Teasing Messaging Strategy Out of Research

Posted by Mr. Clayton W. Lord, Oct 04, 2011 0 comments

Clayton Lord

At the place where marcomm* and advocacy meet, discussing our value in the landscape of possible activities is becoming increasingly important. Because at its core, both marcomm and advocacy are about where someone should put dollars, albeit on different scales.

In the most recent edition of WolfBrown’s e-newsletter, On Our Minds, Zach Kemp wrote about a study published in the Journal of Epedemiology & Community Health (abstract here) on the difference between the types of art that seem to generate the most health benefit for men and women. By looking at what the study calls “creative cultural activities” and “receptive cultural activities” (i.e. art that you do, like painting, singing, etc versus art that you watch, like theatre, concerts, exhibitions, etc) in a large-scale community study, the researchers were able to demonstrate, essentially, that women report more physiological benefits from doing and men report more physiological benefits from seeing.

This may seem a bit heady and esoteric, but I’m always interested in the place where hard science intersects with artistic consumption, as that’s often (if you dig) a good place to start thinking about good marketing.

In the case of this study, and unrelated to the men/women thing (it occurred in both sexes), “the number of participants reporting relatively good health, good satisfaction with life, low anxiety and low depression increased in relation to increased number and frequency of participation  in different cultural activities.”

Selling art as healthy, of course, won’t work. But creative messaging would.

I remember, for example, a subscription campaign for the Pittsburgh Public Theater that I saw from years ago that featured loyal subscribers talking about what they got out of the public, and it was things like social connection, relaxation, intellectual stimulation…feeling good.

As part of our intrinsic impact work over the past year, we have been interviewing a small number of theatre patrons in the Bay Area to try and better understand why they choose to go to theatre, and the results reveal both how articulate people can really be about such choices and a different vocabulary than is sometimes used by people inside arts organizations.

The patrons interviewed talked a lot about social connection, and about emotional connection to the play, the people in it, and the aesthetic. When asked about particularly memorable theatre experiences, they tended to latch on to particular moments within a whole work, often through visual or auditory cues like a piece of scenery, a feather on one costume or a particular chord in a song—and from there, when prodded, their memories exploded back up until their eyes focused off in the distance and welled with tears and their mouths turned into a tiny smile as they remembered this moment.

“I need to be taken out of myself, sometimes,” says Sean McKenna, one of the people we interviewed for intrinsic impact. “You inhabit the world of these people, and you get involved in what they want, and away from what you want.”

For those of us who, on whatever scale, spend our days jumping up and down and saying “notice us, we’re worthy,” celebrating the clear, measured, science-based effects of our work, while perhaps not sexy and certainly not the whole story, gives us a new legitimacy with a certain important group—because when you don’t live and breathe art and artmaking all day, you don’t take it as nearly as much of a given that such activities are necessary to a healthy society.

I think data—tables and graphs and all that stuff that many of us find so boring—can make our conversations easier, can make us smarter, and can make the interaction at the center of what we do more comprehensive, more fulfilling and more successful.

*Editors note: For readers new to arts marketing, marcomm is an abbreviation for "marketing communications." Marcom is targeted interaction with customers and prospects using one or more media, such as direct mail, newspapers and magazines, television, radio, billboards, telemarketing, and the Internet. A marketing communications campaign may use a single approach, but more frequently combines several.

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