From Prototypes to Performance
17 Mar 2013
Part 3: The Royal Exchange Theatre ‘Family Experience Programme’
This is the final part of a series of three blogs looking at the value of Audience Experience Design using a case study at the Royal Exchange Theatre (RXT) in Manchester. If you want to get up to speed, please click for Part 1: Focusing on the Blind Spot and Part 2: The Art of Possibility
For the rest of you, welcome back.
We’ve reached the exciting stage where, armed with a set of prototypes, pared down from a wonderful cornucopia of ideas, the cloth cut to fit the budget, we then tested 3D prototypes with an invited group of families, including dressing up in real theatrical costumes, 'trail testing' around the buidling, sample food and craft activities.
Given the prompt “You’re testing us, we’re not testing you”, and thus empowered, the families threw themselves into the task and delivered funny, insightful and incredibly useful feedback to help us hone the offer. A positive brand touch point in its own right!
Fast forward a few weeks, and with all the family feedback taken on board, it was all up and running: digital marketing to encourage families to come earlier; front line staff more attuned to the needs and wants of a family audience; a broader catering offer at different price points, and a new temporary Food Emporium to mitigate queuing pre-show and during the interval.
The one selected flagship idea taken forward wasThe Rat’s Lair. Here, the ground floor Education Lounge was refashioned into an unexpected dedicated family area. Designed by the team and built by a freelance technician, it was an atmospheric space that truly combined ‘artistry with magic’, as per the Experience Plan. Lavishly decorated - in a tatty, gothic kind of way - to looked like a rat’s den. Inside, there were dressing up activities, stand alone craft activities, comfy sofas, a wall of rat’s cages housing fake rats for the ‘Yeugh factor’ , and a stash of Family Welcome Trails to take people on an adventure around the building. It was less than we had imagined in our flights of informed-fancy, but it delivered.
You can have a peek at the prototyping session and The Rat's Lair here.
Observational research during the run of the show revealed a broad range of positive and creative family interactions in The Rat’s Lair:
- autonomous and collaborative play,
- individual and shared discovery,
- visible surprise, delight, happiness, enjoyment and pleasure,
- dressing up, twirling, posing, smiling, showing off, taking photos,
- imaginative play and role play,
- creative and focused craft activity,
- active kids and relaxed parents,
- comfort and ease,
- plenty of ‘Yeugh’!
In order to fully appreciate the importance of these observable behaviours they need to be contextualised. At a time in the customer journey when most theatres are focus on satisfactory customer care, generating income (food, programmes, merchandise) and getting people in and out of the auditorium safely, this modest project delivered a rich experience akin to those crafted by enlightened museum/gallery curators and educators. It took the theatre customer experience to new heights in a way that was specific, intended and crafted.
A basic on-line audience experience survey revealed predominantly higher ‘satisfaction’ ratings with facilities and services than previous shows. The Rat’s Lair scored higher than in its previous guise as the Education Room and was the highest ranked facility in the building. Audience members gave their experience the highest overall visitor star rating compared to previous shows. Had we the resource to conduct face-to-face research, we may have discovered additional experiential benefits that we had not planned for and thus built on, or ‘pain points’ we hadn’t anticipated that we could have learnt from.
The feedback we did obtain however compellingly demonstrates the largely untapped potential of our theatre buildings to enrich, engage and entertain audiences beyond the stage. At the internal staff de-brief, an exciting range of ideas was mooted that would further lever the RXT Brand Experience as a unique producing house that could connect with audiences and building visitors in previously unimagined ways.
Looking at the Family Experience programme through a different lens, this was a small project that punched above its weight when measured by a number of inclusive innovation criteria:
1. The theatre building is re-imagined as a site for richer audience engagement. The stage and Front of House are both exciting spaces.
2. The creative intervention must have an astute focus on the audience/brand experience.
3. Permission to play must be granted and made explicit.
4. The ‘design playground’ is non-hierarchical. Creative and core staff at all levels have equally valid creative contributions to make.
