of? Were there taglines, copy or positioning that were effective?
Jackie Ortiz (Pasadena Playhouse): Last year, we launched our membership program in tandem with our centennial season and organizational rebrand. We ran a successful digital campaign to accompany our membership efforts, which highlighted a limited-time $100 individual centennial membership and $200 dual centennial membership. We positioned this, and all of our memberships, as access to season tickets with the flexibility to book and attend productions at their convenience. The membership program is structured similarly to a museum - members not only have access to the shows on our stage, but they also receive discounted rates to any auxiliary events, add-ons, learning programs and priority booking to season shows. The centennial membership included a great tagline: “Celebrate our 100th birthday in style.”
The positioning and offer itself was a storytelling tool to commemorate a new chapter at the Playhouse. It was meant to celebrate our triumphs as the State Theater of California and shine a spotlight on our continued dedication to not only create bold and important theater, but theater that is for and by the community and accessible to all.
Kerry Ingram and Vanessa Ramirez-Sparrow (MFAH): Since our membership campaigns are driven by exhibitions, the 2017–18 campaign highlighted striking visuals from shows like Pipilotti Rist: Pixel Forest and Worry Will Vanish and The Glamour and Romance of Oscar de la Renta. It was a lot of fun to feature such stunning visuals and it worked - we got an ROI of about 620% thanks to the stunning art and detailed targeting! We were also able to offer a $10 discount during this campaign, so it was a great benefit we featured often.
Tell us about the social content you created for this campaign. Did you use video? Create carousels, slideshows, or Canvas ads on Facebook? Instagram Stories?
Kerry Ingram and Vanessa Ramirez-Sparrow (MFAH): We created a membership video that is mostly evergreen, but with a short section highlighting the season’s specially ticketed exhibitions. This creates an easy way for us to swap that part of the video out and keep it up-to-date with current exhibitions. The spring 2018 version of the video returned the highest conversion rate of the campaign! We also love carousel ads for membership because we can highlight several exhibitions at once.
Jackie Ortiz (Pasadena Playhouse): For the membership and centennial season campaign, we created .GIFs and Facebook carousel ads to display our season holistically and to highlight member perks. For retargeting, we knew many of the patrons were hyper-local and we wanted to create a sense of local pride. Retargeted segments received a more locally focused message and visually, a .GIF featuring a then/now Playhouse photo. It was an invitation to celebrate our next century together as a community by supporting your State Theater.
Selling subscriptions and memberships in the digital age means creating different content for different audiences. Tell us (and provide examples, if possible) how you create unique messaging for lapsed subscribers/members vs. multi-ticket buyers, etc.
Karina Kacala (Opera Philadelphia): For Opera Philadelphia’s 2018-2019 Season onsale (which launched on March 20), we are using targeted digital and print content to reach nine different audience segments. The segments were created based on patrons’ past buying behavior, both the frequency of attendance and the type of content consumed.
On the print side, we created two separate brochures: one that focused on our more traditional Academy of Music subscription season and another that focused on Festival O18. For renewing subscribers/festival attendees, we also created four different renewal forms with specific messaging based on the packages we want them to purchase.
Our digital tools include collapsing those nine initial targets into four different dedicated emails that announced the new season. Each email presented the season in a way that mirrored the brochure/renewal form the patron would receive in the mail (as closely as possible!). Within each email, I used dynamic tags to specify language for renewing versus new patrons.
Our Facebook season launch ad campaign is comprised of three distinct posts about subscription renewal, the festival, and our young professionals group. All three posts are fueled by CRM lists and two of the posts (subscription renewals and the young professionals group) are dark posts, so they are only being seen by the people we want to see them, as opposed to showing up on our newsfeed for everyone’s consumption and competing for attention.
Jackie Ortiz (Pasadena Playhouse): For ongoing and add-on productions in our season, I work closely with my team at Capacity Interactive to create separate messaging for members versus single ticket and multi-ticket buyers. When creating an post for single ticket buyers, we also create a dark post for member segments that highlight a member price or exclusive offer.
Let’s talk specifically about landing pages. How is your subscription/membership purchase path? Are there improvements you’d like to make in the future?
Jackie Ortiz (Pasadena Playhouse): Our purchase path has been a love/hate hate/love process. We knew we had to eliminate steps in our membership purchase path so the user experience for members was simple and efficient. Prior to our membership launch, our purchase path was 11 steps long (yes, you read that right). We worked closely with our developers at Mackey Creative Lab to narrow our purchase path from 11 steps to 6. We created a singular point of entrance for all patrons from the show calendar. This lead them to a login page, then straight to a SYOS map that displays both the member and full price tickets. In the near future we’d like to build a membership portal to make the member booking process as smooth as possible. The membership portal would serve as a home base - they’d be able to easily see the tickets they have and need to book, as well as special events they can attend for free or a discounted rate.
With so many competing priorities, how can arts marketers up their subscription/membership campaign game each year?
Karina Kacala (Opera Philadelphia): Create flexible packages and segment marketing messages accordingly. You shouldn’t ask someone to marry you after the first date, so why ask someone to subscribe to a full season if they only saw one performance? Build a suite of packages that provides flexibility for your patrons and incentivizes them to increase their investment in your programming, either with exclusive benefits and/or ticket discounts. Then, share those packages with the right people in your audience and ask them to take their love of the art form to the next level. If they attended one thing, offer them a flexible multi-pack. If they already see multiple things, ask them to commit to a full season subscription. The goal is to upgrade the patron in a way that is meaningful and makes sense to them.
Kerry Ingram and Vanessa Ramirez-Sparrow (MFAH): Adjusting campaigns while they are running is very important. Pay attention to content specific audiences are drawn to, and adjust messaging and targeting from there. For example, we noticed that nearly 60% of membership conversions for the 2017–18 campaign were by an older, female audience (45 years+), so we inevitably eliminated target audiences under 25 years old to focus our budget on more effective audiences.
Jackie Ortiz (Pasadena Playhouse): Always think like a patron and put the patron first. Create transparency with your patrons and ask for feedback on ways to improve your current membership or subscription program. When you’re handling memberships/subscriptions at higher price points, it’s important to emphasize what their money is supporting. Non-profits function off the support of its patrons, and the buy-in goes far beyond the shows on your stage.