Marketing research

Marketing research1 can be defined as the process of collecting, analysing and

interpreting information to help managers make better marketing decisions.

This chapter will introduce a number of techniques of marketing research

which can help arts organizations to gather and use information more

efficiently and effectively. This will include sections on:

_ the benefits and scope of marketing research

_ setting research objectives

_ research methodologies

_ sources of secondary data

_ methods for collecting primary data

_ conducting a survey

This chapter is more than just a step-by-step guide to the process of research.

It encourages the consideration of both the information needs of an

organization and the way in which information can be used, as well as

examining the variety of techniques for gathering that information.

1 The term ‘marketing’ research is often shortened to ‘market’ research, though strictly speaking this is incorrect. Marketing research is a wide-ranging discipline which seeks to gather information about any aspect of an organization and its environment, while market research is concerned only with trends in customer or audience behaviour, and is usually known as ‘audience research’ in an arts context.

The benefits of marketing research

Organizations that have taken marketing research seriously report significant

benefits. At the South Bank Centre in London (which includes both visual and

performing arts venues), marketing research has long been at the heart of their

planning and has driven the Centre’s development over the years. Programming

and marketing decisions, merchandising policy, advance booking

systems and sponsorship strategy have all been influenced by the results of

numerous marketing research projects (McCart, 1992).

Objections to marketing research

Arts organizations which choose not to undertake marketing research may

give a number of reasons, but the following are perhaps the most common:

‘. . . it’s too expensive’

A popular misconception is that marketing research is a highly technical

discipline which can be successfully pursued only by experts (and normally at

great expense). Certainly it is a systematic and orderly process, and it is

possible to use sophisticated information technology to interpret large

quantities of data. There are some industries and organizations for which vast

consumer surveys and detailed statistical analysis can be extremely costeffective;

but there are many more organizations that reap significant rewards

from a whole host of far less expensive methods for gathering the information

that they need to help them better serve their customers. Even the smallest arts

organization can benefit from a more rigorous analysis of its box office data,

informal discussions with its regular attenders and a closer examination of the

impact of press comment and publicity material, all of which can be done at

very little cost.

To say that marketing research is too expensive implies that an organization

may not have fully considered the range of marketing data available and the

very limited costs involved in the majority of data collection. Perhaps also it

has not considered the cost of poor decision-making which could lead to

marketing mistakes and consequently lost audiences.

Marketing research is certainly not the exclusive property of large, wealthy

private-sector commercial organizations; neither is it such a complex discipline

that it must be left to professional marketing research agencies, whose fees may

be beyond the reach of all but the central arts funding bodies.

‘. . . we don’t want to be popular’

It is sometimes feared that marketing research will identify demand for a

programme of events which would be popular but not worthy. The research

may be resisted on the grounds that its findings would not be implemented for

cultural or artistic reasons. Trevor Nunn, as Artistic Director of the South Bank

Centre, came under fire for his production of My Fair Lady, which was accused

of being populist and inappropriate for an organization supported by public

subsidy (Moss, 2001). While accessible programming such as this is supported

in some circles, and seen as a commitment by more progressive directors to reaching as wide an audience as possible, by others it is condemned as an

insult to the serious performers and a betrayal of the classical culture that the

funding bodies intend to be served. Again this is a flimsy reason for ignoring

marketing research, which can be a very useful tool for identifying the most

appropriate programmes, facilities and services within the ruling artistic

policy, and without alienating existing interest groups and audiences. At the

end of the day, marketing research cannot make decisions for you, but it can

help you to make better decisions yourself.

Measuring the immeasurable

‘Social inclusion’ is high on governments’ agendas, and arts funders and policymakers

are keen to be able to demonstrate to their paymasters that the arts can, for

example, help individuals to develop self-esteem and contribute to the development

of community identity. However, arts organizations can be hesitant when asked to

evaluate the social impact of their work, expressing fears that the essence of what

they achieve is immeasurable. Moriarty (1997) summed up the wariness arts

workers have towards evaluation as: ‘. . . the anxiety that something very precious

may be lost, that the complexity of an experience which includes relationship,

enjoyment, learning, exploration, expression will be destroyed, diluted or

reduced . . .’.

