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Talking Tickets 15 October 2021: What is “Engagement”, Really?! Facebook Isn’t the Platform for Ticket Sales! MLB’s Attendance is Down! And, More!

Hey There!

We are back for another newsletter. I dropped a great podcast this week with Simon Severino where we talk about growth, processes, and pricing. Simon has a trick that I have in my tool kit, helping people double sales in 90 days. 

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To the Tickets!


1. Rugby League’s Membership System Passes 200,000 Members:

Big Ideas:

  • In 4 years, the Rugby League’s Our League program has hit 200,000 members.
  • This platform gives the league access to great market research: qualitative and quantitative.
  • Having a solution like this helps Rugby League connect with fans in 154 countries. 

I dig this! 

First off, if you’ve never been to a rugby match, you should try and get to one. I’ve had a chance to see South Africa in DC and I’ve been at a bar in London for an Ireland and England Six Nations match. 

It is amazing stuff. 

Let’s look at three meaningful things that pop out of this story to me and we can wrap them back around to you in a moment. 

First, the 200,000 member number is important because that’s a serious number of memberships sold. 

This is a slightly different model than someone like Pearl Jam, The National, or a few other bands and teams use for their membership program because the basic membership can be signed up for with no cost

Once you’ve registered, there are purchase opportunities within the app. 

The second big thing about this membership scheme is that when you combine it with the InCrowd platform, it takes on much more of the life of something akin to the Australian Football League’s membership plan where you can support your team (Go Dees!) while having access to tickets, to streams, and to a community of supporters. 

In the case of Rugby League, their program reaches 154 countries and 124 UK postal codes. 

The third thing here is that these kinds of programs enable the league to have access to qualitative and quantitative data that is both forward-looking and shows purchase history. 

One way the data is usefully integrated is through the rewards program. 

What you are looking for is behavioral data to help you understand what folks value and what is really driving action. 

You want both types of data, qual and quant. 

How does this apply to y’all? 

Number one, think about how you are connecting with your audience now. 

I’ve been a huge fan of membership programs since my time in Seattle and the way that the Supersonics used their membership program that was built off some similar tech to the Starbucks rewards program. 

This type of program helps you know your customers, see what the behaviors are, and gives you great access to stay in touch with your customers in a meaningful way. 

So look at how you are building your relationship with your audience. 

How are you adding value? 

What are you doing to make the relationship a two-way street? 

For both of these, go look at Pearl Jam’s Ten Club

Think value. Think connection. Think relationship. 

Number two, the idea of buying beyond borders is a great thing to keep in mind now. 

Again, I’ve pointed y’all to the Melbourne Demons membership page in the past and I’ve even done research on other leagues in Australia to show you how cool a membership program can be for a fan that you have that isn’t in your market but still willing to be a supporter. 

The Rugby League’s numbers here show you both the opportunity that they’ve captured and the opportunity that remains because there are 195 countries in the world and there are if I’m not misreading this, over 1.8 million postal codes in the UK. (In the US, there are over 41,000 zip codes as a point of comparison.) 

So keep in mind how you can reach beyond the normal borders of your sales efforts. 

When I was in Las Vegas, I took Ken Troupe out to watch Spurs and we only missed out on watching with a Spurs’ Supporters Club because we couldn’t get a cab quickly enough to make kickoff. 

I’ve also watched Spurs with supporters clubs in:

  • London, duh! 
  • Sydney
  • Melbourne
  • New York City
  • Richmond, VA
  • Miami
  • Washington, DC

And, I met a huge Spurs fan from Singapore in the Hong Kong airport who was a card-carrying member of the Spurs OneHotspur club. I know because he showed me. 

So “Buying Beyond Borders” is real. 

Finally, look at what the data tells you.

There was a Twitter back and forth about “looking at data” and the executive was really only looking at one set of data that came from a central location that was then shared across the league. 

That’s a sign of the tyranny of the average and it is also an example of the data not necessarily being useful. 

You need to control your own research and look for the data that matters to you. 

Next week, I’m publishing a podcast conversation with Giles Edwards from Gasp in the UK, an ad agency. We talk about this idea at length and how context in every case matters. 

For y’all, you need to know this to start using data more effectively. 

You want some sort of qualitative data like individual conversations, focus groups, ethnography that is done locally, and that you are likely leading in some way. 

You want quantitative research as well from surveys and large data sets. You can find a lot of this by searching Google as long as you’ve done the work of figuring out what question you are trying to answer. 

