Our work is about art – the essence of human expression, transmitted through a particular medium and shared with others. In my opinion, there could not be a more pure, transcendent, incredible field of work.
There are people who experience what we do one time and who instantly become lifelong champions of our work. But on the whole, loyalty is not linear.
Not everything we do will appeal to everyone, all the time, forever. There are dozens of reasons why. And this can be mystifying to us and to our stakeholders. After all, if you really believe in something, how can you possibly imagine how to entice people who don’t get it now, let alone over time?
Is there an algorithm to sparking loyalty in the arts?
Many successful brands such as Amazon, Nordstrom, Disney, and Zappos prioritize ensuring that their customers feel good. By focusing on delivering outstanding customer service, they have invested heavily in the principle that good-feeling customers are the most loyal. These loyal customers are the most outspoken in favor of the brands, and they broadcast this loyalty to others. How do these brands achieve this loyalty? They closely observe their customers’ behaviors, respond to feedback, and the brands are generous when, ostensibly, they have other options.
So what can we learn and apply to the arts? Our work is a bit different, in that an arts experience is not a good or a service; it is the culmination of a creative act. Although we may charge a ticket price, often we believe that the experiences we are creating are more valuable than the ticket price. The price is often necessary for us to keep producing the work, but for some, charging potentially complicates how we as artists and arts managers feel about the audience's perception of the work, and our perception of the audience's financial investment in it.
That aside, we can do a much better job in applying the key loyalty principles to the arts. This means not merely looking toward our marketing, hoping for more clever messaging to bring people in. Transactions do not make loyalty. Prioritizing customers makes loyalty.
This means we must do something radical: get out of the office and into the community. We must talk to actual people (people who come and people who don't), we must invite their feedback and ideas about what we do, and we must be open to changing the way we engage with people if it’s working for us but not for them. We must care about our audiences and how they feel, because the art matters, and the audience matters. They must be a high priority.
After all, we cannot exist for long without each other.
And how delicious this is to explore together.