Category Archives: marketing

Read This Post and Get More People to Your Concerts!

What if there was one simple thing you and I could do when promoting a concert that would get more people to come? And what if it was an easy, inexpensive thing to do–no additional cost necessary?

Well there is, and here it is:

When You’re Promoting Your Event, Tell People How It Will Improve Their Lives to Attend, Not Just What You’re Going to Perform!

[Sidenote: I’m in New York (yay!–and where the weather is actually much better than in Indiana this week). On Wednesday I’m doing a teaching demonstration on Distinguishing Between Features and Benefits When Marketing Concerts for the Network of Music Career Development Officers, which includes not only people who work in career and entrepreneurship centers at music schools and conservatories, but also music faculty who teach entrepreneurship and other career-related courses.]

Overdramatic? Sure. But marketing professionals tell us that successful promotional material does just that–it tells the prospective customer (in our case, prospective audience member) how he or she will benefit from purchasing the product or service. Marketing and advertising professionals make a distinction between features and benefits. As I discuss below, most of us in classical music spend too much time on the former and not enough on the latter.

Look at virtually every classical music advertisement, press release, or promotional email. What do you see? What’s being performed. Who’s performing. When the show is. Sometimes there’s performer information (including pull quotes from reviews) and information about the works, sometimes with a few adjectives (“heart-wrenching,” “exciting,” etc.) thrown in.

Those are the details of the performance. They are are interesting–to at least some of those who are among the existing classical music audience. But rarely do they answer this question:

Why should I spend my time and money to attend this performance?

Features v. Benefits

Go to seminars and workshops aimed at people in the for-profit entrepreneurship world and read material on marketing, advertising, copywriting. Stressed over and over and over again–so much that it is a truism–is to focus on benefits rather than features in promotion and branding.

A post over at printwand explains the difference well:

  • Features are defined as surface statements about your product, such as what it can do, its dimensions and specs and so on.
  • Benefits, by definition, show the end result of what a product can actually accomplish for the reader.

Oil Gardner at provides a clear example. Two battery-extending cases for iPhones, side by side in an Apple store. One iteration (for the 4 and 4s models) stresses that the battery has a capacity of “2000mAh.”

What the heck does that tell me as a customer? Unless I am a technical geek, nothing. It’s a detail, a feature.

Hanging next to it, the next generation of the same device. “Up to 120% extra battery” life.

Yes! I got it! That’s how it will benefit me–my phone will last more than twice as long as I’m out roaming the streets of NYC. This packaging also points out that the battery is pre-charged. Great idea–it’s when my battery is running low that I’m most motivated to buy something to extend its life.

How much longer will my I be able to use my phone without recharging? That’s the benefit. (Actually, it’s still phrased somewhat like a feature. I think it would have been even better to put “Use your phone more than two times longer without recharging!” in big letters.)

Gregory Ciotti’s post Features Tell, But Benefits Sell uses Apple’s introduction of the iPod as an example.

Apple understood this when they released the first iPod. MP3 players were nothing new, and the technology trounced CDs. The problem was marketing; the right pitch hadn’t been made to explain just how much better customers’ lives were going to be once they owned an iPod.

How do you think Apple decided to frame the magic of the iPod? Around its technical prowess, or what customers could do with it?


The message was persuasive because, in the words of Seth Godin, it was all about “Me, me, me. My favorite person: me.” Gigs of data have nothing to do with me, but a pocket full of my favorite songs certainly does.

Here’s the Apple ad itself:


I like that Godin quote. “Me, me, me. My favorite person: me.” 

Well, maybe I don’t like it. After all, we want it to be all about the music, the music, the music.But human nature is human nature, and it’s a keen insight. For the audience, it’s really about what’s in it for them.

People Don’t Buy Products, They Buy Better Versions of Themselves

That’s the tittle of a recent post by Belle Beth Cooper. She points out the in the (evidently famous among marketers) iPod example, “When everyone else was saying “1GB storage on your MP3 player”, telling people about the product, Apple went ahead and made you a better person, that has 1000 songs in your pocket.”

Me, me, me.

The other day, my partner and I wandered by a Hästens bed store not far from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That’s an expensive neighborhood, and the handmade Swedish beds must cost a fortune. We went in. There were no prices anywhere, on the beds or even in the catalog (maybe it’s one of those if-you-have-to-ask, you-can’t-afford-it places). There was a big sign over one of the gorgeous blue-and-white beds that said that three days of good sleep could change your life. On their web site, they explain,

“At Hästens, our mission is to change the way people think about and prioritize sleep so they can enjoy a better quality of life.”

