What Creates a Stronger Impact: Marketing or Audience Development?

Recently, many of my artist clients have asked me what’s the difference between marketing and audience development?  And which one is more important to focus on for the arts?  In an attempt to help as many artists as possible, I thought I would share with you my thoughts.

Marketing is about informing.  It is announcing events, releasing thoughts and establishing yourself as an artist or arts organisation.

Audience development is a collection of strategies and manoeuvres taken to establish long-term relationships with audience members.  These strategies and manoeuvres include programming, branding and marketing. 

While marketing is an important element within the larger scheme of audience development, I believe a stronger emphasis on audience development is a smarter move for an artist or arts organisation.

Here is why: the arts heavily rely on word of mouth marketing to attract bums on seats.  But how do we accomplish building word of mouth marketing?  We can start by providing care.

Last week I attended an inspiring talk at Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre featuring Robert LaPage with Richard Watts.  LaPage repeatedly expressed the idea of the arts being an event for its audiences – meaning that from the moment the audience walks through the theatre doors to await for the main event in the foyer they are surrounded by the event, or experience.  I couldn’t agree more.  By creating an event inside AND outside the arts space, we are showing our audience how much we value their support.  We care that they have chosen to spend their time with the arts. 

What is care?  Care comes across through customer service.  It’s placing yourself ahead of the needs of others.  It’s thinking ahead of needs and wants, emphasising deeper listening and taking more detailed action.

Customer service doesn’t occur solely within the arts space.  It occurs through over the telephone during a ticketing transaction, on the streets amongst the community, on our websites, social media pages or other online sources where information can be shared with our audience.  Care and customer service occurs in everyday life.  Have you emphasised much care toward your audience lately?

If we put forth as much passion into caring for our audiences through customer service as we do in creating and practicing our art, our audience members would grow, mature and spread from followers to fans to advocates to funders.  What a bright future that paints!

Show some more care towards your audience through small steps starting today.  I guarantee: an impression will be made, and I am pretty sure the impression will be positive.