5. Team-led user prototyping is core, mitigating expensive ‘flops’ and engaging customers.
6. Selections are democratic, informed by specific experiential objectives with specific personas in mind.
7. Success is evaluated against experiential KPIs agreed by the team.
It became clear from staff feedback that this one-off project has dropped a depth-charge into the thinking of the RXT. I am excited to see how they take the learning forward, not just in relation to the audience experience offer, but also in how they work together in the future towards of a shared vision of that offer.
The focus of this project was quite narrow and time specific. Imagine now if it were adopted as a holistic programme of work where you widened your bandwidth to look at all your customer interfaces and stakeholder groups? Imagine if one of your core strategic objectives were to align audience delight with Brand Experience? Imagine if you had a central Audience Experience Plan designed to build brand strength, sharpen competitive advantage, generate revenue and drive audience acquisition, retention and loyalty.
Now wouldn’t that be a hugely rewarding (and strategically important) design playground to play in … anyone want to come play?
The Art of Possibility
13 Mar 2013
Part 2: The Royal Exchange Theatre ‘Family Experience Programme’
This is Part 2 of a series of 3 blogs looking at the value of Audience Experience Design using a case study at the Royal Exchange Theatre (RXT) in Manchester. If you want to get up to speed, please click here for Part 1: Focusing on the Blind Spot.
For the rest of you, welcome back.
I’ve called Part 2 ‘The Art of Possibility’ because one of the biggest challenges I encounter when working with mainstream, building-based arts organisations is individual and group thinking that has become stuck. Whilst there may be plenty of creative, imaginative input into what goes on stage, many other areas of the audience experience offer has improved incrementally at best – and most often remains unconsidered. Moreover, employees (who are custodians of the theatre) satisfy themselves with managing and maintaining the status quo because that is the path of least resistance.
The capacity to re-imagine, experiment and take risk beyond the limits of the stage has been undermined by the many economic, managerial, policy and societal challenges facing the arts today. We need to re-acquaint ourselves with the art of possibility for its own sake, regardless of do-ability. Without imagination and disruptive thinking to keep our offer fresh, appealing and relevant we run the risk of being blindsided by other sectors that do.
So … back to the programme.
Having reached the point of developing a Family Experience Plan, with clear, aspirational objectives, we needed to undergo four specific processes (based on the principles of Design Thinking) to realise the plan:
1: Optimise what we already have.
2: Innovate and create new platforms for value delivery.
3: Prototype, test, refine and deliver.
4: Evaluate and learn.
1. Optimise what we already have
Customer Journey Mapping revealed areas of mediocre performance (satisfaction points), unacceptable performance (pain points) and ‘hugs’ (delight points). All of these needed optimising. Ideas included:
Queue busting: more service points for buying refreshments, a safe place for families to relax whilst one family member became the ‘go-for’ and a walking sweet shop that approached customers rather than expecting them to queue at a static sales point.
Safety and security: a policy where no child is allowed to exit the building unaccompanied, and a dedicated meet up point for lost children.
Welcome: a personal greeting and goodbye at entrances, security guards dressed in friendlier uniforms and character hand puppets for ushers to welcome and interact with children.
Affordability and value-for-money: more varied catering options at different price points together with free activities.
2: Innovate and create new platforms for value delivery
Having optimised the existing offer, we needed to push performance further and think beyond the easy and the obvious. The team needed to cross over into new territory and create additional value, and so I facilitated them through a process of Creative Idea Generation designed to stimulate fresh thinking in answer to the question: In what ways might we deliver on our Family Experience Plan?. This session combined creative thinking games and classic brainstorming with SCAMPER techniques (http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newCT_02.htm) in order to unstick the team’s thinking. Over 150 ideas flowed out from this session which were clustered, evaluated and voted on until we landed on the following 7:
Prop Shop: a place where families can creatively experience what really happens in a producing theatre,
Wardrobe: where families can have fun dressing up, creating and playing characters, again referencing 'theatricality',
Scene settings: a series of changeable backdrops where children can role play and act out in costume, more theatricality,
Make a Play: a simple set of dialogue sheets children can mix and match to act out stories, even more theatricality,
Rat’s Lair: a chill out zone where families can relax away from the pre-show Front of House busy-ness,
Family Welcome Trail: a dedicated route where families can discover the building’s unique architecture and history,
Food Emporium: a beautifully designed food service area to help the queue-busting effort and complement the overall brand experience.
