Superpowers, Part One

Editor’s Note: For this series, Jim writes about our superpowers — the ones that we in the live entertainment business have — and their corresponding forms of kryptonite-like weaknesses.

Would you like to have a superpower: flying, mind reading, invisibility?

Sure you would, but what if by accepting your superpower, you also had to accept a corresponding superweakness — something that made you more vulnerable?

While you contemplate that choice, I’m going to drop a spoiler on you: If you work in the live entertainment business, you’ve already got superpowers that come with corresponding forms of kryptonite-like weaknesses.

Today, I’m going to cover the first of three pairs (two more to come), starting with the superweakness.

Awareness: In live entertainment, for any given event, awareness among potential buyers of your event is very low. Dismally low. Tragically low. If the great data jockey in the sky could do a pie graph of all the people in the city where your event is happening and which ones were even aware of the existence of your event, for most events the thin little blue slice of awareness would be practically swallowed up by the giant Pac-Man of unaware red.

I’ve asked people all over the country, for over a decade, to name events in their towns that are coming up soon, and the answer is virtually always the same: I don’t know.

Most people can’t name one event. Not one. They might mumble something about the fact that the baseball or basketball team is playing, or name a major concert that’s months away, but that’s about as good as it gets.

And if nobody knows, nobody cares. And if nobody cares, nobody buys.

I have been saying for more than a decade that awareness is the leading problem in live entertainment, even among people who are qualified customers with a potential interest in your event.

But never fear, citizen of the live entertainment industry. We’ve got superpowers too, and in this case, we’ve got just the one we need.

The Cult: Not the ’80s hard rock band (although The Cult has a cult too, I’m sure). I’m talking about the power of live entertainment to create a “cult” of loyalty. That’s because the live experience is intense, emotional and surrounds the participants completely with sensory input. People scream at the top of their lungs and wave their glowing cell phones in the air at live music concerts, but not when they’re sitting at home listening to their iPods.

Live entertainment doesn’t need mass market awareness because of this power. The ability to build a cult dedicated to your music, comedy, play, or whatever is something that, as live entertainment marketers, we have. TV shows, for example, must reach tens of millions just to stay alive. Half the number of people who went to all Broadway shows in 2014 watched the Game of Thrones season five finale recently. By contrast, The Lion King has had 75 million viewers of the various productions of the musical around the world, and it’s a massive, gigantic, epoch-making success. Most shows will never need an audience anywhere near that big to be massively successful!

That means that live entertainment can be “weird.” It can focus on finding and cultivating specific audiences that are really excited and into what their show or event is all about. Rentheads are a pretty good example of this. Go to a “Weird Al” Yankovic concert sometime and see what being a “cult” for 30 years can do. I’ve been there. I’ve seen it. It’s powerful. A man, an accordion, some goofy lyrics and thousands of people screaming along in worship!

But if you, as a live entertainment marketer, don’t make the cult a priority, you’ve given away the superpower. Unfortunately, you’ve still got the superweakness. It’s a bad combination.

The cult cares. They really care. They care enough to tell other people who will also probably care, but they need to know that you care too, and you need to find the people who belong in the cult.

If you do that, the superpower wins! If not, awareness kryptonite can kill you.

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