Monday, November 17, 2008

Finding an Audience's Pain

In my media sales career, I learned a long time ago that every client or customer has some sort of "pain" - a need they have to fill, a challenge they need a solution to. Unless we as sales people can uncover that pain, and provide the solution to it, there is no sale. The trick is to find what that pain is. Every customer has it, but unless their ceiling is falling in or they're up to their knees in water, few customers willingly tell you what their pain is. In the sometimes vague world of marketing and advertising (and certainly entertainment) they often don't know they even have pain. Sometimes we have to point out that they do in fact have a need. Something their competition has that they don't and didn't know about, until you, their trusted consultant told them about it. Often the "need" isn't a need at all. Maybe it's just a "want". In any case, you want to be the one to provide it. Only through gaining their trust and convincingly explaining how your products and services can help do you have a chance of uncovering what the pain is. And it's only when we take the focus off our own needs and focus on the client's needs - their pain - and healing it, that success happens.

I've been thinking about how this applies to theatre audiences. What is it that a theatre ticket buyer wants or needs? Certainly to be entertained. Perhaps they need an escape from their everyday troubles into a colorful, fanciful world of a musical. Theatre is also a communal experience, so maybe a ticket buyer is tired of the isolation of their living room staring at a computer screen or a DVD on a big flat screen TV ("flat" is the key word there as opposed to the 3-D real life of live theatre). I would think this last one would apply to an audience segment that tends to be community theatre's biggest and most loyal - senior citizens. They may also have a nostalgic need to relive some of the grand plays and musicals that were the main form of entertainment in their youth.

One of the most challenging audience segments whose pain is hard to identify is also we one community theatres rely a lot on - family members of the cast. They are hard to figure out because probably the biggest reason they are in the seats is to support their kids or spouses - which is directly contradictory to the pain identification theory. These people are focused on the needs of the cast (supporting them) as opposed to the production focusing on the audience's needs.

Here's a stunning revelation - we theatre artists tend to be a little self-centered and narcissistic. Just putting on shows to provide vehicles for us to hear applause will quickly lead to a very quiet house. We need to meet the needs of our customers.

So how do you identify the needs of the audience? Ask. Then ask again and keep asking in any ways you can - through surveys, face to face meetings, etc. Until you really get a sense of the audience's pain. Then put a band aid on it.

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