Tuesday, October 29, 2013

An Arts Lesson In Ecosystem Marketing

Even among the small percentage of the population who understand marketing as much more than merely a euphemism for advertising, it has always been amazing to me how many misperceive it as missionary work.

Passion is important, but marketing is more about “sifting” than converting.  Marketing is also more like making music than “yelling” which is another term for advertising.

It may also be why at least one of the top ten community marketers in America has two degrees in music and why deafened consumers have simply tuned out advertising, giving it a negative return on investment.

Before I explain the comparison of sifting and making music, I must point out an excellent New York Times op-ed earlier this month for anyone who missed it.

It is entitled “Is Music the Key to Success by Joanne Lipman.

Four quotes stood out to me.  One was by Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft and currently the owner of both the Seattle Seahawks and the Portland Trailblazers who also founded the EMP Museum (Experience Music Project.)National Arts Index

Allen noted that music “reinforces your confidence in the ability to create” and “pushes you to look beyond what currently exists and express yourself in a new way.”

Paul Wolfensohn, a former president of the World Bank is paraphrased as explaining that music “enhances the ability to connect disparate or even contradictory ideas.”

And famed agency executive Steve Hayden notes that music “trains you quite literally, to play well with others, to know when to solo and when to follow.”

Ms. Lipman concludes with a nod to those in high office noting that music “helps train you to think differently, to process different points of view – and most important to take pleasure in listening.”

Those who misconstrue marketing as a type of “missionary work” are often “true believers.”  Often drawn first to the organizations they market as fans, they view marketing as just a matter of “yelling” louder and louder.

Seeing every consumer as a potential convert viewed only in the context of short term year-to-year budgets of plus or minus a few percentage points, they fail to see the more finite patterns apparent in the long view.

Fortunately for the arts and culture sector of leisure activity, Americans for the Arts now provides one of the finest examples of strategic indexes available anywhere.  The 2013 index was released last month.

It was the source of my comment in a blog earlier that the share of adults attending live popular music concerts (rock, country, R&B, hip hop etc.) has been down—or at best flat—over the past decade.  They have averaged 22.2% of adults, up a point some years, down a point others.

According to the Index, live performing arts in general is down from 40% a decade ago to around 32% to 33% annually.  Commercial giants such as Live Nation struggle mightily not to lose their share of this market, but as a result sculpt out the less mainstream performances that make communities distinct.

Masking this flat demand is the fact that annual capital investment in new facilities such as theaters has increased 62% when indexed, while annual revenue from ticket sales to popular music concerts has doubled over the past decade even after being indexed to inflation.

Annual non-profit arts revenue is up only 2%.  While some feel secure by looking only at the short term, it is obvious from the long view that what looks like growth is dislocation.

Arts and cultural organizations, as well as community destination marketing organizations under whose umbrella they fall, are extremely fortunate to have the indices created by Americans for the Arts.  Other sectors should follow suit.

The supply vs. demand imbalance is apparent in other indices as well.  Facilities compete even more for resources and volunteers than they do for audience.  Volunteering (on behalf of arts not in arts) is down significantly from a decade ago.

Arts employment is flat.  Local government contribution is back to where it was a decade ago, yet state funding is down by half.  Private giving is also flat.

Obviously, the National Arts Index has not resolved the imbalance of supply and demand, but it has made it more transparent.  Over time, if communities and the consultants who serve them begin to use the index to inform decision making, it should help the arts avoid cannibalization.

Equally useful, if not more, the Index benchmarks the competitiveness of arts and cultural in the overall ecosystem of leisure time.  Here too, arts and culture has lost ground over the past decade despite powering up immense capacity.

Understanding there is a leisure ecosystem is the first step.  Knowing there are five or six conditions or trends impacting leisure that are unrelated to marketing is next.

Having and using benchmarking data is crucial.  Ultimately the solution for an ecosystem is achieving balance.  Nothing is more true of a community’s overall marketing as well.

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