Why is your theater audience coming? Our guide to figuring it out.

Customers purchase products because they do a job for them. Think of a drill — most people purchase drills because they need a hole in their wall. They’re not buying a drill because drills are awesome or beautiful or items that Caucasian men over 30 own. If there was another way to put that hole in the wall (such as a laser beam) that was cheaper or easier then the customer would buy that instead. When I’m at work in my office I’ll go to the nearest coffee shop for my coffee. I have coffee in the cupboard and I work in Brooklyn where I could literally have an artisanal latte delivered to me. Why do I go to the coffee shop? To socialize with people who aren’t my business partner (sorry Zach!). The job that the coffee shop is doing for me is offering a social outlet NOT offering me a cup of coffee

Both of these examples illuminate the outcome that the customer is looking for from the product — a hole in the wall and a social experience. Once you understand the outcome your customer is looking for, you can design new experiences for your customer: a laser beam instead of a drill or a coworking space instead of a coffeeshop.

Similarly your production or theater company is doing a job for your audience members and that’s why they’re coming. Your audience is not coming because they meet the meet the Broadway League’s demographic profile of a 44-year old woman with a household income of $201,500. No one makes purchasing decisions based on their demographic profile. Instead your audience is making a purchase because your production does a job for them. Take our last post for example: we posited that the job of Wicked was to provide empowerment to young women when they need it most: their awkward teenage years. Your job (see what I did there?) on the production end is to discover what job the production is doing for the audience and then leverage that information to increase sales.

How do you discover this? Through one-on-one interviews with audience members.

This summer we interviewed audience members for a client who wanted to increase their revenue and engagement. We discovered that their audience members were looking to develop relationships with artists and audience members and to feel comfortable attending more fringe art events. The interviewees found it difficult to figure out which fringe art events were worth attending and were anxious about bringing friends/co-workers to events that might be bad.

In response, the client created a club house, well actually a Treehouse where their patrons get complimentary tickets to interesting shows around town that have been vetted by the client, a semiannual “family dinner” to socialize with artists and fellow audience members, a members-only newsletter highlighting interesting art events around the city in addition to tickets to the company’s own productions. We discovered the jobs the company was doing for their audience members and helped the client build a program that explicitly serves those jobs.

Interviews are still tremendously helpful if you aren’t building a new product and are instead trying to optimize your ticket sales. For other clients we’ve discovered that last minute discounts assuaged anxieties brought about by mediocre reviews. We’ve discovered that the push of an email from an artistic director prompted donors to give more money because they thought the need for money was immediate than if the email was coming from the artistic director and not a member of the development staff.

How do you interview audience members? Here’s a quick list:

  1. Start preparing for your interviews well before the interview day. Read this guide on how to do a Jobs-to-be-done interview. Read this interview script and listen to this sample interview with a guy who just bought a mattress.
  2. Pull a list of audience members who’ve seen your show within the past two weeks.
  3. Email them and say you’re doing some audience research and want to speak to them for 30–45 minutes. Offer them a little bit of money for their time (if you can) or at minimum a pair of complimentary tickets to your next production.
  4. Recruit a colleague in your office to be a part of the interviews. Having a second set of ears in the room is helpful — your colleague may think of questions that you won’t during the interview.
  5. On the interview day — you’re going to be nervous. That’s normal! Our first few interviews were a waste of time. We quickly got much better at them.
  6. Record your interview, it’s helpful to have the sound of someone’s voice when you’re unpacking the interview. Take messy notes — don’t waste time with nice handwriting or full thoughts. Focus instead on active listening and asking questions. You can always go back to your recording to get clarification.
  7. Right after the interview ends you should start unpacking the interview onto a Timeline and a Four Forces Diagram.

This is a lot to digest and your first interviews will be nerve wracking. When the going gets rough think of the insights we mentioned above and how similar insights can impact your organization. Jobs is how to discover the problem your product solves or more powerfully to discover a problem and THEN build a product. More information about incorporating the jobs-to-be-done framework at your organization or on your production can be found on Medium and at JTBD.org. Please reach out to us (af@formtheatricals.com, zl@formtheatricals.com) if you’d like our advice about how jobs-to-be-done can transform your theater production or arts organization.




Building the theater’s audience of tomorrow by using customer development.

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Anthony Francavilla

Anthony Francavilla

Building the theater’s audience of tomorrow by using customer development.

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