Donald Trump vs. Conan O’brien, Part III: Creating Value BEFORE The Transaction

Last month, I was invited to give a short presentation at a Programmers Meeting that was attended by film festival leaders from across North America. Here is a reprise of the ideas I shared. I’ve partitioned what would have been a long essay into four parts for easier digestion and also, to allow for time for deeper contemplation. Here goes Part III.

Now, let’s take what we discussed in the last post – Marketing from Curation – and go even further: Marketing 365 days a year.

Here are the basics of what we typically know of sales: A buyer gives money to a merchant. And in return, receives some product or service of equal “value”, something that may enhance quality of life, boost security, or accelerate performance.  Regardless of the item, notice how the value happens after the exchange, as a result of the purchase, always on the condition of the transaction. This produces a very specific kind of environment in the buyer’s experience:

  1. The buyer is automatically placed in the position of higher risk. The value of their money – whether cash or credit – is generally stable. Merchants seldom have to worry about cash not performing as advertised. The purchase of buyers, on the other hand, isn’t proven until it is received and tested – long after their money has been given away. So, in this type of situation, the buyer is often expected to make a leap of faith, which can be a considerable psychological hurdle. And it is a trust we Programmers/Producers should not take lightly.
  2. There is another effect. Because the value for the buyer only happens after the transaction, the merchant is naturally inclined to initiate the dialogue (for example, in marketing) for the specific purpose of selling. This situation is wrought with self-serving motive, which negatively affects trust and makes the bar for entry even higher.

This second point is problematic specifically for those of us who work with calendar-dependent offerings: events or seasonal programs. Again, going back to the courtship analogy, would it be advantageous to go on a series of nice dates, completely disappear, wait twelve months, then show up awkwardly to ask your crush for another rendezvous? Clearly not. But that’s what many arts organizations do when they wrap up a season. They kill their momentum by going into hiding and then have to virtually rebuild all that precious patron engagement from scratch, year after year. But that’s more Trump than O’brien, is it not?

To sell out a tour at the click of a tweet means cultivating relationships year-round, not just when it’s time to sell. It means creating value, not only after the transaction but before the transaction as well. How does one do that? It’s easier than you might think. The answer: Revisit your organization’s mission statement. Nowhere does it say “Sell tickets”. Selling tickets happens when you serve your mission, but selling tickets is not the mission! When you read your company’s mission statement, you may notice keywords like: arts, empowerment, transformation, community, education, representation, and so on – many of these are benefits to the people that your organization serves, not benefits to the organization itself.

While your human and financial resources may be limited to creating a finite amount of programming, you can and should continue to serve your mission non-stop, all year round. You can:

  • Keep in touch with your audience. Utilize your email list, keep it active, and/or drive traffic to your site or blog for news-worthy insights.
  • Be transparent; Let the public know what you’re working on. In this Social Networking Age, transparency is highly sought after. While I would never champion personal transparency, professional transparency is certainly legitimate, beneficial, and appreciated. What’s in the works? People like to stay clued in and fans would love to have an inside peek on your happenings.
  • Have fun; Be interactive. Perhaps, host off-season contests and giveaways? I’m guessing your organization is frequently offered freebies and discounts that you probably give to your staff, which I advocate for – fun perks help keep team morale up. Or, you may also consider extending these benefits to your supporters to honor their loyalty to your institution’s work.

    When I made these particular suggestions at the Programmers Meeting, one film festival leader shared a success story of her organization’s recent use of the interactive element. While moving offices, they documented and broadcast the transition, and asked viewers to vote between three particular pieces of decor to appear in the new lounge. This little gag was hugely popular – and ultimately resulted in a life-size cut-out of Bruce Lee gracing the new space. Imaginative and inviting, that’s it!
  • Hip your constituency to excellent programs. EVEN if they aren’t your own! Again, serving your mission doesn’t mean serving only your creations. If you truly value “arts, empowerment, transformation, community, education, representation, etc., etc.”, then it is sensible to promote the great work of other people and organizations that share these interests. Your audience will thank you for the recommendation, and you will stand out in the crowd, gaining recognition from the larger community for your generous and non-competitive nature.

Following these easy tips is a great start for you to offer value to your audience before the transaction. Doing so will re-create the buyer’s experience for the better. And will make the actual selling a non-issue because your patrons will already be educated on and engaged with the high quality of your products and services. You won’t need to explain the value. They’ll have already experienced it year-round through your frequent demonstrations of openness, kindness, humor, and thoughtfulness.

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