Misunderstanding Marketing

Over at Jamespeak, he continues to talk about some of the ideas they have been wrestling with in terms of marketing. The title of this post is not to insinuate that they’ve misunderstood anything, and God knows I don’t mean to presume that I understand anything more than the very rudimentary approaches to marketing, but one of James’ commenters is making a classic mistake.

Much of what we do in terms of marketing can’t be measured by a direct cost/benefit ratio. A twitter account takes a fair amount of time to maintain, and if you are half-assed in your approach to it (which I have been, I have to admit) then you can find yourself investing *some* time, and coming up with nothing, because the community you mean to foster just hasn’t gotten that invested in you. On the other hand, you can post twenty or so times a day, and you will find that everything that happens to you starts to fall into two categories – “Worth Mentioning On Twitter” or “Not Worth Mentioning On Twitter”, and that’s an awful feeling.

But it would be a mistake to say, “Okay, the company has a twitter account, and I spend five hours a week on it, and doing freelance work, that’s roughly $250 I would make during that time, so each week on Twitter would have to bring in 13 paying ticket buyers”. Obviously, that’s a mistake, there might be thirty weeks between productions, on our level, and none of us believes that a twitter account will sell 400 extra tickets.

And so I would argue it’s also a mistake to look at the postcards the same way. There is so little of our art that lives after it’s done, and the stuff that does live on is usually not something we can put in our hands. Jimmy’s company Nosedive has actually done pretty well recording their shows to video, but even then, you don’t have something in your hands.

If you are building a community, it’s exciting for people to have a physical reminder of the show, long after it’s done. It isn’t just the people who are *in* the show, it’s the people who *saw* the show, that get to have the postcard. There are people who collect playbills, and yet most of us just print our programs at our dayjobs or Kinko’s and hand out some folded shit to the people who come. When I’m cleaning out a jacket, or an old box, and I find postcards from shows that I saw years ago, it’s exciting. It reminds me that the company and I have a relationship that extends back for years.

Yes, the postcards end up in a landfill, a lot of them, and yeah, that sucks. I think the answer is to only print as many as you’ll actually need, and use them as a placeholder for a ticket in your mind. Give them out to people who want to see the show, send them to people that have already supported you, maybe hand them out with the programs. Let them live on in the hands of the cast and crew, and their circle of friends, but make sure they end up with the audience as well.

On one wall in my studio, I have all of our postcards framed and placed above my desk. Many of the postcards on my wall were saved from a box of thousands that ended up at the dump, and I’ve since modified my expectations when ordering. But they exist on my wall as a tangible, physical reminder of the show, in a way that the costumes rotting in my garage don’t.

Now, maybe postcards are a bad idea, I think every company has to do that metric for themselves. But when a company is doing the metric, they need to have as long a view as possible, as open a mind as possible about what the benefits could be to the company as a whole, not just to the production.

If you pay your actors $400 each, are they responsible for selling 23 tickets each? Of course not. The whole is larger than the sum of its parts, when we’re creating a play, we’re telling a story and all of the disparate parts should be handled with care and expertise. But when we’re marketing the show, we’re ALSO telling a story, and the image on a postcard is a chance to show your audience a vision, a piece of art, in a tangible and physical form. So you can’t say “this one aspect has to pay for itself in ticket sales.”

Check this out, and tell me you wouldn’t want a hard copy of this picture.

self portrait by Becky Byers, photoshopped by the brilliant Pete Boisvert

I mean, come on.

That’s just bad-ass.