Sources: Jermyn, 2001; Moriarty, 1997.

‘. . . we know what our audiences want’

Service providers in the not-for-profit sector are renowned for their overconfidence

in knowing instinctively what their customers want. On the other

hand, faced with an overriding profit motive, commercial arts are keenly aware

of their customers’ opinions, which are critical to their survival. In the

subsidized sector, marketing research is often the only tool available to arts

organizations to assess the extent to which their own non-profit objectives are

being met. To ignore it is to ignore the core of the marketing concept, which

places the needs of the customer at the heart of the organization.

The scope of marketing research

The definition given of marketing research is deliberately broad in scope. It

refers to any attempt to gather information from the environment which may

be useful in the planning of marketing activity. However, marketing research

can be subdivided into a number of categories, according to its purpose:

Audience research

In the arts, this is primarily concerned with profiling, that is, identifying the

nature, composition and preferences of current and potential audiences. It is commonly used to help organizations identify audience groupings (or market

segments) with similar characteristics and arts preferences, enabling visitor or

audience profiles to be constructed for different types of exhibitions or

performances. An audience survey will typically ask for details of demographic

characteristics including age and sex, but also income, occupation,

education, and perhaps means of transport and distance travelled to the venue.

This type of information helps galleries and theatres to target their future

programmes, events, promotional literature, fund-raising and advertising

more precisely, and it can provide useful quantified information when

negotiating sponsorship.

Customer satisfaction research

This aims to measure the extent to which an arts event has met its

audiences’ expectations. Word-of-mouth recommendation has been found to

be the most influential factor in the choice of leisure services, so it is

important for organizations to understand and respond to their customers’

perceptions of both the artistic product and the environment in which it is


Case 3.1 Mystery benchmarks

For many years, executives in some high-profile German museums had supported only

inwardly-directed scholarly museum functions, and disregarded visitor perceptions when

evaluating their institutions’ performance. They had assumed that everything was

satisfactory; but a brief analysis of attendance figures suggested that this may not have

been the case. The annual number of visits to the more than 53 300 registered museums

in Germany had reached a plateau in the late 1980s at around 95 million visits, despite

a boom in new museum buildings and extensions. Local and state authorities were

starting to question the rationale for providing financial support.

Twenty-one museums volunteered to take part in a research programme to evaluate

service and six ‘mystery shoppers’ were deployed to the various participating

institutions. Their brief was to asses four major areas of the museums’ services:

_ arrival and welcoming

_ availability and quality of peripheral services, such as cloakrooms and caf´es

_ scope and quality of communications with staff, and

_ impact of the exhibitions

The mystery shoppers, all professional market researchers, completed a 50-point

questionnaire, rating services on a scale form 1 (very positive) to 6 (very negative). The

testers gave the highest overall score to the friendliness and politeness of museum staff,

followed by the quality of the cloakroom, shops and caf´es. Significantly lower scores

were given to the process of ticket buying and the information booklets available in the

foyers. Further analysis of the figures was conducted to identify the importance of the

different service elements, and this revealed that only three items had a major impact on overall perceptions of a museum visit, these being the contact with staff, initial

impression in the entrance area, and the availability of a useful booklet.

Service component Average score (all museums)

1 = very good; 6 = very poor

Friendliness and politeness of personnel 1.78

Coat check (cloakroom) 2.04

Museum shop 2.19

Museum caf´e (environment) 2.20

Staff reactions to flash camera use in

exhibition area


Environment of exhibition area 2.24

Museum caf´e (service) 2.26

Toilets 2.27

Entrance area and orientation 2.37

Advice about personal guided tours 2.42

Positive overall experience in the museum 2.43

Staff reactions to coat/bag carrying in the

exhibition area


Accessibility and surroundings of museum 2.72

Advice about renting audio guide 2.77

Information booklet 3.57

Process of ticket buying 4.42

The figures collected from the whole group of museums were subsequently used as

benchmarks by individual museums, which were able to compare their own

performances with that of the whole group. Those with below-average evaluations knew

where improvements had to be made, and those with above-average evaluations were

able to boast about them in their promotional campaigns.

