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Classical Music Consumer Segmentation Study: How Americans Relate to Classical Music and Their Local Orchestras

October 17, 200517 October 2005

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This study uses extensive quantitative and qualitative research to examine the relationship between classical music listeners, concert audiences and orchestras in the US. With total interviews and surveys of about 25,000 adults through both a national study of classical music consumers and in-depth interviews in 15 participating communities, the research is billed as “the most comprehensive discipline-specific audience study ever undertaken in the United States”. The report provides detailed and valuable research into the challenges faced by orchestras across North America.

The study is “both reassuring and challenging to orchestras”. It is reassuring because the potential audience for classical music looks healthy: “classical music is alive and well – in a new sense – and touching people in ways that no one could have imagined 20 years ago”. The research finds challenging issues in that “orchestras are hard pressed to adapt to a rapidly evolving cultural landscape and to respond competitively to marketing challenges and social pressure for more intense leisure experiences”.

The “new model of classical consumers” in the report estimates that current and prospective audiences average 27% of adults in the 15 participating communities. This includes 4% of adults who attend on a regular basis, 15% who are “low frequency alumni” (i.e., former buyers who are not currently very active), and 8% who are “uninitiated prospects” (people with a close relationship to classical music but who have never attended a concert by the local orchestra included in the study). Many people listen to classical music at home or in their car (via radio or recordings) but don’t attend live concerts. Rather than seeing competition between live attendance and classical music radio and recordings, the report believes that orchestras can tap into these interested listeners.

How can orchestras attract these prospects? In a result similar to that found in other studies (see the review of Arts & Culture: Community Connections in October’s Arts Research Monitor), the absence of social context is found to be a major barrier to attendance. The Knight Foundation research finds that consumers create complex “layers of value around classical music and the concert experience” that go well beyond the intrinsic benefits of listening to beautiful music, including entertaining family and friends, nurturing and sustaining personal relationships, and other social interactions.

Orchestras must know their current and potential audience base and try to cater to their specific needs by devising “marketing strategies that leverage the potent currency of social context”. Ideas include “concert clubs (much like book clubs), thematic packaging, more clever sales messages, broad-based prospect campaigns, low-threshold trial experiences, and cooperative marketing with other arts groups”. Because the research finds that only 8% of potential classical consumers are highly inclined to subscribe, the authors conclude that subscription marketing has become “increasingly dysfunctional”. The researchers point to the potential of email marketing in reducing the cost of selling single tickets.

In order to enhance the concert experience, each orchestra must react differently based on the needs of its clientele and the abilities of its artistic and administrative staff and board members. Flexibility is the key.

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