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Episode 143
February 7, 2020

What Can Retail Learn from the Performing Arts?

Phillip & Brian are joined by Aubrey Bergauer to talk about marketing in the arts. Aubrey discusses that orchestras need to better serve the general population by making orchestral music more approachable by the general population. Not a change in product, rather a change in presentation.

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Show Notes:

Main Takeaways:

  • Brian and Phillip are joined in today's episode by Aubrey Bergauer, Vice President of Strategic Communications & Executive Director of the Center for Innovative Leadership at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the Chief Executive Officer of Changing the Narrative.
  • Aubrey is changing the narrative of orchestra direction and bringing arts management into the digital world.
  • When the product is not the problem, how do you pinpoint and address issues in customer retention and sales?
  • Reaching new audiences should take priority over catering to your most loyal customers when it comes to designing your marketing.

Aubrey Bergauer: A History:

  • Phillip met Aubrey at the 2019 Magento Imagine Conference.
  • Aubrey is a self-proclaimed classical music nerd and has wanted to run a classical music program since high school (which no one ever says).
  • When she was in high school, her orchestra went through a management change, and that is when the lightbulb went off that that was what she wanted to do.
  • She has been combining her degrees in performance and business for fifteen years in a career in arts management.

Digging Deeper: Some More Detail on a Passion of Music:

  • Believe it or not, Aubrey played the tuba, which is such a large instrument that she had to sit on phone books to play when she was younger.
  • Aubrey liked the feeling of breaking the mold when it came to playing the tuba, a trend which continues into her current life.
  • The tuba wasn't developed until much later in comparison to other instruments in the orchestra, so Aubrey's favorite music correlates with the time of its development.
  • Sergey Prokofiev is one of her favorite composers, and his 5th Symphony is one of her favorite pieces.

Instigating for Change: Redefining the Orchestra Playbook:

  • The playbook for orchestras has existed for decades, and the art form as a whole has been around for hundreds of years.
  • Orchestras were founded at a time when arts and culture were synonymous with entertainment, and about half of the revenue comes from ticket sales, and the other half would come from donations.
  • As the 20th century progressed, loyalty became more fleeting, so the subscription model dwindled in comparison to patrons buying single tickets.
  • Aubrey points out that the subscription model isn't dead, but how do you achieve loyalty amongst your customer base?

Music is What We Do Best: Perpetuating Through Advancement:

  • Classical music has survived as an art form for hundreds of years because the music is so good.
  • There is an oversupply of musicians, which means that everyone in an orchestra is at the top of their field.
  • The enduring level of talent in musicians highlights that the problem regarding audience attendance doesn't lie in the music itself, but rather in the customer base.
  • How do you program towards audience behavior that contrasts with more traditional orchestra models?

Attracting New Audiences: Shifting from the Paradigm of the Past:

  • Aubrey states that the website for the San Francisco Conservatory of music is the most public-facing ambassador in their organization.
  • More people visit their website than will ever visit the orchestra in person.
  • When thinking about the digital experience, many first-timers did not return because their digital experience was awful.
  • Website visitors would give feedback stating that they did not understand the terminology used on the site, which provides Aubrey and her team with actionable changes.

Reaching Beyond the Insiders: Widening Your Acquisition Nets:

  • In general, orchestras have traditionally designed their websites, assuming their visitors will have a baseline level of knowledge that doesn't exist.
  • The people who do have this level of knowledge are already your subscribers, so stop designing for them and focus on the vast majority of people that don't fit into this category.
  • How do you facilitate change in a world that is based upon tradition and established values?
  • Jargony words and technical language is a gatekeeper that deters an audience that you have not reached.

Going Further: The Product Is Not the Problem:

  • When you have a good product, and people enjoy, you need to take a step back and analyze what is causing your brand not to be successful.
  • Amazon Prime is changing expectations with product discovery by providing a new experience when it comes to the process of finding new products.
  • Who is the tastemaker in an orchestra?
  • There has been a movement that has evolved the typical curated experience in which orchestra attendees prefer to have more choice in what they experience with their orchestra.

The Long Haul Model: Solving Traditional Problems:

  • How do you pay homage to a traditionally elevated experience yet still update that experience and make it fun by modern standards?
  • Aubrey explains the Long Haul Model, which is a new paradigm that solves the problems of audience attrition, churn, and aging.
  • No matter who you are in relation to an organization, the model says that there is just one next step for you to take as an attendee.
  • Instead of separate departments, Aubrey created one patron loyalty department that executes the Long Haul model.

Non-Profit Boards: An Outdated Model?:

  • Non-profits have boards with people who have roles at for-profit businesses who then govern an institution that is not a for-profit business.
  • For-profit employees typically haven't been trained to manage non-profit businesses and represent 1% of dedicated orchestra-goers.
  • As leaders in the arts, data should be used much more in regards to making business decisions because your audience is an essential part of your organization.
  • How do you leverage data when it comes to appeasing a board?

The Future Commerce Sendoff: Challenges in the Next Five Years:

  • The changing demographics of this country are a big challenge to overcome when it comes to classical music organizations that are typically "super white and play a lot of music by dead white guys."
  • Orchestras are over-indexing on white audiences and trying to design for them when that is a shrinking percentage of the population.
  • How do orchestras become more inclusive, more welcoming, more inviting, and less elitist?
  • The arts have to make a case for support when there are so many more social justice causes that are also asking for help.

Brands Mentioned in this Episode:

As always: We want to hear what our listeners think! What are some actionable steps you can take today to increase your customer retention based on the insight provided by Aubrey in today's episode?