Remember, I’ve taught y’all about Backward Market Research before.

This is where this applies. 

The key, do your research. Self-directed and steering clear of the average.

Combine all of this stuff together and you’ll get some interesting new ideas. 

2. MLB Attendance At a 37 Year Low:

Big Ideas:

  • Baseball’s bad trend lines continue to get worse. 
  • Baseball has hired a new CMO to tackle this issue.
  • Strategy before tactics

We’ve discussed my affection for the game of baseball and how much going to games at Safeco Field, Shea Stadium, Fenway Park, and Old Yankee Stadium have meant to me over the years. 

I’ve also been pretty consistent in sharing with y’all the need to put strategy before tactics. 

This story highlights a few bad trends for baseball:

  • Attendance is way down. This matters because it was falling before and even if you take the pandemic into consideration, the trend is problematic. 
  • TV viewership is falling as well. 

These things are fundamental issues that baseball is dealing with and they are potentially only going to be made worse by labor issues confronting baseball. 

In thinking through this story, it is important to note that MLB hired a new CMO and she needs time to get the ship in order, but after reading a profile someone shared with me this week, a couple of things about her standout:

  • It sounds like she is grounded in a similar train of thought to me when it comes to marketing meaning doing the job of proper marketing. 
  • Leading to a focus on strategy first, tactics second. 
  • It seems like she is starting with a full brand diagnosis…which is exactly the correct first step to take. If I were advising her or in the role, I’d say the first thing you have to do is diagnose the situation. 
  • Not getting caught up with tactics just to say something is being done. 

Going beyond these observations, what can I teach y’all about proper marketing as it relates to rebuilding the baseball fan base?

Let’s get three out of the way this morning. 

First, begin with a good diagnosis. 

You need to do some research: qualitative and quantitative research. 

A solid diagnosis takes time and you need to look at your brand tracking, update your segmentation, talk with loyalists, hit up your perceptual maps, focus on the brand’s heritage, and look to see what you’ve learned that you can use again or not use again. 

My favorite here is heritage because I think there is so much opportunity in using the heritage of your teams well that isn’t always tapped…but I don’t want to get ahead of myself. 

Second, think about the long and short of the situation. 

I’ve shared the research from the IPA in the UK before done by Les Binet and Peter Field. This week, I came across a piece that highlights this stuff from a different angle. 

Recognize that there isn’t a magic wand that will fix this today and that the accurate prognosis of the situation will require an investment in both the long and short of brand building and sales activation. 

In FMCG, that looks like 60/40, typically. In retail, a little different, maybe around 55/45. And, in my area, B2B, 50/50 is the number in most cases. 

Just know, you have to invest in both. 

Finally, going forward, do some sort of brand tracking. 

For young brands, this is tough because there isn’t always enough brand equity and name recognition to make the tracking helpful. 

But no matter what stage you are in, you are going to need to pay attention to your brand to make sure it is sending the message you want to send. There are any number of tools and scorecards that you can create to do your own brand tracking. 

I was working on a brand scoring exercise during the lockdowns in DC and I may share some of that data on my blog to allow y’all to see what I would put into a brand scoresheet. 

The key idea here is to do strategy, know where you are going, how you will get there, and track your progress. 

3. Facebook’s Troubles Hit Tickets Too:

Big Ideas: 

Ahhh…the universe has come bearing gifts for me this week because it allows me to share with you some examples of stuff I talk about all the time:

  • Strategy before tactics
  • Media neutral
  • Knowing your audience

Jesse shares a lot of good data and observations in his piece and the links in the “Big Ideas” can help you understand how I’ve informed my thinking over the years, but the big takeaway from Jesse’s piece is that:

  • People don’t like being tracked and they don’t trust Facebook with their data. 
  • Facebook isn’t working like it used to or, in some instances, at all. 
  • Experimentation is key now. 

In going through the examples I want to point out, let me run through each of them in the lens in the decline of the utility of Facebook. 

First, strategy before tactics. 

As the newsletter has matured over the last year or so, I’ve been consistent in sharing the idea that you have to do strategy before you can figure out what tactics to use. 

Setting your business up for success requires you to work through three distinct stages:

  • Diagnosis
  • Strategy
  • Implementation

You review and start over again. 