Source: Kirchberg, 2000.

Motivation research

This attempts to get to the bottom of audiences’ reasons for attending a

particular event or venue, again to enable better market segmentation and

improved targeting of potential audiences. It has also been successfully used in

developing an understanding of reasons for non-attendance and hostility

towards the arts. At its simplest, motivation research involves asking direct

questions of visitors as to why they chose a particular event in a particular

venue on a particular day and time. But as many people are unable to describe

exactly why they act as they do, some motivation research involves a variety of

less conventional techniques in seeking a deeper understanding of the more

covert or even unconscious reasons for attendance.

Competitor research

It is often argued that arts events do not face direct competition, as it is difficult

to imagine two venues within close geographical proximity of each other

offering identical programmes at the same time. Nonetheless, audiences do

have choices as to how, when and where to spend their money, and different

venues and programmes will be competing for a share of that money over a

longer period of time. For this reason it is important for arts organizations to

understand how their audiences perceive them in comparison with other

similar organizations. Competitor research can help organizations to understand

these perceptions and then to differentiate themselves positively from

other providers of similar arts services. Failing to do so can lead to an illdefined

image and consequent rejection by key target audiences.

Product research

This is quite a difficult area in the arts. Commercial and industrial organizations

conduct product research to help them improve the products and services they

offer to their customers and to identify demand for new developments. This

reflects the overall objectives of most firms in the private sector, which are

related to profitable trading activity. If demand exists which can be supplied,

then there is an opportunity to make money. Perhaps the nearest the arts come to

this kind of research is when cinema producers try out different endings on

preview audiences, or television companies research the popularity of particular

characters in long-running soap operas. Quite apart from the question of

aesthetic integrity, the expense and complexity of such a procedure renders it out

of the question for the vast majority of arts organizations.

Product research in the more tangible areas of facilities, such as retailing and

catering, is more viable, of course. This type of research can help to identify

both inadequacies in existing provision and demand for new facilities and

services which may improve audience perceptions of a venue, encourage new

attenders and consolidate customer loyalty.

Pricing research

For commercial arts organizations, this can help in the setting of entrance fees

or ticket prices. Revenue from the box office or entrance fees can be maximized

if the organization has done some pricing research to help it understand the

monetary value that audiences will place on the experience they are expecting

to enjoy (there is more discussion on this point in Chapter 5). In the non-profit

sector, pricing research can also be used to help the formulation of pricing

policies that will promote wider access to the arts. An understanding of the key

influences on audience price sensitivity can be gained by experimenting with

different price levels and monitoring the associated attendance figures.

Promotional research

This is normally undertaken to assess the effectiveness of different media,

messages and promotional techniques in attracting audiences. It is generally retrospective. If money has been spent on promoting an event, it is important to

be able to gauge the cost-effectiveness of the chosen methods and media of

promotion. Promotional research attempts to gather information which will

identify the most persuasive promotional techniques by linking them to

attendance figures. Under some circumstances it may also be of use to pre-test

advertising campaigns, to identify the most effective visual or verbal creative

concept, and to identify the target audiences to whom a particular campaign


Policy research

National organizations such as the UK’s arts councils use marketing research to

help them make recommendations about the levels of arts provision and the

allocation of resources. Information about national and regional public attitudes

towards the arts, as well as attendance and participation figures, is invaluable in

creating a strong case for public funding of the arts. Research can demonstrate

economic benefits from the arts, such as spending in restaurants or attraction of

tourists. It could indicate the effect of arts facilities on the image of a town, or on

local or national pride. Marketing research can also be used to detect audience

trends and attitudes in other countries which may have domestic implications or

simply provide early warning of likely developments at home.

