Broadway’s return isn’t about marketing. It’s about habit-ing.

While we don’t exactly know when we’ll be able to ‘light the lights’ on Broadway just yet . . . there’s already been a lot of discussion about how to get our audiences’ butts back in our non-socially-distanced seats.

“What do we say to our audiences?”  “When and where do we say it?”  “What incentive or offer do we need to provide?”

These are all classic marketing questions whenever you bring a product to market . . . but no one on Broadway could ever have imagined we’d have to ask them to figure out how we bring our product back to market.

All of these questions need answers, and I have it on very good authority (cuz I’ve seen the plans myself) that some of the brightest advertising and marketing minds on Broadway EVER are working on this challenge just as hard as the scientists all over the world are working on a vaccine.

And they’re going to crack it.  And I’m sure we’ll see a fantastic return to Broadway campaign . . . as soon as we know when Broadway is going to return.

That said, to return to the record breakin’ levels Broadway was pre-Covid, and to grow beyond them, we’re going to be required to be more than marketers . . . we’re going to need to be habit-makers.

Stick with me here . . .

If you’ve ever tried to make a change in your life . . . exercise more, eat healthily, stop smoking, etc., then you know, that kind of change is haaaaard.

That’s because what you’re doing is trying to create a brand new habit in your life.

And that’s like trying to turn the Titanic.

You’re set in your ways.  You are “at rest.”  And just like Newton taught us, “an object at rest tends to stay at rest.”

Of course, it’s not impossible.  You can get to the gym, change your diet, drop your golf handicap, whatever you want . . . it just takes a lot of effort . . . and time.

How much time?

Well, there are all sorts of theories on how long it takes to create a habit. Some say 21 days.  Some say 30 days.  Some say months . . .

One of the best books I’ve read that had a huge habit-making impact on my personal and professional life is Atomic Habits by James Clear.  In it, James suggests it takes about two months to create an automatic habit (like getting up early, writing every day, etc.).

And here’s the problem that is related to theatergoing . . . the moment you skip a workout, binge on some Oreos instead of almonds, etc., the harder it is to get back on track.  Especially if that habit is expensive and time-consuming.  You’ve probably experienced this yourself, right?

Now, what does this have to do with the price of a Broadway ticket in a pandemic?

For the core Broadway theatergoer . . . going to Broadway is a habit.   Some have a once once a month habit.   Others 4x a year.  But however often they go . . . it’s a habit.

And that habit was just broken.  Big time.

To put it in terms we can all understand . . . We’re not just skipping going to the gym.  The gym was shut down entirely.

Pretty easy to just sit on your couch and not sweat, am I right?

And, when this sort of thing happens, it’s not only that old habits are broken.  It’s that new ones are created.  And those new habits are usually whatever is readily available and easy (enter the couch and the Oreos).  And right now, that might be, oh, I don’t know, Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime . . . YouTube!  (Don’t get me started on why theater and Broadway isn’t more available on streaming platforms . . . actually DO get me started! I’ll just save it for a blog next week.)

If all this wasn’t enough, the longer that time goes by before we try to restore a broken habit, the harder it is to get it back again.

An object at rest tends to stay at rest.

So, to sum up . . .

For the average theatergoer, the habit of going to the theater is broken.  And new habits are taking its place.  And these new habits grow stronger every day, as the old habit of going to the theater grow weaker.

We’re not the only industry that this is happening to, of course.  People are creating new habits of cooking, and breaking habits of going out (this survey says half of the people who are cooking more will continue that habit.)  People can’t go to the gym, so they’re exercising at home, or not.

And these new habits will affect the rebound of the restaurant industry and the gym.

In any business, making your product a habit with the most amount of people possible is what makes your product a smash hit.  Checking your Facebook page, your morning Starbucks, Googling something every time you need an answer . . . habits are why these companies are billion-dollar empires.

Our job now is not just to market Broadway, but we must come up with ways to restore the theatergoing habit to the people who have lost it.

How do we do it?  Good question.

Good news/bad news?  We probably have a bit of time to figure it out.

So tell me, how would you put the habit of going to the theater back into the lifestyle of our audience?

Throw some ideas in the comments below and I’ll do a follow-up blog with some ideas in the next few weeks.

(Oh, and I meant it about that streaming blog . . . expect a rant coming soon to this space.)

