Friday, November 20, 2009

Stolen Chair: What a year of market research didn't teach me

Jon from Stolen Chair here. We are just two short days away from launching the country's first Community Supported Theatre (CST). While we had initially intended to make the launch event the first members-only gathering, earlier this week, we decided to open it to the public (don't miss it!), just the latest refinement we've been encourage to make in our thinking since the CST opened for sign-ups Nov 1. Before that opening, we had spent 14 months preparing, conducting extensive market research, or at least the most extensive market research that a small non-profit theatre company can conduct. Nevertheless, in the three weeks since the website went live and the brochures got distributed, I can't imagine experiencing a steeper learning curve. Here are three things we learned, boiled down to some simple axioms:
  • Teach: It takes most people a long time to understand what the CST actually is. Once people get it, we've had universally positive reactions, but it's not as simple as "You like chocolate and you like peanutbutter. How 'bout trying one of these here new-fangled Reeses Peanutbutter Cups?" We've had to learn to approach this introduction in much the same way a teacher plans a lesson, breaking down step by step goals for each successive impression so that the consumer gets the complete picture without being overwhelmed by details. This means, however, that, like any good teacher, we need to know our audience well enough to tailor our approach to each "learning style."
  • Listen: Though the ERPA process gave us plenty of time and support to finalize the terms of membership in the CST, in the 3 weeks since sign-ups opened, our consumers have asked for 4 different ways to CST. Though we might never have thought to add these ourselves, interested consumers can now (1) join via an installment plan, for those who have difficulty paying the year's fee up front (2) purchase a membership as a unique, experiential gift for someone else (3) offer the CST as a perk for up to 10 employees and (4) access all of our online community building even if they live outside of the NYC metro area and cannot attend events.
  • Talk: Though we're still waiting for that New York Times profile on the CST (come on NYT, where are you on this? You could write about the country's first Community Supported Theatre or trace the evolving facial hair habits of Billyburg Hipsters...which did you write about?!), we have received some great press for the launch and a whole lotta buzz on Twitter and the blogosphere. None of this came through traditional publicity channels (press releases, eblasts, etc), though. All of it emerged organically through conversations I had with artists and social innovators who were already talking about similar ideas. As we learn time and time again in the world of PR, pulling people into your orbit always works better than pushing your news.

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