Thursday, 16 May 2013


I've written a blog for Culture Vulture about accusing people of being philistines: it's available here.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Regional Director for Yorkshire and the North East at The Audience Agency

I've got some great news to share - I've started a new job as Regional Director for Yorkshire and the North East at The Audience Agency, the new national audience development agency for England. My colleague Caroline Griffin, who's started at same time to do the equivalent role in the Midlands, summed up the new organisation and its work rather neatly here:
The organisation exists to help arts and cultural organisations achieve their goals, through supporting understanding and engaging with audiences. We’re specialists in audience information, and in turning that information into practical, effective actions. And we have a deep understanding of the challenges facing arts, heritage and cultural organisations in the current climate. We also have the tools and the skills your organisation needs to focus on its most valuable resource: its audience.
Given my background, both in the region and in audience development, this is a new role I'm really excited by. There are also a couple of things that might be useful to note:
  • There will be a range of events and communications for regional organisations to find out more about the new agency and its Audience Focus work on behalf on Arts Council England. But if you'd like to know more and just can't wait to find out what it's all about, do please get in touch (see my new contact details here; the agency site is here, with a box to sign up for email news).
  • I'll be doing a bit less freelance work, although I will still be doing some (so don't skip to the next name on your list without getting in touch!). Through this new role, I've also now got a team of fantastic colleagues with a wide range of specialisms who may also be able to help.
The full press release is here.

Friday, 13 April 2012

When not to segment

I’m a committed believer in the value of audience segmentation, but I’m also wary of absolute statements (indeed a researcher is, almost by definition, someone who thinks that the facts of a situation should affect your response to it). So whilst I’m broadly in agreement with Rachel Ann Poling’s post here, it did get me thinking about what the exceptions would be to the rule that segmentation is always a good idea.

An obvious place to start would be politics in a First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) system. Whilst it may be possible to get more ‘engagement’ from groups with very specific policy concerns, you also need to get a sufficiently ‘broad church’ of supporters to get a majority.

Nonetheless, segmentation could still be useful in this context. The apparently standard transaction (all votes counting the same for a given party) neglects the fact that this vote means, and delivers, something different from different groups.  A party activist and a tactical voter who vote for the same candidate are each getting something different if that candidate is successful: one gets a ‘not-Labour’, ‘not-Lib-Dem’ or ‘not-Tory’ MP, the other someone who actively represents a particular viewpoint or viewpoints (e.g. is Eurosceptic, supports unions, is pro-devolution, campaigns for the local hospital etc).  Whilst they both get the same MP, from a marketing perspective the transaction is still different.

Political parties know this, of course. As the famous Worcester Woman and Motorway Man labels show, segmentation is, of course, widely used in politics (even under FPTP).

A situation that is closer to home is where there is a limited market for a distinctive offer and where different audience groups are prepared to compromise to get something that is at least close to what they want. To take Rachel’s (précis-ed) examples:
Older folks like the current concert format.  They like the quiet, ritualized way the concerts are put on, and the tried and true music that everybody loves. They say, “This music and concert form has been in place for hundreds of years, it is good enough for the present and the future.” Unfortunately, a sad truth of the world, older folks eventually pass away and there isn’t a new generation of classical music fans to replace them.

Younger folks don’t care for the formal etiquette in place at symphony concerts.  They like hearing new music, and being able to interact more with the orchestra.  They like their mobile phones, and the more interactive nature of a concert from their favorite band.  Classical music has become uncool to the current generation, and alot of the uncool comes from the strict etiquette and unvaried repertoire (it is viewed as elitist, or even worse, boring).

So, how should symphonies meet the needs of both the older generation, and the younger generation? 

Which one is right?

It’s Not Possible

Yep, that’s right.  It’s not possible.

Walking the middle road just leaves you with dissatisfied customers on both ends.
This makes sense, in most scenarios. More traditional types of concerts may seem a little formal, stuffy or plain long for some younger audiences.  A ‘pint in a plastic cup’, ‘tweet during performances’ and ‘come and go when you like’ set-up may not be to the taste of some older audiences.  Of course, people won’t neatly stick to these groups (some younger audiences will prefer the former, some older audiences the latter). But, either group may be prepared to meet on a middle-ground if the alternative is an audience for either set-up that’s too small to be financially viable. Or to put it another way, they may compromise if the alternative is no classical music at all.

