Do You Need To Feel Transcendent Or Sleep Better Right Now?

Ruth Hartt got a bit of a kick from the post I made last week where I termed her use of stock video footage and other clips to create an video marketing piece as a “Franken-Ad.” She tagged me and others about another set of Franken-ads she made more along the lines of print or social media pieces.

She uses these ads to address the pretty much cliched use of terms like “joyful,” “nostalgic,” “rhapsodic,” “timeless,” “refined,” and “sumptuous” to suggest that people will have a transcendent experience.  She associates this with Maslow’s hierarchy of need and raises the point that during current times especially, most people are focused on solving challenges related to health and safety rather than self-actualization.

Recent studies reveal that the benefits of a peak experience don’t end at self transcendence. Science tells us that awe increases pro-social behavior and has an integral part to play in health and happiness. In fact, people who report experiencing awe regularly have remarkably stronger immune systems and better mental health. Why aren’t arts organizations touting these benefits?

“Come for the classical music; stay for the lowered levels of inflammatory cytokines!” We chuckle at this imaginary tagline, but I’m confident that there are swaths of consumers who would be intrigued by this value proposition.

Frequent readers will know that I am not a proponent of arguing the instrumental value of the arts or positioning it as a prescription for ills,  especially since so much of the research on the benefits of the arts have had questionable results. So I am not entirely on board with all the claims her mocked up ads make. However, since it is true that any pro-social behavior contributes to health and happiness, an arts experience is just as valid an option as many others.

Tolerance for uncertainty and inspiring creative risk-taking may not roll off the tongue as easily as sumptuous and transcendent, but after years exposure to those latter terms, any alternative will catch the eye and intrigue people.

I am not really suggesting listing all the terms she uses in her ads, but I do like Hartt’s choice of an image of a woman who looks like she might be poised at the edge of anticipation or anxiety juxtaposed with “Warning this concert may cause: Lowered Stress, …Improved Mood, …Decreased Pain…Increased Alertness.” There is a sense that things could go either way.

I don’t know that I would use those exact terms, but an ad that communicated these general concepts instead of suggesting transcendence presents the experience as more relatable to the viewer.  If you are a new attendee still processing your experience, you might think you did something went wrong if you aren’t experiencing the promised ecstasy.

I also appreciated that one of her ads targeted businesses. While again I would be worried about companies seeing arts experiences as another tool to be used alongside nap lounges and ping pong tables to get the best work product from employees, the general idea that the presence of these experiences makes the community more attractive and liveable for employees is as beneficial as having sincerely motivated employees.

Does This Franken-Ad Have More Emotional Resonance With Audiences Than The Highly Produced One You Are Using?

Last month, Trevor O’Donnell directed his readers to a post by Ruth Hartt discussing how to market the arts in a way that focuses on solving the “problems” people have rather than focusing on selling a performance.

” Because no matter the industry, customers don’t want products, or services, or concert tickets. Their purchases are caused by deeper motivations: they want solutions to their problems. Take, for example, the young businessman who wants to impress his sophisticated date, so he “hires” the orchestra concert to help him. Or the busy working mom who wants to get her elderly mother something other than the usual flowers for her birthday, so she “hires” the orchestra concert as an experience they can share together.”

Hartt cobbles together an ad out of “some stock footage, added some clips from a popular Mommy YouTuber, layered in a few royalty-free tracks” to create an appeal to stay-at-home mothers. Because it is assembled from disparate sources, things don’t mesh exactly right. As she notes, the refreshed woman on a beach at the end should be in a theater in order to make sense.

Her goal was to create a work with an emotional pull in response to the problem of: (her emphasis)

“Help me escape from the grime and chaos of mom life with an evening of dressing up and feeling fancy so that I can feel rejuvenated and be a better mom and wife.”

Check out her ad below, read more of her thoughts, and see symphony ad she is contrasting this to-

Your Programming Is More Inclusive, But What About Giving Opportunities?

Hat tip to which featured an article that seems to indicate it is better to diversify the donor base rather than continue to ask the same pool of donors to give more.  The article discusses giving to public radio stations which have a slightly different appeal process than most non-profits and more closely tie donating to membership than many performing arts organizations.

The piece uses the example of WABE, located in Atlanta, GA which upon noting that the average donation amount made by all listeners was $14/month decided to ask their existing monthly donors to increase their giving to $15/month.  This ended up backfiring on the station.

But the $15 ask turned out to be “too high,” Barasoain said. Though the team was happy with the total revenue the drive brought in, the bigger gifts came at the expense of suppressing the number of donors by an estimated 12%–16%, he said.

During WABE’s previous two fall drives, on-air pitches requested gifts in any amount. The total number of pledges for the fall 2019 drive dropped 34% compared to fall 2017 and 20% versus fall 2018.

In the 2019 drive, “we were tapping the same group of donors to give more and more money to the station,” Hyman said. “And it’s just not sustainable long-term.”

The station immediately pivoted and lowered its pledge-drive asks.

In fall 2020, the team pitched gifts of $10 per month. The number of pledges increased 11%, and revenue decreased less than 2% from fall 2019.

The station has since expanded the ways in which they solicit support to include telemarketing and direct mail as a way to supplement their on-air fund drives.

The article discusses the efforts of WFAE in Charlotte, NC and KEXP in Seattle, WA which have removed minimum monthly giving levels for the sustaining member category to create a sense of participation. There is evidence that the monthly giving helps keep people feeling engaged on an ongoing basis and improves retention.

KEXP in Seattle prioritizes “participation first,” said Erin Lightfoot, director of annual and digital philanthropy. “We’ve always really highlighted … ways that everyone can participate in supporting the station no matter what their financial capacity is, and also being extremely grateful for that.” During on-air drives, pitch announcers vary the requested giving levels.

“We do try to vary it a lot in order to make sure that we’re really inviting everyone in no matter what their capacity or their comfort level is with gift-giving,” Lightfoot said.

Something to think about in terms of making giving feel more inclusive as a complement to programming feeling more inclusive.

I Wish I Was Going With You Approach To Customer Service

This morning I attended a brand reveal for a Marriott hotel slated to open half a block from my venue in/around January. This particular collection of hotels is highly customized to the community in which it resides so there was a lot of detail discussed in the 1.5 hours of the actual presentation.

One thing that occurred to me during the presentation was that you should only pay for brand design that you have the budget to execute. The amount of money they are going to spend executing the branding vision is going to be significant.

When the designers started talking about the brand values that would be embodied, a couple struck me as concepts to be embraced by arts and culture organizations.

One was – we are not docents, we are friends-in-the-know. The other was – we are not interested, we are invested.   These statements seemed to embody the nuanced difference between good customer service and great customer service.

If you had two people working at the front desk and they each provided the same information to guests, but there was something you couldn’t put your finger on that made one of them seem superior to the other, something akin to these two concepts are likely to be present.  The better service comes from someone who isn’t just doling out information, but makes you feel they wish they were going with you or want you to have the same great experience they had when they were there.

So now I am letting these ideas percolate in my brain as I look around at our operation and think about how that can manifest at different points in our visitor experience. (Though I suppose we shouldn’t give people the impression we wish we were accompanying them when they ask directions to the restrooms.) Of course, however we decide that should be embodied in our building should be present where ever we are representing the organization outside out facilities as well.

Let me just point out that these are not entirely new concepts. In terms of marketing, they are a variation on Trevor O’Donnell’s “Gal In Starbucks” test from six years ago that I have written on a number of times. This is something the arts and culture industry should have been working toward for a few years now at least.

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