TRG blog: What will your audience look like in 2020?

What will your audience look like in 2020?

This week, TRG's own Will Lester and Amelia Northrup are contributing to the Arts Marketing Blog Salon on Americans for the Arts' ARTSblog. This article by Will was originally posted as part of the salon, which previews the National Arts Marketing Project (NAMP) Conference in November.

One of the prompt questions for this blog salon was “What research is affecting your marketing and fundraising strategies?” TRG’s research on arts patrons by generation has really given me perspective on where the arts are today and what we need to plan for long-term. Right now—even amidst the recession, organizational bankruptcies and funding pullbacks, today may be the “good old days” for arts marketing.

There are four generations of arts buyers in the market right now. Each cohort is born roughly between these dates:
  • Traditionalists, born before 1945
  • Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964
  • Generation X, born between 1964 and 1981
  • Generation Y, born between 1982 and 1995

Among many arts and cultural organizations it is commonly observed that a large proportion of their audiences, patrons, and members become more loyal, active, and valuable around a certain age. Usually, this occurs when patrons’ kids leave the house. They have more free time and reach a stage in life where they have access to more disposable income. As you might imagine, today is the prime time for serving Boomers, a large pool of 60 million.

If these life stage markers and conditions really influence capacity to participate and engage at high levels, the members of Gen X will begin reaching this target life stage around 2020. Our audiences will begin to look quite different as the Baby Boomers fade from the scene.  A troubling statistic is the number of Gen X-ers in our population: 20 Million—1/3 of the population of 60 million Boomers.

This research has substantially changed the way we counsel our clients to market to their audiences. As Boomers are replaced by a smaller pool of Gen X-ers, marketers will need to get smart about marketing tactics and their patron loyalty strategy. So what’s the solution?

Everything marketing does well today must be three times more efficient in 2020 in order to maintain today’s level of success into the future. Targeting and multi-channel strategies utilizing messages relevant to the patron’s level of experience will become supremely important and must replace the “spray and pray” practices of the past.  Today’s smart marketers will lead the way smart use of their data, divorcing themselves from “conventional wisdom” and good guessing. Amelia wrote earlier this week about the importance of turning to direct, targeted strategies, as well as tying interactions in to your database. In the future, these techniques won’t be luxuries, but will become necessities.

When faced with this dilemma, your first instinct is probably to turn to audience development—getting new audiences in the house, and preferably younger audiences. Gen Y or the “Echo Boomers” are almost as big a group as its parent generation. 

This instinct is admirable. However, there are plenty of new people to sell to, and there will be for the better part of this decade. As I wrote earlier this week, on average about half of any given audience is new each season.

Are new audiences important? Yes, but re-focus your energy from getting them to come once to getting them to come back. Nationally, TRG analysis shows that 80% of all new single ticket buyers never return for a second visit. Use the time you have now to develop disciplines and activity around retention. It will serve you well today and be vitally important in the future.


Posted October 7, 2011
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