They Are Just Not That Into Us

I recently read an article that criticized the current thinking about an arts organization’s relationship with its audiences.

Except, that it wasn’t directed at arts organizations at all, but rather at general marketing concepts.

Yet it seemed to reflect upon the current conservations in the arts so closely, I was 2/3 of the way through before I realized it wasn’t really focused on arts organizations at all.

The article, 3 Ways You’re Wrong About What Your Customers Want, appeared on the website of Australian business magazine, BRW.

The first two myths they address is:


Actually, they don’t. Only 23 per cent of the consumers in our study said they have a relationship with a brand. In the typical consumer’s view of the world, relationships are reserved for friends, family and colleagues…

How should you market differently?

First, understand which of your consumers are in the 23 per cent and which are in the 77 per cent. Who wants a relationship and who doesn’t? Then, apply different expectations to those two groups and market differently to them…


No, they don’t. Shared values build relationships. A shared value is a belief that both the brand and consumer have about a brand’s higher purpose or broad philosophy…

Of the consumers in our study who said they have a brand relationship, 64 per cent cited shared values as the primary reason. That’s far and away the largest driver…

How should you market differently?

Many brands have a demonstrable higher purpose baked into their missions, whether it’s Patagonia’s commitment to the environment or Harley Davidson’s goal “to fulfill dreams through the experience of motorcycling.” These feel authentic to consumers, and so provide a credible basis for shared values and relationship-building. To build relationships, start by clearly communicating your brand’s philosophy or higher purpose.

The third myth is – THE MORE INTERACTION THE BETTER. and their suggestion is to stop bombarding your customers with emails.

Because so much of the conversation in the arts these days is oriented on engagement and relationship building, you can probably see why I initially thought it was about the arts. Actually, after reading the article and understanding its target audience, I started to wonder if maybe the ideas of engagement and relationship building might have migrated over from the for-profit business world and was embraced in an effort to “run things more like a business.”

I am not suggesting that arts organizations shouldn’t work on relationships with their community, only that in this context it might be wise to evaluate if every practice and assumption is appropriate for arts and cultural organizations.

I think most arts and cultural institutions realize not everyone is going to want to have a relationship with them. It is helpful to have an idea of what the percentages might actually be so we can better direct resources toward cultivating closer relationships with those who seek them.

One advantage arts and cultural organizations might have over businesses at large is that they are more likely to embody values with which people can identify and share. So there is a greater possibility for an arts organization to build a relationship with a customer.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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