BLOG 13th May 2021

First impressions do matter

What is audience development? We’re checking in once again to make sure this vague and often misinterpreted term is better understood. At thrive, we discuss in length about how we can explain audience development quickly, with simple words, and sum up everything it entails in just a couple of sentences. The best way to put it is that it all comes down to relationship building. This is what we do here, we help arts, culture and heritage organisations build relationships with people i.e. audiences.

This year, we want to help you work through the various stages of your relationship with your audiences, from the first time they hear about you, the first time they visit, when they return to when they become loyal audiences. Doesn’t that look a lot like a typical customer journey? The main character of this customer journey is an audience member, a person who loves to engage with arts and culture, someone with wants and needs you can satisfy. In this blog, we are going to start at the beginning: when someone discovers the existence of your organisation for the first time and how first impressions matter.

A place that is warm, friendly and makes you feel good

We all know the quote ‘never judge a book by its cover’ and although we know we shouldn’t, let’s be honest, we all make decisions based on our first impressions about something or someone after the first 5 seconds of being introduced to them.

How someone acts, presents themselves, speaks or dresses guides our opinion on whether they are ‘for us’ or not. It’s not any different when it comes to businesses, organisations or brands. We can all think of a bar we wouldn’t go to because it’s ‘too hipster’ or ‘too formal and stuck-up’ and at the same time, we can all think of somewhere where we love to go, because it is warm, friendly and makes you feel good.

How does your organisation, venue or festival make people feel?

Ask yourself and ask your team to answer this question frankly: what is the feel of your organisation? Then go to your audience and ask them the same question. Is it the same answer? Or do they have a different perception of what you represent for them? This is such a key to audience development, relationship building and building loyalty.

First impressions aren’t created when someone enters your building (if you have one), but when they hear of you for the first time. Be it word of mouth, a flyer, a poster, your website or on social media. Although you can’t anticipate how people interpret the image you reflect, you can control your message i.e. what you share and how you say it.

‘Copywriting is the art and science of strategically delivering words that get people to take some form of action.’

The following are all elements that have an impact on people’s first impressions and could be used as a checklist for you to go through when it comes to your own organisation:

  • The tone you use in your copy. Is it formal? Is it funny? Is it serious? Is it quirky?
  • What images are you using? We often hear that organisations are open to ‘everyone’- that’s a very wide range of people to show and speak to. Is everyone represented in your images? Is it diverse and represents all ages, abilities, and ethnicities?
  • What about your marketing channels? Are they relevant to your audience? Where and when are you delivering your messages? How does your audience engage with your communication?
  • Are you accessible? We mean both in terms of physical and online access. Get someone from outside your organisation to test your user experience.

We cannot tell you what’s the right or wrong way to do these things because it all depends on who your audience is. Knowing how your audience lives their life is the key to unlocking where they find out information, when they have free time, who they attend with and what they want from a cultural experience.

Marketing and copywriting is not audience development, it’s just a small part of it. Over the next year we will take you through each step of the audience journey, and for the meantime, we’ll let you think: how can you make sure you make a lovely first impression?


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

Arts Council of Northern Ireland Logo


Claire Rose Canavan

Client Relationships Executive client@wewillthrive.co.uk

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