It's inexpensive, it's effective, and it's growing fast. Why push marketing--through email, social and mobile--will soon dominate live music.
Imagine looking at your smartphone and seeing a video text message from the singer of one of your favorite bands, letting you know about an upcoming show in your area. You touch a link to buy a ticket, and a few for your friends, and forward your friends their tickets digitally. Since you've opted in through your phone, on the way to the show a text message informs you of a traffic-dodging route to the venue and where to find the best available parking.
You flash a bar code on your mobile to gain entrance to the show, and get another text about a deal on hot dogs at the stage-left concession stand, along with a discount on merch. During the show, in between uploading photos and video to your social networks, you text a song request to the band. As the final encore ends and you head for the exit, you get a video message of the band playing your request before you've even found your car. You can purchase the single if you want.
The next morning, another text thanks you for coming--and, by the way, if you didn't get a T-shirt, here's a link to online merch. Or maybe you're interested in a good deal on tickets to a show next week? Big Brother be damned, you've been "pushed," and you like it.
That day is now for some live events, and potentially thousands more by the end of the year. Welcome to the dynamic new world of "push" marketing. These tools, and many others in development, are selling tickets and changing the way the music industry connects with fans who demand customized messaging and a high level of engagement if they're going to stay tuned in.
The live entertainment industry, while thriving, still struggles to sell out beyond the elite acts, with an estimated 30%-50% of inventory going unsold each year. Research from multiple sources indicates that, second only to price resistance, lack of awareness is the reason fans don't attend any given show.
So, how to cut through the clutter in a world of 360-degree, 24/7 messaging? Enter the pushers.
A recent survey by live music discovery app Bandsintown and Insight Strategy Group indicated that even the most engaged fans overwhelmingly prefer to find out about concerts through push notifications, as opposed to searching for events on their own.
We're not talking about old-school, carpet-bomb email blasts. While definitions vary, for the purposes of this analysis, push marketing is a targeted digital call to action: proactive, overt communication with consumers in the form of strategic emails, social-media notifications, mobile messaging, interest-specific online advertising through retargeting and laser-focused database marketing.
"The difference between push marketing and old-style marketing is precision," Live Nation co-president of North American concerts Mark Campana says. "You're able to speak directly to a fan and, more importantly, you're able to talk to a fan you know has a genuine interest in the topic. It allows you to identify the fan, build awareness of the event with that fan, and ultimately sell them tickets."
Sales reflect the value of this outreach. Research by Ticketmaster in conjunction with Google indicates that nearly 40% of ticket buyers are influenced by push marketing. Ticketmaster doesn't include social media in its internal definition of push, but the same survey indicates that 34% of buyers were influenced by word-of-mouth, including social media.
"The old 'blast and pray' mentality is gone," Ticketmaster COO of North American business operations Jared Smith says. "Every piece of content that comes off of our platform today is personalized in some way, and when you do that, you dramatically decrease the amount of people that decide to tune you out."
What's driving this revolution is the fact that most fans want to be messaged, some to the exclusion of all other advertising. In fact, for some artists, digital is the only way to go, with the differentiator being deep knowledge of the specific fan base.
"With [digital] marketing in general, until you have a really good understanding of the audience, nothing is that effective," Gupta Marketing founder Gogi Gupta says. "And when you understand the audience, and their willingness to spend money on your artist, then it's maybe the most effective form of advertising."
The challenge isn't a lack of tools, it's sifting through them and using them prudently. "With the breadth of opportunity in the digital space, it's just finding that right fit and what's going to move the needle for that tour," says Alli McGregor, director of marketing for Creative Artists Agency's music division.
"Artists are different, fans are different, and everyone's expecting something to be customized to them," says Glenn Miller, who oversees CAA music's digital strategy. Miller emphasizes that digital is not "a templated marketing solution. It's about being able to curate and find the best strategy to sell more tickets and albums."
Here's a rundown of the push tools you need to cast the widest net.
The Target: Specific fans and known ticket buyers
The Message: "You know you want to go"
The Pool: Deep and wide
As the digital revolution took hold, email led the way in push marketing, primarily through blasts to known buyers pulled from venue and ticketer databases. The process has been refined substantially, with better names and more sophisticated timing and messaging. To say email is a go-to marketing method is a vast understatement: Live Nation Entertainment sent 1 billion emails last year company-wide.
Email blasts aren't just about giving fans a heads up about on-sales, they're also useful in adding juice to shows that need help, and tweaking pricing and marketing models midstream. After the show is over and buying patterns are observed, "that's when you find out where some of the price resistance is on some sections, and where you might have to adjust your pricing model," William Morris Endeavor (WME) director of tour marketing Michele Bernstein says. "The push marketing comes in after you make those adjustments, and you figure out what the right channels are, and what the right methods to get this back out there are. You have to either re-engage someone who looked at that show once, or engage someone who's looking at it for the first time."
