Getting Back On The Psychologist’s Couch

Yesterday, my blogging neighbor, Jason Heath, posted an article at Arts Addictwhich touches on the psychology of performers and how it impacts interpersonal artistic relationships. It is a great topic and made me think about how the orchestra business could take better advantage of consumer psychology when approaching audience development…

This topic was examined back in early 2004 via an Adaptistration article entitled We All Need To Go See A Psychologist and for the most part, orchestras have yet to take advantage of using psychological insight to help create a more inviting concert environment. Since that article first appeared, I’ve revisited this topic from time to time in conversations with colleagues and even a psychologist who specialize in helping businesses develop sales strategies.

As audience development continues to remain at the core of issues plaguing the business, it would seem that things are at the right point in time to begin exploring alternative examinations of the situation surrounding why too many concert halls are having increased trouble keeping the audience they have and retaining new ticket buyers.

If you believe that, overall, orchestras are playing better than ever and other artistic issues such as programming (a subject regularly examined by my blogging neighbors at Sticks and Drones) have little impact on these issues then the remaining concerns are ideally suited for evaluation from a psychological perspective. In particular, consumer psychologists help businesses recognize the issues that existing and potential buyers have difficulty identifying in surveys and interviews and then work with the organization to create a marketing campaign (or adjust related strategic and/or internal efforts) that will help attract and retain new buyers.

What do you think, is all of this too far-fetched for the orchestra business, is it exactly what the business needs, or is it something in-between?

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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2 thoughts on “Getting Back On The Psychologist’s Couch

  1. My first thought is that classical music organizations simply do too little marketing overall, and that this stems from mistaken beliefs about how people think and make decisions. This is all speculation, but here are a handful of hypotheses:

    1. Elitism results in the belief that we have a superior product, and so there’s no need to market it. Some people want the best, and they’ll come to the concerts and buy the CDs, and the other people don’t care about or can’t recognize quality and so won’t be susceptible to marketing.

    2. Elitism results in the belief that “marketing” sullies the music. Art shouldn’t be treated like a commodity to be bought and sold.

    3. Ignorance about marketing leads to the belief that marketing is about telling people whose version of the thing they like is the one they should purchase (Coke v. Pepsi) or about informing people that something they are predisposed to like is now available (The iPod). So marketing classical music won’t work because people don’t like it–instead we should focus our “advertising” efforts on brainwashing kids into wanting what we have to offer through “education” programs.

    In reality, however, Marketing is about manufacturing desire. It also doesn’t work through rational persuasion. The “classical music is superior” strategy can’t work because it’s an attempt at rational persuasion–good marketing persuades through emotions. Classical music is already commodified (we charge money and then pay the musicians, don’t we?) so instead of worrying about something that can’t be changed, focus those energies on keeping that commodification ethical (For example, maybe be careful not to let marketing needs dictate artistic decisions, but give the marketing department enough authority and resources to do a really good job selling your artistic vision. Focus-group the ads, not the product.) And remember that the job of advertising is to persuade people that they need something they didn’t think they did–the iPod ads feel like they’re letting you know that the thing you need is available, but that’s because they’ve done such a good job of persuading you that you need one.

  2. Here’s what we need to do: We should assemble a list of all the ideas we can think of for bringing audiences into the concert halls; we should post that list; then we should proceed to do nothing that is on that list.

    What we would have collected is a list of things that would appeal to US and bring US into the concert halls. But we’re already there.

    The ideas that would bring in new audience members — for example, college students, high school student, young professionals — are most likely to be found within those populations. We music-pushers need to reach out to those populations, find persons within those populations who are already hooked on music, and get them to design strategies and tactics for us.

    Remember how many publishers turned down the Harry Potter series before it finally got accepted.

    Paul Alter

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