 

———————–
P.S. Join me and my guest tonight as we go LIVE on my Facebook page. I’m thrilled to be sitting down with Julie Halston (Tootsie, On The Town, Hairspray) at 8pm EDT here.

 

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Comments
  • I think the Theater’s will be giving our masks. Make them fun and collectible like playbills. A huge sponsorship opportunity. I am already working on this with a couple of regional feeders I work with. It will also be refreshing as an actor to look at over a sea of people and see happy masks versus a mishmash of scary ones.

  • First, of course, people have to feel safe to ride the subway and fly to New York. Once that’s in place we’ll need a ‘trigger’ to pull people back to renew the theatre going habit. New Year’s is a trigger. Getting fired or divorced is a trigger. All new habits start with a trigger. We’ll need to create one.

    This is an embryonic idea, so bear with me, but what about some kind of theatrical event that might rotate civilians into a production? The reason community theatre exists and thrives is that people love to see themselves, and their loved ones on stage.

    What if a new (or old) play is produced in many different cities/towns at the same time? As part of some kind of National Wide Theatre Celebration.

    High Schools, community theatres, church basements. SPT’s etc… all get the same script. All have the same opening night. All share an insta page and/or website and/or YouTube page and/or Facebook group.

    And then the Broadway version opens. With rotating cast members from some of these productions along side our best loved Broadway actors.

    It creates a national trigger. And it taps into the comparison thing. “How did THEY do it?” And it gets people back into the habit of buying tickets and going out. If they do it locally, it’s easier to get them on an airplane or train to do it here.

  • Chip Deffaa says:

    Ken, I appreciate that you’re trying to get a dialogue going. And your comments about the difficulty of changing habits are certainly true, as far as they go. And I always love reading you…. But the issue is far bigger than marketing or finding the best way of changing habits. No one loves theater more than I do. And I’ve saved every Playbill since I first saw “My Fair Lady” in its original run. But unless it somehow becomes safe for my health to attend a Broadway show, no marketing campaigns or ad campaigns will persuade me to go to the theater. With so many of my friends dying, and my doctors telling me to stay home as much as possible because of the danger to my life, I will stay home. I don’t have a solution. And I want to see Broadway thrive again. But I won’t put my life in jeopardy to see a show. Unless we get a vaccine that’s 95% effective, or finding truly effective therapies, I won’t risk catching a virus that could easily kill me.

  • That is great news that the brightest and best minds are working on this! Theater is so important to a culture and how it grows. When we reopen, we need to address not only a habit reset for theatergoers, but also to ensure that they are physically safe to take a seat. If the decontamination protocol for the theaters was top of the line (such as Decon-7), people could rest assured that it was safe to attend a show – not to mention be part of the cast and crew! Also, surveys should be done on our season ticket holders, as well as the man-on-the-street, to find out from THEM what it would take for them to start coming back to the theaters. Their answers would give us a good idea where to start. We are so looking forward to returning to our theater arts homes!

  • Donna Hurley Zervoulis says:

    Don’t rush it. Then create a television piece showing how Broadway is being cleaned. Involve Cuomo. He’s got everyone in the palm of his hand. . Show the technical work of Dramatic germ cleansing being done. Create a mask of each marquee. Give out free of charge with ticket. Sit every other seat. Open all ticket buying at the same time. “Curtain Up” campaign.

  • Joanna Lodin says:

    Of course the audience will first need to feel safe. So, branded masks, digital Playbills (the delivery of which will allow for contact tracing), cleaning and disinfecting, distancing protocols on entering, exiting and rest rooms, contactless ticketing and concessions (if that’s possible) and, unfortunately, distanced seating (which may kill a producer’s bottom line, unless it’s a non-profit).
    And then the audience will need to feel special. From front of house until they exit, the audience can’t be made to feel like cattle anymore. The companies can create unique rituals to share with the audience at the curtain call (as there will be no more stage door-ing). Producers may offer special content to reward the audience for attending- contests, collectibles, etc which could expand on marketing already in place. It’s going to be a heavy lift to get audiences, especially the traditional B’way crowd, back. Perhaps an early focus on younger audiences who may be more will to take the leap?
    We can only hope that by fall or winter there are some effective treatments and a vaccine in the pipeline to begin our march back to normalcy. Good luck to all of us.

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Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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