How Much Of Your Audience Should Be “New”?

There’s no right answer to the question of how much of your audience should be “new.”

Let me rephrase. There is a right answer to the question, and it’s this: It depends.

I was reading this really interesting summary of a study in the UK about the percentage of audiences that were “new” (hadn’t been in at least three years) and the percentage that were “regular” (had been at least six times in three years). The basic result is that venues with government funding got 57% of sales from those regulars, compared to 37% for commercial venues. By contrast, West End commercial venues got 42% of revenue from new customers, compared to just 15% for West End government-funded venues.

The article characterizes this difference as the “failure” of the government-supported venues to attract audience, but it could just as easily have characterized it as a “failure” of the commercial venues to retain audience. Both or neither of those things could be true.

OK, Jim, what the hell are you talking about?

Let’s start at the extremes: Suppose you had 100% new audience. That means that you have failed to entice even one person who has come to your venue before to return. Your stuff must be terrible.

On the other extreme, 0% new audience. That means not even one person who might have heard of your shows through whatever channel thought it sounded interesting enough to lay down a few dollars (or pounds) to go see. Your shows are probably as much fun as surfing around on LinkedIn.

So being at either extreme is a bad sign. Usually, that means there’s a curve that runs from 0 to 100, with someplace in between being the “optimal” point.

Here’s how I’d look at it:

  • First, what percentage of your house are you selling? Let’s say it’s 70. No matter what, you should get 30% new audience immediately and make it 100.
  • Second, of the 70 who are currently showing up, what percent are “new” by whatever definition you choose? Let’s say it’s 43%, as the example in the story. That’s 43% of 70% of your house. Follow me on that? That’s 30% of your house that’s currently filled with new people, and 57% of 70% is about 40% of your house, which is filled with regulars.
  • Now, what percentage of that 30% can you realistically hope to retain as regular customers? You probably have some data on this, so dig it up. Let’s say for argument’s sake that it’s 50%. (I know that’s high. Just indulge me.)
  • That’s 15% you can expect to add to your “regular” customer total. Since your existing “regular” base is 40%, you can expect to get 55% of the house sold through regulars.
  • Therefore, you should shoot for 45% “new” buyers to both maximize current revenue AND maximize future growth as it stands RIGHT NOW.

As you go along, if you hit this benchmark, you’ll actually need a smaller percentage of new audience. Retaining audience is good, but so is getting new audience. For most venues in the vast, vast majority of situations, you can’t make it without plenty of both.

Did I lose you somewhere in the math? Tell me all the stats for your venue, and I’ll do the numbers again.

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