In reading through this example of Facebook, I am reminded that if you aren’t careful, you take a set-it and forget-it approach to your sales efforts, and then when something changes or goes wrong, you are caught flat-footed. 

Jesse shared that the decline of the utility of Facebook ads to drive ticket sales is similar across market segments concerts, theatre, arts, and sports. 

This means that you need tactical flexibility now more than ever. 

Unfortunately, too many organizations I’ve worked with have done exactly what our elementary school teachers told us not to do by putting all of their eggs in one basket. 

Putting strategy before tactics really means that a situation like this wouldn’t be catastrophic. You’d have a picture of the market and your Facebook advertising would really only be a segment of your larger plan and if you were doing your job well, a not overwhelming segment of your attack. 

This matters because if one algorithm changes, your business isn’t in danger. 

You might be pissed, but you wouldn’t be broke. 

Second, better decisions around tactical execution flows directly from the concept of media neutrality. 

What does the term mean?

Media Neutral is just a way of approaching the execution of your strategy that recognizes that you aren’t wed to any one platform or vehicle of communications, you go where your strategy and research leads you. 

The CNBC article talks about how Facebook was not reporting accurate numbers and I often talk with y’all about this idea that people say, “everyone is doing this.”

Both of these ideas highlight the need to be media neutral.

One, you don’t want to be at the mercy of one business being honest with you or dishonest. And, you, again, don’t want all of your eggs in one basket. 

Two, Peter Drucker said something like “what everyone knows is usually wrong.” This is how I feel right now about the people that are telling you that you have to be on TikTok or you had to be on Facebook.

No, you had to know what your market looked like, what your goals were, and how you were going to achieve them so that you could say, “Actually, Facebook works for my business and here’s why.”

The same goes for TikTok now just like Jesse points out. 

Finally, everything flows through the ability or inability to know your market. 

For the brokers, I’ve been telling y’all for years to control your customers. So for y’all, this advice isn’t new. 

On the primary side, know your audience and don’t hand over control if you don’t absolutely need to do so. 

Knowing your audience is key to a successful strategy. 

Remember, at the top, diagnosis. 

This is about doing research: small to large, qualitative to quantitative. 

Your research allows you to draw a picture of your market built on behaviors. 

The knowledge feeds your strategy, your strategy feeds your tactics, and it all rolls back into the diagnosis stage once again. 

The key is to know your audience and you don’t do that without actually coming in contact with the market through surveys, conversations, ethnography, and more. 

This is constant, but it helps your business perform better. It helps hide you from the impact of one partner controlling too much of your business. And, it typically makes you a lot more money. 

4. Is Engagement a Good Measure of Success?:

Big Ideas:

  • Engagement can be everything, but it is often worthless because it lacks specificity. 
  • Beware of buzzwords that don’t have context around them. Brand, strategy, inbound, and more are all terms that have been overused so much that they sound like BS or are depending on who is talking about them. 
  • Email is still the champ of online advertising and market development. 

I decided to put this one in this week because of my upcoming podcast conversation with Giles Edwards from London. He’s head of Gasp! an award winning advertising agency and one of the marketers I go to with ideas, thoughts, or just for fun. 

At the end of the podcast, we talked about “engagement” and what it really means because the term gets thrown around so much that it has become meaningless like other buzzwords and BS that have been stripped of their meaning like:

  • Brand
  • Strategy
  • Inbound 

In reading through this article, it is obvious that engagement is still being used as a catch-all in too many places. 

The thing that comes out of the conversation with Giles is that engagement isn’t meaningless, but it can be. As Giles puts it, “It could be everything or it could be nothing. The context matters.” 

Almost everyone I talk with in the world of tickets throws around the word “engagement” like it is the gold standard of marketing ideas. 

To me, it is lacking in specificity. 

What does the engagement mean? 

Is it about getting people to buy something? 

If so, what’s the response rate? How does that response compare to other ads you’ve run?

Is this engagement to get you to share something?

If so, how many folks did?

You could look at engagement as the number of folks that open your emails, click a link, or take an action. 

To use my numbers, over the last month:

  • On average, around 40% of folks that receive the email open it. Last week was a little low at 29%. So I figured I’d go a month to balance out in case one was too low.
  • On average, 13% of folks clicked on a link. Last week, 16% clicked a link. 
  • As for a CTA, the last month about 1% a week have taken the time to fill out the ‘Talking Tickets’ and ‘The Business of Fun’ survey to help me deliver more value here.

