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Living in a Fairy Tale

Rather than give you another newsletter article on media consumption or consumer behavior or branding or churn, I thought I’d step back for a moment. I’ve been watching ABC's Once Upon A Time lately and two of the show’s characters struck me as particularly relevant to an issue I’ve been struggling with.

Mr. Gold is the show's version of Rumplestiltskin (you remember, from the fairy tale about spinning straw into gold). He’s the most powerful character on the show, partly through his ability to read the wishes of others and tell them exactly what they want to hear.

Mr. Glass is the personification of the evil witch’s mirror (the one who answers questions that start "mirror, mirror on the wall...") As a live character, he also specializes in telling people what they want to hear, to sometimes startling effect.

Beware the Golds and Glasses in your marketing circle! You’re being told what you want to hear when:

  • you’re told that you can change your results long-term by changing only one part of your company’s marketing efforts, and leaving the other things comfortably alone.
  • you’re told you can sustainably benefit your organization by instituting dynamic pricing without going through the painful work of demand analysis for ALL your tickets and pricing them ALL correctly.
  • you’re given a solution to a marketing challenge in a “black box,” with all the work being done by consultants or other outsiders without changing the work habits or culture of your department.
  • you’re encouraged to implement “quick fixes”, thus making and easy and quick systems for your box office or your selves.

You’re telling yourself (and others) what you want to hear when:

  • you’re building your annual budget on the model of previous ones, making incremental changes but using the same basic structure.
  • you hear yourself explaining changes in ticket sales by references to the economy or people in general being "too busy," or find yourself saying that audiences are different in your city.
  • you and your department regard change as impossible due to constraints or environmental challenges beyond your control. 

Changing the way we work, is, in itself, hard work. We cling to the way we've done things, resist demands to examine our beliefs, fall back on what worked (mostly) before. But I suggest that you begin to look for the Mr. Gold or Mr. Glass in your life. Stop listening to what you want to hear, and begin thinking more critically about how to make real changes. The performing arts are thriving, and innovation and willingless to change drive that success. If you lead an arts marketing effort and you think you can improve your outcomes with some simple and painless tweaks to what you've beeen doing, you're living in a fairy tale. 

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