Having a strong, clear and appropriate brand and marketing it successfully is extremely important – particularly where a venue is changing direction.
But it’s important to make a distinction between marketing and advertising. Simply put, marketing focuses on communicating your brand and vision, while advertising sells your product.
There is undoubtedly a significant overlap between these activities, and to achieve success you must be excellent at them both.
The theatre’s brand, in this context, is the emotional reaction you evoke in people when they encounter your organisation. It is the ‘way of life’ of your organisation. Sometimes people call it the ‘personality’ of the theatre. It is not a bad idea to think about your brand as the personification of the theatre.
People may encounter your brand through advertising or online; by seeing a piece of promotional material you have designed or by hearing or reading your theatre’s name.
They will experience your brand in every interaction they have with your theatre, from making a job application to reading an article about you; becoming your friend or liking your page on Facebook; or reading a post you have made on Twitter. The most perfect opportunity for your customer to experience your brand will come when they visit your theatre in person.
It is critical that all of a theatre’s team fully understand the vision of the theatre and recognise the importance of embodying that vision in all aspects of their work.
Generally speaking, successful theatres understand this concept well.
They are successful because they know themselves well; they pay close attention to the way they communicate their brand, and their customers and the press understand and like this.
Frequently, a successful brand is the result of a theatre understanding itself clearly – recognising what it’s good at, and reflecting closely the aspirations of the community it serves.
It is a pleasure for people to encounter a theatre that understands itself well in this way. All theatres can benefit from good branding – from understanding what makes them unique and communicating this personality to their audiences.
Good branding directly leads in the mid- and long-term to high, sustainable levels of ticket sales.
This is because many audience members buy tickets because they wish to attend an event at your theatre, not because they are drawn to attend a particular event.
They like the experience of going to your theatre and they will find something to attend on a given evening that best fits their taste and their calendar.
They like the personality of your theatre, and your brand makes feel good, or special. In time, attending your theatre becomes for them synonymous with celebration, or relaxation.
If your brand is delivered superbly, then these audience members will use your brand to communicate their own personality to their friends. Being a regular attendee at your theatre becomes part of their personality. This is the ultimate aim of every good theatre – to become part of people’s lives.
In time, these regular attendees will wish to become more involved with your theatre. This may take the form of a donation or volunteering, but even a one-time attendee will give you invaluable marketing assistance by telling others of their experience at your theatre.
This is why theatres must focus on every detail of the experience they deliver to their customers, from the very first time the customer encounters the theatre to the farewell they receive from your staff as they leave the building.
Clever theatres will seek to extend this experience beyond the building, following up the customers visit with a personal letter or offer to encourage them to re-attend.
But even if tight budgets or logistical resources mean that this level of service is not possible, the most humble theatre can ensure that their marketing materials and the look and feel of their venue deliver a rewarding and inspirational experience to their customers.
So clarify your brand. A simple way to start is to look at the theatre that you most admire and see how they do it. What elements of what they do would work for you? What’s the best practice in other theatres? Keep your sights set on quality of programming, marketing and audience experience and you’ll find your audience returning again and again – and bringing their friends…