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Now that ticketing means interfacing with customers via websites, smartphones and social media, Roger Tomlinson reviews the advances into personal territory.


Robert Schultz

It was a surprise start to the International Ticketing Association conference in San Antonio, Texas, back in January. Nine chief executives of major system suppliers delivered a joint keynote with one message: ticketing systems were now about managing relationships (and transactions) through all the channels the customers wanted to use. So their concerns were about interfacing with social media, handling Facebook integration, embedding email clients, driving websites with direct log-ins and rich personalised content, and of course ‘going mobile’. Oh and systems had to deliver state-of-the-art ticketing solutions and interfaces. Suddenly, ticketing is personal.

“Wake up and smell the coffee!” The walls around the box office are falling down and it is now open to engagement with ticket purchasers in whatever ways they want to interface, through the channels the customers choose. This ‘democratisation’ of the sales process is racing ahead of many arts organisations.

My colleague Ron Evans points out that an analysis of a US survey showed that 44% of arts marketing emails were read on smartphones. This presumes that if those people were then persuaded to buy they would want to carry out the purchase on their mobile. Venues in the UK who have looked at their statistics quote similar figures. For example, Nottingham Arena says 36% of its ticket sales are made on smartphones. So you can see why organisations such as the ICA in London has worked with its developers Tincan and its PatronBase ticketing system to reconstruct its website in multiple formats according to whether people are purchasing tickets on mobile phones, pads, tablets or PCs (even the latter has a different browser view on laptops). Mobile optimisation is now essential.

There is a great tendency for people to talk of apps, iPhones, iPads in the arts, but mobile market penetration is still modest for Apple. The larger volume of smartphone sales is on Android and the other platforms, with Nokia making a spirited fightback. That does make the use of ‘hybrid’ web apps the better answer, since only the ‘shell’ has to be delivered through iTunes, with the ‘core’ using an optimised web solution. These can handle ‘always on’ connections, direct ‘Remember me’ log-ins, and even single-click purchase by credit card, depending on the payment gateway. Some of these offer ‘single sign-in’, where ‘Remember me’ comes from Facebook or Twitter and directly opens the customer record on the ticketing system, with the customer’s status potentially reflected in content, different for ‘Friends’ for example.

Going mobile could mean the physical box office goes

Clearly, this opens up the links for purchases through Facebook and other social media. This ought to be the big step forwards for ticketing, usually an inherently social purchase, but the worry is always what Facebook will do next in monetising its business. Ron Evans has identified changes affecting just who sees postings on Facebook, unless the Fan pages are paying for ‘promoted posts’. However, on the positive side, Facebook has introduced easier two-click purchasing, with agreements with phone carriers to charge purchases to mobile phone accounts.

My argument is that these fundamental changes to ticketing systems cross a clear line into the personal territory of the customers. If they contact via a smartphone, we know who it is we are communicating with, and all our messaging needs to be personalised and tailored to their profiles and ‘status’, especially recognising ‘frequent flyer’ customers and ‘newbies’. There are two factors here:

  • Genuinely personalising content in relation to customer profiles or segmentation.
  • Ensuring that functionality reflects what people do in their social network space.

AudienceView has led the way in innovative social functionality with its AV Tiki running in Facebook, with the ability to reserve seats for friends to pay for, achieving a high level of sales, especially with last-moment promotions of ‘distressed inventory’. The University of Minnesota is demonstrating that this works very effectively in the social space. This does require some rethinking to accommodate the mobile and social. ENTA has introduced the ability to split a booking into separate tickets emailed to each of the people in a booking, choosing between a pdf ticket or other mobile options. And it even has tools enabling easy sales face to face on touch-screen handhelds such as iPads, which has been very successful for Nimax Theatres in London.

Going mobile could mean the physical box office goes. Monad Ticketing’s newish system makes ‘going mobile’ fundamental to its design, optimised to fit different device sizes. Customers can manage their accounts, book tickets and receive tickets via email, PDF and text. They can also reserve seats next to them for friends and then email or post the reservation numbers to Facebook friends for them to purchase those tickets themselves. However, like others, developer Ben Curthoys sees a future in last-moment or location-based sales. By hooking into services, such as Facebook location or Foursquare, arts organisations can advertise last-moment tickets at special rates, directly targeting customers who are in the area to buy tickets direct from their phone.

Key to personalising content is the data built up on the purchasers. Increasing online sales naturally improves data capture. Purple Seven has taken this one step further, inspired by the proprietors of ArtsProfessional, and introduced its ‘How was it for you?’ automated event survey tool. This can find out from audiences what they felt about their experience the morning after. Sarah Robertson at Colston Hall in Bristol explains: “Working with Purple Seven has meant that we can compare our behavioural ticketing data with the results from the surveys. ‘How was it for you?’ has become an extension of our day-to-day marketing activity. It has taken away the previous stress of collecting customer feedback and we now have an insight that helps strengthen relationships.”

I have long argued the power of understanding attenders as people. Morris Hargreaves McIntyre has also gone one step further with its ‘Culture segments’ (see AP258 P12), extending profiling into people’s cultural values and motivations. Since we know these define the person and frame their attitudes, lifestyle choices and behaviour, this enables Culture segments to address deeply held beliefs about the role that art and culture play in people’s lives. The intention is that Culture segments will help arts organisations get to the heart of what motivates audiences and develop strategies to engage with them more deeply. Some system suppliers, such as Spektrix, are planning to incorporate the segments, and the attitudinal questions behind them, into their systems.

They are not alone. Arts Council England’s Arts Audiences Insights was a good socio-economic profiling step forwards. Now the Audience Agency is set to take a big data step by adding in real attender behaviour from all the funded arts organisations. Both Culture segments and this, built on real behavioural data, will take personalisation to the point where it can make big differences in helping relate relevantly to customers, and understanding the whole marketplace.

That is not the end of the story since arts organisations continue to want to reach out to new customers and tourists. The debate continues as to how to reach those who want to go out, but do not know what to look for. There is clearly a major role for portals, but no wholly right answers yet. Ingresso and its TicketSwitch are working with Enta on delivering more tickets on to tourism platforms, without using burdensome allocations, so tickets can be bundled with hotels and travel. At last, you might say.

Roger Tomlinson runs The Ticketing Institute.

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