An ArtsProfessional feature in partnership with Spektrix

For the London International Festival of Theatre customer data is power. Libby Penn describes how taking control over ticketing and audience data was like opening a treasure trove for the London International Festival of Theatre.

Image of LIFT event

Connection is everything in arts marketing. From the building, to the people, to the kinds of work on offer, customers develop personal links with the creative organisations they love. That even applies to ticket purchase, where the organisation you transact with can define and strengthen a feeling of brand connection. For the London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT), owning more of those transactions has become an essential route to long-term success.

“For 2016 we have a treasure trove of customer information that we’re using to design targeted marketing campaigns”

Established in 1981, LIFT transforms London every two years by staging or curating theatre and experiential performances across the capital. 2014 was the most ambitious in the festival’s history, with international performances drawing together over 38,000 audience members across London from the Barbican, the canals of Deptford, to attics in Battersea. Like most arts festivals, it has traditionally relied on venues to sell its tickets. In the case of non-traditional spaces like warehouses and car parks, partner companies have often handled ticketing and helped manage attendance on the day. While that eliminates the need for a box office function, it also means a loss of control. Festivals, producers and touring companies surrender their customer data to the venues and organisations selling the tickets and, along with it, the intelligence that can be derived from reporting and analysing purchasing behaviour. The brand connection with the customer is also partially broken when a festival ticket is sold by a venue - presumably with its own identity and strategy for encouraging re-attendance.

In 2013 LIFT’s organisers decided to take control over ticketing and audience data by implementing a box office management system they could own and manage themselves. This was an unorthodox approach for festivals. The capital investment and maintenance required, plus lack of portability, have always made traditional ticketing systems unfit for purpose. Jonathan May, LIFT’s digital producer, said: “Ticketing has always been a tough issue. London is a huge place and we have relied on venues or local partners to sell our tickets for us. That can be a challenge when you want the programme to feel like a single festival.”

It also adds a layer of difficulty to festival marketing. Much of LIFT’s core audience falls into a ‘cultural nomads’ segmentation schema developed by Saatchi & Saatchi for the festival. It is a culturally engaged demographic of 18 to 35 year olds, and without detailed information from past festivals, reaching them was (and is) a challenge. “The only data we had to work with in the past was from our opt-in email newsletter; nothing on audiences at all,” added May. “We weren’t able to look at purchasing behaviour, demographics, genre preference or anything else that would allow us to discern patterns and help focus our communications to individuals.”

Focusing on their own data gathering and ticketing capability, May and his team settled on our cloud-based box office management system. It allowed them to sell tickets directly to audiences for the first time. For a small team of seven people, plus its part-time staff and volunteers, our web-based application offered ease of use, flexibility and fast access to detailed on-demand reporting.

More than 13% of LIFT tickets were sold using Spektrix in 2014 – more than any other sales channel – validating the hypothesis that customers would choose to maintain a direct relationship with the festival brand. It also allowed LIFT to establish processes that would work alongside venue ticket sales. For non-traditional spaces with no reception or sales counter, we enabled LIFT to create pop-up box offices, with no more than laptops and an internet connection. Overall, the customer data collected from 2014 and the insights gleaned from it have been invaluable, establishing that 50% of the audience fell into the 18 to 35 non-theatre attendee group they were targeting.

“Looking back at our planning process for 2014 we were working comparatively blind”, said May. “For 2016 we have a treasure trove of customer information that we’re using to design targeted marketing campaigns that will really hit that culturally engaged demographic. The trends and intelligence we’ve derived from last year have also enabled us to build a purchasing pathway that encourages people to book earlier and more often.”

The long-term goal is to move more and more ticket purchases over to the new system. Owning its customer data also places LIFT in a stronger negotiating position when it approaches venues with a new festival event. It can now demonstrate the draw of similar performances from 2014, down to audience profile, purchase behaviour and peak sales periods.

Libby Penn is Managing Director of Spektrix.

This article is part of a series, sponsored and contributed by Spektrix, aiming to provoke new thinking in how we use ticketing and CRM systems to maximise revenue and grow audiences.

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Photo of Libby Penn