Of course, there are a host of counter-arguments. If it’s nearer their taste, they’ll (probably) attend more often. Be more likely to recommend it. More likely to support in other ways. Catering for a smaller pool of frequent attenders is also more cost-effective (although it may not fare so well against an organisation’s social mission). And it might make for a better atmosphere (‘compromise’ isn’t the obvious starting point for the thrill of a live performance). But I wouldn’t stop attending concerts based on whether they wore T-shirts or ‘proper’ shirts with collars and, if I lived in a rural area, I’d be too grateful for ‘flicks-in-the-sticks’ to complain if they only served salted popcorn.

Not segmenting is (contrary to how it may at first appear) a risky strategy and it’s not usually a good idea. But there may be occasions (notably when it’s a very niche activity or the overall market size is very small) where a ‘middle way’ may be preferable to segmenting.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Segmentation Is Essential: Quotes

'The study of audience behaviour leads us to the conclusion that potential audiences consist of sub-groups of individuals with similar needs, characteristics, motivations and buying practices. For arts organizations to attempt to attract members of all of these groups at the same time for the same events is unrealistic... one of the most important tasks of the marketing function in an arts organization is to identify the most appropriate ways to divide up their potential audience.' Creative Arts Marketing, Liz Hill

'...most firms have moved from mass marketing to segmented marketing, in which they target carefully chosen submarkets or even individual consumers' Principles of Marketing, Philip Kotler and Gary Armstrong

'Marketing segmentation is a very important concept in marketing and in marketing planning' - The Marketing Plan: A Practitioner's Guide, John Westwood

'The idea of dividing a market up into homogeneous segments and targeting each with a distinct product and/or message, is now at the heart of marketing theory' - Market Segmentation, Michael J Croft

'Market segmentation is widely regarded to be one of the key elements of modern marketing' - The Market Segmentation Workbook, Sally Dibb and Lyndon Simkin

'Segmenting is the crucial first step [in the strategic marketing process]. All customers are not the same...' Arts Marketing Insights, Joanne Scheff Bernstein.

These quotes are to illustrate a point made in my blog post for Audiences UK here.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Should you be advertising fish sandwiches?

As part of my arts marketing teaching at Leeds University, I've been reading a variety of marketing manuals and textbooks recently. We get so preoccupied by the 'latest wisdom' that it's useful to revisit marketing classics from time to time. It reveals that 'new' ideas are often just a rewrapping of old ideas. It also lets you test their theories and case studies against what you know happened next.

One I've enjoyed recently is Reis and Trout's Marketing Warfare. Beyond gems such as them complaining about Coke abandoning the slogan 'the real thing' (don't worry guys, it came back!) and discussion of different types of strategy, they also made the following nice distinction:
Every marketer has three types of products: one kind of product to advertise, one kind to sell and one kind to make money on.
It's wasteful to advertise a product just because you can sell it and make money on it, even if you can make big money on it.
Would a motion picture theater advertise the popcorn it sells? No, you advertise the movie and you make money on the popcorn and the drinks.
Automobile dealers advertise a car at its stripped price and hope they don't sell one that way because they make their real money on the automatic transmission, power breaks, AM/FM radio, and the other accessories.
Conceptually, a burger chain advertises the burger, sells the french fries along with the burger, and makes money on the soft drinks. That's the pattern that will drive profits down to the bottom line. If the kids drink enough of your 90 cent Cokes, you can almost afford to break even on everything else.
The obvious parallels in the arts would be advertising a theatre production, selling the show with an after-show talk, but making money on beer, ice-cream and programmes. Or advertising a special exhibition, selling entrance to the whole museum or gallery, but making money in the café and gift shop.

Of course, we're unlikely to make the mistake of advertising the ice-cream rather than the show. But perhaps we're not always as quick as we might be to take advantage of the 'peripherals' where the real margin is to be had. I suspect it was recognition of this that prompted the takeover of Crucible Corner and the opening of Crucible Café by Sheffield Theatres (and of course at their 40th birthday they made a point of encouraging people to stay and use the paid bar for as long as possible!), as well as the well-stocked bar at Square Chapel in Halifax.

The distinction between what you advertise and what people buy is a more interesting one, perhaps. In Oliver Uberti's engaging lunchtime talk from the National Arts Marketing Project Conference, he shows (at 36:07 in) items from the gift shop of the Museum of Unnatural History: bottles of 'formaldehyde', 'semi-formaldehyde', 'informaldehyde' and 'businesscasualdehyde'. It's a great gag, and relies on the full range for its full effect (it's also selling a story of the joke and the amazing, fun place they discovered it in rather than the product per se). But of that range, which ones are likely to sell? They're all $7, but I'd guess you'd go somewhere else to meet your everyday formaldehyde needs. And 'businesscasualdehyde' perhaps feels a bit laboured on its own (though you might get it if you were buying a whole set). I'd guess that 'informaldehyde' is the main one they shift (albeit as a novelty), with the others just being advertising. But if you put a bottle of 'informaldehyde' on a shelf on it's own, I doubt it would sell as well.

