The Long Haul Model: Operational Implementation Part 3

A Series for Those Who are Serious About Changing the Narrative

Part 3 of a 3-part series for those who are serious about changing the narrative.

After you have worked through internal challenges/changes to be made before implementing the Long Haul Model and sorted out your staff structure to support this work, you’re ready to put pen to paper (or shall we say, put the pedal to the metal?!)! So where on earth do you begin? This final post in our three-part series is the most tactical, walking you through step by step.

Step 1 — Define Each Segment

I’ve seen some organizations, particularly at larger-budget organizations, define their segments not by journey or transaction, but by interests, such as “classical music purists” versus “classically adventurous” versus “intimidated newcomers” versus “open and social.” This isn’t inherently bad, especially when you have a large database and are trying to figure out who all is coming to your concerts, and the rationale is that this would help you know where to sell Mahler versus John Adams versus concert formats with a social element added. However, there are two problems with this approach: 1) Basically everyone is an intimidated newcomer (we’re talking 85% of your entire database or more) until you help those newbies come back again. Seriously, look at your database and run a report of current subscribers, donors, and multi-buyers, and then calculate the percentage against all accounts in the last 5–10 years; a very low percentage is actively engaged. In other words, all of that interest-based segmenting isn’t useful until you’ve been able to further develop your patrons’ relationships with you. It’s a little cart-before-the-horse if you don’t have that first 85% or so figured out, or simply inefficient effort exerted on a much smaller segment of your audience. 2) People are pliable, and tastes are pliable. Someone can like Mozart and John Adams, or Beethoven and John Williams, and like being social. And sometimes that changes by mood, or night of the week, or because of with whom they’re attending, or any other of a million reasons why humans change their minds and have varied taste. The point is, it’s really hard to measure interest as it’s much less concrete than a transaction where we know exactly where that patron stands in terms of their relationship with us.

Step 2 — Determine How to Get from A to B

First Time Buyers
Message = Thank you for coming! We noticed this is your first time with us (or first in a while), and we love you and we want you back again soon!

Tactics = postcard mailed after concert with copy to convey the message above, plus an aggressive discount offer to come back again. And the offer has a deadline (usually about 30 days out) to create a sense of urgency. About a week later we follow up with an email with the same content (message, discount, urgency). Then email again right before the deadline. This season we are experimenting with an added element of a thank you letter from a musician on their seats waiting for them with an additional urgent offer of free parking if they buy within 48 hours of the concert. Yes, we are hitting up first-time attendees four times with the message of how much we love them and how grateful we are they came. It’s also worth noting that the design of the postcard/email is in the theme of the concert they attended rather than a future program; memory elicitation is our goal here.

Message = The Symphony keeps getting better and better; let us enhance your experience and help you form a habit of coming here.

Tactics = no more discounts until someone subscribes; now that this person has come twice within a 12-month period, we are shifting from discounting to adding value. We mail a card after the concert (in an envelope with a first class stamp, so one step up from the postcards the first-timers get) which includes a voucher for a free drink to be used before the season ends.

First Year Subscribers
Message = Any size package you want is yours — whatever it takes to make it easy for you to come to the Symphony! When you’re a season ticket holder, you get great benefits.

Tactics = We almost never talk about fixed seat packages with this group. Even during renewal — because the ONLY thing we want them to do is renew their subscription in any way, into any package, no matter how big or small. This is the only subscriber group that doesn’t have an upsell of any kind: no donation ask, no package size upsell. And this group is the only group that has the option to downgrade their package, meaning fixed seat subscribers of two or more years are only offered renewal into the same size package or larger, whereas a first year subscriber could have come in as a larger fixed seat package and see that there is an option to downgrade to a CYO (Choose Your Own) package of fewer concerts. Before you think this is crazy, you should know 1) first year subs are the only sub group that we do this with because a renewal of any kind is worth more in the long run than no renewal at all, and 2) our first year sub renewal rate is now at 69% compared to the national average of about 50%. This group is also greeted at the first concert in their package with a welcome note on their chair from the maestro where we remind them of their awesome subscriber benefits, and invite them to pick up a welcome gift (a CSO recording) in the lobby at intermission. For us, this means we’re seat carding new subs through January; for a larger organization with more concerts, it’s possible small package buyers are experiencing their first concert all the way through the spring. That can make it tough for us as administrators to wrap our heads around — to put ourselves in that new subscriber’s shoes and plan for the first concert in their package — because by the spring we have not only personally lived through ¾ of the season, but in fact have half our brain into next season because it’s already been announced (or is very close) and sub renewals are out the door! To the patron though, of course the mental timeline is very different, and for a new subscriber, it’s critical we make that first experience in their package a good one.

“A renewal of any kind is worth more in the long run than no renewal at all.”

And More
We go onward with this exercise, and have messages and a tactical plan for every segment, including new donors, renewing donors, and of course major donors. We also have micro segments within larger groups, such as fixed seat renewing subscribers versus CYO subs versus subs-non-donors, etc. At each step, there is only one desired next step, and everything we do points you to that through how we connect you more to the orchestra and the organization.

Step 3 — Other Segments to Plan For

  • Lapsed Buyers
  • Lapsed Subscribers
  • Special Event Attendees
  • Lapsed Donors
  • Inactive Accounts

Step 4 — Create A Coordinated Internal Calendar

Yes, this is complicated, tedious, and even thorny. It’s a lot easier to have everyone doing their jobs without intense and possibly messy coordination. The truth is the mess was always there though, and this process simply illuminates that — and then helps us get our organizations in tight working order.

This Is A Lot of Work (And Other Conclusions)

One last piece of advice based on experience: When in doubt, do something, not nothing. A/B test an offer you’re not sure about, pilot test that new initiative you’re not ready to put tons of money behind yet; do something — anything — and see if you get results. Because to do nothing means no change in our audiences or how we’ve serving them.

“To do nothing means no change in our audiences or how we’ve serving them.”

Finally, thank you to everyone who has reached out with the thoughtful questions that prompted this series, and especially for the praise of a positive approach to addressing challenges we all face in our industry. Enough with talking about it though; it’s time for us all to get to work.

About the Author

A graduate of Rice University with degrees in Music Performance and Business, for the last 15 years Bergauer has used music to make the world around her better, through programs that champion social justice and equality, through ground-breaking marketing and audience development tactics on the forefront of technology, and through taking strategically calculated risks in a risk-averse field. If ideas are a dime a dozen, what separates Bergauer is her experience and record of impact and execution at institutions of all sizes. Praised for her leadership which “points the way to a new style of audience outreach,” (Wall Street Journal) and which drove the California Symphony to become “the most forward-looking music organization around.” (Mercury News) Bergauer’s ability to strategically and holistically examine and advance every facet of the organization’s mission and vision is creating a transformational change in the office, on the stage, in the audience, in the community, and going well beyond the industry of classical music.

“The Steve Jobs of classical music.” (Observer) Working to change the narrative for this business.

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