Conducting marketing research

If marketing research is to be an effective tool for improving the quality of

marketing decisions, it needs to address three key questions systematically:

What do we want to know?

The first stage of marketing research should be to examine the marketing

problem or opportunity which requires further investigation and this should

lead to a set of specific objectives for the research. Having set clear,

unambiguous objectives it is possible to pinpoint the nature of the information

that must be obtained to help solve the problem or develop the opportunity.

Where can the information be obtained?

Secondly, it is essential to identify who can provide the information and the

best method for collecting it. The most visible aspect of marketing research is

the collecting of information using surveys. While surveys are very important,

they are but one mechanism for finding out about people, and may be neither

the most appropriate nor the most cost-effective method of data collection.

How do we use the findings?

Marketing research provides facts, but information is created when the facts

are interpreted in the context of the original problem. The final stage, therefore is for managers to make sense of the findings and ensure that they influence

decision-making in the organization. Without intelligent interpretation,

research is at best worthless and at worst can be misleading and dangerous.

The rest of this chapter explores the techniques and research methods which

will help managers to answer these three questions for themselves in their own


Research objectives

Why set objectives?

Research objectives are explicit statements of what the organization wants to

know. They are important for two main reasons. Firstly, they are a constant

reminder to managers of what they are trying to find out. This can prevent time

and energy being wasted on the collection of information which will not

ultimately be of use in solving the marketing problem facing the organization.

Secondly, they can provide a benchmark or target against which the results of

the research can be measured. This enables managers to assess whether the

research was effective, which can be a crucial activity for arts organizations,

particularly in the subsidized sector. If money is scarce, marketing research

may be viewed as a luxury and marketing managers are likely to be required

to justify their expenditure in this area.

Categories of objectives

Broadly speaking, research objectives can be divided into three categories:

Exploratory objectives tend to be quite broad in scope and are normally

specified when an organization feels that it needs a better insight into the

nature of certain marketing issues. For example, a lot of exploratory research is

conducted by funding bodies to help them make policy decisions and set

planning priorities, as well as to give guidance to those they subsidize.

Descriptive objectives are usually set when an organization needs more

concrete evidence to support specific marketing decisions. Audience research

reports are normally descriptive. In other words, they describe an audience or

potential audience by their characteristics and preferences, so that the

relationships between different characteristics and preferences can be examined.

For example, it would be possible to design a survey which investigates

the age, gender and socio-economic profile of a regional opera audience, as

well as their musical preferences. It could then be determined whether operagoers

are also interested in orchestral concerts, pop concerts or ballet, and

whether any particular age group, social class or gender is more likely to prefer

one of those art forms to another. This type of information could be very

helpful in promotional campaigns.

Causal objectives are set with a view to identifying cause-and-effect

relationships, in an attempt to explain why things happen. Experiments are

widely conducted to test alternative prices or concessions by monitoring their impact on audience size and composition. This type of research could be used

for developing access policies, or simply for assessing audience price

sensitivity. Similar exercises can be performed to assess the impact of different

advertising media, programme design or even interval length, thus providing

information to help with promotion and programming decisions.

In practice, a major marketing research project may require all three types of

objectives to be set. Exploratory research could lead to the design of a survey

which would enable an audience to be defined and described. The significant

relationships between the different characteristics and preferences of this

audience could then be further investigated in a causal study. Nonetheless, the

distinction between these types of objectives is very useful in helping

managers to focus systematically on the purposes of the research.

Research methodologies

Process of research

Objectives determine the process by which marketing data should be collected.

Generating marketing information requires the collection of marketing data,

the term ‘data’ referring to the facts and figures that must be gathered to

achieve the research objectives.

