The National Theatre (NT) is not just selling theater tickets but fostering an appreciation for the theater with audiences around the globe. Using Acoustic Campaign to deliver highly personalized messages to every customer, the NT has increased its conversion rate and is driving down the cost of new customer acquisitions.
Challenge: Knowing who’s in the audience
There was a time that theaters just sold seats to people who were going to watch a performance in person. Now, there are many ways for people to enjoy a theater experience and multiple channels for reaching those potential viewers and patrons.
Thom Wallis, Senior CRM Marketing Manager for the NT, describes what it was like promoting performances and programs: “Our previous email system was very tied into our South Bank booking/ticketing system, and it was very ‘batch and blast.’ We had a newsletter list and we could do some segmentation based on previous booking behaviours, but it was much too linear: a traditional newsletter set-up.”
National Theatre’s ability to use automation was quite limited. The email system could not accommodate programed workflows and could not understand and respond to customers’ web behaviors, such as who had engaged with certain shows, and then retarget them accordingly within the CRM. This was frustrating, because that level of retargeting could be done on other channels, using cookies and digital advertising. The NT wanted to bring that same level of understanding and retargeting to emails using a new CRM.
With so many venues and outlets for programs, there was a plan to stop being London-centric and think more nationally and internationally. A particular challenge was marketing the NT Live performances at cinema chains where NT does not own the data — where the sales are done by the venues themselves. Also crucial was better targeting for fundraising and memberships.
The arrival of COVID-19 added another complication: the flagship theater on the South Bank of the Thames was shut down. This required rapid and radical adjustments. The primary KPI was no longer selling theater tickets in London, but driving YouTube views and donations. Notes Wallis, “Our switch to more of a fundraising campaign has had a response that was really, really positive.”
“We’re able to tweak the content, but also the messaging, to make it as relevant as possible to people across the globe.”
Thom Wallis, Senior CRM Marketing Manager, National Theatre
Solution: Talking to theater patrons as individuals
Acoustic Campaign, including the Social Audiences module, is now the CRM workhorse for the NT. All CRM activity takes place in Campaign, mostly conducted by Wallis and one other team member, but, “pretty much every department across the company is using Campaign to communicate with their individual audiences within our database.” Reporting, data, data insights, and audience surveys all run though this tool.
The Social Audiences module is used it in four key ways:
- Looking at bookers’ data: knowing who has purchased a ticket or visited a certain webpage or clicked a certain link. NT uses that data to retarget: “If you liked that, then you might like this.” Being able to create segmentations includes knowing which audiences are specifically interested in musical theater vs drama — and retargeting them for future advertising campaigns.
- More “programmatic” CRM support: as NT sends out emails launching a new trailer for a show, they can follow up with a short, targeting burst of social advertising to the same audience, maximizing impact for that launch.
- Prospecting for new audiences. And…
- Making marketing spend more efficient: the NT can suppress audiences that have already purchased tickets, or that the NT knows won’t be interested in certain performances.
According to Wallis: “We’ve been able to reach new people using dynamic content: being able to serve multiple messages to different segments of our audience, based on factors such as geography, web behaviours, email opens — and dynamically change the content of the emails we’re sending out, to make it as relevant to people as possible. A key example would be our monthly newsletter — which is our largest list — which is almost 100% dynamic content based on your membership level, where in the country you are, or international. We’re able to tweak the content, but also the messaging to make it as relevant as possible to people across the globe.”
Another breakthrough capability for NT is webtracking. “Previously we would have had no visibility on customer interactions across our website,” notes Wallis. “And that’s been really fundamental in helping us drive conversions with our most engaged audiences and make our use of Campaign most efficient. It also gives us the ability to use our CRM data in our paid advertising, which has been really fundamental to help us move to a digital-first approach for advertising.”
“Campaign is a really efficient platform. I’ve used a range of CRM tools and Campaign does all the things I would expect a marketing automation platform to do.”
Thom Wallis, Senior CRM Marketing Manager, National Theatre
Results: Better targeting for greater returns
The reviews are in and the desired improvement in targeting and automation has delivered the hoped-for results. NT can now automatically trigger marketing messages and actions based on behavior, logic, and AI recommendations. The social advertising program has never been more efficient. According to Wallis, “Of the amount we spend on social advertising through Facebook, 17% of that spend is using data from the Social Audiences module, but that makes up 30% of the revenue from Facebook accounts. Using the Social Audiences module for email has increased ROI by +113% against standard social advertising — using our CRM’s targeting rather than Facebook’s.” This translates into greater efficiency all around: the cost per action for acquisition is down 45%.
Audiences and patrons are noticing the difference: the open rate for webtracking emails has increased by 53% higher than ‘standard’ campaign emails and the click-through rate (CTR) has increased by 23% against standard emails. The conversion rate on webtracking emails is up an impressive 75% over standard emails. The increasingly targeted content gets noticed and gets action.
The tools available through Campaign are being continually updated. A new change that Wallis finds to be particularly valuable: “The Automated Programs tool gives us the flexibility and ease-of-use that allows us to create more bespoke customer journeys for individual shows or activations. That’s been really invaluable, creating a specific customer journey for each activation.”
Summing up where NT is today, Wallis reports that: “Campaign is a really efficient platform. I’ve used a range of CRM tools and Campaign does all the things I would expect a marketing automation platform to do. This tool is rapidly evolving and improving, and that’s very encouraging.”
Looking ahead at NT’s plans for Campaign, Wallis shares the vision for the future: “We’re moving towards a concise, single customer view. The reason behind that is to improve the customer experience, serving the most relevant information to the right person at the right time. We’re working on improved personalisation. And this especially around National Theatre Live, so we can serve you up what broadcasts are coming to your local cinema — on a national and international level — personalised to our subscribers, so we can help reduce the amount of searching they need to do.”
“Surviving the impact of Coronavirus has been one the biggest challenges in the National Theatre’s history, and Campaign has been at the forefront of our efforts to maintain audience engagement, maximise revenue and support an evolving range of product across live performance, cinema broadcast and digital streaming.”
Sam Zdzieblo, Head of Marketing Campaigns, National Theatre
About National Theatre
The National Theatre (NT) in the UK is much more than a theater building on the South Bank of the Thames in London. NT Live cinema broadcasts are seen in over 2,500 venues in 65 countries, worldwide. The NT runs a program investing in the future of talent, creating and commissioning new plays, building audiences, and partnering with theater companies across the UK. There’s also a nationwide learning and participation program that supports creative education for young people. Recordings of performances are available for online streaming around the globe.
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