Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Spam and Turkey and Ham and Chicken and Roast Beef!

So in the midst of some discussion about using social media to market, a broader issue came up: How do efficiently and effectively market shows featuring multiple independent improv troupes?

There are quite a few of them around, from one-shot deals to major events to ongoing efforts. With good reason: Because the audience for the improv community is still relatively small, you can increase your crowds (and thus, your chance of making rent) when more than one troupe plays. And it means sharing your regulars with other troupes—which is great incentive to step up your game.

But the more of this type of show we do, the more marketing challenges arise—some of it stuff that doesn't occur to you until it's too late. Like:
  • Marketing the show to different audiences with different interests (troupe loyalties, for example)
  • Differences in opinion on how to market (from poster aesthetics to how many times to send Facebook reminders)
  • Different response mechanisms—reservation lines, e-mails, Facebook invites—for different troupes
  • Key messages—prioritizing the event, the talent or the venue
Of course, there are many more challenges—who headlines? who opens? what's the best spot? how do you split the gate?—but this is just about marketing.

(OH, hey...if you're one of those people who doesn't believe marketing best practices apply to improv troupes, you're not going to like this post much.)

Audiences are exposed to thousands of marketing messages a day; the conventional wisdom for breaking through the clutter used to be three impressions. Now that wouldn't even make a dent in most people's subconscious. When you do deliver multiple messages, it's important for them to have enough common elements that they hang together in people's minds—consistency is the quickest way to critical mass.

For example, everything you see about Target clearly comes from Target—whether they're selling clothes, kitchen appliances, food or the whole store. Target gives you multiple reasons to come in—value, style, selection. The approach broadens the brand's appeal on a couple of fronts—to multiple consumer groups with different needs, and to individual consumers hoping to cut down on the number of stops they have to make. But even very different messages ("Expect more. Pay less." vs. "Design for everyone.") come with a similar look and feel.

Major brands have strategies and style guides to keep messages consistent across different consumer contact points—and the more complicated the brand, the more specific the style guide. I'm not suggesting we need anything that formal in the improv world, but there's value in consistency.

A few things we can do as producers and troupes can do to help make sure our marketing gets through to our audiences:

Agree to agree: Pick the most important things, and communicate them the same way everywhere—period. Some "non-negotiables": The name of the event, reservation information, pricing and discounts, short sell-copy or taglines or show descriptions. Visuals count, too: Logos, fonts, colors. Decide which communications (i.e. press releases, calendar listings, Facebook invites) will be general and handled by the producers, and which can be customized by the troupes.

Target your messages: For example, a press release to the KC Star or Pitch would lead with the biggest news (in a recent example, that would have been The Union—the group coming in from Chicago with a show directed by a Second City performer). But one sent to a local paper would feature the local troupe or individual.

Personalize your invitations: Pretty much every troupe has its own Facebook group or fan page. And, as we've chatted about recently, we talk to our fans differently. So there's nothing wrong with each troupe setting up their own invitation and sending their own reminders, if it seems necessary—as long as you keep the big stuff consistent and maintain a single point of contact for reservations. The big risk, of course, is over-delivering messages to anyone who happens to be a member of multiple groups.

Manage your media: Producers should make sure every troupe has the information they need for their personalized messages; troupes can provide producers with logos, photos (and photo credits) and group-specific information (bios, show descriptions, websites).

So...what else? What mind-blowing challenges and fabulous solutions have you run into promoting multi-troupe shows?


  1. "the conventional wisdom for breaking through the clutter used to be three impressions"

    What is it now? Six? More?

    Are marketers now following a thought process similar to "if our efforts aren't working, throw more money at it" where the money is marketing?

    Do current marketing strategies still find fewer, more focused messages effective? Wasn't that a goal at one time?

    Do we now need six impressions to break through because our society has become more ADD-HD than ever? Is our society more ADD-HD than ever because we're constantly bombarded with more and more marketing?

    Please understand that I'm not trying to be a smartass (or dumbass) here. I'm genuinely curious.

  2. I don't take it as being a smartass. I'll do some digging to get more specific answers, but some general ones:

    There's not really a specific number that comes up in discussions, because different audiences interact with the media in different ways. In some ways, targeting is easier because new media is easy to measure—you can tell where people go, what they click on and how they respond. On the other hand, TV is still the easiest way to break through with a new product, and—though there are ways to track results—the measures of success aren't as specific.

    The ADD-HD question is a chicken-egg thing. Think about all the different ways we multitask: Video games used to have one knob. TV news shows used to feature one anchor and one image. Talking on the phone and watching TV used to seem like multitasking. It's not just marketing messages—we're spiltting our brains and attentions a lot of different ways.

    We've got lots of new toys/tools to use in reaching consumers. Being strategic about it is more important than ever. For example— fliers/posters generate an impression, but rarely result in a phone call to the reservation line or a note on the calendar. We know that FB is great for delivering information, but unreliable as a reservation system. Tweeting might be helpful in "branding" your group—helping spread the word that you're funny—but doing nothing but promoting shows won't keep or build a list of followers.

    The one thing consumers are trained to respond to right now? Deals. And if you're smart about it, you can build tracking into discounting. For example—mark the coupons you distribute, and you'll find out where people are likely to pick up your promotional material. Use promotion codes (like secret words) for discounts in different communication tools, and you can see what works.


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