Building a Committed Relationship
How to Shift Last-Minute Ticket Buyers into Early Birds
Vancouver audiences are notorious for procrastinating on ticket purchases and waiting until the 11th hour to make buying decisions. It is often an anxious, nail-biting experience for marketers + presenters, making calculating and projecting sales a real challenge. Fortunately, there are several marketing tactics arts organizations can employ to tackle the inevitable reality.
Establish an Early-Bird Ticket Pricing System
Many arts groups unknowingly incentivize procrastinating ticket buyers by offering last-minute discounts and rush sales offers. The motivation is understandable when there are empty seats in the house – but it ultimately trains audiences to wait until the last minute to make their ticket purchase, while perpetuating the cycle.
By offering these same great deals as part of an early-bird ticket pricing strategy, organizations reward their most dedicated fans, build essential ‘early’ excitement and word-of-mouth.
An excellent way to structure early-bird pricing is by offering discounts in phases over a number of months, or weeks, prior to the event opening, allowing buyers multiple opportunities to take advantage of advance offers. This approach is common to music festivals such as the Toronto Urban Roots Festival (TURF), a three-day event that cascades its early-bird offers through three lead-up phases:
Offer Alluring Subscription Incentives
When looking for early commitments, a discount on price is not the only available incentive in an arts marketer’s toolkit. Initiating a subscriber or VIP program with compelling benefits not only helps secure early ticket sales, but also builds relationships and fosters loyalty with patrons.
The Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake, which produces ten theatre productions each year, partners with local hotels and wineries to provide irresistible perks to their subscribers. For 2015, the festival offered its season ticket subscribers vouchers to free wine tastings with Trius Estate Winery and Peller Estates, in addition to a 15 per cent discount for afternoon tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel.
Mirvish Productions, Canada’s largest commercial theatre production company, developed a strong subscription package for their 2015/16 season, investing in subscribers as a priority segment of their audience. In addition to restaurant discounts and offers on family and friend’s tickets, Mirvish Productions allows loyal patrons flexible payment plans and advance ticket ordering on special events.
Consider Demand-Based Pricing
One of the more sophisticated ticketing strategies is demand-based or dynamic pricing. Demand-based pricing sees prices continuously vary by following an algorithm customized to the venue’s sales trends. Whether ticket sales are slower than expected or going strong, prices respond to market demand, helping to encourage a greater number of early-ticket buyers.
A demand-based system generally rules that costs increase for the most sought-after seats to a best-selling show, as buzz around the event builds. Patrons holding out until the reviews are released will have fewer opportunities to attend, as positive word-of-mouth increases the demand for tickets.
The Cultch successfully introduced demand-based pricing during their 2011/12 season presentation of Penny Plain by Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes. The performance run enjoyed a 31 per cent increase in ticket sales and a 68 per cent increase in revenue over the same performance during their 2008/09 season. With many other arts organizations reaping similar benefits, demand-based pricing appears to be making its mark in the arts world.