Secondary research, also known as desk research, involves the gathering

together of relevant data that exist prior to the start of a marketing research

programme. The researcher is a secondary user of already existing data, hence

the name. Internal secondary data already exist within the organization

conducting the research; external data have been collected outside the

organization, for example by the government, by funding bodies or by

commercial marketing research houses. It is possible that both these types of

data were originally collected for a purpose other than marketing research, but

nonetheless they can be valuable to the researcher. If secondary data are

adequate to achieve the objectives of the research, then the more costly

processes of primary research can be avoided.

Primary research involves the generation and collection of original data. The

organization determines exactly what information is necessary and from

whom, and then sets about acquiring it. The data are thus specific to the

purpose for which they have been acquired. It is quite likely that primary

research will be undertaken after secondary research, to provide a more

complete set of answers to the researcher’s questions.

Style of research

Having set research objectives, it is also possible to identify the style of research

which should be undertaken.

Qualitative research is undertaken if research objectives require information

to be generated about why people act as they do, or how they think and feel

about the experiences that the arts are offering them. Qualitative research

usually requires interviews to be conducted with small numbers of people though other techniques such as observation and experimentation may also be

useful in getting to the root of audience behaviour. In the arts, qualitative

research is particularly useful as it is able to explore the subtleties of people’s

reactions to the aesthetic experience. It may seek to explore issues such as:

_ motivations and inhibitions for participating in the arts

_ what people are looking for from the arts

_ perceptions of different art forms

_ reactions to specific productions, titles and artists

_ reasons for success or failure of productions or events

_ appropriate types of promotion

_ sources of influence over audiences (reviews, advertising, word-of-mouth)

_ the perceptions of sponsoring organizations

Quantitative research is undertaken if the research objectives require information

to be generated about how many people hold certain views or fit into

certain categories. Conducting quantitative research usually requires a survey

to be undertaken among a sample of the population of interest to the

researcher. The findings can then be interpreted with the help of statistical

techniques, and assumptions can be made about the whole population from

the information generated among the sample. This is a very common form of

research in the arts, and is a popular method for investigating the nature of


Duration of research

The necessary duration of research is also implied by the research objectives.

Continuous research examines an issue or problem on a regular basis in

order to monitor changes that are occurring over a period of time. For example,

funding bodies are interested in changes in arts attendance patterns, hence

their use of TGI data (discussed later in this chapter).

Ad hoc research is the term used to describe a one-off piece of research

undertaken to obtain information relating to a particular issue or problem. The

findings of this type of research are reported in such a way as to help a specific

marketing decision to be made.

Sources of secondary data

Internal sources

Internal data already exist within an organization. Arts organizations frequently

own a lot of data which can potentially be used for marketing research:

the accounting system, for example, may be able to identify the relative

popularity of catering and retail outlets during specific exhibitions or

performance programmes; staff may be able to report on customer reactions to

ticket prices at the box office; but the most important sources of internal data

for arts organizations are invariably their databases storing details of attenders. 

Performing arts organizations which use computerized box office systems are

best placed to make the most of this type of data.

Box office systems

Tomlinson (1993) describes box office systems as ‘. . . systems which integrate

ticketing and marketing functions, compile a patron or customer database as a

central function, and offer additional opportunities to record information’. Any

organization which maintains a comprehensive database through its box office

system has immediate access to information which can help answer both

strategic and tactical questions. For example:

_ At whom should we direct mailshots for contemporary dance productions?

_ What price concessions should be offered on which days of the week?

_ At what point should action be taken to improve ticket sales for a low-selling


_ Who should I include in a sample for conducting primary research into

attendance at productions of Shakespeare?

_ What type of person prefers to attend exhibitions on a Sunday as opposed to a


Compared to their manual predecessors, computerized box office systems have

vastly extended the range of transaction data and details of attenders that can

be gathered and processed. Indeed, the researching and analysis of potential

audiences, and information retrieval and statistical analysis related to these

audiences, may only be possible with help from the computer.

Data can be recorded as part of processing the ticket sale – name and

address, ticket prices and concessions, details of event attended, time of

performance or exhibition etc. (see Table 3.1). Valuable additional data can be

added to this by simple questioning – for example: How did the customer hear

of the event? What was the main influence on attending?

