Audience Development FAQs
What is audience development?
Audience development is about putting the audience at the heart of what you do.
It involves two key stages – the first part is knowing who your current and potential audiences are. Then, it’s all about putting the audience first, when it comes to programming, your customer experience, and marketing.
- It's thinking about who your audience is before you create work - why would it interest them?
- It's thinking about your venue - who can access it? Is it friendly and welcoming?
- It's thinking about marketing - are you speaking your audience's language? Are they in your imagery?
- It's listening to your audience - after it's over, do you know what your audience thinks? What about those who don't engage?
Isn’t that just marketing?
While it's often confused with marketing, audience development is integral to all aspects of making and sharing a cultural product. It will inform your programming choices, how you improve your overall customer experiences, and yes, how you market your work and speak the language of your target audiences.
What’s the first thing I should do?
Audience development should flow from your purpose. Think about what you want to achieve and how audiences fit into this.
If you are creating an audience development strategy for your organisation you’ll need to think about why you exist, what impacts you want to have, and what particular areas of work you’re focused on.
You might also be creating an audience development plan for a specific project. For example, if you’re a youth drama company, who is putting on an event for toddlers, then your outcomes and audience will be much more specific for that event than for your overall organisation.
What kind of results can I expect?
By improving your relationship with your current audiences, and reaching new audiences, you can increase revenue from ticket sales, improve funding applications, and most importantly, fulfill your purpose.
How can I find out about my audiences?
There are a wide variety of data sources available – this could come from ticketing data, surveys, focus groups, digital analytics on visitors to your website, or wider demographic information from the census about people living in your venue’s catchment area.
Once you’ve had a think about what sources you might have or want to use, our research team are always happy to have a chat about the best strategies for you
We don't sell tickets, so how can we know who's attending?
Ticketing free events is a great way to get valuable audience information, but there are plenty of ticket-free ways to learn about your attendees. Desk research, staff knowledge, surveys, focus groups and your website and social media analytics can all give you an insight into who’s coming, and who might be interested.
My audience is everyone - can I just target them instead of specific audience groups?
Sometimes targeting specific groups can make it feel like you are excluding others. But the truth is we all work with an audience in mind - most often someone just like ourselves. By creating and using a target audience based on real evidence, you’ll be helping to combat unconscious bias and keep your target audience front and centre of everything you create.
When you're working with limited resources (as most of us are in the cultural sector) focusing on one or a few target audiences will give you a much greater return for your efforts than attempting to be all things to all people.
How do we increase our audiences?
There are really only two ways to increase your audiences:
1. Get the people who already come to attend more often.
2. Get new people to come.
You can then try to convince those once-a-year bookers to come more often or try to attract more people like them. For option two, you can re-package your offer to appeal to new audiences, or you can develop new programming specifically to attract new audiences.
What’s the easiest audience to increase?
It costs between five to 25 times more to attract a new customer than to retain an existing one. So most often, the best audience to focus on is getting more of your existing customers to come more often. Sometimes though you’ve reached saturation point with a particular audience, so you need to move into new areas.
How can I make our work more accessible to section 75 groups?
Section 75 groups are not homogeneous, similar to when you are targeting young people, older people, women or men. There’s no one piece or style of work that will appeal to them. Instead, the focus should be on trying to better understand their wants and needs.
This is not always about making work specifically for or about these groups, but doing your audience research to identify barriers and goals. Why would they want to go, is your price point right, is your venue physically accessible, what are the preferred marketing channels, and what times are they most interested in attending at? Partnering with community groups already working with these groups can often be a good strategy.
I make touring work – how can I find out about my audiences?
Both yourself and the receiving venue have a vested interested in increasing audience numbers. So data-sharing between yourself and the venue is the best way to achieve this.
Once you know what you are using the data for and you are confident you are GDPR compliant, there is no reason why venues can’t share this data with you. Just remember to talk about this with the venue as early as possible – customers will need to agree to share data with you when they are booking with the venue.
Our Client Relationships Executive Claire Rose has written a great explainer blog on data sharing between producers and venues.
My customers are different from my audience - who am I targeting?
If you’re a production company selling work to venues, then you might wonder if your audience development plan should be targeting venue staff or ticket buyers?
Sometimes an audience member will go to a show specifically to see the work of the production company, sometimes they will go because they are loyal to the venue - but usually they buy a ticket and go because they want to see the show. So having a clear strategy on how you reach ticket-buyers is a good way to prove to venues that your work is a good investment. When you have audience data and numbers this can be used to further add to your selling-points.
Is anyone else doing this?
You can visit the case studies section of our site to see audience development in lots of different types of organisations across the UK and Ireland. We’re always looking for more examples of best practice in audience development, especially in Northern Ireland, so if you have an interesting story to tell – please get in touch.
EastSide Arts Festival Performance, Belfast
Does my boss need to know about this?
Yes! Audience development works across all levels in an organisation. It won’t work if it is limited to a marketing campaign. We run a ‘Network Not Work’ programme of events specifically designed for CEOs and strategic leaders in the cultural sector.
How long does it take?
It’s a long-term process. Generally, an audience development strategy will last around three years. But there are things you can do right now to start seeing improvements and building deeper connections with your audiences.
Audience development requires time and effort to be effective. But when you’re committed to it, the results will mean that you’re getting a much greater return on investment in terms of the time and money you spend creating work. Instead of concentrating on creating shows and hoping people will turn up, you’ll know there is an audience for the work before you put it out there.
Where can I get help?
You can find free audience development resources and training events on our site, but one of the best ways to get started is to book a free Audience Appointment. If you're looking to create a long-term audience development strategy, our From Purpose to Plan service could be for you. We'll start by helping to define your purpose and objectives and by the end you’ve pretty much got an achievable plan ready for action. Sessions start at £250 + VAT