Let’s be brutally honest. Most theatre email marketing sucks. It looks like it was designed by your 65 year old Uncle Charlie, who’s not big into – you know – design. It’s boring and dull. And it’s ineffective. It simply assumes that the audience cares – vs. telling them WHY they should care. It doesn’t display on mobile. It’s one of the reasons your seats are empty and tickets are going for half off fire sales at the online equivalent of Rocco’s 24 Hour Pawn.
Here are a few examples of theatre email that go straight in the trash.
Most of the time, most days in every month, your audience is not in the theatre seeing shows. They’re out there in the world, doing what they do: swimming at The Dock, fastening miniature horses to sidewalk rings, dodging below crane-a-palooza. Maybe that’s only in Portland.
And when they’re not physically present in the theatre, which is most of the time, how do they experience your brand? It happens internally. Any time you come to mind, they replay a mental news reel that sums up all the various memories and associations they have. And other than the quality of your shows, probably nothing influences what they think as much as your graphic design.
Before your audience can experience the show, they need to know about it. And one way they find out about your company is the show before the show, i.e., every digital channel and physical touchpoint you have. Among these, your web site reigns supreme.
Not everyone is skilled at acting, directing, or set design. That’s why when you need good acting, directing or set design, you seek out those with experience. Similarly, if you need plumbing, wiring or construction, you call a pro. You don’t do it yourself.
Yet when it comes to web design, all too often theatre companies still decide to wing it and DIY. The belief seems to be that it doesn’t matter all that much how good the web site is.
Whatever it is you do, chances are there’s a digital component to it. And increasingly, that digital touch point or interface IS the product – because its quality becomes a proxy for whether the user will go further and actually order/use/view the underlying thing or service. If the digital experience isn’t there, attention spans are short.
As devices proliferate, free time goes to zero, and new content piles up, do you have what it takes to create simple, intuitive digital experiences that cut through the static to delight and activate your audience?
To help you make sense of just what’s at stake and how state of the art digital is done these days, come join Portland’s own Connective DX for its annual three day Delight conference at the Portland Art Museum October 5-7. There’s a deep bench of thought and design leaders lined up.
Here’s an issue that most theatres need to take a look at ASAP. And that is whether or not your email messaging is optimized for mobile.
As you know, mobile adoption is hockey sticking up to the right steeper than a real time graph of bon mots at the #GOPDebate.
Your audience is on mobile. Mobile is the only screen now for many users. Which means they will get your emails on mobile. And attempt to read them there. The entire world needs to come through that little portal.
Writing for mobile entails more than just responsive design (which if you don’t have, the user will simply delete your email). It also calls for a style of brevity and focus. When you have less space to work with, what do you with it? More – or less? Less.
Emails are not the place for WAR AND PEACE length discourses on your new season or outreach program. Emails are about a succint and compelling CTA (call to action). Emails are a notification, a bell that goes off. You want the recipient to do something when they get your email – usually click on a button that says “Buy Tickets” or “Read the full post”. You want your email to ignite an emotion in the recipient – to give them a feeling or desire. You want your emails to be a work of art – not a long piece of text like something on the wall at the DMV.
Many, many emails from theatres are still overloaded with text and frames and boxes – all at a scale designed to be read on a desktop monitor the size of a Broadway billboard.
But that’s not what your recipient is using. She’s on mobile.
Put yourself in the shoes of the recipient and step through each moment of the interaction when you send them an email. First, a bell goes off or a buzz vibrates. They glance at the screen and see a badge notification (which is where your brilliant subject line does its magic). If you’re lucky they will swipe open. And then they will take a look for a few seconds.
What you want to do in that microinteraction is create interest and excitement. Show, don’t tell. Give the user enough info so they’re hooked. But don’t let them off the hook. When they’re done reading they should have an active desire to take the next step.
Your email should drive the recipient on – usually to your web site to complete the message, or maybe onto social media where a conversation is going.
Email is the single most important channel to your audience, and theatres spend lots of time and money on messaging.
Make sure all that investment isn’t wasted. Learn how to write and design for mobile.
Hash tags are great, right? They can be a fabulous way to provide an overview of related streams from many different participants. For exammple, check out #SEAthtr or #PDXTheatre for the theatre streams in Seattle and Portland.
Judicious use of hash tags allows any one individual to say, “My post belongs to this larger narrative.” And then a reader interested in that larger narrative can go right there and survey all the different parts of the flow.
So, yes, using a popular hash tag can be a great way to get some visibility beyond your own followers. But it’s one of those tools you have to know how to use – and not abuse. If instead of a few effective posts now and then you simply fire hose your junk all over the hash tag indiscriminately 24-7, what do you tell the world?
You tell them you don’t know what you’re doing as a digital marketer. This is the equivalent of sending the same lame notice to PDX Backstage 20 times a day. We get it – you have a show on. Heard you the first time.
Remember, how well you market is a proxy for how good the show is. Everything is connected. Upon seeing you light up a hash tag with non stop shock and awe repetition, the smart reader wonders: “Christ, if they don’t know how to market a show – how good could the actual show be?”
The show is always on, and your show before the show tells the audience whether the product on offer is quality – something they want – or merely more noise to be tuned out.
Careful with those hash tags. If you overuse them, they’ll bite you on the fanny.
When it comes to communicating with an audience (which is what a group of customers is), email still leads the way. Email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter.
It’s better than TV, radio, billboards. It’s better than anything you can imagine.
And yet incredibly, many smaller theatres and performance groups still do not have email lists.
The email channel is how you whisper in the ear of your audience. It’s how you channel the essence of your brand experience and explain why you’re special. It’s the show before the show. The email show is always on – year round. Whereas a company’s actual shows run for much shorter duration.
Given the all important power of email to any brand, the very first thing you should see upon arrival on any web site is an easy way to sign up.
If you don’t have an email list and know how to use it, don’t be surprised if no one comes to the show.
If you have no email channel, get ready for the sound of one hand clapping.
If you’ve been to a show at New York’s legendary new play super highway Playwrights Horizons, then you probably know just how important this place is to the American theatre.
Over and over and over again (and then again just because they can), PH delivers the goods that global theatregoers hunger after. Like right now – you’d be insane to miss the NYC premiere of the latest anti-complacency grenade from Brooklynite Bruce Norris, #TheQualms.
How do the folks at PH do it? Well, we’d tell you – but then we’d have to kill you. And killing people is wrong. PLUS – trade secrets like that are closely guarded. Suffice it to say, they just do it. And you better get down to PH ASAP if it’s been a while. Because you may have forgotten how good a night in the theatre can be. It is life itself.
But just as important as the quality of what you’ll see on stage at PH is the beauty, finesse, and yes drama of their digital presence – the show before the show. And after. When it comes to digital engagement with the audience, the quality of which is what determines whether an actual physical audience will show up to the show, the lil’ old theatre that could down on W. 42nd is an extraordinary, visionary leader. Which is just what you’d expect based on the shows they put on.