Have any questions or comments about the show? Let us know on, or reach out to us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn. We love hearing from our listeners!

Retail Tech is moving fast, but Future Commerce is moving faster.

Brian: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to Future Commerce, the podcast about cutting edge and next generation commerce. I'm Brian.

Phillip: [00:00:05] And I'm Phillip. And today is, I think our first... Is this our first interview of the year, Brian? I can't... I don't know.

Brian: [00:00:12] Is it? I don't know.

Phillip: [00:00:12] I don't know. {laughter} 2020 is going to mark a new year and a little bit of a venture away from some of the themes that we've had on the show. If you've been paying attention for the last few years, and I couldn't think of a better person to help us break that ice in this new territory for us. But we'll get into that. We have someone who's very special who joined me at the Magento Imagine conference back last year in Las Vegas. And I was the emcee of that show, but I think she was the star of the show and brought such an incredible, passionate performance of her own in talking about her role and background and bringing innovation to the area of performing arts. And we were just so thrilled that she accepted our invitation to come speak on our little podcast. So if you would join me in welcoming Aubrey Bergauer, who is the Vice President of Strategic Communications and the Executive Director at the Center for Innovative Leadership at San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Welcome to the show.

Brian: [00:01:15] Welcome.

Aubrey: [00:01:16] Hi, guys. Thank you for having me. That was a really nice intro. I appreciate it.

Phillip: [00:01:21] And then we cut it all together to actually make it sound like I can speak on camera. Aubrey, for those who, you know, may not be following you on LinkedIn, which, by the way, is an incredible roller coaster because you say some of the coolest things of any person...

Brian: [00:01:38] You really do.

Aubrey: [00:01:39] Thank you guys.

Phillip: [00:01:40] You have the best LinkedIn of anyone I know.

Aubrey: [00:01:42] Love it.

Phillip: [00:01:42] For those who may not be following you, give us a little bit about yourself and catch some people up to speed.

Aubrey: [00:01:47] So I don't know if you've ever had a guest on this podcast who is like a self-proclaimed classical music nerd, but that's me. And this story, without boring you guys, is that I have wanted to run a major symphony orchestra since high school, which what's important about that to know is that nobody in the arts industry says that. Like nobody. So what normally happens is that sort of the management side of the arts is usually like never top of mind. It's always sort of considered as like, "Oh, you failed as a performer. And so this was the backup plan." Yeah. So it's like since high school, this is what I wanted. And so it's so interesting to me. And so what's so crazy about that, though, is that this is the industry, or an industry, where there are tons of nonperforming jobs and everything from everybody who's got to do things backstage to fundraising, marketing, working with a board, all these things that we talk about. And you guys would talk about with any retail brand or any commerce brand, for whatever it's worth. That's just I think it's such an interesting and odd and quite frankly, bad thing about the industry that, yeah, it's weird that my story is that since high school I wanted to do that. And so very quickly, I played an instrument growing up. I grew grew up in Houston, played in the Houston Youth Symphony. And when I was in high school, that orchestra went through an executive director change. And I remember them introducing this person to us kids in the orchestra and saying like a sentence or less about what that was. And so for me, that was the light bulb moment of, "Oh, my gosh, there's a job managing this entire operation. And that's the job I want to be. Be the boss. That's a job I want to have." And then ever since then, I've just been really focused. I have a degree in performance, but I also have a degree in business and really have been combining those things now for 15 years with a career in arts management and various roles over that period of time.

Phillip: [00:03:44] Wow.

Brian: [00:03:45] What a cool story. You're really pursuing your passion, like your true passion, since childhood, which is awesome.

Aubrey: [00:03:50] Yeah and it's awesome. And like it's a blessing and a curse because it's so specific. I mean, like just what kid says that? I want to run an orchestra. It's just very weird.

Phillip: [00:03:58] It's like being a kid and watching Rocky and being like, "You know what I want to be? I want to be Mickey. I want to be that guy in the corner.".

Aubrey: [00:04:07] Exactly.

Phillip: [00:04:08] No, that's incredible.

Brian: [00:04:10] I gotta ask. Oh, sorry. I gotta ask.

Phillip: [00:04:13] I think we're going to ask the exact same question.

Brian: [00:04:14] Maybe.

Phillip: [00:04:14] You go ahead.

Brian: [00:04:15] I want to know who your favorite composer is. What instrument it was that you played? Give me a little more detail.

Aubrey: [00:04:22] OK. Sure.

Brian: [00:04:23] What's your favorite music?

Aubrey: [00:04:24] I didn't want to nerd out too soon.

Brian: [00:04:27] No, nerd out, please.

Aubrey: [00:04:28] OK. Well, in terms of what instrument I played, I played the tuba. Believe it or not. Which I know listeners can't see to me. But if anybody, like looks me up like I don't look like a tuba player, ok.

Brian: [00:04:38] That is amazing.

Aubrey: [00:04:38] So. But it's funny. I quickly learned like, "Oh, I'm the only girl playing this instrument, and it's so big." And when I was younger and getting started, it was like I was sitting on phonebooks trying to reach the mouthpiece. You know, it's like this giant thing. But then I learned like, oh, it's really cool, and I beat all the boys, and I practiced. And anyway, it just became this thing that I loved breaking stereotypes, which really is part of my personality today, as we will get into. But then in terms of what music? Because I play the tuba. It wasn't... OK, here we go in the nerdy weeds, but it's an instrument that wasn't developed until much later than many of the other instruments in the orchestra. Which means like sort of mid eighteen hundreds is when it really came about. And so that time period and through the 19th, the 20th century, it tends to be the music I like just because it has better tuba parts. So I love Prokofiev. One of my favorite composers. Prokofiev's 5th Symphony, for any other classical music nerds, listening. That is my favorite piece of music of all time.

