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Audience Engagement – part 2

Ikea’s flatpack philosophy can teach arts and cultural organisations a lot about audiences. Photograph: Jeff Pachoud/AFP/Getty Images

James McQuaid, Audiences in arts, culture and heritage: solutions to our problems, The Guardian, Culture Professionals Network, 13 October 2014

Last week, I wrote a piece about the traps we fall into as arts, culture and heritage organisations when it comes to engaging audiences. Questions were raised about relevance, audience frameworks and planning. This week I suggest how we might do things differently and offer some solutions to those pitfalls.

Positioning audiences differently

At this year’s Arts Marketing Association conference, the National Arts Strategies president, Russell Willis Taylor, made some thought-provoking points through a case study on Ikea from which she believed arts and culture can learn. One of these was about knowing your value proposition: what are you uniquely placed to offer and how can this exude through an organisation?

Willis Taylor encouraged us to be opportunistic, to build in space, energy and money in order to learn, keep our eyes open and be flexible and responsive. Her example to illustrate this in Ikea was the employee who started screwing off table legs to get the furniture into customers’ cars, which led to a revolution in the brand’s production and the flatpack we all know and (mostly) love today.

However, it was the points she made about how we think about audiences and customers that resonate most. Russell believes that we need to position audiences within our organisations as partners and consider very carefully the nature of our relationship with them. This, she said, should be clearly set out in a mission statement.

But more than this, we need to build this mindset into our activity and observe and listen – to users and non-users. This requires us as organisations to step out of our own worlds, forget (for a moment) about getting paying visitors through our doors and instead consider the communities they belong to and what the relationship between our value proposition and these communities is.

Knowing our audiences is a matter of leadership. It’s also the responsibility of everyone in an organisation; it should be part of the culture. Frameworks and segmentation are all necessary and useful tools, but I wonder if they undermine the art of active listening and somehow create a barrier to really knowing your audiences and working with them.

Read more here.