Ticketing solution Eventbrite uses its own science in email marketing, with algorithmic recommendations targeted at its millions of users. "We've seen a lot of fatigue from traditional measures, just mining a database and continuing to hit the same people over and over," Eventbrite CEO Kevin Hartz says. "You need to reach the right fan at the right time."
Increasingly, that timing has little to do with the traditional Saturday-morning on-sales of yore, as the entire sales process becomes more dynamic. "There's certainly a lot of power to having a coordinated on-sale where you can really drive demand, especially for shows you know are going to sell out," Hartz says. "But most shows don't sell out, so you need to really think about timing, pricing and promotion."
Along with the ticketing companies, the venues have been pioneers in the world of email blasts. A building's database is, obviously, market specific and highly valuable. By way of example, the SMG-managed Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence, R.I., has 252,642 email subscribers who opt in for on-sale and presale announcements, discounts, the arena newsletter and group sales offers. For the period of March 1, 2012-Feb. 25, 2013, the venue deployed more than 4 million emails. The marketing effort is sponsored as the "Citizens Bank E-Blast Club."
Beyond the initial blasts, as Bernstein points out, the following waves can be difference-makers. Fan One Marketing, a division of venue management firm Global Spectrum, allows venues to set up automated, triggered "remarketing" emails based on action or inaction from the original email blast, nurturing campaigns to drive sales. An email is delivered to the target audience with an offer to buy tickets to the show. If a customer opens the email but doesn't click on the "buy tickets" link, he or she gets another email with more information about the artist within two weeks of opening the original email. If a customer opens that email, clicks on the link, but still doesn't purchase tickets, an alternate email is automatically delivered reminding him or her of the event with a call to action to purchase tickets.
The Target: Driven by affinity and personal history
The Message: "Artist X is coming to your town"
The Pool: Everyone with Internet access
While an estimated 80% of ad spending in the live business is still with traditional media, the trend is rapidly moving toward new media. For some acts, traditional media buys are more habit than target. "A lot of times you just assume there's a New York Times full-page ad, or a Sunset Boulevard billboard," Gupta says. "There's the 'vanity budget,' and then there's the advertising budget focused on selling albums, songs or tickets. To me, the smart marketer has to know where the line is. Try to get the most bang for your buck, but at least know you're spending that money in a way that's unlikely to really move the sales needle."
Ticketmaster is a division of Live Nation Entertainment, and across that company the push is toward the digital side. That includes a new breed of online advertising. One of the more effective Ticketmaster tools is Fan Network, basically online retargeting fed by data from Ticketmaster.com. If a fan visits the site, looks for an act but doesn't buy, Ticketmaster "follows" that fan when he or she leaves the site, whether they go to sports site or a foodie destination. The data revealed gives Ticketmaster another shot to pitch based on affinity.
"We know, for example, that if you are looking at hockey events...we can serve you up country music ads, because hockey fans over-index as buyers of country music," Ticketmaster's Smith says. "With that program, the average return on spend is over 300%. That program is really moving the industry and a lot of our clients in a more dramatic way into the online advertising world."
If email blasts are "owned" audience, whether it's a promoter, venue, artist or ticketing company list, the search for the "next layer" of fans is where a lot of magic is happening, according to CAA's Miller. He cites partnerships with such online consumer brands as Zynga, Gilt City and Living Social as highly effective for reaching fans "that haven't been proactive in raising their hands or liking you on Facebook or following you on Twitter or signing up for your email blasts and bringing them into your world," he says.
As with Ticketmaster's Fan Network, cookie-based retargeting follows consumers around the Web like a bloodhound. "We've been working on remarketing for as long as I can remember by putting the tracking code on artists' websites," Miller says, adding that the process begins before a tour is even announced. "While [the artist] is promoting an album or TV show or whatever it might be, we're already cookie-ing those people and getting them locked in, and then building a campaign around remarketing them."
Gupta, whose clients include Bonnaroo, RCA Records and Red Light Management, is a retargeting guru in search of consumers who have demonstrated a proclivity to drop coin on an artist. "If there's 10,000-30,000 people on that list, it's extremely valuable, because they have spent money," he says.
The Target: Social animals
The Message: "Your friends are going to the show"
The Pool: Billions and billions served
In the world of push marketing, social media is a "massive driver," WME's Bernstein says. "Social plays a key role, and email blasts with a targeted list come after that."
Axs, the ever-expanding ticketing arm of AEG Live, further integrates the social aspect of concerts with its entire ticket-buying process and with its proprietary "buy now/reserve seats for friends" feature. "We put the fan in control, so if there's a push, oftentimes that push is from one friend to another," Axs VP of consumer relationship management Sandeep Khera says. "A fan can go to our site, buy two tickets, reserve the three seats next to them, then forward those on in an email or Facebook message. Five people end up sitting together, we get more data than we ever had, the venue has more data than they ever had, and the fans are happy."
