More than 18 million people attend arts and cultural events in Greater Boston each year.
And this number is growing, thanks to ArtsBoston, an arts service organization that works with arts and cultural organizations throughout the city on professional development, audience engagement strategies, and their ticketing platform BosTix – the area’s only arts specific discount ticketing resource.
While many of these services are mainstays of ArtsBoston’s programming, their team is committed to ensuring that their work—both what they offer and how they offer it—evolves to respond to new opportunities and needs in the community.
It was that hunger for evolution and relevance that drove ArtsBoston to participate in Creating Connection in Massachusetts. And it inspired them to use the public values research to reconsider how they approach messaging—thinking beyond the monetary or transactional value of ticket sales toward a message that is rooted in the value that creative experiences bring to the community.
Attempting to bridge gaps
Their work began by looking at their own data around relevance. Here, they turned to their Audience Initiative data, a program that seeks to leverage a database of 1.5 million arts-going households in Greater Boston to build and retain arts audiences.
They knew from that program that 89% of arts attendees in the database are white even though they only comprise 47% of Boston’s population. And they already had some strategies in place to address that issue.
“Mayor’s Holiday Special was conceived more than a decade ago to bridge these gaps,” according to John Beck of ArtsBoston. (Need to define what MHS is here)
ArtsBoston’s hypothesis in creating the program was that, “if we provided a high-profile platform for marketing the arts during the holidays, combined with steeply discounted tickets, we would be able to engage more people in the arts.” And the ArtsBoston team was finding relative success for this platform. “Our bottom-line outcomes have been good for arts groups” shared Beck.
But when they began to dig in to the Creating Connection recommendations, they wanted to test another approach to Mayor’s Holiday Specail—one that emphasized the relational or emotional impact of attending an arts event, not just the transactional nature of buying tickets.
“We saw a deeper opportunity within Mayor’s Holiday Special to contribute to the realignment of messaging that is at the heart of Creating Connection. We also saw this moment as a powerful opportunity for ArtsBoston to focus on welcoming people of color, a constituency that is absolutely essential to the future relevance and sustainability of our arts sector.”
Tapping into memories
When it came time to develop the marketing plan for their 2017 Mayor’s Holiday Special, Beck and his team knew they wanted to tap into their patron’s memories of attending arts events.
They had heard anecdotes from the community like, “I’ve seen The Nutcracker in Boston every year since my grandmother bought me my first ticket twenty years ago, and I look forward to bringing my own daughters for the first time this year. It wouldn’t be the holidays without those memories.” And they knew that they could leverage those stories into a campaign that tapped into why people attend arts events, not just how they attend them or what they see.
According to Beck, “Previous marketing framing for MHS and ArtsBoston has not made this emotional impact an explicit focus, however, emphasizing instead the artistic excellence of programming, the breadth of offerings, and the low-cost of tickets.”
By shifting their marketing focus to an emotional, experiential point of view and creating marketing that connected arts activities with the other kinds of seasonal holiday activities, ArtsBoston staff felt they were able to illustrate the power of arts attendance in memory-making in a way that helped them broaden their appeal.
“Creating Connection catalyzed a major change in the framing of our value messaging for Mayor’s Holiday Special, and that is a shift that will extend beyond the grant period and will be the foundation of future branding for the program as well,” reflected Beck. Indeed, the memory-based campaign, helped “demonstrate how slight shifts can inform messaging and build goodwill within different communities for some kind of broader action beyond just buying a ticket.”
The ArtsBoston team is so confident in this new direction that they’ve since experimented with it in new settings. “In 2018, because of the relevance of Creating Connection-framing… we continued to shift Mayor’s Holiday Special brand messaging away from the discount/deals focus to an emotional appeal—engaging consumers with a new tag line to ‘Create Priceless Memories’ by experiencing the arts during the holidays…”
And yet the impact extends beyond their marketing campaigns. As Beck shared, “Creating Connection put the heart back into our marketing strategy and, by extension, our overall vision for the future.” They’ve started to incorporate the thinking and framework in their new strategic plan. “While the cultural economy is real and important, our sector must also embrace language and positioning that extends the value of the arts beyond ticket sales and jobs created to the more inclusive, social/emotional messaging that can appeal to a broader range of audiences. For ArtsBoston, the next phases of our journey in Creating Connection will focus on that as a priority.”