Arts futures: creating digital customer experiences

Today’s audiences are digital native: they habitually order taxis, do their banking, watch telly, order food and buy their theatre tickets online. How can your companies capitalise on the trend? Spektrix CEO Michael Nabarro explains.

Consumer behaviour has changed dramatically in a short period of time and yet arts professionals still aren’t keeping up with their customers. It’s time for the industry to embrace digital as its primary sales medium. Online is the least expensive way to sell, yet I don’t see enough organisations really thinking about the online purchase pathway strategically. You can’t staff your box office around the clock, but your website is up-and-running 24/7. It should be the hardest working member of the team.

I understand that what we sell in the arts is more complex than, say, retail. A supermarket doesn’t have to worry about membership discounts, reserved seating, triggered benefits, series and subscriptions. Technology, however, means we can’t really blame complexity as a barrier any more.

The solution is to be smart about how we design the online customer journey. It must proactively make customers aware of the other great events in your programme, while sensibly incentivising incremental sales.

Roughly 90% of tickets sold in the UK are for a single performance. In every other area of e-commerce, the normal response would be a push to drive up the average basket size with multi-bookings and upselling.

But how do you justify to customers that their incremental spend represents good value for money? You can do this by offering context and validation, like reviews by other customers, with representative content such as videos, photos, synopses and cast lists to seal the deal.

Explaining why they should add another GBP10 (€11.50) to the basket at checkout is also a must-do. For example, reminding them that the bar can be busy during interval, so there is a clear benefit to pre-booking a mid-performance drink.

A significant number of customers still prefer to turn up in person or call in to buy their tickets. How do you reconcile a growing horde of digital-firsts with a shrinking group of traditional consumers?

On the one hand you want to make the ticketing path as quick and easy as possible. On the other hand, you want to seize any opportunity to immerse the customer in your programme, cross-selling them other products, upselling their purchase path, asking for donations, and using it as an opportunity to build a deeper, more meaningful relationship.

In essence, you need to provide your customers with the quick, self-service option but also provide a full-service option that meets that group’s more extensive needs. To do this you need to strategically address the customer purchase path, establishing two approaches: the self-service option and the full-service option.

The full-service option is really about making everything available that people need to know in order to make a decision. As a minimum, provide critic and customer reviews. If the show hasn’t yet gone live, provide reviews for the directors’, the writers’, the actors’ or the companies’ previous works. Sharing production photos and rehearsal or production videos can round out the picture for a prospective customer.

The self-service option should be a fast solution for people who know what they want. Digital technologies enable us to make sure the process is incredibly quick and easy to complete. Your system should recognise if they’re coming from a mobile or a laptop, or a desktop, and provide the best available option.

Getting the purchase journey right for self-service and full-service customers is essential to the arts industry’s transition towards more self-reliance. The retail sector hasn’t been shy about stealing ideas from the arts, so we shouldn’t be afraid to borrow approaches back. A regular look at how Amazon cross-sells other products – from the imagery and page layout to the message – should be a monthly exercise for arts marketers. We might also consider how travel companies offer a fast purchase ‘select your destination and dates widget’ on the homepage, while also providing the option to find out more and validate the choice.

When it comes to selling, the arts need to get better at storytelling. Thinking strategically about e-commerce is an excellent place to start.

Michael Nabarro is co-founder and CEO of Spektrix