These are what I refer to as new service delivery and audience enrichment platforms. These particular ideas provide opportunities for families to experience ‘aliveness’, ‘pleasure’, and ‘creativity’.
The planned interventions also created a unique sense of Brand RXT. Making props, trying on costumes and role playing would connect audiences more fully with the ethos of this creative, artistic, producing theatre. The unique beauty and history of the building would be experienced more fully, directly and intimately via the family trail. Moreover, audiences would also encounter the thrill of discovering which famous faces had ‘trodden the boards’.
Advance marketing would encourage families to arrive earlier, play longer and thus potentially be willing to spend more. The concept of ‘memory making’ was also adopted: creating opportunities for families to take photos of themselves to keep and share with others via social media, thus augmenting awareness of the show and the amplified experience offer.
Then came more ‘fun’ as the team brought their ideas alive. Visual thinking, group dialogue, team challenges, Play Dough modeling and even Snoopy figurines populated a 'design playground' where the team could creatively develop the customer story. Paper prototypes were made and pitched to members of the Creative and Senior Management Team. Winning ideas were selected and a budget was assigned. Given the time and modest budget available for what was to be a pilot project we had to cut the cloth to fit. That was probably one of the biggest challenges of the whole project given the quality and breadth of the team’s aspirations.
What happened next? Part 3 will follow soon with details of Steps 3 and 4 - what was tested, what was delivered - together with an overview of what we achieved and the value of this approach.
Click here if you'd like to see images from the creative and prototyping worshops.
Focusing on the Blind Spot Part 1: The Royal Exchange Theatre ‘Family Experience Programme’
8 Mar 2013
This series of 3 blogs is about a project I recently delivered at The Royal Exchange Theatre (RXT) in Manchester. It provides a useful example of how to create enhanced audience value using Design Thinking and Experience Design principles … even on a modest scale.
I’ve called Part 1 of the blog ‘Focusing on the Blind Spot’ because, whilst most theatres believe they offer quality customer experiences (through customer care, safeguarding and Health and Safety), they remain ‘blind’ to the riches that are possible. From my experience in the arts and cultural sector during the past 20 years I've come to the conclusion that the potential of our theatre buildings to create and deliver augmented experiential value over and above what occurs on the stage itself is woefully under-utilised. As a result, our communities are losing out which in turn means the theatres are. Our theatres need to become be vibrant, creative focal points that deliver enriching experiences beyond the performed work and its outer walls.
And so to the programme …
In the Autumn of last year, I was invited by RXT to create and deliver a programme of extended Family Experience Design around their forthcoming production of Rat’s Tales, the venue’s first family Christmas show in a number of years, aimed at people aged from 8 to adulthood.
The aim was deliver a theatre visit that was enriched and extended in unexpected ways, creating a memorable family experience over and above the performance itself with a view to yielding loyalty.
I worked with a cross-functional team of audience-facing staff - from Operations, Front of House, Retail and Catering to Box Office, Education and Marketing – none of whom had previously worked together on a collaborative project.