I suspect that there are a range of shows that are advertised in theatre's programmes that add value as much by their contribution to overall market positioning as to sales. This is generally discussed in terms of artistic mission ('I know it's not going to be as popular, but it's the sort of thing we're here to do') but could also be seen as market positioning: the difference between what you advertise and what you sell. If you are seen to be putting on creative and edgy work, then it adds a bit of spark to the 'mainstream' works, which is really where the game is won or lost.

This suggests that rather than just treating them as 'good things in themselves, but of little practical consequence', the 'small-hitters' (the studio shows, the minor temporary exhibitions) should be seen as an active and important part of the advertising for the 'big hitters'. This makes the relationship between the two (by developing the profile of actors/artists for later, greater things, or tailoring the reputation of the venue) as potentially being as important as their short-term sales.

Reis and Trout emphasise the need to (in their militaristic analogy) 'attack on as narrow a front as possible'. Following on from the previous quote in discussing the 'Burger Wars', they say:
The biggest mistake companies make is confusing the product they sell with the product they should advertise. it doesn't matter so much what you sell to a customer once that customer is in the store. But advertising the same item might be a big mistake if it undermines your position.

Selling fish sandwiches is one thing; advertising fish sandwiches is another. Especially if inclusion of that product undermines your hamburger position.
However, in the arts (in many cases; within reason), diversity and innovation strengthens, rather than distracts from, the core offer. Creativity is our 'hamburger position'*. That may make the more appropriate parallel for 'supporting' product concept cars and/or rally cars, that emphasise the qualities that people then buy in their production model equivalents.

That said, unless the different products do support each other in a coherent market position, arts organisations need to beware diversifying their offer too far. Too often, arts organisations act (and are encouraged by funders to act) as if they are the 'market leader', who can afford to have multiple product lines, rather than as 'guerillas', who need to find a patch of territory that they can make their own and hold. The next couple of years are likely to be particularly difficult for organisations that are over-extended. Gaining clarity about what you need to be advertising, selling and making money from is an important step in avoiding this risk.

*I'm trusting you to know I can tell the difference between making art and flipping burgers!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

REVIEW: The Cult of the Amateur, by Andrew Keen

Andrew Keen has recently announced that his new book, Digital Vertigo, is due out in May next year. In the mean time, I've been reading the book that made him the 'Anti Christ of Silicon Valley'...:

A N Wilson in the Daily Mail, the cover announces, considers this ‘a staggering new book… Andrew Keen really knows his stuff… His book will come as a real shock to many. It certainly did to me’.

The first paradox of many: Wilson praises the book whilst simultaneously announcing he doesn’t know much about the subject, and yet this is the quote used to sell it. And again, the implicit argument is: ‘the Daily Mail rates it, so it must be true’. Not the most convincing argument. It is a satisfying ironic twist that it was word of mouth recommendation and comments on social media that actually made me want to buy the book: it seems amateurs do have a use. These may incidental points, but in a book about authority and how amateurs are ‘killing’ our culture, the reliability, integrity and authority of the professionals it references are, necessarily, relevant.

But it gets stranger. The book is framed by two ‘confessions’. The opening of the first chapter states that Keen, whilst a nineties internet professional, was a member of the ‘cult’. The second, tucked away between the endnotes and the index in the acknowledgements, states that despite advocating for professional culture producers, he is himself ‘as a writer, a bit of an amateur’. Not, in itself, a contradiction. But it’s curious at least, in a book that differentiates professionals and amateurs (and their interests and status) so strongly.

Of course, what he says is more important than his role, status or professional supporters (although this rather contradicts the book’s central premise). And it’s a worthwhile, interesting and challenging message: that an ideologically driven misinterpretation of ‘democratisation’ is, through web 2.0, undermining the property rights and business models of cultural producers (including music labels, newspapers and film studios), and that this is resulting in a ‘levelled down’ cultural landscape which is less reliable, lower quality and in many cases, personally damaging. In short, that web 2.0 is killing our culture’.