Brian: [00:05:38] All right. I'm going to go listen after this.

Aubrey: [00:05:42] So yeah. There you go.

Phillip: [00:05:43] You'll make our Spotify playlist for the month.

Aubrey: [00:05:45] Yes. Ok.

Brian: [00:05:48] Yes. Please. That's amazing. That's such a good idea, Phillip.

Aubrey: [00:05:50] Let's do it.

Phillip: [00:05:50] Yeah, it's interesting because I feel like I can relate to all of that because the things that I nerd out about are things that are more contemporary in a world that's otherwise very well established. If I were to find a segue back is that we live in a world that is digitally enabled, that is, you know, ostensibly in the world of commerce. It's a very new comer to the way that humans engage over trading goods and services and like being able to live and thrive. And the way that we do that in retail has sort of a playbook. Right? Everyone wants to know what the playbook is. There's a way to do that. I have to imagine that there is a way to executive direct a symphony and that people have strong opinions and ideas about how that should be done. There's probably books that have been written on it. If I look up your name, you seem like you're the person who is trying to change that, or change the perspective of what that is, in your industry. Tell us a little bit about what that's like and what it's like to kind of trail blaze a bit and be someone who is instigating for change.

Aubrey: [00:06:46] So you're right. [00:06:47] There definitely is a playbook. And that playbook for orchestras has existed for 40, 50, 60, 70 years. I mean, you know, in the art form as a whole is hundreds of years old at this point. The playbook has been very slow to change. And [00:07:03] as you alluded to, to sort of give everybody an idea of what's typical of an orchestra. I think I'll share some of that and then share some of what I've done to, as you said, sort of rewrite some of that. [00:07:14] Orchestras were founded at a time when arts and culture was synonymous with entertainment. There wasn't a lot beyond that to constitute entertainment. It was founded, especially in the 20th century, is where the current models for a business model for orchestras really came about. And that model very simply is about half of the revenue for an orchestra would come from ticket sales and about half would come from donations, fund raising. And so that means a ticket, even if we're selling out all of our performances, does not cover the cost to produce the art. Therefore, we fundraise the difference and that's why we're nonprofits. In some ways I'm oversimplifying, but by and large, that's like the big nuts and bolts of it.  [00:07:55]Ok, so what started happening as the 20th century progressed and definitely as we got into the 21st century, this idea especially in ticket sales, is that, and true for all consumers, loyalty became more fleeting. And so [00:08:10] the subscription model was so important to the foundation of an arts organization like an orchestra. You buy the whole season as a subscription purchase. And as loyalty has changed and consumer habits have changed, entertainment options have expanded, that model has really suffered. And so more people now buy single tickets for orchestras rather than buying the full season. So audiences are much more fleeting. [00:08:38] The stat that I shared at the Magento conference is that [00:08:40] 90% of first time buyers for symphony orchestras never return. Now, that's the current statistic, which is incredibly alarming when 90% of your first time customers don't ever come back. Right? For any business, that would be an alarming statistic. So what has happened over the last few decades is that orchestras have really struggled with figuring out how do we adapt to changing consumer behavior? What I think is important is that the subscription model is not dead. I mean, we know, and everybody listening to this podcast knows, the subscription model is actually probably more prominent than ever. [00:09:15] You know, Netflix, Dollar Shave Club and whatever you want to name like, I get my dog's damn dog food delivered to my door every two weeks.

Phillip: [00:09:22] {laughter} It's true.

Aubrey: [00:09:22] So. Yeah. So it's like [00:09:24] subscription model's not dead. It's just that we got to figure out as orchestrators, how do we repackage that? Because I do believe that loyalty is achievable, but we have work to do in how we change our marketing efforts, how we change the way we present what we do. [00:09:38] I think to sort of wrap up this question. I think there are... The approach and the solution to this in the orchestra world, is really the big differentiator and where I found my success. Most people working in the performing arts would say, "Oh, the product is the problem." And most orchestras would say, "OK, we gotta program more Harry Potter in concerts." And the truth is people will come to that. I see you guys nodding your heads.

Phillip: [00:10:02] Yeah. Yeah.

Aubrey: [00:10:02] Like people come to those concerts. Don't get me wrong, that's a really cool show. And to see like the movie on the big screen with the orchestra performing live, like that's super cool. But all the data shows those people... Same thing...90% don't come back. And most of those buyers don't then come to the sort of traditional classical music concerts. Those Harry Potter people wouldn't necessarily come to a program that had Prokofiev at this symphony. Right? That's a real problem for the industry. Again, loyalty, crossover, repeat attendance has become really challenging. So [00:10:32] I would contend that it's not a programing problem. And we can get into the UX research I've done that helped reveal some of that. The music is what we do best. I mean, classical music has survived as an art form for hundreds of years because the music is so good, and not that it can't evolve and shouldn't evolve. And of course it should. It's art and entertainment and so it should evolve. But there is a complete oversupply of trained musicians. This starts to get into the systemic problem of why nobody's trained arts management. Everybody's trained in performance. So a complete oversupply of musicians means every orchestra is actually super good.  [00:11:06]Even if you live in a small town somewhere and you have a local orchestra, they're probably really good. And so [00:11:11] the music is not the problem. The product itself is usually very high quality no matter where in America you are. And so I just don't believe that we need to change the music. [00:11:21] Not that we shouldn't program Harry Potter or anything. But it's just that's not proving to be the solution to grow audiences and to grow that loyalty that we need. [00:11:28] Changing that and saying, no, we can design for behavior. There is a way to design for loyalty. It starts with not soliciting somebody for a donation the second they make that first purchase. I think so many people had that experience where you get called right away with "Will you give?" and you're like, "Whoa! All I did was I went on a first date with you guys, and now you're asking me to get married." [00:11:47] So anyways, I can go on and on. But I just think there's so much that sort of like the old traditional way of the model that the industry is trying to sort their way through and by really trying other approaches. And I'd say, no, [00:11:59] I don't believe that loyalty is dead. I don't believe the product is the problem. Let's design for solutions around that. That has really allowed for success for me. [00:12:07]

