How to engage your subscribers and grow your audience
Email marketing is just one element of a comprehensive marketing strategy, but for arts and culture organizations it might be the most important. After all, the data is compelling:
The success rate of selling to a customer you already have is 60–70%, while the success rate of selling to a new customer is only 5–20%.
Acquiring a new customer can cost five times more than retaining an existing customer
It's cheaper and easier to market to your current and past audience members (yes, even the ones who haven't attended in a while) than it is to go after new ones.
What does this mean?
If you're putting more money and energy into chasing new audiences when you haven't engaged and retained the ones you already have, we'd recommend having a good think on that. You already know your social media followers and e-newsletter subscribers want to hear from you, so show them some love! We’re certainly not saying you shouldn’t spend money to market to new audiences, but if you're strapped for marketing cash and looking to make cuts, we wouldn't recommend starting with your Mailchimp or Constant Contact account. Especially if you're a performing arts organization.
According to the 2021 Performing Arts Ticket Buyer Media Usage Study from Capacity Interactive, email remains the top channel where audiences get information about upcoming events. Although competition for clicks is as high as ever, email marketing remains one of the most cost-effective ways to reach your audience. The best part? You can track your audience’s response down to the click.
Email is the #1 channel where audiences hear about events
Email Marketing encompasses a wide variety of tactics (from automated abandoned cart emails to post-event survey emails), but for arts and culture organizations looking to maintain and grow their patron base, the e-newsletter is a silver bullet. Plus, if you're in the arts, you're sitting on an absolute treasure chest of ongoing, compelling content about your work that you can use to fuel your e-newsletter engine. So if you’re just starting out or frustrated that your existing e-newsletter just isn’t landing, this guide is for you. Let's roll.
There are two critical parts of a comprehensive e-newsletter strategy:
1. Getting People On Your List with a Sign-Up Strategy 2. Keeping Them There with Great Content
Signup Strategies to Grow Your Subscriber List
Make it Easy to Fill Out
It'd be shame for you to put in a bunch of time and effort into getting folks to your sign-up form, only to lose them because it's poorly designed or has a bunch of unnecessary fields. Before you start pointing people to your sign-up form, we recommend making it as seamless as possible for them, so make sure it’s well-designed and legally compliant.
Now it’s time to think about incentives. You probably subscribe to some newsletters that you never open, and we can all agree that inbox overload is real. You need to tell your potential subscribers why they should sign up and why your newsletter will be worth their time. Maybe you can offer new subscribers a discount on their next ticket purchase, or promise exclusive behind-the-scenes content, or early notifications of new programs and events. Whatever the benefit, state it clearly in the form so they can make an informed decision. This doesn't have to be fancy or cost a dime; you just need to tell people what they'll get in return for giving you their contact information and assure them you won't use it for evil.
You’re not done yet. Even if you have an incredible sign-up form, it’s doing you no favors if no one can find it. We see this all the time: organizations only list their newsletter sign-up form on one page of their website, often in a place that’s hard to find (we’re looking at you, footer menu). Then they wonder why their subscriber count is languishing. Give potential subscribers multiple opportunities to connect with you.
Social Media: If you have a Facebook page, link your subscription form on the call to action button.
Website: Install a sign-up pop-up on your website (CAUTION: always follow best practices—the worst outcome would be ruining your website’s user experience with a poorly executed pop-up).
Point of Purchase: Invite them to opt-in to your newsletter with a pre-checked box when they purchase a ticket.
Paid Ads: Run a lead generation campaign on Meta (that's Facebook and Instagram) targeting newsletter subscriptions.
Content strategy: Keep them reading
Ok, you convinced them to subscribe. Now what?
Let the Data Lead You
Great content strategies start with data. If you’ve already been sending emails, take a look at your analytics: what seems to be working? What doesn’t? Make a note of which emails have the highest open or click rate and look for commonalities - is it putting a good tease in the subject line? Is it content that has compelling photos and videos? What about the time of day you send it?
Plan Your Messages Ahead of Time
Think about the lifecycle of the message. For example, if you have an upcoming event and want to use your newsletter to drive attendance, start with a save the date, then offer glimpses as the program takes shape (like photos from behind-the-scenes prep, interviews with participants, or details about important collaborators), send a “last call” reminder, and then wrap up with a thank you. This cadence keeps your organization top-of-mind for your reader without overwhelming them with repetitive messaging that might get them to unsubscribe. Plus, it's four separate messages from just one main activity, which makes it achievable for organizations with a small staff. Create a content calendar that aligns with your larger marketing goals and accounts for key programs or events, and (this one is key) be realistic about your staff’s capacity.
Be realistic about your staff’s capacity. A little consistency can go a long way!
Write a Killer Subject Line
In order to get people to read your fabulous emails, you have to get them to open it. Your subject line needs to be enticing, including enough information that they understand the general idea but not so much detail that you give away the whole message. An ideal subject line is around 9 words long. You can even toss in an emoji if it’s on brand for your organization.
Tell a Story
Within your emails, tell a concise story. Don’t just copy and paste material from your website or social media; include narrative content, high-quality photos, and other elements to build a relationship with your reader. If every email you send is focused on selling them something, they’ll be less inclined to keep reading. This is one of the reasons we love working with creative entrepreneurs and arts organizations: their entire existence is making incredibly cool content. Can you show people how something is made? Can you introduce them to one of your favorite collaborators and tell them why they're great? (Bonus: you increase the likelihood that your collaborator will share it, too—and then their audience becomes your audience.)
Change it up!
The number one mistake we see is organizations sending the same exact content over and over again, confused when their click rate drops. Don’t send an email if you have nothing new to say, and try not to email the same person more than once a week. Hitting your subscribers over the head with repeat information about a program won’t drive ticket sales—it’ll probably just cause them to unsubscribe.
Don’t send an email if you have nothing new to say
Surprise and delight your audience by sending exclusive content or a letter from a staff member
Create a monthly feature with content that gets the most opens and clicks
Lift up others by sharing relevant news or programs from other organizations
Try answering the question: "what are you working on today?" and see where it takes you. The numbers will tell you if you're interesting, and we bet you really are.
Speaking of E-Newsletters...
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