Unfolding as a series of internal workshops, the first part of the Family Experience Programme was an exercise in classic Customer Experience Design: developing family personas, touch point analysis, mapping customer interactions and identifying key themes and issues. The perspectives brought to bear from this ‘coal-face’ team were rich and valuable and we unearthed some key areas for consideration:
1. the need for families to feel safe, secure and welcome in a potentially confusing building,
2. the importance of ‘ease’ in relation to the practical elements of their visit,
3. the proliferation of stress points, queuing in particular,
4. the desire for autonomy and a sense of belonging whether new to or familiar with the venue,
5. the long-term value of creating positive, emotional experiences throughout the customer journey,
7. the absence of RXT generated high quality family interactions to enhance an already ‘special night out’,
8. the opportunity to contextualise a re-imagined customer experience within a larger RXT Brand Experience.
As the discussions continued the team began to discover how fragmented and reactive customer care had become and questioned the level at which the customer experience bar had been set.
Is customer ‘satisfaction’ really the goal? How memorable does satisfaction make a venue in the face of increasing competition for people’s time, attention and money? Our aim became ‘customer delight’, and for that to happen we needed to push performance and the team’s collective aspirations far above the original bar.
Key to the growing movement of Customer Experience Management in the commercial sector is the concept of the Experience Plan; a strategic document that redefines all organisational outputs in relation to value-to-customer rather than solely value-to-business, and which informs the total quality management of the whole customer experience at every touch point.
From the perspective of the theatre sector this value does not reside exclusively in the ‘performance’ but in the whole Brand Experience; every customer touch point from ‘first contact’ to the present day. It is this over-arching Brand Experience that we need to conceive, craft and manage in order to push performance. Why? Because without a clear understanding of what our intended experience offer is how can we plan for it? How can we inspire our teams to deliver it? How do we know to what degree we've succeeded? And how can we communicate our value to our stakeholders and communities?
Returning back to the RXT we created a set of core family personas, empathy-mapped their specific needs, concerns and expectations (from the perspectives of the adult, the child and the group dynamics), and created a Family Audience Experience Plan - a series of intended experiential objectives that would enhance customer value around the specific production of Rat’s Tales. These objectives were:
1. Families should feel well looked after and special
This translated into: a ‘great welcome and a great goodbye’, the anticipation of needs, proactive help and support delivered with ‘the personal touch’.
2. Families need to experience ‘Ahh!’
This translated into: a sense of comfort and respite from the world outside; ease, safety and security.
3. Families regard RXT as ‘for the likes of me’
This translated into: a feeling of belonging, autonomy, and empowerment.
4. Families should experience ‘aliveness’
This translated into: surprise, excitement, pleasure, discovery and anticipation.
5. Families should encounter a unique RXT Brand Experience
This translated into: a fusion of artistry and magic, and enthrallment with the building’s unique architecture and history.
The RXT Family Experience Statement became our North Pole for everything that followed, keeping us on track and astutely focused on the intended family experience at all times. We rolled up our sleeves and got stuck in; a motivated team of ‘Experience Engineers’ tasked with creating customer delight by focussing on just one particular 'blind spot'
Here some images from the first session. Read what followed in the next installment …
Baby Boomers: probably the most exciting audience ever
13 Jan 2013
I read an interesting piece last week that got me thinking about the degree to which we ‘know’ our audiences. Take the ‘older audience’ for example. According to NESTA’s predictions for 2013, we are entering a year where Baby Boomers are now reaching their 50s and 60s, taking us to ‘the cusp of a shake-up of aging equivalent to the post-war explosion of youth culture’. Now ask yourself honestly, do you know what that means, and are you ready?
According to an increasing amount of research, column inches and digital whirrings on the subject, Baby Boomers today are happier, healthier, more active, more curious and more open-minded than their predecessors. Baby Boomers also do not perceive themselves as old, so why should we?
Pew Research Center found, in 2009, that "the older people get, the younger they feel – relatively speaking - with nearly half of all survey respondents aged 50 and older say they feel at least 10 years younger than their chronological age."
So, rather than ‘going out to pasture’ the world really is ‘their oyster’.