Phillip: [00:12:07] That sounds similar to some of the things that we've talked about on the show, which are at least in a period of 10 years of economic growth, have we captured sales or have we captured customers? You can easily spend some money on Instagram and Facebook and get some people to come buy something from your store, right? You probably... Aubrey, I don't use Instagram. You probably see brands you've never heard of every second day.

Aubrey: [00:12:29] Of course. Yeah.

Phillip: [00:12:30] And you might buy from some of those if you are caught at the right time. It doesn't mean you're going to buy from them forever. I can see a direct parallel from there. You've said some interesting things around like sort of the ambassadorship of the digital experience and sort of the modernization of how you attract new audiences. Could you tell us a little bit about how that might have been in the past and what the modern paradigm would be, you know, maybe in particular at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music?

Aubrey: [00:12:59]  [00:12:59]I say all the time, our website in particular is the most public facing ambassador we have for our organization. And that's another truism that probably applies to most e-commerce brands. We have way more people visiting our website than we will ever touch in person. And that is true for symphony orchestras who have two thousand, three thousand seat concert halls as well. [00:13:19] That's just I mean, it's called a funnel for a reason, right? So it starts just so broad at the top, which is usually the website. What orchestras have done is really not use a lot of data when we start thinking about the digital experience. I will say, you know, you mentioned Instagram. Orchestras are generally great at acquisition. I mean, we always say we need new audiences. We need younger audiences. Well, [00:13:41] when you hear me say such a stat, like 90% of first time buyers don't ever come back, that's not an acquisition problem. That's not a new audiences problem. That's a retention problem. [00:13:50] And so my last job at the California Symphony where I was Executive Director, we did this UX research project to really sort of figure out, and this gets back to the question of digital, but we did this project to figure out, OK, why is this retention rate so abysmally low? And if repeat buyers are the foundation for who will be our subscribers and season ticket holders, and then those people are the best prospects to become donors like that first step with the pipeline is really critical. We've got to figure out how do we open this up. [00:14:18] So much of the feedback that came back from that UX research project was first timers telling us their digital experience was awful. Again, it wasn't the music, it was the digital experience. And in fact, it was sort of everything tangential to the art itself. [00:14:33] The program book as well, to talk about a non digital asset, but everything. [00:14:38] And so what we learned, going back to the website, is they told us things like your website reads like inside baseball. I don't know what these words are. I don't know what a concerto is. Some of the people... These are really smart adults and millennials and Gen Xers and some of them said, "I don't know all the names of the instruments in the orchestra." OK, well, as an institution or a brand that's using these words like it's the back of our hand, for people to tell us, "I don't know what a concerto is. I don't know all the instruments..." OK. That's real feedback of yeah, we got to change the way we're communicating with our "audience" or desired audience. [00:15:16] And so they told us, you know, everything on your website is buried in paragraph form. They might not know a piece of music by name, "Rhapsody in Blue," but if I said, "Oh, it's the thing you hear on the United Airlines commercials." "Oh, that piece of music. Yeah." Right? And so it's like, well, we got to have more audio samples. We got to have... Somebody in the focus group said, "I looked at every piece on your season on Wikipedia," and we realized, oh, what a trusted source of information. So let's bring into our next website redesign we imported in Wikipedia articles for every piece on our season, so people could get the information that way without having to leave the website. So it was just all kinds of things on the website. [00:15:59] And I would boil it down to saying that what we realized is that we were designing our website, we and every other orchestra in America pretty much, were designing our website assuming a baseline knowledge that does not exist and this is coming from the same group of people, arts administrators who preach day in and day out, the decline in public music education in this country is hurting our ability to grow audiences. Yet we, me, had done nothing to change the way we design anything, starting with our online experience, for those people who don't have that knowledge. [00:16:34]

Brian: [00:16:34] It's super interesting. I think of like car sales. Actually, it sounds kind of funny, but it's like you're putting all of the tiny little specks that go into the engine in there. And that's not how you sell cars. You sell cars by talking...

Phillip: [00:16:48] Maybe someone who cares about that.

Aubrey: [00:16:50] Right.

Brian: [00:16:51] Yeah exactly. There's a whole set of people out there who are super car enthusiast. Although that's sort of a dying breed. The things that actually go under the engine or a lot less important than the experience of driving your car and what it's like to drive your car. And how it makes you feel and what you're able to accomplish with it. It's like you were selling to everyone who already knew everything under the hood and probably already knew everything under the hood for that music even before they came to your website, you know?

Aubrey: [00:17:21] That's right. I say this all the... Sorry to interrupt, but I'm like so excited now because I'm like, "Yes, you totally got it." And so I say all the time now, when I'm giving talks on this is. Yeah.  [00:17:32]Those people already have their tickets. Those people who do know all those things, they are existing subscribers. So stop... They're not going to the website. They've got their tickets. They're done. So design for the other ninety 98% of the universe who is our prospective audience. [00:17:48] So sorry. I need to like take some...

