#TBT: 3 Keys to Pie-Growing

Happy #TBT. To celebrate, we’re sharing an oldie-but-goodie post from Jim: 3 Keys to Pie-Growing [This article was originally posted March 2010].

"And yet another apple pie," © 2007 Benny Mazur, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

Photo Credit: “And yet another apple pie,” © 2007 Benny Mazur, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

A couple of weeks ago we discussed the fact that a panel at the Tickets.com Executive Summit turned into a good-natured food fight over the topic of price optimization. The truth is that the panelists were all broadly in agreement over the fact that price optimization was important, though my point was that the far more important issue is the need to grow the market and actually draw more people to live entertainment as their first choice.

Ken Davenport did some very thoughtful analysis on a very good survey done by Telecharge related to the Broadway audience, and here’s an insight of his that addresses this issue directly:

“We see lots of evidence customers do not have the level of information we think or hope they have. How many people in the industry knew Finian’s Rainbow had preview pricing, lower prices on Wednesday evenings, and 7:00pm curtains Tuesday-Thursday? The answer is not everyone. If we didn’t know, why would we think that customers did?”

Exactly right. In a world of perfect information, very subtle pricing changes have a direct and predictable impact. In the world we actually live in, I keep thinking today’s Wednesday. The idea that customers in any numbers are aware of the nuances of your pricing table is self-delusional. It doesn’t mean they don’t care about price or don’t respond to price, but it’s more situational and on their own terms.

So for me, the key issue remains less about price optimization, which as I said before, is important, and more about drawing more people in. Not re-slicing the pie, but growing it so that everyone wins.

What “grows the pie” for live entertainment? In my view, it’s three things:

1. Better content. And by “better,” I mean designed to be in the intersection point between the creative vision of the artist/company/organization and the delight of the audience. B+ doesn’t get it done. “Expected” doesn’t get it done. Delight, surprise and excellence equals better, and that’s job 1. If you’re not sure how that looks, search Guy Laliberte on Google and read his story. Not many of us can be Guy, but we can try.

2. Create reasons to go. Why should a person come to your show? It used to be easier just to say, “Hey, it’s Yo-Yo Ma, so come to the show.” You’ve got to dig deeper. If you’ve got Yo-Yo Ma, let people know that they will never hear a better cellist, assuming you’re talking to an audience that’s receptive to that. Reasons to do something go beyond just the direct content, too. People go to movies because they’re convenient and casual. People (mostly teenagers) buy Sprite because they see it as something that reflects the fact that they’re active and energetic. Slightly crazy, that is, but it’s true. If your show is 90 minutes with no intermission, you’ve got something, because people can go to dinner, see your show, have an after-dinner drink and still be home on a school night by 11:00pm. That’s a reason to go, too. You can’t just do an accurate forensic description of the content and expect people to be charmed. You’ve got to think about what matters to them and give them reasons to go.

3. Open all the doors and windows. Inhale feedback, talk to people, listen to actual and potential customers. Find out which social media and online outlets make sense and work for you and prioritize communicating through them. Make your customer service as responsive as possible. In other words, do the opposite of most organizations, which try, often unconsciously, to make themselves impervious to outside input. How many online companies, for example, still expect you to wait a day or two to get an answer to an email you send them? What are they doing that whole time that’s more important than answering customers with problems? Hard to imagine.

Obviously, a lot of challenges are masked by those three seemingly simple keys, and it takes a level of coordination across an entire organization to do them all well, but it can be done, and it is being done. It’s just not being done enough to see the change in the industry that’s possible. Believe it or not, live entertainment is benefiting from a tailwind (though it may not feel like it), and it enables some people to remain lazy, even in the midst of this world re-making recession.

Well, accept the tailwind as a blessing, but don’t let it lull you into complacency. Many live entertainment organizations will be destroyed by economic conditions and social change over the next few years, but it will mostly be the ones that are committed more to staying the same than they are to fulfilling mission.

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