A leading regional theater
Focus group research to evaluate potential new subscription packages, policies, and messages.
Audience research projects don't have to be large or complex to be valuable. Sometimes a few focus groups or a simple online survey can reveal new strategic directions that bear fruit over many seasons.
This turned out to be the case for a leading regional theater that sought our help several years ago. Like other arts administrators, the theater's management team realized that the old subscription model would not be tenable much longer. They wanted to learn how they could keep ahead of their audiences' changing expectations and behaviors while still preserving the committment associated with subscribing.
Their research budget was limited, so we opted for a few well-planned focus groups:
- one group with current subscribers, to learn what was working well for them and how the theater might deepen its relationship with them over time;
- one with lapsed subscribers, to explore why they didn't renew and what it might take to bring them back;
- one with active single ticket buyers, to understand whether and how they could be enticed to subscribe in future seasons.
In all three groups, we discussed the participants' own ideas about how subscriptions can work in their busy, spontaneous lives. We also solicited their feedback on eight new options that we had helped the theater develop in preparation for the research.
In addition, we contextualized the subscription question by exploring broader issues such as attendance motivations, programming perceptions, and communication needs.
The outcome? While each focus group participant had his or her favorite subscription options, two of the choices were at the top of nearly everyone’s list. Our analysis of the participants' comments revealed not only what was valued, but why. We identified key themes and priorities for the theater to focus on when revamping the subscription program.
Because the research was supported by the Executive Director and his senior team, the theater was able to quickly leverage their new insights by introducing several innovative new subscription packages and messages for the next season.