There’s much that Keen says that seems to me to be true and several areas that have the potential to be especially rewarding seams of enquiry: 
  •  The difference between traditional ‘democracy’ as participation through choices, and so-called ‘democratic’ participation through production; 
  • How a ‘distributed’ model of production changes the relation between culture and capital, with as yet unclear consequences (it isn’t necessarily the case that more people with less capital will produce better results than fewer with more, despite web evangelists’ claims);
  • What effect ubiquitous cultural production has on producers’ ability to make a living and the long-term effects this could have on culture;
  • The creation of billionaire elites who own supposedly ‘social’ networks (and the tension between social and libertarian values that reveals).
However, Keen does not follow these implications up, since he asserts and illustrates his points, rather than systematically arguing them.  Different instances are used to indicate a single general trend, rather than a trend used to illuminate its differing implications for different media, groups of individuals or contexts. As a result, he is more successful in showing that the ground is shifting in our culture than why it matters. Many of the most alarming stories he tells (such as social media’s use in schools shootings and child abuse) mistake the use of social media for an issue specific to its form (speech can be used in the same ways, but is rarely considered in itself a social ill).

Key to Keen’s case is the idea that cultural production by amateurs is necessarily worse.  But T H Huxley’s image of infinite monkeys with typewriters who can eventually write Shakespeare, used several times by Keen, is in fact an illustration of how such an approach is at least theoretically capable of matching the highest standards (it also hints that the key challenge is selection, not production).

The book pins responsibility for ‘killing’ old media on its new replacements, rather than its own failures that allowed them to succeed: the mediocre programming, the recycling of press releases and spin as news, the crimes and cover-ups, the crassness. Many of the authorities that Keen cites have failed, over many decades, to uphold high values (whether in terms of morality or quality). One thinks again of the Daily Mail, but also the Hollywood studios, major music labels and newspapers owned by New International. They are, in many ways, responsible for their own downfall.

When something familiar is replaced by something new, the loss is often keener than the anticipated gain. What we are losing is far more obvious: we can already see it, we are already emotionally attached. But Keen says little about any possible upside to web 2.0: the new ways to access the highest quality work; the value of multiple perspectives; of interactivity, autonomy, devolved power; the talent that finds a way to express itself that would not previously have been possible (perhaps we shall find out that is it not talent that has been rare, as he asserts, but opportunity?).

Nor does he give sufficient credit to the nuanced ways in which those that he uncharmingly calls ‘monkeys’ consume online content. He apparently believes that people treat every Wikipedia entry and every blog post as gospel truth. I believe that most people recognise that both amateur and professional sources can be inaccurate, partisan and incomplete. To claim otherwise is to create a ‘Cult of the Professional’.

But if professionals can no longer assume authority as a right, neither should amateurs. Instead, it is ‘authority’ itself that is being redefined. And whilst Andrew Keen is surely right to assert that there is much at stake in this debate, for that very reason it is a debate in which we should all have the right to participate.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Data-driven segmentation: a caveat

Data-driven segmentation offers to provide hidden insights into audiences and reveal the most cost-effective ways of tailoring the offer and communications to meet their varying needs. It’s a reasonable claim. There clearly are hidden patterns in audience data and statistical techniques will, by definition, be better at identifying statistical differences than alternatives. Consequently, data driven segmentation can reasonably claim to provide segments that are ‘more different’ than alternative approaches.

However, any cluster segmentation is dependent not only on the differentness of its segments, but on the reliability of ascribing those segments to subsequent samples. These can only be based on a probability of ascribing records to the right category and depend for that reliability on the number of ‘golden questions’ used to do so.

The additional differentiation has to be offset against the ‘fuzziness’ of accurately ascribing the segments and the usability of however many ‘golden questions’ are needed for that level of accuracy.  There is potentially also another layer of ‘fuzziness’ when trying to implement actions based on the segments, since they have not been designed to align neatly with communications channels or categories of audience information. It’s easy to see how this could quickly offset the additional sharpness of distinctions from the original statistical model.

In some cases, this will be the case, in others not. But often, a combination of clusters and ‘hard’ definitions (based where possible on ‘natural’ breaks in distributions of data) will give clearer, more usable results, whilst still reflecting the differences revealed by close attention to the facts. This is the approach TGI Kantar used on the Arts Audiences Insight segmentation. Whilst it’s less ideologically rigorous than approaches that focus solely on the facts in hand, it’s often a more efficient and effective approach. Fewer 'golden questions' can mean less 'gold' expended.