It’s A Year Later, Do You Know Where Your Marketing Is?

Hat tip to Dave Wakeman for tweeting an insightful piece about marketing during Covid — Mine.

I know, self-involved much, Joe?

To be fair, all credit rightfully goes to Colleen Dilenschneider whose piece I was drawing attention to.

Wakeman revisiting an entry I made nearly a year ago provides a good check for the non-profit arts industry. In that original post, Dilenschneider talked about how to effectively shift messaging from “visit now,” to maintaining general awareness, if not cultivating an active engagement dialogue.

Now obviously the truth is more complicated than depicted in Wakeman’s tweet. The economics of digital engagement did not provide a sustainable revenue stream, even for the best resourced arts organizations. There were big loans, grant programs and donor drives. There were layoffs and cutbacks. Capacity to survive is not solely determined by a good social media and digital strategy.

That said, a good social media and digital communication strategy will definitely be a determinant of success when people start to wander back to participate in events and activities.

Now that we are reaching the year anniversary of everything closing, take time to evaluate what you have been doing. What has worked, what needs to be changed, what needs to be started.

Post title is from the iconic PSA series

Lifetime Token Payments As Next Form of Arts Funding?

There has been an ongoing conversation in the visual arts world about the issue of an artist selling a work for $250, having it sell for $2500 five years later and then $25,000 five years after that due to the hype that has built up around their work, but the artist not benefiting from any of that.  The only thing that was added to the work to make it worth so much more than at the time of creation was a lot of hype and speculative manipulation to make it so.

There have been a number of ideas floated about ways to provide an artist a royalty of some sort every time a work is resold, but that depends on the work beings sold publicly and a lot of good will on the part of the sellers to remit the proper amount to the artist or their estate.

Or at least that is true for physical works of art. The was an article in Art Newspaper that discussed the use of non-fungible tokens (NFT) which accompany digital works as they are traded among different owners. Each time the work changes hands, the artist receives a royalty. Currently this process, including the payment, is all based in cryptocurrency technology—a medium whose value and stability fluctuates to far greater extremes than the art market. A royalty of $50 today could be worth 50 cents tomorrow and $5,000 next month.

There is a somewhat more complete explanation on this site, along with some art based examples (i.e. William Shatner digital collectibles will earn the erstwhile Star Trek captain royalties for years to come.)

While the technology and payment vehicles need further development to make them easier to use on a broader scale, I envisioned something like this being a way for performing artists and organizations to monetize digital content they create in the future.

I suspect the tools to do so will be widely available  and easy to use once big players in the entertainment industry like Disney realize the potential revenue stream available from issuing limited edition releases of content. Unlike the copy blocking encoding that made legitimately purchased recordings and games incompatible with DVD players and computers, companies will want this content passed around a lot if it means they can collect a royalty or create a profile of the people who are using and trading it.

If it works well for digital content, I am sure someone will figure out a corresponding method to apply to physical and live works.

This may put the same tools in the hands of artists and others in the creative industry and shift the dynamics of how we do business and interact with participants/consumers.

Some Questions To Help You Enjoy The Show

Nod to Dan Pink who linked to a study conducted among German university students which found that when students were provided a question to consider while learning material or were asked to create their own test questions on the material, they were better able to retain knowledge versus those who were asked to review their notes. The small sample size in the study requires that more detailed research is required.

But the weakness of the study doesn’t have much bearing on my post because it was only the starting point from which my brain made some wild leaps.

In considering how this might be applied in an arts and culture situation I recalled that many organizations already put out study guides which include questions to consider as you watch a performance. I know there is similar content in program books for shows.

And I pretty much ignore all of it. Maybe it is out of ego, thinking I can come to my own conclusions regarding what I am about to see or not wanting someone else to shape my perceptions.

Overall I suspect many other people might ignore/not see those questions as well. I likewise suspect that people might enjoy and understand unfamiliar content if they had some questions to consider bouncing around their head.