This prompted me to reflect on some of the research I have conducted with this demographic and the degrees to which the findings chime with this social phenomenon
Talking with over 55s and ‘newly retireds’ about their leisure activities revealed that the prospect of retiring or down-scaling work can be an exciting one as they seek to bring new experiences into their lives or do the things they’ve never had a chance to before. It can also be daunting dependent on the degree to which they had a ‘life’ outside work. Sometimes there is a void to be filled. For the museums service I was working with, this signaled a sea change in their thinking away from ‘Why aren’t they coming?’ to ‘How can we meet the adventurous needs and specific fears of this life stage?’
Recent research with middle-aged, middle-class, white female empty-nesters in Runcorn last year backs this up. They had all taken part in a community choir, singing alongside a professional company as part of a professional production in a professional venue. These women were intelligent, articulate and largely purposeless since their children left home. Their reasons for taking the plunge into something completely out of their comfort zone included meeting new people, trying something new, pushing past their limits, proving something to themselves and reclaiming their sense of self after years of raising a family.
“I suppose I’ve spent my adult life training, getting married, working and when I had young children life was just a treadmill to get from one day to the next. Now my youngest is 20 and the world is my oyster really and I’ve got the opportunity now to go out and do stuff I couldn’t do before.”
The impact of the project on all the women was transformational:
“I’ve realised I’ve got more to myself than being the mother of four children or my job.”
“It gave me a goal in my personal social life. My head was filled with things I wanted to do other than family and mundane things.”
“This is one of the best things I have done personally for myself because I did it for myself, not for anyone else in the family.”
“… it’s given me my own interest that’s mine, that people can share but they can’t take it away from me.”
I’ve also noticed an increasing appetite for risk and new experiences within mainstream older audiences who want to push the boundaries of their taste: transitioning from classic drama to new and devised work (Warwick Arts Centre), from classical ballet to other more expressive dance forms (Northern Ballet Theatre), and from classical concerts to contemporary music (Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival). What epitomizes these shifts is ‘tiredness’ with a familiar artform combined with the need for the new, the different, the stimulating. How fantastic is that?
And yet … to what degree are we consigning older audiences to out-dated stereotypes?
Rather than exhibiting an entrenched conservatism of taste, the Baby Boomer generation is really ‘up for it’. They are potentially the most exciting audiences we’ve ever had: whether they are coming into the arts for the first time, or expanding their repertoire of cultural experiences, or seeking new experiences to fulfill specific needs that the arts is perfectly placed to meet … we can and must deliver. And let’s not forget the value of spending quality time with grand children … this generation could be the arbiters of a whole new young audience.
So, lets throw away the old stereotypes and seek to understand, engage and shape experiences that directly appeal to this generation. And let us not forget, they are a HUGE market. In a hyper-competitive market, we need to be planning for it right now.
Reflections on an Amazing Couple of Days on Stockholm
20 Oct 2012
I was fortunate to have contributed to Audiences Norway’s annual conference in Stockholm a couple of weeks ago. This was my 4th Scandinavia conference in a year. Each time I attend one there I’m deeply impressed and inspired by the depth of engagement with the underpinning issues, the intellectual generosity of spirit that fuels richly rewarding conversations, and the fantastic hospitality and sense of camaraderie they provide.
So, whilst they are still fresh in my mind, I want to create a compendium of high points which have been fuelling my thoughts in the week since the Arts and Audiences 2012 Conference.
1. BIOPHILIA (Iceland): Adda Runa Valdimarsdottir discussed a ground-breaking in-schools project where nature, science and music come together in a hands-on creative learning phenomenon that is spreading across Europe like wildfire. Conceived by the music artist Bjork, the project took just one year to set up and roll out to Icelandic schools. Impressive toolkits filled with iPads and music/song apps enable children to explore nature, science and music via the exploration and creation of immersive experiences.
This fantastic example of agile practice fuelled by passion, application and vision shows just how quickly you can realise a project when you put your mind to it. Why is agility important in this context? Well, because Biophilia relies on the latest technology to deliver the best, most advanced user-experience possible. This being the case, it needs to keep pace with the rapid evolution of available digital technologies in order to remain innovative and relevant. Great stuff.
