Introduction to Audience Development

Tools of the Trade

I delivered a workshop a little while back called Design a Festival, as part of the Toronto Design Offsite Festival‘s special edition of Trade School Toronto. The objective was to plan an imaginary festival from start to finish, in small teams, to apply the fundamentals of festival planning, delivery and evaluation and understand the challenges of project management.

One major section was dedicated to promotion, starting with audience segmentation. Adapt your message and medium to the audience you want to reach: easier said than done if you don’t know who they are, which is often the plight of small arts organisations, who lack the resources to undertake comprehensive market research.

For the sake of the exercise, I asked the participants to think about audiences in terms of distance: who’s closest, i.e. most likely to come with minimal prompting? What are the bridges between them and the festival: are they already engaged with the art form or with the artists? Are they just the type to never miss such an event?

Conversely, who’s furthest, maybe geographically but also psychologically? And what are the barriers to their participation: Price? Transport? Lack of familiarity with the program? Can these barriers be removed or lowered?

I then asked workshop participants to sketch out a third audience group in the middle, who would come if they got the right incentive – and the real exercise is to figure out how to convert this specific group and to get them to try out your festival. It could be restructuring ticket pricing, partnering with another organisation on presentation and promotion, offering a free open-air event with food vendors, or booking an unmissable headliner: something to make them tick and feel ready to take a risk.

To put this into a wider context, here are two examples of audience segmentation drawn from UK-wide market research, surveying people’s behaviour and values towards the arts.

  • Arts Council England has developed 13 Segments based on behaviour (levels and patterns of engagement with the arts). ‘Bedroom DJ’, ‘A Quiet Pint with the Match’, ‘Urban Arts Eclectic’, ‘Dinner and a Show’, ‘Fun, Fashion and Friends’: these portraits describe what we want to look like when we engage with the arts. ACE recommends to use this segmentation study for strategic positioning (putting the audiences of individual projects, organisations or artforms in context) and for developing initiatives designed to increase public engagement.
  • Manchester-based consultancy Morris Hargreaves McIntyre have taken a different approach for their Culture Segments, studying values and motivations. With names like ‘Affirmation’, ‘Expression’, ‘Release’ or ‘Stimulation’, these types of audiences reflect what we look for in the arts. To see in details how the message and medium were adapted to targeted audiences, Morris Hargreaves Macintyre are providing an online case study on Grayson Perry at the British Museum, where a full campaign was build on 3 segments identified as potential early adopters – and the rest followed in good time.

These segmentation systems are especially interesting if you don’t have full data about your audience – for example because you have a lot of free events – and offer a varied programme in more than one genre or artform. For a North American slant, the Theatre Communications Group has prepared a handy reading list in preparation for their 2013 Audience (r)Evolution Convening.

What do you think?

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