I started wondering if having questions posted on lobby monitors or on signs posted in restrooms or other strategic places might be the answer. Just one question or prompt to a screen or page in big font to catch the eye. There might be multiple questions peppered throughout the spaces, but no more than 3-4 in total. They should be focused on helping people understand and enjoy the show in a broad general sense rather than trying to focus on academic minutiae (i.e. “What do you think the color brown signifies?” )

Anyone have any thoughts about it? There has been conversation that a post-Covid world would eliminate printed program materials in favor of display screen/projected/virtual delivery so this somewhat dovetails with that as a potential practice.

Bizarre Case of The New World Symphony

Friend o’ the blog, Rainer Glaap shared a video link to a session lead by Elliott Bruce Hedman, Head Design Researcher at, mPath an organization that researches how consumers engage emotionally with products. mPath uses skin conductivity sensors to measure the emotions people are experiencing during certain situations. The talk was hosted by Github for a technology oriented audience so Hedman characterized the examples he was going to use in his presentation as “bizarre case studies.”

So of course the first one was the New World Symphony (NWS).

The “bizarre” appellation aside the case studies were interesting (the others dealt with selling large shop vacuums and teaching math and reading to kids.) I have queued up the video below to start at the ~3:45 mark where he shows the results for the New World Symphony. (If you want to know about how skin conductivity sensors work, start from the beginning of the video.)

Hedman says he was hired by NWS to reverse the trend of classical music concerts  losing about 30% of their audiences annually. In one example he gave, he placed the sensors on veteran concert goers and novices. The emotional engagement of the veteran was very active through out Stravinsky’s “Firebird.” The novice’s engagement at the same concert was virtually flat through the entire piece and only peaks significantly at the applause.

Hedman makes the point that this doesn’t mean it is impossible for new audiences to become emotionally engaged, it just indicates people react to different things. He shows shows the graph of another first timer’s concert experience, this time for the whole concert.  This is particularly fun to look at because it shows where the attendee was bored by the person talking from the stage. However, when the music ends and the host starts talking, the engagement jumps before tapering off because something has changed about the experience.

This person was seeing Romeo & Juliet (I am guessing Tchaikovsky for reasons which will become apparent.) They had a much more varied experience than the person seeing The Firebird, especially during the quietest part and the main theme, the latter of which is familiar from basically every romantic moment in movies and commercials.

Hedman said he advised NWS to only program works that were about a minute long to prevent people’s attention from waning and music that was familiar rather than esoteric works that only experts would appreciate.

Yes, the concept of a short classical work, much less one people recognize does raise a chuckle. It wasn’t clear to me whether he meant this for concerts specifically for people who are new to classical music or as a regular feature. (It is probably the latter since he suggests more Red Hot Chili Peppers and less Beethoven.) If anyone knows how New World Symphony implemented his suggestions, which I imagine were more involved than depicted in the video, I would be interested to learn more.

At first it struck me as problematic to play things with which people are familiar if you are also trying to diversify your programming to include compositions by women and persons of color.  But it also occurred to me that what he suggests brings up the possibility of facilitating those choices by getting up during a concert and saying “Before we move on, next month we are performing The Rose of Senora. Here is a three minute excerpt that illustrates why this new work excites us. It will be that much better when Holly Mulcahy is here as a soloist.” The idea that everyone in the room is learning something new at the same time might help diminish the sense for new attendees that you need to be an initiate to enjoy the experience.

There were a number of insights Hedman shared at the end of the video which are worth noting if you are trying to improve the emotional experience of audiences, stakeholders, participants, etc:

-You won’t design the right experience the first time out. Hedman says his first attempts in most of his projects were wrong and he is still refining his program to help kids feel excited about reading.

-Businesses are obsessed with happiness, but confidence, attention and understanding, and play is what sells a product.  This is something to note – research has shown that people are often satisfied in an experience with a company even if they didn’t get their desired outcome. If they have lodged a complaint but didn’t get a refund/replacement, having felt heard and acknowledged still contributes to a constructive relationship with them. (This is me drawing a connection, not him.)

-Measuring emotion adds the much needed human element to your data. Hedman says the most important thing he wants people to take away is trying to collect emotional data from their customers. He said depending on website stats is insufficient and the emotional data adds depth to your understanding. While he obviously has a service he is selling to people, it is worth remembering that emotion is strongly intertwined in what we do and thus integral to our interactions with audiences and participants.

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