Intended Customers Aren’t The Only Targets Of Customer-Centric Efforts

I wanted to brag a bit on my staff today. For about a year now I have been talking about making our promotional materials and operational habits focused more toward attendees rather than inwardly focused. As a result, staff has helped collect images of audiences enjoying themselves and gather stories about what engages and interests them both about our venue and programming, but also the greater community.

One of my staff members took this to heart and expanded on the concept to include our volunteers. For me this reinforced the concept that the target of customer-centric efforts aren’t just the people we hope will show up. More about that later.

One of the things our staff member does is conduct “Let’s Make A Deal” style quizzes about safety procedures before every performance. If a volunteer answers correctly, they get to choose a box with prizes under them. Some are fun white elephant type prizes.

For a recent training sessions we held for all volunteers, she sent out a Raiders of the Lost Ark themed invitation that invited volunteers to submit stories and pictures about current and past adventures, share something they are proud of, funny stories and their favorite thing about volunteering. They were also asked if they wanted to bring in an artifact to share.

About half of the 40 people who attended submitted stories, images and artifacts which we put on display across three walls of a lobby alcove.

She carried the same Raiders of the Lost Ark theme through the training Powerpoint with images from the movies which were spot on with the topic.

You can probably see the obvious link between volunteers feeling engaged with an organization and the willingness and energy they can bring to helping audiences feel welcomed. Who is in the lobby greeting people as they arrive is just as important as the faces and stories that appear on stage or on the walls/display in the space.

The customers in a customer centered approach aren’t just the primary targets of your efforts, whether it as a paid or unpaid attendance environment, volunteers and other constituencies, including infrequent or non-attendees are part of the mix. The impression everyone in the greater community has about your organization and the experience you offer gets communicated to a greater or lesser extent. Volunteers are definitely a primary point of contact for audiences, but non-attendees who feel their quality of life is improved by having an entity like yours available have just as big a role to play so having them feel engaged, if only in a tangential manner, is valuable.

Helping People Persuade Themselves

Seth Godin made a post recently suggesting that the most effective persuasion occurs when we persuade ourselves.

The purpose of the memo or the table or the graph or the presentation is to create the conditions for someone to make up their own minds. Because it’s almost impossible to make up their mind for them.

This post seems to dovetail pretty well with the “Jobs to Be Done” theory Ruth Hartt espouses for arts marketing. This is the idea that people purchase things that they feel will solve problems they face. These needs are more complicated than just food, shelter, clothes, etc. The statement the food, shelter, clothes, etc., make about you and make you feel about yourself may factor in. So in that regard it may not be a product or service people purchase, but time spent with others, spent recharging, spent improving knowledge and expertise, etc.

As Godin says, the approach and tools you use to communicate with people has to facilitate them convincing themselves that what you offer will meet a need, solve a problem, complete a job to be done.

Ruth made a mock up video along those lines a couple years ago.  Some of the things Godin identifies as being barriers to self-persuasion are similar to issues Ruth has identified in arts marketing. They all have to do with mistakes people make when telling their story.

Godin writes:

Sometimes, we are entranced by our own insight, or impressed with our communication tools. We let facts, formatting and filigree get in the way of a good story.

And sometimes, we’re afraid of our power, so we bury the lede too far, letting ourselves off the hook by not influencing someone else.

Once in a while, we do the opposite. We say what we mean so clearly and so directly that the story disappears and the facts bounce off the inertia and self esteem of the person encountering them.


Mind Blowing How Much Close Family And Friends Add To Attendance Experience

Some pretty compelling evidence that we should be encouraging people to participate in arts and cultural activities with family and friends. Colleen Dilenschneider and the folks at IMPACT released some data about whether school group visits to exhibit and performance based experiences translate into visitation as adults. (subscription required)

The answer is pretty shocking (my emphasis):

People who visited as children with their families generally do find cultural organizations to be welcoming, while folks who visited with groups are somewhat on the fence when considered as a collective.