First, I showed the numbers across the month compared to one week to show that there will be fluctuations. Don’t take any one number as the gospel. 

Second, engagement needs some specificity. It is the “clicks” or “likes” and other garbage metrics that drive marketing’s perceived value into the ground. Another good bit from my conversation with Giles is where we actually define what brand purpose means to us. 

Spoiler: I say that my brand purpose and the value I put in marketing is directly related to my ability to make money due to my marketing skills. It isn’t about puppies and rainbows, but cash, jobs, profits, and productivity. 

Finally, if your primary metric of success is engagement, I’d be concerned that you haven’t done the proper job of strategy setting because you should be able to tie specific numbers to these kinds of activities. 

As an example, for 2021 I wanted to grow my personal brand awareness and the way that I was measuring that was through growth in my newsletter subscriptions, podcast subscriptions, and number of direct sales meetings I have. 

Why these?

Direct sales meetings come out of a better understanding of my brand. Newsletter subscribers come because I’ve done some good top of funnel brand building stuff that’s driven them to my newsletters. And, the podcast has been a huge driver of brand awareness and business development, putting money on both sides of the coin. 

In sports, engagement alone is often meaningless. 

We’ve seen that Facebook followers aren’t typically purchasing anything, but Facebook will take your money to help you get you more. We’ve seen that Twitter followers are easy to buy and that you can get BOTS to engage with your content or go after someone else’s content, rendering those things meaningless. 

The same pattern holds for theatres, bands, performing arts organizations, and anyone that is in the middle of driving revenue. In fact, over the years, the best performing piece of “social” content continues to be the humble email

The challenge really becomes making your email content valuable and not just spam. This is where social media can gain an undeserved advantage when you give a bad marketer email and social media, you’ll see that social media is likely showing higher engagement numbers than a poorly thought out email that isn’t valuable. 

Why?

Because some people will click on anything from their team. You can buy likes, followers, and “engagement” on social media. And, a lot of internet traffic is just fake so their are trolls and farms that elevate your numbers. 

To wrap up this lesson on engagement, you need to keep in mind three things:

  • Know what you are measuring and why. Be specific. Think SMART objectives and goals. 
  • Email marketing still works the best. Don’t be fooled. But your email needs to be worth opening. It is worth considering sending out less emails that have more value to get a higher open rate than just constantly blasting. 
  • Know your numbers. Track them religiously so that you can see what they are doing over time and you have a basis for what you need to know and do to get the outcomes you want. 

5. Links: 

  • SeatGeek is going public with a SPAC merger: This has been coming for a while now. The key to look for is what are the financials when the first public disclosures are released. Another thing that stood out to me was the talk about the brand considering the brand just went through a total makeover. 
  • A new B2B marketing study confirms my research: The most famous marketing book of this generation is called How Brands Grow by Byron Sharp. It talks about the power of “mental availability” and takes the approach of marketing as a science. I don’t buy everything here. I’m out of the Mark Ritson school of marketing is an art and a science, but the mental models that Sharp and his team come up with a valuable. And, in this case, 95/5 is valuable.
  • Like QVC but with a live event attached? This is interesting because I’ve pointed out to y’all over the years that bands, teams, and performers have strong connections with their audiences. As a thought experiment, imagine if Taylor Swift did a stream and hawked some new merchandise for sale during the stream, sold pieces of her outfit, or asked for contributions to a cause? 
  • Pakistan doesn’t really have any entertainment: I found this one pretty interesting because it talked about how the arts aren’t really available in repressive regimes. Thinking through the way that people throw around the term, “Orwellian”, to describe things they don’t agree with, the idea of radicalization of a society sidelining the arts is interesting to think about. 

I’ve got a Linktree with all of my links

Check out Booking Protect! Since tickets have gone on sale after lockdowns, between 30-70% of consumers have taken up refund protection, meaning that they are yearning for the peace of mind refund protection gives them. Refund protection is a great way to improve your service, add value, and create a new stream of revenue for your organization. 

Hook up with the folks at Activity Stream. As I mentioned in the engagement section, email is one of your best tools when used well and the Activate email tool will help you do just that. 

Get the NPS worksheet I created with the folks at Eventellect. Like I mentioned at the top, I talked about the topic in detail with Simon Severino on this week’s podcast. That’s three people from different parts of the business world telling you that NPS is important and can help you improve your business. Send me an email and I’ll send you the worksheet.

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