Grab a copy of this month’s Harvard Business Review. The lead article, How to Market in a Downturn
by John A. Quelch and Katherine E. Jocz, both at Harvard Business School, takes a look at consumer behavior in downturns since the 1970s. And as they point out, consumers never totally stop buying. They become more careful, more selective. But they still consume. They still come to the arts, but they consider their choices carefully.
And, in a recession, market segmentation takes on a whole new meaning. Quelch and Jocz have taken all the demographic and lifestyle clusters that exist out there and condensed them down into four segments:
The Slam on the Breaks segment. This group includes the hard hit, the unemployed – everyone whose world is upside down.
The Pained by Patient segment. The authors call this the largest consumer group in the US right now. Economizing, cutting back, but still doing and going. Carefully investing in whatever they purchase. Probably really looking for bargains.
The Comfortably Well Off cohort. Sure, this includes the upper 5%. But more importantly for the arts, this includes the carefully invested retirees who continue to have the resources to go to the arts.
The Live for Today group. Hey, they never had any savings anyway, so why change?
The authors point out that all four groups spend. Each spends on essentials that “are necessary for survival or perceived as central to well being.” For many, arts, cultural activity, and a way of weaving joy into life is central to well being. That’s a powerful offering that the arts have always had, and it is the message that people will best respond to right now. Anything that is an ‘indulgence’ is probably not going to be purchased right now. Anything that is the same old-same old can be put off for another season. Anything that is unjustifyable – an over the top ticket price, for example – may be looked at as expendable.
The authors point out that all four segments will be responsive to strong brands and good loyalty marketing, so that marketing can be extremely important right now. As they note, companies with excellent brands, like Johnson & Johnson, maintain high stock values through recessions based on continued brand-responsive consumer purchases. So, if arts-lovers can only spend on one event, or on one organization – make sure its yours they trust to offer them outstanding art experience.
Be sure your organization has the resources to market your best strengths. The authors recommend dropping programs/products that just can’t make it no matter what in favor of putting more resources into your core that will attract the most loyalty and new attenders. Focus on strength.
I also think there is great power in responding to the absolute need of the Slam on the Breaks folks. Put any resources you can into opening doors for those who can’t afford art any more. Last week, I was in Canada working with a group that noted the power of offering blocks of tickets at the local food bank. No one needs to know who gets the tickets there, or how large a share of the audience comes through that door.