Discount Unto Others As You Would Have Others Discount Unto You

Collen Dilenschneider is increasingly becoming my go-to source for general data about audience behavior in relation to pricing. Last month, she posted about the perception and attitudes free, discounted and full price engenders among attendees.

She had previously written, and summarizes in this recent post, that discounts tend to bring people who are already engaged with the organization back through the doors rather than achieving the goal providing additional access to people who can’t easily afford entry. She suggests that part of the reason is that the discounts are communicated through the same channels that made existing audiences aware of the organization rather than through channels and techniques that reach the desired additional audiences:

Thus, it’s often the people who already know that the experience is worthy of their time who take up a general discount. Also, general discounts – even if they are intended to pique the interest of income-qualified audiences – are often promoted using the same channels as every other outbound message, resulting in more awareness of access programs amongst people with household incomes greater than $250,000/year than individuals with household incomes of less than $25,000/year. (Here’s more on this topic.)

The new data she presents surprisingly indicates that the lower the price, the lower the value people place on the organization and experience.

In terms of satisfaction which influences whether people will return, tell their friends and have a higher value-for-cost perceptions,

This may surprise some. (“How can people who get discounts be more satisfied than people who paid no money at all to attend!? They got in for free, for goodness sake!”) What may surprise folks even more is that average satisfaction is notably highest of all among people who paid full admission prices for their experience.

In terms of likeliness to endorse the organization to others, it is much the same.

General admission visitors were significantly more likely to endorse an organization than those who got a discount or attended for free.

As it turns out, when organizations provide a general discount, visitors generally discount them right back.

Perhaps most importantly, what people paid for admission influences the perception of how dedicated the organization is to its mission.

When an organization discounts its onsite experience through free or reduced admission, it impacts how visitors perceive the organization’s mission, too. What happens onsite doesn’t just stay onsite

That’s why this finding may be the most important of all in this article.

People who paid full admission price believed much more strongly that these entities were effective in executing their missions. The difference is dramatic.When an entity discounts its admission price, it changes how the public perceives its mission and what it stands for.

She doesn’t say all discounts and free admissions are bad. As implied earlier, a disciplined, focused strategy of communicating discounts to a specific target audience rather than to the broader constituency can achieve the desired aims. However, it takes time and energy to cultivate relationships with the right people and direct money and resources to the correct communication channels.

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. (

I am currently the 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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1 thought on “Discount Unto Others As You Would Have Others Discount Unto You”

  1. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve fought (with board members) the notion that giving away comps will help to build an audience. It never happens! I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve been told (by board members): “Mr. X. is very rich. If we give him free tickets, he’ll give us a big donation.” It never happens!

    Giving comps says to the public at large: this group is so bad they have to give away free tickets. When people get something for free, it has no value.


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