We theatremakers know one thing to be true: Our patrons keep the lights on. Those who purchase tickets to shows, buy merchandise, share content on social media, and attend workshops, summer camps, and other programming make or break our business. 

So it’s agreed: You need patrons to sustain your business – and happy, consistent repeat patrons are the end goal. But, you may be thinking, I can always keep a new crop of interested patrons coming in, right? Sure you can! But it’s much more work and harder to achieve than nurturing the relationships you have with existing patrons. On The Stage shares the importance of generating repeat business for your theatre and how to make it happen. 

Why You Need Repeat Patrons

Theatremakers need to do a million things on any given day. Whether it’s ensuring cast, crew, and staff are happy at work, running rehearsals, checking that all technology is up-to-date, managing new ticketing software, or implementing best-in-class marketing tactics… you get the picture. 

So – why add another item to that to-do list by attempting to gain a whole new audience for each production? Instead, you can reduce the need to attract new patrons by increasing the percentage of repeat ones. In reality, it’s simply not sustainable to continually acquire new patrons. In order for performing arts organizations to succeed, they must continue to create a loyal patron base that purchases tickets to multiple shows per season. 

Recent studies show that 90% of first-time buyers never come back. That number is staggering, but you can work to make that statistic untrue at your theatre through the following steps. 

How to Cultivate Repeat Patrons

So, now you know that repeat patrons are essential to your theatre’s business model, it’s time to learn how to foster those relationships. 

In short, the easiest way to encourage one-time patrons to return is by adding targeted campaigns to your ongoing strategy that incentivize those repeat visits, fostering loyalty in the meantime. This can look like a lot of different tactics – like promotional discounts for first-time attendees who buy tickets to the next show, bundles, or exclusive add-ons for those who buy season ticket passes. There is a 5-step recipe for success in cultivating repeat patrons, which we’ll explore. 

Step 1: Target

Identify the audience you want to target using specific criteria to meet your needs. To generate more repeat visitors, consider targeting patrons who have bought tickets in the past 120 days, all one-time patrons who have yet to return, certain age groups, or other target demographics you want to become your next batch of repeat patrons. 

Step 2: Create Incentive 

Offer a special discount or bundle deal to encourage patrons to come back and see another show. You can even manufacture urgency or scarcity by only offering the discount or deal for a limited time or a limited amount.

Step 3: Customize 

Set up a custom URL for this campaign that is pre-populated with the discount code to provide a frictionless buying experience. Pro Tip: You are far more likely to garner repeat customers if their ticket-buying experience is seamless and professional with custom materials and a best-in-class ticket widget or show site

Step 4: Promote 

Embed the custom URL with the pre-populated discount code into emails, social media marketing materials, mailers, your website, a show program or other printed materials, and any other promotional items. Promote the offer to your targeted list of patrons to encourage purchases. 

Step 5: Optimize 

Track campaign results in real-time using booking flow reports. See what’s working, what isn’t, and what your soon-to-be-repeat-patrons are best responding to. Then, use those insights to adjust as needed to achieve optimal results.  

How On The Stage Can Help Gain and Retain Repeat Patrons 

While reading this five-step road to gaining and retaining repeat patrons, you may have thought, “This is great and all, but I have no idea how to achieve it.” With a deep understanding of the industry, On The Stage (OTS) has codified proven best practices and offers features that are built to work together seamlessly to make this objective a true success. We’ll walk through each aforementioned step and show you how On The Stage can assist. 

Step 1: Target 

Targeting the right audience is key to gaining and retaining patrons and keeping that audience engaged in your theatre program. The OTS platform includes Custom Fields and List Segmentation, so you can do just that. 

With OTS, you can add Custom Fields in Patron Profiles, saving key information about patrons to use for later marketing strategies. Pro Tip: Use OTS Custom Fields to keep track of birthdays, anniversaries, a patron’s favorite types of productions, likes/dislikes, and other personal details to create personalized and unforgettable experiences.

With List Segmentation, you’re able to target your audiences based on the various tags related to purchase behavior. This means you can segment your list to communicate specifically with niche audiences – like one-time patrons who have purchased tickets to a show in the last, say, 180 days but have yet to return. 

Step 2: Create Incentives 

Creating incentives makes purchasing tickets all the more appealing, and this is done through promotions, deals, bundles, and the like.

OTS offers easy-to-use promo codes, helping you to provide incentives for new ticket buyers, encourage previous ticket buyers to come back for more, offer perks for your all-important donors, partner with local businesses to drive sales, fill the house on certain historically low-ticket sales days, and so much more. OTS has made it easy to customize and target your promo codes so you get the best possible Return on Investment, expanding your reach to patrons who would not ordinarily purchase tickets. 

Step 3: Customize

Creating custom URLs for your patrons provides an even easier ticket-buying experience. Take the convenience a step further by providing patrons with a direct link to specific performances with the promo code already populated at checkout with filtered booking flows. This refers to a customized and optimized pathway that patrons follow when purchasing tickets or making bookings for specific events or offerings. Unlike a standard booking flow that presents the same options to all users, regardless of their preferences or needs, a filtered booking flow tailors the user experience based on predetermined filters or criteria.

When a filtered flow is combined with a targeted customer segment and a compelling offer created and shown to this specific audience, you have a highly targeted workflow that optimizes conversions, revenue, and the patron experience. 

Step 4: Promote

Promoting custom URLs and general marketing materials is easier than ever with the OTS Marketing Suite and Mailchimp Integration. 

In short, OTS offers best-in-class marketing and promotional tools across social, digital, email, print, and traditional channels. You can grow awareness for your programs, increase conversion rates, sell more tickets, nurture and grow your return patron base, and increase efficiency and effectiveness all around. 

With our Mailchimp integration, you’re getting automatic patron tagging that feeds directly from the OTS platform to Mailchimp. This allows you to expand your reach and create targeted emails based on patron behavior.

Step 5: Optimize

The final step in your quest to gain and retain repeat patrons is optimizing your campaign and tracking results in real time, allowing you to see what’s working and what isn’t.

OTS’ Reporting Tools are the ideal resources to help you. With real-time reporting included in the platform, the insights are endless. Replace the hours spent manually tracking patron data with this easy-to-use online solution, where you can track all the info you need in minutes. 

Audience Engagement

If you’re looking for more proven strategies on audience engagement that will help your organization thrive, OTS offers the Audience Engagement eBook. Inside, you’ll find six workflows that outline some of the most effective ways to set up your productions and maximize business outcomes utilizing multiple features in the OTS toolbox. Download it today to get started!

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