Series "Originally non-English"
is Head of Communications, Marketing and Audiences in Grup Focus, one of the most significant firms in performing arts, cultural contents, audiovisual and event sectors in Spain. He was partner and consultant in TekneCultura, a consulting firm in Barcelona focussed on the analysis of arts audiences, and Director of Marketing and Communication in Mercat de les Flors. He holds Master degrees in Business Administration and Arts Management.
How to be more efficient in communicating
This paper is a guide to the basics of up-to-date communication in the arts sector. It focuses on the key point in making communication with arts audiences more efficient: to convey your values and to connect with peoples needs and desires.
Art and culture speak of us as individuals and as a group: they define us, they describe us, they question us, they strengthen us, they address us. In parallel, communication and the ability to relate to others are one of the most distinctive acts of human beings. When there are also emotions at play, the process becomes even richer and more complex. It is therefore essential to create and generate stories, to encourage conversations with your audiences in order to build, consolidate and structure communities around your cultural projects.
Lets break down the most prominent items involved in the process of communication to arts audiences, accompanied by tools, resources and questions that can help us optimize this process.
First, the strategy
Before communicating, you need to first identify and specify the what, why and how of your project, as Simon Sineks golden circle theory says, but adding who it is for. José Luis Rodríguez, communication director of Trans Europe Halles, merged the ideas of Sinek and Osterwalder into a new tool to help all kinds of cultural artistic organizations. The essence is that the efficiency of your communication strategy depends on your ability to incorporate your audiences in the WHY of what you do. What do you need to question in order to implement this strategy? You have to answer the following questions:
To what extent have you made your projects truly necessary for your communities, forming part of their imaginary, their real context and environment? If somebody ever decides that your cultural center should become a public car park because that satisfies a greater social interest, would the affected community protest as it would in response to the closure of a school or health center? Have you worked hard enough to make citizens adopt and actively participate in your project? Are you flexible and able to adapt your offerings to society based on its interests? In short, are you truly relevant to your communities?
At this point one of the fundamental concepts arises: relevance. You must work for your communities, for your audiences, in a much more intense and profound way than you do for your own organization. Only then will you be able to be relevant, as Nina Simon, director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH), postulates in her famous and successful theory on this subject.
Values, the key to communication
You can build your identity as a cultural project through identifying your central values, which go well beyond your service proposal. These values are what makes you unique and different, and also include the way your organization acts. It is no use to do the most wonderful actions of advertising if you fail to pay proper attention to your audience and satisfy their expectations. You may say that you are unique, but the test will come when you make contact with your users. You must be sufficiently transparent and honest in defining your identity. You only have to record and use your values in all communication elements, being consistent and coherent in their application, both in what you say of yourself and in what others say of you, or what your behavior and service provision denotes about your project.
Its the story, stupid!
Many cultural projects are explained from the point of view of creators, artists and art historians. This is respectable, even admirable. But let nobody complain later that they failed to connect with the audiences. Ultimately, you must establish the necessary balance between the importance of what (the artistic work, the cultural experience, etc.), who (the author, the creator, the company, etc.), where (the premises, the project, the environment, etc.) and for whom (audiences, users, visitors, citizens, buyers, opinion leaders, communities, etc.).
With globalization and virtually universal access to the internet, the paradigm of communication has changed dramatically. We have gone from the mere one-way emission of messages to the construction of stories and powerful narratives in which the human factor is preponderant, conditioned by the multiplicity of channels within our reach. And you must not forget to help your audiences imagine what the experience will be like, to see other people enjoying the experience.
You must start from the premise that cultural consumption has evolved tremendously. More and more music is heard, more videos are watched, more texts are read, and all this is done in an increasingly diverse way, with new formats, new interrelations between creators and audiences, new intermediaries, and new platforms that combine face to face contact with online contact, individual experiences with group experiences.
If you really want to be efficient in communicating with audiences, the greatest and best investment you can make is therefore to build communities around your cultural project. An aspirational scale, from non-audiences to unconditional communities, may help:
- Non-audiences are undoubtedly the largest group, including people who have no idea that you exist, or who do but are not interested in what you can offer them. You can use audience recruitment strategies to turn them into potential audiences.
- From potential audiences, you can try to get new audiences, people who have never experienced your product. Above all, you must meet their expectations and create early-in-life experiences with culture to create recurring audiences in the future.
- The change from new to faithful audiences is based on actions that increase the frequency of use among your audiences, so that they relate with you and with other people regarding your work more often, through new and varied activities, services and channels, and for longer.
- Between creating new audiences and creating loyalty, there are critical grey areas that need to be addressed, such as encouraging new audiences to repeat their successful first experience as soon as possible and preventing them from deciding not to return (technically, audience churn, which is the most common state of audiences on this scale).
- At the end of the road, you will certainly find a minority group of unconditional followers for whom your project is relevant and significant enough. For them being part of your communities is really worthwhile because they have found passionate, emotional ties with what you offer, and they have even helped you connect with new potential audiences.
Knowing your communities
In the current situation of constant change, you need to know who your audiences are, what they do, and what trends influence their daily life in order to try to design ad hoc experiences and to communicate with them accordingly. You need to ask the right questions that provide you with valid information for decision-making. The basic ones are:
- Who are they, based on socio-demographic data?