For research purposes, there are many uses of box office data. Historic

booking patterns can be analysed to inform forecasts (e.g. how far in advance

did people book? did they come in groups or alone? which were the most

popular seats? what was the average ticket price?). Current patterns which

depart significantly from forecast patterns can be flagged up and remedial

action taken (e.g. if advance ticket sales are very slow, more effort can be put

into promotion or price promotions introduced; if an event is quickly sold out,

efforts can be made to switch-sell the disappointed customers). A box office

system can also provide a statistical overview of the audience for a particular

venue. This information is particularly useful for touring companies trying to

include towns and cities where the profile of local attenders is similar to the

profile of attenders for their own art form. Catchment areas, demographic

customer profiles and attendance patterns can all be collected and stored.

Drye (1998) discusses a segmentation system developed by Heather

Maitland on the basis of box office information about the intervals between

ticket purchase. She discerned a sizeable number of what she termed

‘Bouncing balls’ – people who enjoyed going out for an evening at regular

intervals, but were happy to consider a broad range of entertainment options.

78 Creative Arts Marketing

By contrast she called another segment ‘Festival attenders’ – people loyal to a

particular art form who were prepared to attend arts events in concentrated

bursts of frequency rather than at regular intervals.

This kind of perspective on an audience allows marketing resources to be

targeted more effectively. For example, if you recognize a patron on the box

office database as a ‘Bouncing ball’, regular contact via direct mail or

e-marketing would be appropriate to try and match this regular attendance

pattern. Conversely, the ‘Festival attender’ is likely to respond better to more

closely targeted mailings about visiting companies and events which are more

specific to a particular art form. Box office information of this kind allows

marketers to confirm the intuitive pictures they form about audience

motivations and experiment with their approaches accordingly. When merged

with external data it can add powerful insights to guide marketing activity.

Table 3.1 Useful data for customer records

In addition to basic customer information relating to names and home addresses

which are quite easily obtained (particularly from those who pay by credit card), arts

organizations may attempt to include the following data on their customer records:

_ title

_ gender

_ initials, first name and familiar name (if different)

_ qualification (as a suffix)

_ employment

_ posts in voluntary organizations

_ business address

_ temporary address (such as holiday homes)

_ telephone number(s)

_ date of birth/age

_ socio-economic group

_ ethnic origin

_ geodemographic classification (based on ACORN or other coding)

_ performance(s) attended

_ source(s) of information about the performance

_ other links with the organization (e.g. member, sponsor)

_ number and types of tickets bought

_ prices paid

_ payment methods

_ time of booking

In theory these data should be quite easy to obtain, but new procedures may have to

be set up and rehearsed by the box office staff who will be required to input this

accurately and consistently into the system.

Source: Tomlinson, 1993.

External sources

Published data are widely available for use by arts organizations, through

universities, libraries, through arts marketing agencies and through regional

and national arts funding bodies.

Published surveys

The Arts Council of England carries a database of surveys carried out both by

itself and by a wide range of arts organizations; and the journal Arts Research

Digest lists a wide range of published research reports and gives details of work

in progress. These can be of considerable help in the investigation of similar

problems in different organizations, or simply in planning a methodology for

the implementation of a piece of primary research. Care must be taken in their

use, though. It is important, for example, to check who the original client was

and their reasons for conducting the research. This will indicate whether a

particular slant has been taken in the interpretation of the findings. The nature

and size of the sample is also relevant. Findings should be treated with caution

if the number of respondents in any sub-group is small, particularly if

comparisons are made between different groups of people.

Geodemographic profiling systems

These are consumer classification systems which have been created by

combining geographic and demographic information gathered from a diverse

range of sources, including the census, the electoral roll and the Royal Mail

postal address file. The systems work on the assumption that people living in

similar neighbourhoods (defined by postcodes) are likely to have similar

interests, incomes and purchasing habits. Two of these systems, ACORN and

Mosaic, are commonly used by UK arts organizations to help them understand