Special Reports

A LOOK INSIDE: Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's Digital Marketing (annual budget: $27M)

April 2, 2012 | By Dan Daley

A few years ago the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra (ISO) embarked on a quest to expand beyond its core customers. Using digital media tools and marketing, ISO set about reaching international listeners and creating a close relationship with younger and digitally savvy concert-goers—as well as giving some spice to live concerts. Called the "Next Audience Engagement Strategy" by the ISO, the campaign has been aimed at reaching audiences through digital media marketing—social media, mobile communications, and the Internet—in addition to revising how the ISO programmed its concerts, according to Mark Newman, ISO’s vice president of marketing and communications. ISO presents between 185 and 195 mostly orchestral concerts annually at the Hilbert Center Theater, which seats 1,750. Part of the new strategy has been to appeal to "people who want an orchestral experience but not necessarily classical music," said Newman, and so ISO has peppered its lineup with visiting pop, rock, and jazz performers playing works by artists such as Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. At the heart of ISO's digital media marketing efforts are email and social media, followed closely by its website and smartphone apps. Here are some vital stats: Email

  • About 12,500 addresses in the ISO database. The goal is to double that by the end of the year
  • 25 to 30 percent open rate
  • 98 to 99 percent deliverability rate
  • Double opt-in signups (meaning, a new subscriber is sent an email with a link which they must click)
  • Ongoing A/B testing on subject lines ("We used 'Get Ready To Rach' in the subject line to market a recent Rachmaninoff concert. Definitely my favorite subject line," said Newman.)
  • Send times: Tuesday or Wednesday between 12 noon and 3 pm

Social Media

  • Facebook: 6,930 likes, multiple posting each day, many ongoing conversations. Built-out YouTube, Twitter, Events and Photo pages
  • Twitter: 4,561 followers, multiple daily tweets

Smartphone App

  • Created on the Instant Encore platform, provides a digital library and access to live concerts, including audio and video. Produced by Instant Encore, which provides a number of other services for ISO
  • 4,100 downloads in about two years from people in about 50 countries
  • Ecommerce for purchasing individual music tracks and compilations, ranging from $.99 to $27. "This has meant thousands of dollars to the ISO," said Newman.

Email marketing has provided a steady flow of ticket sales, said Newman. Nearly 40 percent of the ticket sales take place online and ISO tracks those sales back to its email efforts. Newman is adamant that the double-opt-in subscription process is key to ISO's email success. "We've compiled a list of people who have gone out of their way to receive information from us. It makes for a loyal and responsive subscriber base." Additionally, Newman has sought to segment the email recipients according to musical preference and market to each segment accordingly. Said Newman, "You can choose from classical, pops, even yuletide and then additional information is asked within each." Taking social media seriously
As for social media, Newman is quick to point out how seriously social media communications is taken internally. "We've invested a lot of time and energy into our social media activity," said Newman. "We have one dedicated person handling that and other digital media activities, but we have multiple people across the organization who participate in posting on our Facebook and Twitter pages." Newman shared a critical component of Facebook success: including graphics and videos as often as possible with the postings. Many of the more interesting efforts are tied to mobile communications. For example, ISO put on Mendelssohn’s 4th Symphony in May, 2011. It was broadcast live with audio and video through Instant Encore’s iPhone app and picked up by about 5,000 viewers in 34 countries. "We trended on Twitter that evening because of all the ongoing international commentary," remarked Newman. Another mobile effort happens four times a year during ISO's Happy Hour concert series, which offers a one-hour mash-up of classical and contemporary music. Near the conclusion of each concert, the orchestra plays samples of potential ending pieces and the audience uses their smartphones' instant messaging to text a vote on which piece should be the finale. "The audiences adored it," said Newman. SEO: The Next Step
When asked what area of digital marketing Newman felt needed more attention and would lead to increased ticket sales, Newman answered, "Search engine optimization. We just relaunched our website and we used Google Analytics to track the clickpath users take to get into the ticket-purchasing funnel; the site reflects all that research." However, Newman added, "I feel we need to be found more easily by new people looking for us and SEO is a real key for that. We need to be much more thoughtful and intentional with how we write about our music. We underestimate and underutilize SEO and I think that's the case across our industry." To varying degrees, digital media has become an essential ingredient in the marketing mix for presenters. Not every tool in the kit works for everyone, or is necessarily appropriate for classical music and theater audiences. Texting, for instance, is the marketing medium of choice among teens and young adults, but it seems to have been a flop for the presenters we spoke with. Either way, even though Mozart has been filling seats for over two centuries, he'll get an additional boost when he's part of an email campaign. Note: At press time, Mark Newman had decided to end his relationship with the ISO to pursue other interests. According to the ISO, the organization is committed to continuing Newman's initiatives. Also in Special Reports' A Look Inside series:
Opera House Arts' Digital Marketing Practices

Cal Performances' Digital Marketing Practices Winner of the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) 2010 Gold Award for Feature Writing, Dan Daley is a journalist, author and composer. His work has appeared in the London Daily Telegraph, History Channel magazine, The Wine Spectator, and other publications.



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