- How many are there: the number of users, readers, visitors, spectators, occupations, the audience share?
- Why did they come: their motivations, what led them to interact with you, what interests and expectations do they hope to get fulfilled?
- How was their experience, how did they found out about you, who did they came with, was it easy for them to gain access and buy the ticket?
- And, of course, how satisfied were they? Would they do it again? Would they recommend the experience?
Segmenting your audiences then has to be a sustainable and progressive process that allows you to periodically track the achievement of your objectives. An effective segmentation could be the frequency of interaction with your project: How often do your audiences consume arts and culture? By answering this question, you can distinguish between new, sporadic, recurrent and frequent audiences, which provides you with much information about how to relate to them: What services and activities might interest them the most? What kinds of offers and promotions might draw their attention? How often? What priority media and channels do they use to communicate?
Designing the user experience
I like to see cultural managers as civil engineers, building bridges and points of connection between the agents in the value chain of our sector, especially between creators and audiences. But I am also excited by the idea of being a cartographer of the user experience. How? We need to map out the main features of our audiences and the corresponding segments. There are two fundamental tools for doing this, based on qualitative questionnaires, in-depth interviews and observations:
- A persona map to determine profiles, demographics, goals and challenges: How can we can help, what story might interest them most?
- An empathy map to determine their concerns, their influences, their environment: How do they behave and, above all, what are their main expectations and frustrations?
But the main mapping task is in designing the user experience, the user journey map which allows us to identify all face-to-face and online contact points and understand them in all their breadth, i.e. before, during and after the moment of interaction with the artistic work or cultural proposal. The time I spend on a cultural experience starts at the moment I leave home to the moment I come back. Also, in addition to my own ticket, I may pay for the person I go with, a babysitter, a car park, lunch, etc. Mapping out all this details helps arts organizations to become aware of the complexity of the experience design, to detect weaknesses and strengths, to understand the role played by all the agents that interact with the user, and to identify opportunities for optimizing the experience.
Channels and media
I have insisted on the need to generate and encourage conversations with our communities. Conversations with stories, but through what channels and media? The answer seems to be simple: Those who help you optimize the relationship and conversation with your communities. In any case, regardless of the channels and media you use and prioritize, in order to optimally articulate your story, you must try to make all your communication consistent, coherent and perfectly recognizable through the transmission of your values.
Yes, we are talking about marketing. So what?
If we understand marketing as a set of techniques and methodologies that allow us to be aware of the desires, threats, needs and priorities of our users, we should welcome it. It is not a question of trivializing or simplifying what we do, but of knowing how to find the right stories (in plural) to connect with the right communities (in plural). Lets use the emotional factor of the user experience. In fact, traditional marketing, which was based on interruption and paid particular attention to the offer, has given way to inbound marketing. Harmonizing data and information to make decisions about how to connect and communicate with customers requires a CRM vision that allows you to optimize your interaction with audiences, to predict their needs and, in short, to improve your service and their experience.
- Audiences are at the center of your communication strategy. You should adopt a clear user orientation without forgetting your essence.
- You should establish stories with your audiences. You should share your values with your communities.
- You should segment. You should use relational marketing to optimize the interactions you want to have with all our audiences.
- You should get to know your audiences. You should act rigorously but without giving up intuition, turning the data into information and the information into knowledge. You should take into account the new forms of cultural consumption.
- You should listen actively and proactively. You should adapt constantly to a changing society, be flexible. You should go wherever your audiences are, both in person and online. You should think positively about marketing because it is just listening.
- You should design the user experience. Do not forget that your value is the creation of user emotions. You should consider the whole breadth of their experience, before, during and after. You should pay attention to all points of contact. You should give due importance to your customer service staff; this is also communication.
- You should be engineers. You should build bridges between creators and audiences.
- You should learn management formulas for audiences. You should be aware that, in addition to creating, attracting and holding audiences, your great need is to retain new ones.
- You should collaborate with each other. You should learn and relearn, based on methodology, tools and resources for sharing experiences about communication and audience management.
- You should be obsessive about relevance. You should not be satisfied with what you already do through inertia. You should not forget that, in addition to working for your organization, you should work especially for your communities, for your audiences.
- Carr, E.; Pauls, M. (2011). Breaking the Fifth Wall: Rethinking Arts Marketing for the 21st Century. Patron Publishing.
- Cashman, S. (2010). Thinking Big! A Guide to Strategic Marketing Planning for Arts Organisations. Arts Marketing Association.
- Godin, S. (2016). We Are All Weird. The Rise of tribes and the End of Normal. Pengiun RandomHouse.
- Harlow, B. (2015). Taking Out the Guesswork. A Guide to Using Research to Build Arts Audiences. The Wallace Foundation.
- Osterwalder, A.; Pigneur, Y.; Clark, T.; Smith, A. (2011). The Business Model Canvas.
- Planellas, M.; Muni, A (2016). Las decisiones estratégicas. Los 30 modelos más útiles. Penguin (3rd edition).
- Simon, N. (2016). The Art of Relevance. Museum 2.0 Santa Cruz, California.
This article was first published in the in the Annual Report of the Catalonian Council of Culture and the Arts 2017 in Spanish and Catalan.
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