How Not to Discount: Part IV

Photo created by Jerry Cox,

Photo created by Jerry Cox,

Don’t punish buyers who have come to your venue on a discount ticket.

The fourth way that you shouldn’t do discounting is to do it in such a way that it’s designed to punish the people buying your discount tickets. This is done by, for example, putting them in the last row of the house when other sections are available, making them wait to be seated after the “regular” patrons have been seated or otherwise creating a little reminder that they’re getting less because they paid less.

Imagine if the airlines did that to you. Did you fly full fare the last time you went? Did you pay rack rate last time you stayed at a hotel? If you didn’t, did the hotel go out of its way to put you in a room right next to a busy elevator? Did the airline make you wait until everyone else had boarded before letting you on, or tell you that you couldn’t use the overhead bins?

Of course they didn’t, and you’d have been outraged if they did. After all, if they didn’t want to sell you a ticket at that price, they shouldn’t have sold you a ticket at that price.

I have millions of customers, and every now and then, something like this happens at a venue to which we’ve sold tickets. It’s vexing because we, like all live entertainment marketers, work very hard to get people out of their living rooms and into shows, and then somebody abuses them. This, to me, is an amateur move. When I hear about it (and it’s very rare that it happens), it’s a sign that we’re dealing with people who’ve got something to learn about discounting.

Why do I say this? A discount buyer, if you’re doing it well, is a person sampling your product, someone opening her or himself up to the possibility of a long, beautiful relationship with your organization. Put differently, this is the best shot you’re ever going to get to impress them.

And you’ve chosen to make the petty and profitless point that you think these patrons are second-rate. This makes no sense.

Now, if you’re doing discounting badly (which organizations who deliberately and for no good reason treat a discount buyer as something less than a regular customer tend to do), you’ve basically been recycling your full price customers into discounts for years, and you’re tired of it. By punishing them, you figure you’re showing them the error of their ways, and they’ll come back to the full price fold. I’ll admit this is as least somewhat logical because it’s consistent: You’ve been making a mistake for a long time, and now you’re trying to fix it by making another, equal and opposite mistake.

This business of live entertainment isn’t one that should be arrogant about mistreating patrons. Who are we, Apple? There’s a battle in the minds of entertainment-goers right now that the live entertainment industry could be winning because we’ve got what people want: a rich, real, kinetic, varied, exciting product that truly changes people’s lives for the better. But we could lose that battle because the ushers have been told that the people in the balcony are cheapskates because they paid $35 for a ticket instead of $70.

If you don’t want to sell a ticket at a discount, don’t. If you do sell a ticket at a discount, treat the buyer like every other buyer. It’s not just a question of not being a jerk; it’s a question of whether you’re going to get any long-term value out of your discounting practices. Abuse people, and the answer is no. Treat their visit as a chance to draw them into your core audience, and the answer has a much higher chance of being yes.

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