Would we be buying a bed? Yes, but more than that, a “better quality of life.” Better mes. Now don’t get me wrong, they also presented plenty of features–the handcrafting, the natural materials, the old-world traditions. But that was all to support the prime message of how our lives would be better if we got one of these beds.

A post has a great graphic (to which Cooper links):

So you see how this works in the for-profit world.

That’s the thing I rarely see addressed in promotion for performing arts events. How is attending this going to make me, for the lack of better words, a “better person.”

So let’s explore this features vs. benefits issue a bit more.

The printwand post mentioned above has a several excellent examples of benefit-focused selling. One is for Martinelli sparkling cider. I used to buy a lot every holiday season for my kids, so they could have something special when the adults had Champagne or wine.

What are the features?

  • It’s inexpensive.
  • Tastes pretty good (if you like cider).
  • No alcohol.
  • It’s bubbly like Champagne.
  • Little kids think it’s special.

What are the benefits?

Well, if you drink it you don’t get drunk. You can have a good time without spending a lot of money (assuming you don’t want a buzz). Kids like it. So if you or I were creating a promotional campaign for Martinelli, you’d find a benefit to focus on for a particular market. Don’t get drunk and don’t spend a lot.

I’m not sure how to spin that. But someone did, in this case for the partying-adult market.


Pretty cool! You can have a good time, save money, and actually remember what you did the next morning.

Applying This To Promoting Events

Now we are moving into imagination mode. I think the entire field of classical music, including many of the classically-trained musicians who combine genres, can do a better job of, well, evangelizing for our art. Unfortunately, none of us have the kind of cash flow to pay for the sophisticated marketing materials of international corporations like Apple, Hästings, or Martinelli. Most of us have to be our own publicists.

Most of us have no training in this. I just received a flyer from a chamber group in which a friend of mine plays. “The XYZ Ensemble Plays Music By A, B, and C,” the time and date, the location, and the suggested donation. Which is about all most classical-music posters do. Sometimes there are more visually engaging photos, but rarely is the engaging nature of the experience communicated. Who, what, where, when? Those are features. Unless a prospective audience member happens to know the players or is really into those composers, there’s no reason to come. Especially at a time when we are looking to expand audiences, we need to find ways to attract new people to our concerts. If we start thinking about promoting the benefits of attending, we may find new areas of success.

So I’m going brainstorm a bit, using myself as an example. Let’s say I’m doing a concert of Bach Suites. “Edberg Plays Bach.” Cellist Eric Edberg (me) plays, say, the first three Bach Suites for Solo Cello.

You see advertisements for concerts like this all the time. “Gilbert Conducts Swan Lake” is on the New York Philharmonic site and in print advertisements right now. If I’m an Alan Gilbert fan and I like Swan Lake, I may be sold. If I don’t know who Alan Gilbert is and I’ve never heard of Swan Lake, or it brings to mind only images stereotypically affected ballet dancing, then I’m not going to care.

To those in my circle of friends and fans who love both the Bach cello suites and my cello playing, the benefit of coming will be self-evident. But to the rest of the world, I need (or whoever is promoting the concert needs) to let them know what’s fantastic about this music (which many of them may be unaware of), what I’m like as a performer, and why they’ll be better off for having come. And, of course, I’m going to have to play them really, really well–with life and engagement and commitment.

I’m now thinking out loud. It’s extraordinary music that takes us through virtually the entire gamut of human emotion, from calmness to playfulness to heartbreak to anger to violence to triumph, spiritual solace, and unbridled joy. And to me, the great benefit of of a well-played concert is to feel more fully human, more truly alive. It’s inspiring in very true way. (Of course, a boring concert isn’t going to inspire anyone.)

So how about:

An Emotional Journey Ending In Joyful Triumph.


Let Bach Remind You Why It’s Great to Be Alive

And then of course we’d need something about the program and what a great cellist and performer I am, why the venue is a great place, etc.

There are many dimensions to the experience of a particular event, of course. There are the visual aspects, the social aspects, the atmosphere (formal? relaxed? interactive?), and what we might call the theatrical aspects–it can be amazing to see someone come out on stage and play an entire program of music from memory, and that’s something those of us who do it all the time can forget. Depending on the audience, performers, venue, and program, there are infinite varieties of features and corresponding benefits.

