Lean Strategies for Patron Engagement

Posted by Jessyca Holland, Oct 06, 2014 1 comment

Jessyca Holland Jessyca Holland

There are a lot of obstacles a person must overcome during any given day to engage in your art: traffic, finding a babysitter, transportation - the list can go on. Sometimes people are just plain tired. It is much easier to order up entertainment at home with on-demand options readily available through just a few clicks. So how do we overcome the forces that block patron engagement?

“Get out of the building!” It is the mantra of serial-entrepreneur, Steve Blank, and the cornerstone of “lean” marketing principles further popularized by Eric Reis in his book, The Lean Startup. Both Blank and Reis focus on a concept known as customer discovery. In short, customer (patron) discovery is about solving the customer’s needs by testing product concepts. For artists and arts organizations, this may involve conducting customer interviews, creating prototypes, gathering feedback and validating the right market. In other words, the patron is integral to the process and the focus of the creative offering (the art itself).

Artists and art organizations can cut out a lot of marketing “fat” by going straight to the patron. We often make a lot of assumptions about what makes a patron tick but until we test those assumptions they are only a series of guesses. For example: an artist may create a problem statement such as, “my patrons prefer to purchase my work in person.” Until the artist gathers enough feedback, she may not have enough information to draw a definitive conclusion. How patrons prefer to purchase artwork may vary by age demographics, the type of art work, and the purpose for which the patron makes the purchase. These factors may not be answered through simply tracking numbers on a website. How does the artist find out the information she seeks? She conducts interviews with past patrons and prospective patrons. This is an actual example of an artist with whom I worked. In this case, the artist discovered through interviews that her patron base preferred to browse online but purchase in person out of her studio or at a gallery representing her work. Her problem statement was validated.

Another tenant of customer discovery is prototyping. This may include the use of a minimum viable product (MVP). MVP isn’t to be confused with low quality but it may mean that the art offering is scaled back. For example, an artist creates prints to promote his work or a theatre company commissioning a new play invites patrons to participate in a workshop reading. An MVP could also be a blog that documents the creation of a performance, or the MVP may be a video of an artist’s process. In both instances, there is an opportunity to use the MVP to ask the patron for feedback. This engagement creates a meaningful relationship between the art maker and the patron.

At the core of customer discovery in the arts is the patron. The idea is not to change your art, but it may inform how you package your art, distribute your art, or create content marketing that is full of rich context for the patron. Customer discovery goes beyond the typical survey. It does take time to conduct the interviews, but think about the money you can save by converting prospects to patrons through meaningful dialogue.

Need examples of types of interview questions? This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but feel free to use, adapt, and tweak for your journey into customer discovery:

1. “What is the role of art in your life?"

2. “Tell me about your art purchasing experiences. Do you typically purchase work online, at auction, in a gallery, or other?

3. “Tell me about your most recent live performance experience? Did you see with a friend? How did you purchase the tickets, online or at the box office?

4. “Does anyone else in your house purchase art/attend live performing arts? Do the two of you typically attend art openings, gallery events, or performing arts shows together? (for a spouse or partner)”

5. “Think about a specific time when you purchased art/attended a show. What decisions lead up to purchasing art/attending a show? Could the experience have been better? How? Why? What moments about the experience pop out in your memory?”

6. “Describe how you feel when you purchase that perfect piece/attend that perfect show?”

7. “Have you ever regretted an art (or ticket) purchase?” (if so, why?)

TIP: Ask diagnostic questions and remember that qualitative responses make great marketing copy.


Jessyca Holland will be speaking at our National Arts Marketing Project Conference in Atlanta, November 7 – 10, in the session Parallel Awesomeness: Lessons in Marketing from the Startup Movement.

The Arts Marketing 2014 Blog Salon is generously sponsored by Patron Technology.

1 responses for Lean Strategies for Patron Engagement


Ms. Rachel A. Ciprotti says
October 07, 2014 at 9:42 am

Great post! Gets people thinking about not just making assumptions when you can find actual data on your audience preferences.

One key thing to think about when doing feedback surveys is that you are talking to your current audience base. If you're trying to grow your audience, some of the preferences of your current base may be holding back new audiences. It's a tricky thing!

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