When I was running the Canadian Internationa Dragon Boat Festival, the late impresario, David YH Lui, and I would have many discussions around the arts. David was producing the cultural program at the festival and helped me understand the value of the arts and the issues they faced. Coincidentally, it was the cultural program at the time that helped set the Vancouver dragon boat event apart from all others in the world.
Everyone had races. Only we had culture — and that complement helped secure our place as the largest dragon boat event in North America.
In those heady days, the melodic and graceful expressions of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Vancouver Opera or Ballet BC would alight the main stage. Embraced by the warmth of summer with the blue waters of False Creek as a backdrop, it was a most magnificent spectacle.
But over the next number of years, practically every arts organization we engaged would find itself in distress, with falling financial support and declining audiences. It was a conundrum about which David and I often fretted. However, the problems facing the arts were planted for which an inquiring mind sought to find solutions.
Funding and audience development continue to be the primary struggle for arts organizations. This is an old story. The challenge, we mused, was how to more effectively leverage box office and admission revenues in order to create greater sustainability. After all, tickets unsold and seats left empty equate to revenue that cannot be recovered, but growing audiences and revenues increase an organization’s bottom line, ensure ongoing government support and help leverage relationships with corporate and individual supporters.
With that thought — seats left empty — we had an idea. What if we took the loyalty model first developed by the airlines in the 1980s when their planes were flying half empty and adapted it to include the full spectrum of the arts? Artspoints Rewards was born — the only coalition loyalty program for the arts in Canada and the world, made right here in B.C. If loyalty programs helped turn around an ailing airline industry, why couldn’t it do the same for the arts?
Odds are, you already earn points when you travel, buy groceries, gas, drugstore items, movie tickets and more. Rewarding customers through point earnings with the potential of future reward is now a mainstream marketing strategy for businesses wanting to retain existing, and attract new, customers. Not only do they work, they’ve proven to be hugely successful.
Globally, Canadians are among the highest adopters of rewards programs with average participation in eight programs. However, half have recently expressed dissatisfaction with these programs saying more needs to be offered. At Artspoints, we share your sentiment — after all no one wants another toaster. Rather, we believe experiences are one of the ingredients to greater satisfaction and the arts deliver that in spades.
Few would dispute the value of the arts to society. However, detractors will always criticize the pool of public funding earmarked for the arts. Defraying this attitude must be a key feature of the arts, which is where a loyalty program could fit in.
As an audience development program for the arts by the arts, Artspoints is taking a page from commercial marketing programs and applying it to this most deserving sector. By rewarding participation in the arts, helping to sell more tickets and paying the arts when points are redeemed, Artspoints is applying a familiar loyalty and revenue model to the arts in a way that’s never been done before anywhere in the world.
Artspoints has been years in the making and in the last few weeks has finally rolled out in B.C. Partnering with more than a dozen of the leading arts groups in, with more to come, Artspoints is blazing a trail in audience marketing for the arts and allowing consumers to enjoy more arts more often.