The thing I’m getting at is that for individual concerts and for classical music in general, we have a great opportunity to increase our audiences if we communicate the benefits of concert attendance. Not in a “it’s good for you way,” but it an enthusiastic and energized way.

So let’s go tell people why their lives will be better for coming to our concerts. And if we don’t believe that’s truly the case, then let’s put on concerts that are life enhancing.


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Filed under Uncategorized, audeince building, marketing

ISO: Some Great Steps and Opportunities to Build Momentum

Good news: the ISO website donation page now has information on the matching-grant challenge (for the current ISO contract to remain in effect, $5 million from new donors must be raised by February 3, 2003; an anonymous donor will match up to $500,000, so those of us potential small donors can have the impact of our gifts doubled).

That information went up yesterday afternoon, and it’s a great step.  The Musicians of the ISO are actively promoting the $500,000 matching opportunity via email and their Facebook page and Twitter feed, and many of us are posting the links on our own pages.

Some friendly suggestions to build momentum:

  • The ISO could publicize the campaign on its own Facebook page and its Twitter feed.  (As of this writing, there has been nothing about it either place.)
  • The ISO Musicians could publicize the campaign on their website. (As of this writing, there is nothing about it there, either.  You could start with a simple link if you are waiting for something fancier from the ISO.)
  • The ISO and/or their fundraising firm could make sure they’ve actually contacted everyone they think they already have contacted. An ISO musician forwarded me an internal ISO email, responding to my original blog post, which says that all single-ticket buyers have been mailed to and are being called.  I’ve bought tickets twice in 2012, and still haven’t been contacted by the ISO itself.  A colleague who is a pretty high-profile person in the regional arts world thanked me today for my “cranky guy” post and said, “I’ve bought tickets, and I haven’t heard anything from them, either!”

It’s December 12. It’s that time of the year to really sell new donors on charitable tax deductions for 2012.  There are lots of opportunities for us to work with the ISO and the musicians (who to so many of us are the ISO) to meet these fund-raising goals.

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Filed under Fund Raising, Indianapolis Symphony, ISO Musicians, marketing

Cranky Would-Be Donor to ISO: Just Ask for the Money!

Dear ISO management,

“WE NEED YOUR HELP,” you proclaim in a full-page ad in yesterday’s Indianapolis Star.

I think you’re right.

Your ad explains,

In order to activate the contract the musicians of the Indianapolis Symphony and symphony management agreed to this fall, we need to raise $5 million in pledges from new donors by February 3 to help stabilize our organization.  Luckily, a very generous new donor has agreed to match up to $500,000 in new gifts. . . .

That matching offer is great.

But I think you need help not just with money, but in running your fundraising campaign.  I’ll publicize it here, and on Facebook, and on Twitter, and talk it up.

But first, I’m going to blow off a little steam.

I first heard about this matching program in an email on Saturday from a musician in the symphony, and wrote him back that it’s fantastic that some of the ISO musicians are partnering with the management in this fund-raising effort.  Given the challenges facing full-time, benefits-paying symphony orchestras, the “we play, you raise the money” division of labor isn’t the best path forward. Working together is.

But, hey, ISO management: why haven’t I heard from you?

There are so many demographic, economic, cultural, and sociological factors at play when it comes to symphony orchestras that when players say many or most of an institution’s financial challenges are the result of poor work on the part of management, I often think they are just not looking at the wider picture. When it comes to the ISO, however, I’ve beginning to think that my very frustrated musician friends have a point.

Decades ago, I heard the head of a not-for-profit organization say that the first rule of fundraising is, “ASK FOR THE MONEY!”

Ever since the deal contingent on raising $5 million was made in October, I’ve been planning on making a donation to the ISO.  And I decided I’d make one that would be a stretch for me.

I’ve just been waiting for you,  ISO management, to ask me for the money. And I’ve been more than a little surprised (and dismayed and bewildered) that I haven’t heard from you.

You must know who I am.

I’ve bought tickets at least twice in the past year, including for a small Winter Term class.  When I bought a pair for the October “Happy Hour” concert over the phone, my name and address was in the database, and I confirmed the information and gave a credit card number.  As a music professor in Indiana, I get occasional emails at my work address from the Education Department, and have served as a judge at ISO-sponsored competitions.  The DePauw School of Music, where I teach, has engaged the ISO for two performances this year. I’m sure our Dean would have forwarded a fundraising email had he been he asked, and that our office staff would put flyers in faculty mailboxes if they received a set of them.


