The California Symphony made bold changes to their marketing model and the risk paid off big. Here is what B2SMB companies can learn from them to improve results of their content programs.
I recently read an incredibly inspiring Medium post about how the California Symphony completely upended their traditional marketing model and the results were staggering. They grew revenue from ticket sales by 145% and revenue from donations by 52% over a three-year period. To get a sense of how impressive this is, consider that the national average revenue growth for arts organizations over the same time period is 4% and 20% respectively.
When the Californian Symphony decided to make an overhaul to their marketing model, they had no lifeline. They had very little cash and no time for failure. If they didn’t balance the budget, major donors were threatening to stop funding the organization and a lack of revenue meant no resources for producing concerts.
In this post, I outline three takeaways from the California Symphony’s new marketing strategy and draw parallels to how these changes can help marketers targeting SMB leverage content strategies more effectively.
1. Segment Your Strategy by Phase of the Customer Journey
Historically, every California Symphony patron, regardless of their level of engagement or commitment, received the same emails, retargeting and direct mail campaigns. They marketed to “a list.” Arts institutions have long taken this approach to generating revenue.
The symphony would send one-time ticket buyers content to drive sales of more single ticket purchases, offers for season subscriptions, and appeals for donations. That is like bringing an engagement ring to a first date or sitting in the boss’ chair before you are offered a promotion. Unsurprisingly, the result was 90% of first-time buyers did not come back to the symphony. First year subscribers – a group with the highest proclivity of future donation – were the hardest segment to renew, averaging a 50% or less renewal rate. That was a big pipeline problem and huge opportunity cost.
Today, the California Symphony has a program that includes specific next steps customized for first time attendees, repeat buyers, new subscribers, long time donors, or everyone in between. Everything their marketing team does points customers toward that one next logical step and nothing else. So, the marketing content sent to a first-time performance goer would drive that audience segment to become repeat buyers. After buyers purchase tickets to more than one event, they receive content that drives them to become season ticket .
What does this mean for you and your brand’s marketing strategy? If a first-time concert goer is equivalent to a prospect who has interacted with your website or signed up for your emails, consider sending this segment content that helps them solve a problem in your brand’s area of expertise. For new customers who have recently made a purchase, send content that helps them maximize the investment they have already made with your brand.
Then, decide on the one action you want your customer to take that is appropriate at each phase of the SMB’s journey and make sure your content and CTA work toward achieving that singular action. The more specific you are about the action for each segment, the more impact your content strategy can be crafted to have.
2. Don’t Let Short Term Pressures Stifle Long-Term Success
As I mentioned above, the California Symphony increased revenue by huge percentages over a three-year period. While in hindsight taking the long-term strategic approach clearly paid off, that does not mean that board members, donors, and other stakeholders did not insist on short-term gains.
When you have quarterly objectives to meet and tight budgets to adhere to, it is difficult to commit time, resources, and budget to long-term content objectives.
But properly nurturing prospects, as well as new buyers, can have an exponential effect on next quarter and next year’s results.
Plus, you won’t burn out recipients that are tuning you out because of inappropriate messages. There are several ways you can mitigate any short-term impact while pursuing long term goals, including creating immediate demand with content.
3. Use Appropriate Metrics
The size of your list doesn’t matter if there is little engagement and poor results. The California Symphony learned that by having a bigger database, they were reaching a lot of people at once but that was not the right approach to cultivate loyal symphony fans and significantly increasing lifetime customer value. They found a larger mailing list was the wrong measure. Instead, they began looking at the response rate as a healthier gauge of success.
If you are measuring content strategy success by the number of unique visitors or social followers, those numbers might not be the truest measure of how well your strategy is meeting objectives. Develop clear metrics to measure what you want the buyer to do in every phase of the journey. For example, tracking the number of new prospects who sign up for your email list can measure success early in the journey while tracking opens and click throughs may tell you how your well your content strategy is working with targets who have engaged with your brand repeatedly. When you combine a logical, customer-centric approach by segmenting your targets as mentioned in #1 above with measuring by appropriate metrics, you will have the basis for a marketing program that creates raving fans who want to hear from you.
I love what the California Symphony did because it is so logical. Their reimagined strategy is a combination of treating people the way you would want to be treated and focusing on the customer needs above the needs of “the brand.” Customers expect that type of approach these days and react well to it.