Phillip: [00:17:50] No, no, no.

Brian: [00:17:50] No, that's good.

Phillip: [00:17:52] I'm curious how much of, in your role... You mentioned the printed piece, like the actual...

Aubrey: [00:17:58] Oh the program book. Yeah.

Phillip: [00:17:59] Program book. So I'm curious how much in your world you have to deal with preconceived notions or nostalgia around how important those pieces are and how do you reorient people's pre-formed opinions about how important those pieces are?

Brian: [00:18:14] Good question.

Phillip: [00:18:16] Because I think that's a key in a lot of organizations, especially ones that, and for our listening audience, that you have a way that you do things. Everyone is really nostalgic about the way that you do those things. And when someone questions it, it's probably met with a lot of... Yeah, I don't know. They probably also...

Aubrey: [00:18:33] Resistance. {laughter}

Phillip: [00:18:34] Yeah resistance is the right word.

Aubrey: [00:18:36] Yeah. How do you make change, right?

Phillip: [00:18:39] Right.

Aubrey: [00:18:39] That's the question. And so I mean, of course, you're absolutely right. There are so many things in classical music that are, "Well, this is how we've done it." So to combat that, there's a couple strategies that I've employed. One is I'm so data driven, and that has been really helpful for my career and having these conversations, which maybe this sounds like an answer where it's like that's not rocket science. [00:19:01] But the reality is, especially in the arts, there is so much data available to us that it's just sort of the mentality of the industry is that we're not always tapping into that and not always using that. And so for something like program book, we were able to hear from our UX research again, all these like jargony words and technical language. And they said, "Well, can you just tell us the story behind the music?" And so we said, "Great," and so we changed our program notes, and we really were able to respond to that feedback. Okay. So then the data comes in and sure enough, I'm making a lot of these changes, starting with the website, and then moving the program book and some other things that we can talk about. We started seeing growth in our audience. And so, okay, then I got to go to the board and say, "Look, these changes are producing a result. Our audience is growing," and this is in the midst of a sea of changes I was making. All kinds of things. [00:19:57] But to be able to say... Like one of the things we got pushed back on, this is a great example. There's a big, I think, barrier in terms of the unspoken rules of when to applaud at an orchestra concert. Most people don't know that sort of the normal way, if you were to go to like a New York Philharmonic or San Francisco Symphony, during a four movement piece like Beethoven's 5th Symphony or something like that, you would not applaud between movements. Most people don't know that that's the unspoken rule because it literally is unspoken, like nobody says anywhere what you're supposed to do or how you are supposed to behave. And I'll spare you all the music history behind it. But that's actually a kind of a 20th century construct. It's not even true to the origins of classical music in the 1700s/1800s. But what we said at the California Symphony, and we printed in our program book, "Clap when you like what you hear." OK, so first of all, we're telling people the expected behavior or what's permissible and it's like, great. Ok. So usually a symphony orchestra. The first movement usually ends like pretty exciting. And it's like almost sounds like the piece is over, which is why if you've ever been to a symphony concert, you usually hear like a few people sort of liked awkwardly clapping and then they realize, oh, nobody else is clapping. And I'm like, why is this like the normal thing that happens at orchestras? It's so ridiculous. And then those people clearly are the new ones because they didn't know when not to applaud. And then we wonder why they don't come back because they feel so like alienated and unwelcome because probably some old lady next from shushed them or something. Right? So we said at California Symphony when I was there, "Clap whenever..." Yeah. I'm really opinionated on this stuff, guys.

Phillip: [00:21:34] Love it.

Brian: [00:21:34] Love it.

Aubrey: [00:21:34] So we said, "Clap when you like what you hear." That's a big change. We had some people saying, like, "If you tell people to clap when they like what they hear one more time, I'm not renewing my subscription, I'm out of here." But the funny thing is, and this is a question I always get from people in the industry, like, why did they do? What did your "core audience" think? And the funny thing is, like those cranky people I just like imitated. That was so few. Like one or two people actually were that upset.

Brian: [00:22:08] Yes.

Aubrey: [00:22:08] Because if we go back to loyalty, all of the data shows like once somebody is a subscriber for two years, but especially three years, they're in. Those renewal rates are like 95% or higher. So it's actually very little we can do to upset them so much that they leave. Meanwhile, we were over my time there, this is right before I moved to the job where I am now at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. But over my time at the California Symphony, we doubled the number of tickets we sold in a year, doubled our audience. A lot of that growth was from those single ticket buyers moving to subscribers because we changed the experience. So then you go to the data and you get to say to the board or to those few cranky patrons, the loud vocal minority, you get to say we're doubling the audience. And there's a couple of you who are upset about the way it used to be. I will take that deal any day of the week.

Brian: [00:23:00] I think it's really interesting that you talked about how the product is not a problem. And I think that there's some really interesting points to take away from that. I think about retail and brand and it's kind of like assortment, actually, like assortment and product is actually good. You've got good stuff. You're selling good stuff. This is all stuff that people should enjoy and be able to enjoy. But it's all the things around that we're talking about. We talk a lot about Amazon Prime on the show and how it's changing customer expectations.

Aubrey: [00:23:27] Yeah.

Brian: [00:23:27] We talk a lot about, you know, product discovery and how to do that. And I think there's some really interesting things going on. So first of all, I think a lot of the stuff that's played in symphonies actually is product discovery. Right? So it's old stuff, but nobody knows about it. And they're coming to it first time. And this experience is a new experience. And so you're actually providing them with sort of a net new experience that they've never had before. Even though this experience, it's been around for a long time.

Aubrey: [00:23:27] Right.

