The Switching Costs of Live Art

Life is busy. I get it. I was recently discussing with a friend about how small things like making a dental appointment for my kids seems like such a hassle. But I do it. I do it because I love my kids and I understand the value of good dental health. The cost of NOT taking care of your teeth is much greater than taking ten minutes to make a phone call, pulling your kids out of school and watching crappy t.v. in the waiting room (it’s always between crappy t.v. & crappy magazines). Dental cleanings have a clear value associated with them.

I started thinking about the barriers to experiencing live art. It seems that the forces that stop people from experiencing live art are much, much greater than direct competitors. And it isn’t as simple as just understanding indirect competition. What often stops us, really, are the substitutes to live art, and more specifically: switching costs.

What are switching costs? I like this definition:

The negative costs that a consumer incurs as a result of changing suppliers, brands or products. Although

Photo of three switches
Control panel with swithces in old electricity distribution center.

most prevalent switching costs are monetary in nature, there are also psychological, effort- and time-based switching costs. Read more

So what does this have to do with experiencing art in person? Let’s pretend!

Say I want to take my husband out on a date. Our normal Saturday night routine is hanging out with a glass of wine (or more…don’t judge) at home. We try not to give in too often to the sugar cravings of our kids (remember the dentist) but, hey, it’s a special Saturday. We are also going to rent a video on-demand through our Roku box.

  • Wine – $8 with our Kroger Plus Card (again, don’t judge…Frontera makes a decent Cab-Merlot mix)
  • Candy – $10 for 4 people
  • Movie – $4 for 24 hours through Amazon On Demand

Date Night on a Saturday evening:

  • Theatre tickets for 2 – $70 bucks (and yes, I work for a nonprofit so I know that this price doesn’t even come close to break-even on the total cost to produce)
  • Dinner – $50 (being conservative here) while optional and not directly related to experiencing live art, it still fits within our definition as a psychological factor and actual expense incurred during the switch from movie-at-home to night out with live art.

I don’t even have to add babysitting because I have older kids, but if I did that would make the switching cost even higher.

A photo of a couple watching tv looking very board
Experiencing something new is a good reason to leave the house!

Now, this is not to illustrate how expensive experiencing art can be. In my opinion well worth the expense assuming I pick a good show to see. What I really want to demonstrate is how incredibly important it is to overcome this barrier in the market place. How do we do it? Is your arts businesses even discussing this force?

Tactic 1 – demonstrate value. This will not happen if our only message to the greater community is that art is good for the local economy. It will not happen if art organizations do not get to know the wants, needs and desires of their patrons. It will not happen if you don’t develop relationships with your patrons. How do you do that? Answer: shameless C4 Atlanta plug for one of our services, The Arts & Culture Census. The other method is to purchase a ticketing/CRM system that helps you achieve above goals. Surveys are also useful instruments for pushing and receiving information. Make sure you get a large enough respondent sample to work with (as was the advice of one of our board members when C4 Atlanta sent out a marketing survey).

Tactic 2 – Really great messaging. This goes back to tactic one. You can’t message to the world. Target your message and make it appeal to the part of the human brain that drives behavior–start with the “why.” Before you can do that, you must understand what behavior it is you wish to change: purchasing, signing up for your email list, volunteering, donating. Each behavior may require a different message.

Tactic 3 – Control what you can control. Make seeing your art easy. Whether you are distributing online or in person, offer clean paths to get to your art. I “bail” on websites with too much clutter. There is a lot of noise out there in the world. Cut through it for your patron.

In another blog, we will tackle price, product & promotion. Teaser: lowering or discounting your creative offering isn’t the only tactic for driving sales. In fact, it may work against you…and the rest of the arts economy!

…now I need to make that dental appointment!


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