Social is providing the industry more and more mechanisms to target fans. Facebook's new Lookalike Audiences tool allows marketers to upload emails into the advertising platform. "It will pull together similarities around your fans if they match them up with a Facebook profile, and then target similar people," Miller says. "You know who your fans are now, you have a mechanism to create that similar pool of people to pull from and now you go and advertise to them. You're broadening your core by going after similar people."
On the ticketing social front, Ticketfly's automated social-marketing tool Amplifier allows venues and promoters to automatically publish and promote events on Facebook and Twitter. Facebook events are automatically created and tweets are scheduled directly from the Ticketfly platform.
Eventbrite has launched a deceptively simple social tool. If two or more of a fan's Facebook friends have purchased a ticket to an Eventbrite client, like the Governors Ball Music Festival, then that fan gets an email essentially saying, "Hey, your buds are going to Governors Ball." The conversion rates on that tool are "spectacularly high," Eventbrite's Hartz says. "The social notification is sent...at the right point, in this case when two or more friends sign up. We've found that to be an extremely effective time to drive massively high open and conversion rates. It's the new order of music promotion, and social plays a very key role in it."
Overall, social is becoming more integrated into push campaigns, and in some cases is the campaign. "We just went on sale with Pearl Jam at Wrigley Field [in Chicago] and did a huge [social] campaign, and ultimately only spent a couple thousand dollars to sell out a stadium," Bernstein says. "Social will continue to grow and engage the fan on a more direct level."
That, in a nutshell, is the key to social and live: engage, engage, engage. "If fans want to turn it off, they can turn it off, and they know that," CAA's Miller says. "It's up to all of us, with our clients, to build the most engaging content and the most engaging strategy so they don't hit the 'off' switch."
The Target: Those with an app-etite
The Message: "This note's for you!"
The Pool: Oceanic
In the world of push marketing, mobile is the new frontier, and will become the dominant form of messaging sooner than most would have predicted. "People are jumping over getting a laptop and going straight for their smartphones and tablets now," Miller says. "So 'mobile first' is a priority in a lot of the up-and-coming markets, as well as some of our established ones."
If Live Nation isn't "mobile first" already, it's heading in that direction. With more than 3 million active users, Live Nation's app for Android and iOS is tailoring its messaging very specifically. When the app is downloaded and users opt in, the fan's music library is immediately scraped. "We now know who you are and what music you listen to," Campana says. "We've looked under the hood...so we're only going to talk to you about music we know you're interested in."
Live Nation sent 90 million mobile messages last year and enjoyed a 40% open rate. "That's incredible compared to traditional email, and forget comparing it to radio and hoping a listener hears the ads you run, or hoping that a concert-goer actually sees the ads you're running," Live Nation's Campana says.
If traditional advertising and, to an extent, email are using carpet-bombing methods, "mobile is a drone," Campana says, adding that Live Nation sold 1.3 million tickets last year through its mobile app, up 145% from 2011.
Ticketmaster is also leading the charge to mobile, with double-digit growth year after year in the number of people who are discovering events on mobile and where online traffic originates. "The percentage of people that are visiting Ticketmaster.com and its properties either through a phone or a tablet is growing exponentially," Smith says. "Over the last 24 months, we went from basically fewer than 3% to where we are today, which is a third of our traffic."
Ticketmaster's Smith says the pace in the shift in ticket buying from desktop to mobile is much faster than the previous seismic generational shift from retail outlets and phones to online. The goal--the holy triumvirate--is to use the mobile device to create awareness, sell the ticket and gain admission to the venue. "The first two-thirds, discovery and purchase, are happening now," Smith says. "About 14% of our ticket sales are coming from mobile devices now."
All Live Nation venues are delivering tickets to mobile devices, and Ticketmaster will launch mobile delivery across its entire client base by spring. "The interesting thing for us is not just the discovery and delivery of the ticket, it's how that creates opportunities to expand the relationship we offer the fan with us and with the venue," Smith says.
The true keys to the kingdom in knowing all about the customers--not just the ones who bought the tickets--is transferability, which Ticketmaster launched this year for online purchases and will roll out on mobile this spring. If the ticket is transferred, the data of the transferee is captured, having a huge impact on the database. "From a marketing perspective, between mobile and what we're doing with social, we'll very quickly get to understand every person in the building," Smith says.
CAA's Miller agrees. "Look at Facebook--more than half their users are accessing it via mobile. We've moved into a world where fans don't see themselves as online, because they're always connected, and these devices are how they're accessing their world. So, we're trying to figure out different ways to get in front of them, whether it's mobile advertising and push notifications, or how we get involved in mobile platforms. Engaging isn't just finding out about the tour dates and buying a ticket, engaging is becoming part of the experience."