Brian: [00:23:51] So there's something really interesting there. But also, the way that we consume music has been changing. The way that we do commerce has been changing. A lot of things have been changing. So you think about Spotify and the way that people have been finding new music and, you know, enjoying new music. It's interesting. I think there's some really interesting... I just feel like there's a lot of opportunity, not just for you, but for retailers in general, to sort of capture this. It's almost like Spotify is the content surrounding your products almost. And so tell us a little bit about how you're, with these changing expectations, and they're happening across the board, how you're trying to address those changing expectations and also how you're looking to help bring some of these new opportunities in and enhance the experience and provide people with a really easy way... You talk about things as simple as clapping. Talk to us a little bit more about that.

Phillip: [00:24:52] Can I actually ask a different way of asking that exact question, which is in I think of people might have looked at the radio DJ as the culture maker some 30 years ago as a curator of what to listen to on the radio. People think of Spotify that way. Is that also what's happened at the executive director level for curating content? And would you have at some point looked at the executive director level in an organization like yours as like the taste maker? And how has that changed recently?

Aubrey: [00:25:30] Right. Both versions of that question are very good. I'll try to touch on both of them. Just to get into sort of yeah, who is the taste maker at an orchestra? It doesn't fall solely to the executive director. The music director is who you see on the podium conducting. A lot of that truly falls to that person, the maestro or maestra, and at bigger orchestras there's an entire artistic planning staff that supports that. So that group of people on the artistic side really are the ones making these curatorial decisions. I do think, you know, I say the programing is not the problem. The music's not the problem. OK. Let's put an asterix there. I do feel that way. But when we talk about this like DJ model, I think that's a great analogy because that is what an orchestra was. You buy your 20 week subscription that's curated for you. And there has been definitely a movement, and more orchestras have been better about rolling this out. Choose your own. People want to choose what concerts they go to versus have the whole series planned for that. Right. So that has been an evolution in the model. I think also within a concert. So I mentioned sort of the siloed programing. We have the Harry Potter concerts. We have the Beethoven concerts. We have the Dia De Los Muertos concerts. All these things are just like siloed by performance. And I think we think about like a Spotify part of the analogy, then why can't the program be John William Star Wars music and then Beethoven, or something like that where it's like... I don't know, I feel like any time, and I don't have a ton of experience with really rolling this out. Anytime we pilot tested that, we had good experience and good results where people were like, "Oh, I came for this. But then I also heard that, and that was really interesting." Sort of this discovery mentality like you would find on Spotify. So I think there's something there. [00:27:23] I think also to speak a little bit to the Amazon effect and just the way the expectations of consumers have evolved. I talk about this all the time with orchestras. Our price point is high. It's not a cheap experience to go out to buy two tickets and go to the symphony. [00:27:46]

Phillip: [00:27:48] Right.

Aubrey: [00:27:48]  [00:27:48]And therefore, the expectation for other comparable purchases at that price are that that online experience needs to be great, that sales path needs to be super slick, it needs to be like completely operational on mobile. And I know I'm saying these basic best practices that probably everybody who listens to Future Commerce podcast is like, "Duh." But orchestras really struggle with this for some reason and don't always invest in that. And it goes right back to the digital experience. And the website is so public facing. And it's like, why are we going to ask somebody to spend 100 bucks a ticket or more for talking like the Metropolitan Opera or something? That's like 250, 300, 500 a ticket? I mean, like, these are really... They're just such high end experiences, as the price point dictates, that we can't be janky on the website. [00:28:41] You know, so...

Phillip: [00:28:43] Yeah.

Aubrey: [00:28:44] And I think just the way other brands and Amazon in particular has made it. This instant gratification. I can search for what I want and get what I need and add it to my cart and two seconds later be done, and we just don't offer that same experience.

Brian: [00:28:58] I'm thinking about this, and I'm thinking about other comparable experiences like when are you going to drop that much on a single experience? And you think about sporting events and...

Aubrey: [00:29:06] That's right.

Brian: [00:29:07] And concerts, like modern concerts...

Aubrey: [00:29:09] Yeah.

Brian: [00:29:10] And I think about things that they're doing in their arena. I just recently, I got a little back and forth on recent partnerships with stadiums.

Aubrey: [00:29:23] Yeah.

Brian: [00:29:24] And I think about like those kinds of things. You could bring those enhance the ease of being able to approach something like this. Skip the line.

Aubrey: [00:29:34] Yes.

Brian: [00:29:34] Find other ways to bring in different food vendors. Make it so... [00:29:40] There's a lot of things you can do. And obviously, with respect to the tradition. I think it's interesting. There's a little bit more respect that you have to pay that maybe some of these other venues do. And it's actually part of the experience. So it's interesting. I think brands get caught up in this all the time as well, where they come from industries where you kind of do have to respect the brand and the aesthetic. [00:30:00]

Phillip: [00:30:01] Yeah.

Brian: [00:30:01] But you're also always trying to push the envelope.

Aubrey: [00:30:03] Of course. Right. I think, you know, anytime we went down sort of this path at the orchestras I've worked with, for example, again, my last job, California Symphony, we did... There was an all French music program. We did French wine pairings. And, you know, I don't know. So maybe, I don't know if that's cheesy or not, but people really were into it. And that's pretty fun. Oh, and then by...

Phillip: [00:30:24] I mean if you had cheese with the wine then yes it was quite cheesy.