Don’t you want my money? Aren’t you going to ask for it?

Luckily for the campaign, I’ve heard from the musicians.  S0 now I’ll make a donation.

I am deeply concerned that my donation will genuinely help this $5 million goal get met, because if you haven’t asked people like me in your ticket-buyer database, or music faculty in nearby programs, who else haven’t you asked?

How much money are you leaving on the table?

I’ve heard more than one ISO supporter say they are concerned about donating directly to the ISO, because of perceived issued with management competence, and would be more comfortable donating directly to the musicians.  Except that to make this new contract happen, we need to donate to the official campaign.

So, ISO fundraisers, we are behind you on this.  Here are a few suggestions, from your cranky donor-to-be:

  • Contact everyone in your existing database. Like me.
  • Get lists from other arts organizations and use them.  The Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra sends mailings to my parents, who donated to public radio, and I assume that’s how the ICO got their information. My parents don’t hear from you.  (OK, one of my parents is dead, but the ICO doesn’t know that. But better to mail one dead person too many than thousands of live potential donors too few.)
  • Put a full explanation of the matching program on the website, and explain its importance.
    • The home page at present has a small little item that says, “A generous donor has offered to match individual gifts dollar-for-dollar, up to $500,000. So every dollar you give today will turn into two, just like that!” Great, but there’s nothing about the February deadline for the $5 million goal, which if not reached means there’s no contract with the players.  How does that create urgency or inspire people to donate?
    • And when I follow the “donate today” link, there’s no information on the matching program at all, how to make sure my gift will count towards it, or whether or not there’s an option to make a pledge (I could pledge a much larger amount towards this campaign than I can just give today).  Yes, there’s a phone number to call, but I don’t want to talk to someone, I just want to handle this easily online.
  • Send out a press release!
    • You’ve taken out at least one full-page newspaper ad for this matching campaign, but there’s nothing (!) about it on the News Releases page of “Press” section of the website.

Maybe I’m too cranky, but I have to say that if the Symphony Society wanted to not-so-subtly sabotage it’s new-donor campaign, it couldn’t do a better job of it. If there were a plan to say, “Look, we did a new-donor campaign but the community didn’t support it, so we have to pay you even less,” I think it would look something like what I’m seeing. Surely this cannot be the case. I assume you’ve been focused on landing big donors.  A groundswell of smaller donations could really help (which is what I’m sure your $500,000 matching donor wants to encourage), and inspire big donors,

but if you don’t even ask the ticket buyers in your database for donations, what are you doing?

And to my ISO musician friends:

You need this $5 million goal to be met.  Obviously the ISO development office doesn’t have the resources to pull this off on their own.

You’re going to have to do even more to help.  A lot more.  You can start by putting the information about this campaign on your own website.

To everybody concerned:

There are a lot of us who will give if we’re invited to, and invited often enough.

Just ask for the money.


Your cranky friend,



Filed under Fund Raising, Indianapolis Symphony, marketing, orchestra websites

Thanks, Greg!

If you read this blog, you know I am a fan of Greg Sandow and his blog.  (And like all fans I don’t agree with him all the time!)  On sabbatical last year, I had the good fortune to sit in on an entrie semester of Greg’s “Classical Music in an Age of Pop” course at Juilliard.  He got his students to shift–for at least a while–into a mode of sharing what their music making really means to them, and to imagine how they can use that to connect with potential audience members.

When Greg recently started offering online branding workshops for professionals, I was one of the first to apply.  Today we finished our three-session course, and I have a new sense of clarity of who I am, what I do, why I do it, and that it really is worth doing and telling people about.  Greg is imaginative, knowledgeable, encouraging, challenging, and most of all see what’s special and wonderful in other people.

My wesbite–and career planning–are about to take a quantum leap forward.  Exchanging ideas with other participants and was engaging, enlivening, and thrilling.

So if you’ve read about Greg’s online branding seminars, look into them. It’s a fantastic opportunity, and I doubt he’ll be this accessible and such a low price for very long. I know he pisses some of you off some of the time–that’s part of his mission in life.  His work with individuals on getting clear on who they are and imagining how they can present that clearly to the world is totally independent of whether some orchestras need a new model or not, or if there is a classical music crisis or not.

I’ll be first in line for whatever he sets up next.

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Filed under branding, entrepreneurship, Greg Sandow, marketing