BLOG 6th January 2021

Audiences in need of TLC: A talk about relationships and loyalty

Happy New Year! It does feel a bit odd to wish you a happy new year considering the current restrictions but we are hoping for 2021 to bring some joy to you, to us and to audiences.

We’re kicking off the year with the fourth step of audience development: strengthening your relationship with your audiences and increasing their loyalty to you. Previous steps we dug into last year included why you should cherish your relationship with your audiences, how to get to know them better with the tools you already have, and figuring out what to do next in line with your purpose.

Why is it important now more than ever to talk about strengthening your relationship with your audiences? Because 2020 imposed a physical distance. There is a danger in losing connection and relevance. We all know that relationships take work – in good times and bad. You don’t want to be a fair-weather friend, only speaking to your audience when you have a programme on offer or tickets on sale. Our latest audience research, Culture Beyond Covid, showed that 41% of NI audiences aren’t confident cultural organisations have kept them informed of their plans. Your audiences want to hear from you so let them know they’re in your thoughts and that you miss them as much as they miss you.

How to define loyalty?

We all have different ideas of what loyalty means. For some, it’s a basic point and reward system like your Tesco Clubcard. The more you buy, the more points you get, the more offers and vouchers you pile up. It’s an endless spending circle but does it mean you’re actually loyal to Tesco? Probably not. You probably buy groceries in other supermarkets too. So again, what is loyalty?

Loyalty is a strong feeling of friendship, support or duty towards someone or something. It is to be faithful to a person or an organisation because we love them so much and they bring us so much joy that it becomes unthinkable to go elsewhere. Try to think about examples in your own day-to-day life. Who and what are the things you feel that much connected to?

  • It could be your favourite band. You listen to their music every day, you go see them each time they play in your city, you buy all their merch and you engage with all their content.
  • It could be your favourite coffee shop. You go there every morning to get your takeaway coffee, staff know your name and start preparing your order before you even ask them to. At this stage, they know you very well, like a friend.
  • It could be your iPhone. You bought your first 5 years ago and you can’t see yourself switching to a different brand. You enjoy the Apple user design and experience, you think their customer support is always helpful and you believe all Apple products equal unquestionable quality.

You get the gist. Now try to think, what is it about these things you’re loyal to that make you loyal? Without knowing what you picked, I can tell you that it’s because they make you happy, they make you feel part of something, they care about you and they know you. You feel loved so you love them back.

In an arts and culture context, the question is how to get audiences to feel this way about your organisation?

How do you rate yourself?

Before elaborating a loyalty strategy and reaching out to your audiences, you need to understand where your loyalty game is currently. Speaking of game, let’s play one. We’ll put a full-length mirror in front of your organisation and please tell us what you see, rating yourself between 0 and 10 (10 means a big YES, 0 means not at all) for each question:

  • Does your organisation offer a unique product?
  • Can your audience trust you?
  • Is there a feeling of community amongst your audience members?
  • Does your audience feel a strong emotional connection with you?
  • Are you and your audience exclusive? Or do they sometimes sneak out to visit your competitors?
  • Are they multiple attenders and happy returning customers?

It can be useful to ask other members of your team to answer these questions too. You’ll be surprised at the different perceptions each of you have. It is also very likely you rated yourself low on multiple attendance but high on uniqueness. In this case, how can you improve it? This rating game is great to identify your weaknesses so you know where to spend your energy, but it is also a fantastic way to pinpoint your strengths.

Our top tip: Find out who your most loyal audience members are and ask them directly why they always come back. What is it about you that they can’t get enough of? Their answer will be like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – invaluable!

Use what you know about your audiences to motivate them

Now that you know more about where you stand, try to improve the areas you scored lowest. If you’ve followed the previous steps of audience development, you’ve already collected some information about your audiences: demographics, what they like and don’t like, their motivations and barriers, as well as their behaviour. Use this data to perfect your strategy and segment your audiences based on their loyalty.

Looking at your audience’s journey is also another way to know where, when and how you can strengthen your relationship with them. We recently wrote a case study about the Edinburgh Festival Fringe where we describe head of marketing Olly Davies’ trip to the shop analogy. It’s a great example of what can be done to get audiences to come back to you without hesitation.

Communication, respect, trust

That’s a motto we never get tired of repeating because they are really the Holy Trinity of loyalty (and audience development). You need all 3 for a healthy relationship with your audiences.

Loyalty during Covid

Your relationship with your audiences did not end with the closure of your venue or your inability to deliver your programme in-person. Relationships need TLC all the time, rain or shine. Think about how you’ve been checking in on close friends and family since the beginning of the pandemic. Do the same with your audiences. Warm and fuzzy feeling for everyone, guaranteed.

What next?

Until mid-February, we’ll be bringing you new content, events and resources about loyalty. We’ll also be sharing findings from our Culture Beyond Covid for Heritage audience research and more insights we think you’ll find useful. Sign up to our newsletter if you don’t want to miss any of it.

If you’d like us to give you some advice on a project you’ve been working on, we’re always free for a chat. Feel free to get in touch with Claire-Rose to schedule a meeting.


This work is supported by our annual funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

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