Aubrey: [00:30:25] Exactly. Yes. We totally did that, too. Yeah. [00:30:27] And then as part of the whole concert experience, not just that program, but in general, we worked with our venue of how do we allow our patrons to bring drinks to their seats? Like I was just one of those in response to the UX research of like, oh, yeah, people don't want to gulp down their $15 cocktail and like run to their seat. They want to bring it with them. I mean, it's just things like that where it's like there are ways to, in your words, sort of like pay homage to the tradition or preserve some of the things that we want to preserve, but really still make it a fun experience. I feel like nobody talks about orchestras in the same sentence as the word fun. Like, I want to change that. That's crazy. [00:31:01]

Phillip: [00:31:01] Give me a little bit of a... Just doing a quick search on you, one might come across the phrase like "long haul model." Give me a little bit about what that is and your... Just tell me about that, because I think that that relates a lot to this conversation here, too.

Aubrey: [00:31:19] The long haul model is... It really relates to everything we're talking about about loyalty, and the idea is that no matter who you are and your relationship with our organization, whether you are that first time buyer, concert attendee, or a repeat buyer, or a season ticket holder, or a donor, like no matter where you fall in that continuum, the model says we have one next step for you, and one next step only, on how do we move you toward more engagement with us. And what's typical for an orchestra, we've already touched on a lot of these things, its acquisition all the time, both acquisition on ticket sales and acquisition on the donor side, which means it kind of creates, and I mentioned this earlier, this experience where usually people come once and then the next thing is like the fundraising department is calling them, asking them for a donation because they also are in acquisition mode trying to just get new donors. So instead, the long haul model says, look, we've got some super alarming statistics. As I said at the beginning, OK, if 90% of those first timers aren't coming back, the only next step we want them to take is to come back again. So stop asking them for anything else besides inviting them to a repeat purchase. So that really changed everything that was happening on the marketing and communications side.

Brian: [00:32:41] It sounds like you de-siloed the business as well.

Aubrey: [00:32:43] Yes. I talk about breaking down silos all the time. And that meant in this case, instead of separate marketing and fundraising departments, which is so I mean, that's like universally how the structure is at arts organizations. I said, "No, we're going gonna create one patron loyalty department that will execute this model." So stuff like that. I could talk about breaking down silos all day. I love it.

Phillip: [00:33:05] In that regard, you know, you said other things like musicians aren't our customers. Right? Or I think I might be misquoting this, but something to the effect of a board members should come with data and not opinions. I think that speaks very... That speaks to me on a spiritual level, because we deal with a lot of, you know, the CFO or CTO or CIO types in organizations who have their own opinions or who believe they're the customer or they fit the model of an ideal customer. And their opinion is obviously the opinion of everyone who might ever purchase from you.

Aubrey: [00:33:48] Right. Right.

Phillip: [00:33:50] It sounds like it's similar in your perspective. Tell me what it's like to do that. But in sort of a nonprofit realm.

Aubrey: [00:33:56] Yeah, well, it's exactly the same. So we don't have to think too hard to think of what it's like in a nonprofit because it's just what you describe. So to give an example. [00:34:08] Well, first I'll say the board model is so odd in my opinion, and that as nonprofit institutions, and of course for-profits have boards as well. But nonprofits, we have these boards which consist of people who have incredible experience and incredible success in their for profit, usually for profit jobs and careers, and yet they're then sort of thrust into these roles governing an orchestra, nonprofit, fundraising based institution. And it's like nothing, I can't say nothing about their prior experience, qualified for them for that, but they haven't been trained to manage a nonprofit. And yet here they are governing the institution. So I think it's weird. And then as you said, Phillip, it's like they'll say they think they are the profile of the customer. And yet they're the profile of the most engaged customer. If they're a board member, they're coming to every concert. They're donating big dollars. They're the 1% in terms of representation of our audience. [00:35:02]

Brian: [00:35:02] Right. There's no product discovery going on there.

Aubrey: [00:35:05] Yes. Exactly. So when we talk about. Yeah these phrases you've heard me say, you know, "Come with data, not opinions," that sort of thing. Here's the example I was going to offer to put behind all of this. This goes right back to  [00:35:20]website. There is a benchmarking study in the industry, and the survey was all kinds of arts organizations, big budget, small budgets, different geographic locations like truly representative sample size in terms of arts organizations and their website redesigns. And 62% of those surveyed said they considered for their last redesign internal needs and priorities among the top of what they were designing for. What? Like there's no customer in any of that. Then 25%, only 25% of those surveyed said that they used analytics data when approaching their last redesign. And 24%, so almost the exact same amount, said that they considered opinions of leadership and board members. The C-suite and the board. And I'm just like, how is analytics data 1% different than subjective opinion? [00:36:19]

Phillip: [00:36:19] Right.

Aubrey: [00:36:19]  [00:36:19]And so we as leaders, especially in the arts... This is why I say come with data, or come with an opinion, but let's see if the data can validate. I mean that's how you use analytics well, anyways, in my opinion, is come with a question and then see if we can find the answer to that question. [00:36:33]

Brian: [00:36:34] It's not just the arts. This is something that needs to be applied...

Aubrey: [00:36:36] Ok then I have found my people.

Phillip: [00:36:40] You certainly have. I mean, there has never been a person in an organization who used data or gerrymandered data to prove their own opinion. That's a whole other... That's another problem.

Aubrey: [00:36:51] Right. Right.

Phillip: [00:36:53] But I find that interesting. On the musician side... I'm trying to think about what a parallel would be. These are people who are very talented. They're skilled professionals. They're at the apex of a career. They certainly are also at a 1% right? I'm sure.

Aubrey: [00:37:12] Yeah. Absolutely.