2. ARKEN MUSEUM OF MODERN ART (Denmark): Christina Weber, Head of Education, bowled me over when discussing the ethos behind a family audience development initiative, The Arken Project. The project flowed out from the organisational mission which begins, ‘The museum visitor’s encounter with the art is our main concern…’ As soon as she said this my ears pricked up and what followed was glorious music to them.
The project was powered by thinking differently rather than spending lots of money. It focused on developing ‘the quality of the visitor encounter here and now’ rather than on getting them to come back. The project was designed to create ‘visitor autonomy’ where families could experience the work ‘under their own steam’ without the help of other staff through a ‘buffet of assignments’. This astute focus on the experience-in-the-moment, combined with the carefully planned-for freedom of family visitors to co-author their own experiences and meanings demonstrate a laudable emphasis on visitor-driven value-creation that is, dare I say it, all too rare in the UK.
3. STAVANGERMUSEUM (Norway): Helga Nyman gave a fascinating talk about the Art-O-Meter, created by the museum to capture visitor responses to a Bill Viola installation entitled Tristran’s Ascension. Visitors first took part in a workshop designed to bring to awareness the deeper impacts of the piece before their thoughts, feelings and emotions in response to the work were recorded in an automatic touch-screen booth located nearby. The resulting film is a powerful testament to the human impact of art.
At a deeper level, the project challenges the museum’s interpretative authority by giving voice to people’s unique reactions, and in doing so, demonstrates internally and to the public that all views and interpretations of art are valid. It has also brought together an interpretative community where visitors can experience the full diversity of other people’s experiences. The video (see link) is in Norwegian. It doesn’t matter. Simply watch and feel the humanity and the impact of the work sing through.
4. NEW MUSIC : NEW AUDIENCES (Europe):Thomas Demidoff talked about an audience development project designed to re-imagine the concert platform and subsequent audience experience of contemporary classical music for a new generation of cultural listeners. Comprising 30 music ensembles across 17 different countries, this EU funded project will roll out over three years as a series of action-research projects. It looks absolutely fascinating and is very timely as our traditional audiences die off and go to the big concert hall in the sky. I will follow developments with interest on http://www.newaud.eu/
5. INCLUSION & DIVERSITY:this was the over-arching theme of the conference, and throughout the whole event there was a rich seam of debate that raised too many interesting points to mention in this blog. Here’s a snapshot of the questions that caught my attention:
How can arts institutions navigate the apparent polarity between creating an environment for art and creating one for audiences? What is the democratic responsibility of our arts institutions?
Do we need to rethink our mission statements in order to be more audience-centric?
How can we arrive at common goals that bring together artistic freedom/artistic quality with a focus on the audience and their experience?
Should artists have the liberty to express whatever they want or should they be burdened with the issue of 'access for all'?
In what ways can we create new platforms through which we can engage with audiences in a way that creates value for them?
Are our arts institutions temples, and if so, is this a good or a bad thing?
In what ways might we address the mismatch between funded diversity projects and what ‘diversity’ really means in today's cosmopolitan society?
So – rich food for thought there.
If any of these little snippets have piqued your curiosity, please do take a look at the Arts and Audiences website for details and video footage from the conference: http://artsandaudiences.com/
Empathy can deliver more value than market segmentation ever will
27 Mar 2012
I’ve been talking with a lot of people recently about audiences. Every single one of them admits they don’t know them as well as they’d like to.
So today I'd like to invite you to think about one element of your existing or potential audiences to see how well you know them ... the over 55s. Forget demographics, postcodes and reductive segmentation systems. Focus on the human factor. What is it like being an over 55? What are their choices, life challenges and opportunities? What might their current and latent needs be?
