New marketing research reveals untapped audiences

The latest edition of Creative Victoria’s Audience Atlas provides unique insights into audiences across the state and gives arts organisations new ways of reaching them, thanks to insights from Morris Hargreaves McIntyre.
New marketing research reveals untapped audiences Those Who Rock, Betty Amsden Participation Program 2019, Arts Centre Melbourne. Photographer credit: Tobias Titz.
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Richard Watts

Thursday 5 December, 2019

A new study commissioned by Creative Victoria has revealed that 93% of Victorians – or 4.4 million people – attend or want to attend arts and cultural events, while one in four Victorians say they intend to increase their arts and culture attendance in the next 12 months.

The challenge of attracting this burgeoning audience has been simplified for Victorian arts organisations with the release of the second edition of the Audience Atlas, commissioned by Creative Victoria.

Based on research undertaken with 4,058 survey participants, the Audience Atlas explores individual artforms and the existing audiences of 58 specific organisations. It also looks at the unique behaviour patterns and make-up of audience members in different parts of the state, demonstrates which audiences have gone untapped, and suggests ways that artists and organisations across all artforms can build audience numbers.

‘The Audience Atlas is the most comprehensive study of audiences and the population in Victoria ever undertaken. It’s certainly the most representative study,’ said Andrew McIntyre, co-founder of the UK based culture research company, Morris Hargreaves McIntyre, which carried out the research.

‘The Audience Atlas is the most comprehensive study of audiences and the population in Victoria ever undertaken.’

Andrew McIntyre

‘The Atlas is unique in that it seeks to investigate, profile and discover – in some detail – Victorian audiences’ interest in, experience of and profile with lots of different art forms and also lots of specific arts organisations. And because of that, it gives people a complete picture of who has been in their audience, who is currently in the audience, and who potentially might be in the audience.

‘From that, organisations are able to understand their own level of audience engagement and set and stretch realistic targets for how they might increase that level of engagement,’ McIntyre told ArtsHub.

USING THE AUDIENCE ATLAS

The latest version of the Audience Atlas (the first was released in 2014) is an easy-to-use tool designed to help Victorian arts organisations build audiences and markets.

The detailed information contained in the Audience Atlas is ‘is freely available online. Anybody can download it,’ said McIntyre.

‘And rather than see it as a document or a publication, we’re really encouraging people to see it as a data bank that can be interrogated further. So in the New Year, we’ll be doing workshops with any organisations that would like to be involved – and they’re all free. So each organisation will have its own bespoke workshop and we’ll be able to pull out specific data and talk the organisation through that data and how it might support their own planning or how they might be able to use it internally.

‘A huge amount of effort is going into making this data practical and usable and to drive change and drive planning, rather than it being something people might just stick in their annual report or something that will just fill up their filing cabinet,’ he said.

Melbourne International Arts Festival (MIAF) is one of 58 organisations to receive a bespoke report as part of the Audience Atlas, examining current and lapsed audiences, market penetration within its artform, and how it ranks alongside other festivals in terms of audience awareness.

MIAF Head of Marketing, David Geoffrey Hall, said the Audience Atlas is ‘unlike any other research out there’.

‘It really goes to the heart of why people attend arts and culture,’ he said, ‘and drills into why people decide to spend or not spend their hard earned money on arts and culture. From that, you can speak to people in a way that resonates more deeply with them. We're not selling Tupperware, we're selling cultural experiences … and so connecting the right people to the right art is central to anyone's marketing strategy, I think.’

WHAT THE AUDIENCE ATLAS REVEALS

The Audience Atlas 2019 explores the current market for a range of artforms and reveals that film (including film festivals and films at the cinema), multi arts events and commercial theatre have the largest current markets, while literature events – though currently having the smallest current market of artforms tested – also has the greatest potential, with 27% or 1.2 million Victorians willing to give literary events a try. Festivals and dance events also have large potential markets with the report demonstrating that 23% or 1 million Victorians are in the market for festivals and 22% or 961k Victorians are open to trying out or reengaging with dance events.

One potential method of attracting new audiences which the Audience Atlas explores is the strategic use of social media influencers.

‘I think the word influencer is possibly a kind of pejorative term now, isn’t it?’ McIntyre laughed.

Referencing Culture Segments, the sector-specific segmentation system developed by Morris Hargreaves McIntyre, he continued: ‘One of the culture segments in particular, the Expression culture segment … are hard-wired to support cultural institutions. They believe that cultural institutions are what makes Melbourne and Victoria civilised and what makes life better. They’re also very egalitarian and very democratic and they are both community minded and communally minded.

‘They’re the most likely to recommend shows, the most likely to talk about art on Facebook and so on. And if you were actually to try and orchestrate that in some way, rather than just hope that word of mouth happened naturally; if you actually tried to request and solicit people’s help, I think that help would be freely given.’

‘There is a huge amount of untapped altruism, untapped willingness to support the arts and cultural organisations.’

Andrew McIntyre

With traditional volunteering models under pressure as people of all ages become increasingly time poor, the idea of micro-volunteering – activities that can be completed in half an hour or less, without having to attend a theatre or museum – is on the rise.