Phillip: [00:37:13] They certainly have an opinion. And you probably have to keep them happy. What is it like working with that talent mix? And because I think I know where that's going, but I don't want to blow it just yet. Do they have opinions about how it should be programed and how you should be driving traffic into the building?

Aubrey: [00:37:36] Yes and no. I feel like musicians are divided on this. I think there are so many musicians who they just want to show up and play the gig, and that's OK. That's what they're trained to do. They won these highly competitive jobs. It's very similar to pro-athletes, like they made it. And that's fine if they feel that way. There are other musicians who, yeah, they have opinions. They want to be engaged. And that, I think, is the direction we need to be going, and that's more of a relationship because they are part of the team. Musicians are not our customers. Sort of should go back to that quote you said earlier. And [00:38:08] I think that where a lot of arts organizations get confused is that, you know, they make statements like that thinking like we are serving the art, and our primary goal is to serve the art. And at a surface level, there seemingly is nothing wrong with that statement. Oh, yeah, that sounds very mission driven, serve the art. But who pays for the art? Our customers. OK. So therefore, I would say no, we really are in the business of serving our patrons. And that doesn't mean that comes at the expense of the art. It means we have better... By serving our customers we can better fund the art. And so I think that sort of nuance... Maybe not every musician understands that. I think some definitely do more than others. [00:38:54] But it's a real... I would say if we were going to talk about some top challenges in the classical music industry, sort of the musicians-first management relationship is among them. It's really just in very broad strokes, it can be a really challenging relationship sometimes.

Brian: [00:39:10] Actually to that end, kind of as we wrap up here, one of the things we really like to ask at the end is what are some of the challenges that you expect to face in the next, you know, three or so years? How do you expect to be able to overcome some of those challenges?

Aubrey: [00:39:24] There's a couple of things... We've touched on a lot of them. But there are a couple of things I would say. [00:39:29] One, are the changing demographics of this country. It is no secret that classical music organizations are super white and play a lot of music by dead white guys. Like let's just say that. [00:39:41]

Phillip: [00:39:41] Show title. No, I'm just kidding.

Aubrey: [00:39:41] Right. So if we look at the changing demographics in America, we know that the census data is, and we're about to have a new census that gives us fresh information on all of this. But the last census, just to give a point of comparison, 72% of the population was white. We know that that is changing. But that was 2010 census data. By comparison 83% of classical music audiences are white. So we're already over indexing. And I will add that 83% statistic, that's the latest NEA data. And then we know 72% was 2010 data. Even a lower percentage are white now. So what's happening is we're over indexing on white audiences and trying to design for them when that is a shrinking pie. That's a shrinking prospect pool. Anyways, when we talk about our challenges, you know, Pew Research says already 22 states have since become, or 100 counties within 22 states have since become majority nonwhite. I mean, that's the trend that's happening in America. And it's just a matter of time until like our whole country becomes majority minority populations. [00:40:48] So, OK. As orchestras, we have got to figure out how do we become more welcoming, more inclusive, more inviting? We did a lot of work on that at my last job. We're doing a ton of work on that at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. It's just we know that that's the future. And to stop being so damn elitist even when we don't mean to be. [00:41:07]

Brian: [00:41:07]  [00:41:07]Yeah.  [00:41:08]

Aubrey: [00:41:08]  [00:41:08]It's got to be addressed. [00:41:09]

Brian: [00:41:09] Yeah.

Aubrey: [00:41:09] So the second thing I'll say, just in terms of big challenges, is how to fundraise. And so similar to changing habits and consumer behavior are changing habits in philanthropy. And so the arts used to be such more of an intrinsic value, it just made for a much easier fundraising case for support. Today, there are so many other amazing causes and social justice issues and like clean water, and who doesn't want to donate to support those things? And so the arts have to figure out how do we make, when we rely on fundraising dollars, how do we make a case for support? And the awesome thing about music is that music can be used for some of these things. There are wonderful music education programs that are really social justice programs, bringing music into really low income neighborhoods and seeing the data that shows that it really helps lift those at-risk students out of poverty and onto a better paths. You know, there's all kinds of things where it's like, no, music can't be a vehicle for these other things that we really care about. But  [00:42:11]I think arts organizations can be reticent to go there or to really take a stake in the ground. We try not to really program things that could rock the boat. You don't see like the Climate Change Orchestra program, right? People don't want to offend because we as an industry tend to be very risk averse, don't want to offend our core audience. Going back to being so afraid of the most loyal people leaving, which is bogus, that it just means that then when we don't do that, then it means we stand for nothing. And that's where you really can't fundraise. [00:42:44]

Phillip: [00:42:45] Wow. So that's where you're going to...

Aubrey: [00:42:46] That's where you lose.

Phillip: [00:42:47] That's the most losing prospect of all.

Aubrey: [00:42:50] That's right.

Phillip: [00:42:51] Gosh, that's a great place to end. I'm really excited to have had you on the show. I love having people from outside of our wheelhouse.

Brian: [00:42:58] Thank you so much.

Phillip: [00:42:58] Thank you so much, Aubrey. And I hope to have you back again.

Aubrey: [00:43:03] Oh, of course, you guys. It was a total pleasure.

Brian: [00:43:05] Yeah. It was awesome.

Phillip: [00:43:05] Thank you so much. And thank you for listening. Remember, you can like and subscribe everywhere where podcasts are found. Check us out on, and lend your voice to this conversation. We'd love to hear what you think. And I'd love to hear more about how you will take this information and fold it into your business and your strategy in the years to come. It would be great to hear from you. You can drop us a line at to do that. Thanks again, Aubrey Bergauer, for joining us.

Aubrey: [00:43:29] My pleasure.

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