Case Study: Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Subscription Upgrade Success

Case Study: Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Subscription Upgrade Success

$45,800 additional revenue from subscription upgrade campaign

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The Scenario:

The 2015-16 season marked CSO’s 125th anniversary.
CSO saw the occasion as an opportunity to invite
patrons to upgrade their subscriptions

Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) was preparing for their 125th anniversary season. Subscription sales had been strong in previous seasons, but staff wanted to increase the number of subscription units sold. (At CSO, a “unit” is defined as one ticket to a concert.)

While working with TRG on their annual subscription campaign plan, CSO identified their 125th season as a cause for celebration—and an opportunity to ask patrons to invest more in their subscriptions. Jennifer Colgan, CSO’s Marketing Manager, Patron Retention, made a plan to ask renewing patrons to upgrade. An “upgrade” is the right next step for a patron, whether it’s adding on a series, moving into a larger package, or moving to a more premium seating section.

What’s an Upgrade?

The right next step for a patron, deepening their affinity and investment in the organization.

For subscribers, this could be a larger package, adding on a series, or moving to a more premium seating section.

“We shouldn’t—and don’t—underestimate the loyalty of our CSO Main subscribers,” Jennifer said. “If given the opportunity to go to more concerts, they’ll go. If we communicate the opportunity to go to more concerts and the benefits price-wise, then they will buy more. The 125th anniversary was a major opportunity.”

This campaign targeted patrons who in the previous season had a 5 concert subscription package to the Main concert series. When renewing subscribers either upgraded their current series to a 10 concert series or added on an additional 5 concerts, CSO offered a 25% discount on the series.

The Results:

The Strategy:

CSO executed this upgrade campaign after they had experimented in previous seasons. They had previously tested an upgrade campaign for the 20th anniversary of their Jazz series.

“The most encouraging part of the upgrade campaign for the Jazz series was that people stayed in the 10 concert series the year after they’d upgraded,” Jennifer said. “We’d offered 20% off if they upgraded to a larger series, and then 10% the following year to get them to stay in the larger series. Over half of the patrons who upgraded stayed in the larger series the following season.”

©Todd Rosenberg Photography

With the right offer to the right people at the right time, CSO was ready to implement an upgrade campaign of much greater complexity. Primarily, CSO wanted 5 concert series subscribers to upgrade to 10 concerts. However, in order to maximize the promotion, they set up the 25% off price type for all of their Main series. The patron services team could then extend the offer to more patrons later on in the subscription campaign, including new subscribers.

Cover letters and renewal invoices for renewing patrons were customized with messaging about the offer. The letter highlighted this special offer and provided a deadline. The renewal invoices reiterated this message and also had personalized series and pricing information for the recommended upgrade. This way, subscribers could quickly see their total if they upgraded to a 10 concert series. With simple instructions and deadline reminders, the message was clear and the upgrades poured in. 

©Todd Rosenberg Photography

Title: Additional Price Paid - Description: Amount paid over patron's original renewal order

Challenges and success factors:

-       Some upgrade asks were significant. Subscription prices varied widely, depending on seating section and day of the week. For some patrons, the price increase to upgrade was significant, even with the 25% discount. However, CSO saw success with this offer—even if it was a high dollar amount for some. While the average upgrade amount was $420, some patrons paid an additional $1,000 or more to upgrade or add on additional series.

-       Advance planning: not optional. Colgan asked the CSO’s IT department to set up the offer in their ticketing system well in advance of introducing the offer. Due to the number of series available and various prices, setting up the offer took work and staff appreciated the lead time.

-       Make it easy for patrons to say “yes.” Jennifer attributed much of the success of the campaign to simple messaging. She also remarked on the challenge of knowing how much information patrons actually need to make a decision. “The simpler the message, the better, but you also have to give them enough information so that they’re not confused. We needed to find the right balance between too much information and not enough. We just tried to make it as clear as possible—what it is, how to order, and the benefit to them.”

-       Keep patron services informed. Equally as important as communication with patrons was communication with the patron services team. Since the offer was phone only, patron services had a huge role in suggesting and securing the upgrades. The team needed information about the offer, deadline dates and clarity around the savings a patron would be receiving.
“Getting Patron Services behind this was critical. When we started talking about it, the team was very excited. But, it needed to be planned out, set up, and communicated well. Once that’s done, people will respond to this type of offer—and our subscribers did,” Jennifer said.

-       Offer the discount to more subscribers. While the campaign was intended for renewing Main series subscribers, CSO did not limit the discount to a specific series in their ticketing system. This way, patron services could also give the discount to other subscribers did not receive the special renewal offer if they wanted to add on or purchase a Main series subscription for the first time. In total, the renewing CSO Main patrons who used the offer have generated a total of $130,000 and 2,187 units. Patron services used the offer to secure 463 units (totaling $20,995) with patrons who did not have a CSO Main subscription the year prior. 

©Todd Rosenberg Photography

Recommendations and Next Steps

If you are thinking about implementing an upgrade campaign in your own organization, Jennifer recommends talking to all relevant teams from the beginning.

 “I would recommend that the marketing team meet with all departments who may play a role in implementing the offer. Think about how it may impact ticketing, development, marketing, IT, patron services or box office, etc. You will want them to know what’s going on and be able to align it with the campaigns that they may already be doing. For example, it was extremely helpful to build this offer into the season, rather than adding the price type after the season was already built. Your colleagues will think of things that you haven’t,” Jennifer said.

So how will CSO ensure their upgraded patrons retain their larger series? Jennifer and her colleagues plan to offer a slightly lower discount next season to ease subscribers up to a full priced subscription series.

 “We are taking into account the success we had with the Jazz series when we offered 10% off the larger series in the year after they’d upgraded. We don’t want those patrons to have sticker shock when it’s time to renew their larger series. We want them to stay in that 10 concert series,” Jennifer said.

CSO is also thinking about additional opportunities to upgrade subscribers in the future.

 “We’re definitely looking at segments of patrons who might be willing to add on more concerts. Between the success of the Jazz series upgrade campaign and this one, we’re absolutely looking for ways to make patrons aware of how they can get the most value and offering them incentives to step up in an individual series or across series.”

About CSO

Founded in 1891, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is consistently hailed as one of the greatest orchestras in the world. In collaboration with renowned conductors and guest artists on the international music scene, the CSO performs well over 150 concerts each year at its downtown home, Symphony Center and at the Ravinia Festival on Chicago’s North Shore. Music lovers outside Chicago enjoy the sounds of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra through its radio broadcast series, best-selling recordings and frequent sold-out tour performances in the United States and around the globe.

Preparing for your next big campaign? Partner with TRG to take your practices to the next level and get results. More on campaign planning with TRG here>>

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Posted December 3, 2015

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