‘There is a huge amount of untapped altruism, untapped willingness to support the arts and cultural organisations. So if we were to say to the right people, “Would you share these ideas or these videos or whatever with your network, with other people online,” I think there are a large number of people who would be willing to do that,’ McIntyre said.

‘Compared to the sort of people who are YouTubers and other kinds of professional influencers, and who are trying to make a living out of something or get advertising endorsements that they’re not being up-front about, this is completely authentic. These are people who already want to help the theatre, or want to help the museum, who are sharing something they already like with other people who know them and who trust them.’

He compared the strategy to traditional word of mouth recommendations, only doing it in a more organised and orchestrated way.

‘I think there’s an army of people out there who have a huge amount of goodwill, and tapping into that goodwill is a very authentic way of spreading messages to people who you might not otherwise reach through traditional marketing,’ McIntyre said.

USING THE ATLAS

David Geoffrey Hall said the publication of the first Audience Atlas in 2016 was a ‘redefining moment in looking at audiences across our sector.’

Increased collaboration between Victorian arts organisations was a key outcome of the Atlas’s publication, he continued.

‘I think that a wild amount of collaboration has stemmed from it, because it was really the first study that said, “Hey festival X, you share 50-something percent of the audience with institution A. That's a huge opportunity for you to perhaps do something together or to talk to each other, to talk about your timings so that you’re not competing for the same people at the same time.” I think it transformed the way that we talked about our audience and for the first time it put an exact figure on the amount of people in Victoria who are interested in our products.’

MIAF has also used the Audience Atlas to identify primary and secondary audiences for every show that the festival programs.

‘Part of our program brief for works and their budgets to be signed off, is who are the audience segments and what percentage of them are our current audience, and how much do we need to acquire? And there are some shows that are an entirely different demographic to our current audience, and so that feeds down into how much money we put into marketing and how we talk about the work; the types of imagery that we use, the type of language that we use, because people respond really differently depending on which Culture Segment you're going after,’ Hall explained.

ATTRACTING LAPSED AUDIENCES

Crucially, the 2019 Audience Atlas highlights the need for Victorian arts organisations to spend more time re-engaging lapsed audiences instead of focusing on recruiting entirely new audiences for their work.

‘Arts marketing, which is a discipline that’s been with us for several decades now, has almost always focused us on the acquisition of new audiences – it’s almost fetishised the acquisition of new audiences,’ said McIntyre.

Presently, arts marketers seem to believe that the most valuable use of an organisation’s time, money and attention lies in focussing on actively engaged audience members.

‘There is a sense that the norm in arts marketing is to try and get more visits from those who are the most responsive in the audience, rather than to try harder to either retain or reactivate those at the edge of the audience,’ McIntyre explained.

‘But what this study reveals is that if you if you pursue that as a policy for five to 10 years, you end up with a large lapsed audience, because those who are slower to respond or less likely to respond are eventually marginalised. Arts marketing logic says it’s not worth investing time and effort in them because they are less likely to respond. The perceived wisdom is that you’ll get a bigger bang for your buck, a bigger return, by focusing all your attention on those people most likely to buy a ticket.

‘While that makes good economic business sense for individual shows, over time it creates a kind of audience timebomb in which each season, you push more and more people out. And I think that what this study is showing is the scale of that lapsed audience.’

Arts organisations have a potentially vast audience of lapsed ticket buyers and subscribers already on their databases, McIntyre continued; we need to find better ways of bringing them back into the fold.

‘People who’ve previously dipped their toe into being part of audiences, who have got maybe only one booking on our box office ticketing histories – for whatever reason, we stopped mailing them, we stopped inviting them because they haven’t been for five years and they don’t respond to our emails.

‘What we’re realizing now is we’ve actually created huge reservoirs of people who have some proven interest, who know where we are, have been before, but have not done it consistently enough to remain in the crosshairs of marketing. It’s a huge, huge opportunity for us, because there are all of these people that are kind of latently interested, but not recently targeted. And there’s huge potential there to go against the prevailing logic of arts marketing and to say, “Okay, over the next three to five years, each of our institutions is strategically much better off targeting all of these lapsed audiences in a systematic way than it is just pursuing new audiences or those who have recently booked for something similar,’ he continued.

‘Our organisations are hugely successful at highly targeted, focused ticket sales – they’ve almost raised it to an art form in its own right. But in the long term, that practice is actually very ineffective at engaging audiences. It’s very efficient at selling tickets. But it’s not actually good at cultivating very large audiences over time. And a change in the paradigm is what’s required. We need to be thinking about audience engagement in the long term and strategically rather than just “How do I sell my Macbeth tickets?”’ said McIntyre.

Learn more about the Audience Atlas 2019.

Andrew McIntyre will be returning to Victoria in early 2020 to meet with Victorian organisations and to drill down further into what the Audience Atlas means for your organisation or artform. If you are interested, please email aavic2019@mhminsight.com to register your interest and include your name, role, organisation name, and what you would like to learn more about in a session with Andrew and the MHM team.

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R FM, a program he has hosted since 2004.

Richard currently serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management, and is also a former Chair of Melbourne Fringe. The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, he has also served as President of the Green Room Awards Association and as a member of the Green Room's Independent Theatre panel. 

Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend in 2017. Most recently he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize for 2019.

Twitter: @richardthewatts