Perhaps the most jarring finding is the lack of significant difference in welcoming perceptions among those who visited with school groups (or other groups) and those who did not visit as children at all. Visiting a cultural organization with a group generally did not impact attitude affinities as an adult.

They break out this data across a number of graphs in terms of household income and exhibit vs. performance based experiences and the results are consistent. Similarly, responses to intent to visit and the extremely important willingness to recommend to others followed similar trends. People who attended with family and friends had more positive responses than those who attended with groups or never attended.

It is important to note this data doesn’t separate out those who participate in longer term experiences like camps, residencies, classes, outreach programs.

The folks at IMPACTS have some theories about why there is so little difference between those that only have experiences with groups and those that have never visited as children. I encourage people to take a look at the article to learn more about this. They probably wrote 2000+ words on the topic and include a number of charts. I am just reaching 250 words here–including what I have quoted.

Thinking back about my own experiences as a child, I suspect that the modeling behavior of adults has a big impact on children. There are things I assumed about my life arc based on my perceptions of my parents and those of my peers when I was a child that I was surprised to learn were erroneous when I grew up due to the expectations they stated and modeled.

In the context of this data, it seems even more important to reflect on how we can make it easier for families to make the decision to attend. Really, I suspect that if you did the same research on 30-50 year olds who said the friends they made in college helped get them in the attendance habit, you would probably find a similar level of willingness to attend in the future or recommend to others. You might not find the same raw numbers as those whose parents/grandparents/neighbors took them, but socialization will probably still be a factor.

Facilitating the ease of decision making requires examining every aspect of the experience from programming, promotion, ticketing experience, parking, the welcome, concessions, and the departure.

ASL As Part Of The Performance Rather Than Reporting The Performance

There was a really interesting article in Dance Magazine about artists using American Sign Language (ASL) as part of dance performances or to underscore movement in shows. One choreographer, Bailey Ann Vincent, says that she knows most of the audience is hearing, but if there is someone that communicates using ASL, they will have a richer experience:

For Vincent, using ASL in her choreography—which might mean incorporating a sign to emphasize an emotion a character is feeling, or to communicate what a lyric is saying—is both an artistic choice and an accessibility-related one. Though her audience is mostly hearing, “I still try to approach all our shows assuming there might be someone who is Deaf in the audience,” she says.

Another dancer said when he was asked to move beyond the role of an interpreter for a performance, it changed his perception about the role of ASL as a medium of communication.

…“She asked me to represent all sounds in sign language, and also use my body as a dancer,” says Kazen-Maddox. “It was the most mind-shifting thing for me, because I was seen as an artist and a dancer and a performer, and was also representing in sign language everything that was happening.”

The experience was the beginning of a shift in Kazen-Maddox’s career, away from simply facilitating communication between­ Deaf and hearing individuals as an interpreter­ and towards an emerging genre Kazen-Maddox calls “American Sign Language dance theater.” But it was also indicative of a wider shift in the performing arts, one that is more artistically fulfilling for Deaf and ASL-fluent artists and that also repositions accessibility: Rather than something tacked on to and separate from the performance, it is something deeply ingrained and integrated.

But as you might imagine, as the use of ASL as an artistic element increases, there are concerns about it being co-opted. It is important to remain conscious and thoughtful about the intent behind the use of ASL as an artistic element and avoid employing it in a superficial manner or in the service of ill-considered goals.

…And when hearing artists and audiences value how signs look over what they mean, the fusion of dance and ASL can become offensive rather than enriching. Antoine the example of a hearing choreographer asking him to “reverse” a sign because it would look cool, which then made it meaningless or changed it into a distasteful word.

“When people who are not native signers see ASL incorporated with movement, they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s so beautiful,’ ” says Alexandria Wailes, a Deaf dancer and actor, through an interpreter. “Which is valid in its own right, but ASL is a language that is tied to culture, communities, and history. It’s not just something that you look at or do because it feels cool and it’s beautiful.”