Building critical mass

Arts Centre Melbourne is the first organisation in Australia to go live with MHM Relationships, the online box office app developed by Morris Hargreaves McIntyre. MHM Relationships enables Arts Centre Melbourne to target and communicate with audiences based on their values, motivations and sought outcomes from cultural experiences, rather than demographic data or what they have previously attended. 

Ten years of box office analysis has shown MHM where patterns in booking behaviour data are found, they tend to be retrospective rather than insightful or predictive. This leads marketers to practice audience under-development – focusing on encouraging stasis – rather than audience development – taking audiences on a journey of discovery. The problem with the data traditionally held in the box office is that while it can describe what current audiences have done to date, it can never reveal why they’ve done these things, or how they feel about them. 

Culture Segments gives real insight into why people attended.  

The app works by asking bookers a very small, elegant set of ‘Golden Questions’ which can then tag the respondent’s segment in their record. Implementing and integrating the app into Tessitura happened in just three months. With Culture Segments at the core of their re-visioning, Arts Centre Melbourne recalibrated their planning so they were artistically-led and audience focused.  This meant 80 members of staff (from departments as diverse as catering, IT, technical, development as well as marketing) all engaged with segmentation and the potential for the organisation through a series of workshops.

The workshop program included an inspiring cross-departmental session where programmers and marketers threw down a gauntlet to use Culture Segments to ‘solve’ issues around shows which were potentially tricky to position or sell.

The most compelling example was The Yard – a piece of contemporary dance created by Australian choreographer Shaun Parker. The work was performed by a combination of street dancers from Sydney’s inner western suburbs and professional dancers with themes around bullying, based on Golding’s Lord of the Flies. The team at Arts Centre Melbourne created differentiated messaging designed to resonate with each of three priority target segments.

Segment targets and key messages included:

  • Essence: focus on the work of Shaun Parker (award-winning choreographer which is being programmed into festivals throughout Australia and internationally) and artistic process
  • Stimulation: Be the first to experience the debut performance in Melbourne. Edgy work which will have everyone talking – jam-packed with contemporary issues
  • Expression: strong emphasis on the non-professional street dancers.  The staff workshop also decided a post-show discussion, focused on bullying to be programmed.

This debate was implemented a week later (promoted only through social media). The primary focus was the Expression segment but we knew it would also appeal to Stimulation and Essence. Both the debate and show exceeded expectations (internally) as well as inspiring the following audience comment on the Arts Centre’s Facebook page:‘Never before have I felt so connected with what Arts Centre Melbourne is doing.  Thank you to all those who make this place such an incredible place to express, explore and evolve.’

As a parallel process to the workshops, a three-month research pilot was undertaken, segmenting audiences for a range of different works – from family performances to cabaret.
This initial research highlighted how:

  • Family audiences are well served but have differing information needs, depending on their segment profile
  • The digital reach of Arts Centre Melbourne was good – but could go even further
  • The awareness of the provenance of work performed was high
  • Visitors to the exhibition space are vital in developing audiences for Arts Centre Melbourne as they were far more likely to be new to the organisation than other work (which was performance based).  Exhibition attenders were also more likely to speak a language other than English at home.

All of this work built critical mass, so by the time MHM Relationships was implemented, all staff involved understood the ideas and were committed to the concepts underpinning it.  This was vital, as expertise in IT, box office systems, marketing and communications often needed to be shared with real clarity.

When we moved from test data to real time, the hunger for knowledge about the segment profile of audiences was all encompassing and organisation-wide.  There was a flurry of emails asking about the segment breakdown in relation to the performances booked.

Since the launch date, there’s been a steady daily response of 20% of bookers answering the questions as part of the online booking process.  The top three segments remain Essence, Expression and Stimulation and there are great plans to develop the Affirmation segment. 

One of the fundamental challenges of arts marketing is in developing long-term, meaningful relationships with audiences. The need to sell tickets for shows can be counter-productive since every time a show-based sales message is transmitted it reinforces the insistence that the organisation sees the audience member as a ‘customer’ and the relationship they seek with them is transactional. What Culture Segments enables Arts Centre Melbourne to do is become truly audience focused by transmitting messages which reflect the needs and desires of the audience and how they will engage with the work – rather than pushing the features of each different show in order to push seats.

Serious campaign planning is underway for the Australian summer/ autumn season and beyond.  The difference is the audience, not just the show, is now at the centre of these plans. Watch this space.

We knew it was a leap of faith to embrace a new system so readily, but having previously worked with MHM, I trust their approach and rigour of application. As an organisation we are all encouraged and inspired by the work so far; and the understanding of culture segments across the arts sector has created a shared, and specific, language when discussing potential audiences – rather than simply talking about ‘genre’ and ‘age’ – which is genuinely exciting and creative and in time should reap great results.

- Sarah Hunt, Executive Programming, Marketing & Media

Lucy consults, plans and delivers work for the cultural sector in Australia in partnership with MHM...

Image for Culture Segments

Culture Segments

MHM Relationships