The first qualitative research project I ever conducted was with people aged 55 and over who had retired, or were about to retire. They were all recruited through local branches of trade unions and had worked long and hard as miners, nurses, pharmacists, shopkeepers etc. We talked about what it was like being them, about their quality of life, aspirations and fears, and the place and value of arts/culture in their lives up to now and into the future.
My assumptions (and yes, I know researchers aren’t supposed to have them, but hey, I’m human) were blasted out of the water. What might yours be?
Through the conversations we learnt that that an important distinguishing factor between those about to retire was the balance between social and solitary leisure activity in their lives: from community activism and team sports to knitting and reading.
Socially active people already had a cornucopia of 'action plans' for their retirement based on existing activity and revealed they would be continually on the look out for more. Their radar was in full swing, seeking opportunities for input, stimulation, enrichment and to be with other people in a meaningful, purposeful, active context.
Those people who were not socially active felt apprehensive about retirement. Whilst gardening, crosswords, craft and reading provided pleasurable, solitary antidotes to the hustle and bustle of work, retirement presented the prospect of isolation. Most felt at a loss as to how to fill the social void because they were not, by nature, gregarious people. What they wanted was something 'less-in-your-face', opportunities to pursue focused, relaxing activites, but perhaps in company.
Many of the people I spoke with were not culturally active (as an audience or visitor that is) and hadn't considered arts/cultural engagement as a retirement activity … but once they got talking about their needs the arts seemed perfectly placed to deliver on them. They were ripe for meaningful arts engagement, they just hadn't realised it ... and if I had asked what they needed they would not have mentioned the arts at all!
What followed was a process of working with these groups to shape and develop successful entry points into the needs we had uncovered. This (and not the 'art' per se) became the vehicle for meaningful audience development. All it took was a series of conversations and a little empathy ... and the process of talking with them was audience development in action, not just a means to an end.
This research was conducted nearly 20 years ago. A lot has changed. People now live with the prospect of working until they’re older, but they are also living fitter, healthier and longer lives. How will this impact on their needs and priorities when they reach the age of 55, 65, 75? How could the arts occupy a meaningful place in their lives in the lead up to or during retirement? And how are we planning for that NOW?
My point is that empathy can deliver more public and organisational value than market segmentation ever will. Empathy can shape your offer, craft messages, create meaning and enhance quality of life in a way that is hugely people-focused.
But why the Jane Fonda video? Because in this powerful talk (just over 11 minutes long) she speaks for her age in a way that is eloquent, articulate and profound ... and which might, for some of you, challenge your assumptions about the Third Age. I urge you to watch it. It’s deeply thought provoking. And whilst you watch it, think about empathy and the degree to which your really understand your audiences.
On Keeping Our Audiences at Arms Length
27 Feb 2012
The more I delve into the world of Experience Design, the more convinced I become that the arts and culture sector needs to embrace it as a core competency.
The more I immerse myself in the subject, the more obvious it becomes that we, the arts sector, need to focus more intensely on the audience experiences we are creating, and could create in the future.
When I talk about Audience/Visitor Experience Design in keynotes, workshops and with peers, I see people’s eyes lighting up at this viable strategic approach that can deliver the triple whammy of delivering on mission, growing audiences and generating revenue.
Even better, when I talk to those people whose eyes have lit up, I notice the reason behind this is they have reconnected with their passion. You know what I mean … the one about the arts being a fantastic, valuable thing; how it can enhance our quality of life and help us celebrate, explore, experience and express our humanity.
That’s why most of us have joined the arts profession isn’t it? Because we want an active role in bringing the arts to people and people to the arts.
But how quickly have our belief and passion been dimmed by the stark realities of having to sell tickets, hit targets and meet the specific, changing demands of grant giving bodies? I’ve run countless workshops recently where I’ve invited participants to reflect on their modus operandi at work. From young nubies to long-in-the-tooth die-hards, the majority, I’m sad to say, have become disconnected from their passion by The Bottom Line.
Bizarrely, this focus on The Bottom Line has resulted in us keeping audiences at arms length. We want their time, their attention, their money, their loyalty, their Twitter and Facebook mentions. We want them to engage with our programmes and initiatives, in person and on-line. But actually, in reality, what kind of relationship do we have with them? How well do we really know them? Engage with them? Care about how they experience us?
Now, there are some out there who perhaps regard me as a little maverick and not in the real world because of my ‘touchie-feelie’ focus on the audience experience. An alternative view is that my perspective is that of a values-driven, business-minded person who understands how to lever an organisation’s value to its audience, and thus the audience’s value to them.
And so, back to Experience Design.
Why is it so super?
In a nutshell, it develops products, processes, services, events and environments with the focus firmly placed on the quality of the customer experience. … and experience is our business. It’s all we have.
What value a performance, an object, an artwork if it is not experienced in the richest possible way? How can we hope to be desirable, relevant, meaningful, important and financially sustainable if we don’t continually focus on, refine and even re-imagine our experience offer so that people will come, engage, adopt?
If we could integrate Experience Design into the DNA of our profession, not only would it connect us to our passion, it would deliver real value for the audience and our business.
[My thank you to Gregg Fraley for his wonderful illustration above]
A Wake Up Call to the Importance of Audience Experience
31 Jan 2012
Experience is the new currency of business wealth creation in today’s society. It’s also the universal currency of value creation in our lives.
We are all in the act of curating our life’s experiences as part of the process of living, growing and becoming. Today, people are choosier and savvier about the experiences they want to have in order to bring value into their lives and shape their identities.
For years now global organisations such as Disney, Apple and Red Bull have invested millions in developing their experience offer. Their focus is no longer about just selling the product – a holiday, a computer, a drink - it’s about selling the ‘affective’ elements of the product. By ‘affective’ I mean a deeper connection with the product experience. This has led to a rapid commoditisation of experience and a gold rush on the practice of Experience Design.
So here’s the wake up call.
Such is our belief in the intrinsic value of the arts many of us have become complacent in proactively shaping and managing the experiences we offer; not necessarily the art itself, but those associated experiences that could create a stronger value chain around it e.g. customer service, meaning making, participation and co-creation.
Now is not the time for such complacency because we are no longer solely operating in a cultural economy, or even the leisure economy. We sit within a much larger, growing, dynamic and increasingly competitive economy … the Experience Economy, and organisations we wouldn’t ordinarily regard as ‘the competition' are competing.
Take Red Bull and its RED BULL CULTURE. Via its website, sponsored events, Live Art blog and reviews of dance, film, gaming and music Red Bull has aligned itself with grassroots, emergent, innovative cultural events.
The attached video sees Red Bull aligning itself with a groundbreaking fusion of Bach and Breakdance … not just a piece of dance, but a choreographic fusion of the ‘fugue’ form and a dance language people will understand. People will connect with the intricacies of Bach viscerally, spatially, intuitively. BRILLIANT … and take a look at how they position the PuSh Festival in relation to mainstream arts:
“While the rest of the world’s cultural capitals sleep to the strains of their zillionth production of Swan Lake, (Vancouver) has figured out that the start of a new year is actually the perfect time to showcase fresh work by groundbreaking live artists – among them Beat Nation Live, a unique collective of Aboriginal MCs, graffers, video artists and musicians who’re using hip-hop to communicate First Nations culture.”
And their events attract interest and crowds, like the Red Bull Art of Motion 2011 which took over the Southbank, London.
Now is the time to step up to the mark and compete in a world where there is a proliferation of commercialised experiences on offer; experiences that flow from, respond to and indeed shape societal and cultural trends; experiences which connect with, appeal to and attract people.
If we don’t act we run the risk of consigning arts and culture to the margins of this vast and growing Experience Economy. The need to focus on the audience experience therefore is unequivocal. It’s no longer a case of whether we can afford to, but rather, can we afford not to.