EJN audience research guide

EJN believes understanding your audiences is crucial to developing and sustaining an effective jazz organisation.  This guide is designed to offer support and resources to help EJN members better understand and develop its audiences.

Why it is important to know about my audience?

Developing and maintaining audiences are crucial to the success of Europe’s jazz organisations – our research has shown that while member organisations recognise the central role that audiences play in sustaining jazz in Europe, many organisations still do not have systems in place to gather audience data to help understand them better.  Without audience data, it is difficult to understand and to develop your audiences – for example, identifying and targeting ‘cold spots’ in your audience coverage – and, equally, to use this information to show funders and sponsors how your organisation reaches people.

What do I need to know about my audience?

It depends what you are trying to achieve – basic demographic and geographic data (such as age, gender, address and postcode) can help identify many core facts, particularly in countries where postcode data is linked to significant information on people’s occupation, lifestyle and finances.  In order to build an effective picture of your audience over time, we would recommend collecting some core data year-on-year (including through your regular contact with them – see the next question), so that you can get a better perspective on the patterns in your audience – how is it growing, is it ageing, are you reaching the geographical areas you need?  In creating a ‘template’ for data collection, we would also recommend building in flexibility so that you can include one-off or project-based questions – for example, evaluating the impact of a marketing campaign, event sponsorship or artistic commission.  Other forms of audience research can better deliver more qualitative information from your audiences, including their opinions on your programming, how they feel about your organisation and your events.  These types of data might be gathered in a number of ways, including harvesting information through social media, collecting formal and informal vox pops at events or specific audience focus groups. 

I don’t have specialist research skills or staff – how can I research my audience?

Don’t give up! Spend some time identifying what you already know about your audiences – for example, through your box office, social media, website or databases – and think about how you already connect with them.  You don’t need a separate research budget to better use your existing tools to connect with your audiences more effectively – for example, ensuring that you collect good quality data at point of sale for ticketed events or setting up a post-event text feedback questionnaire or free, short Survey Monkey questionnaire to your e-mail database.  If possible, even postcode data alone on your audiences collected through online ticketing or on the door at events can unlock lots of additional information on your audiences, their likely occupations, socio-demographic data, lifestyle choices, media preferences and, in some countries, data on how likely they are to attend arts events.   Also think about creating partnerships to help you achieve what you can’t do alone – working with local universities can be a fantastic way of unlocking resources and skills, where the partnership is based on projects of mutual benefit and interest.  Alternatively, working together with other similar local organisations may also help you to share a specialist research resource, and gather data at a local level that may be of particular interest to local or regional government, for example. 

What tools are available to help me research my audience?

There is a wealth of free tools online to help you to think through what you need to do, and to help you do it.  Here are links to some free, online resources, produced by organisations specialising in audience research and development:

Culture Hive’s website contains a wealth of factsheets and resources, including 7 toolkits by Wild Heather Digital Research on market research, qualitative and quantitative data collection, question and survey design: http://www.culturehive.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Toolkit-1-Introduction-to-Market-Research-PDF-1.pdf

Audiences Wales’ guide gives an introduction to market research: http://www.culturehive.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/learning-on-demand-market-research.pdf

The Audience Agency’s guide on how to develop a research plan gives an overview of what you need to consider when thinking about what and how to research: http://www.culturehive.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/BD_Developing-a-Research-Plan.pdf

Its two part-guide to designing a visitor survey provides an overview of survey design, question wording, different survey types, sampling and dissemination:

Audiences London’s toolkit for gathering data at outdoor events and festivals includes questions and ideas to start your project, an overview of different research methods, some sample questions and links to other resources: http://culturehive.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/BL_Researching-audiences-at-outdoor-events-and-festivals.pdf

If you are in a position to commission research, this how-to guide offers a good overview: 

This helpful guide gives suggested survey questions, and is similar in its outlook to our own recommendations for ‘core’ and ‘optional’ questions, enabling cross-organisational data benchmarking:

How do I start putting together an audience research project?

It’s easy to get carried away when you’re planning any form of research – it’s important that when you are drawing up your plans, you are clear about why you are doing what you are doing and what you are going to do with the information you find.  Keep these two parameters in mind when you are planning – and some of the above guides can help you draw up a plan – but also be realistic about the time and resources you can commit, including any data you already hold.  Build time slippage into your project – identifying, collecting, collating and analysing data is reliant on other people’s time and commitment, and often requires patience and tenacity. 

What do I do with the data I have gathered?

Robust data is an extremely powerful tool for your organisation and there are many ways you can use audience research to develop.  Here are some suggestions:
  • Make a log of consistent core data year-on-year to build a longitudinal picture of your organisation across a limited number of key facts (e.g. audience gender, age, relative loyalty to your organisation, average expenditure, qualitative information such as how they rate your organisation/events overall) – this is primarily a tool for internal development but is also of interest to your funders and stakeholders
  • Build an advocacy document for your organisation (perhaps as part of your annual report) including some of this core data, project-related information and qualitative information, such as audience or artist quotes – to circulate to the media, funders, audiences, potential sponsors etc.
  • Map your existing audiences, using publicly available geo-demographic data – this can show hotspots of audience engagement and help to identify areas for development
  • Test out programming or organisational ideas, as well as assumptions about your audiences – why do they choose to engage with your organisation? How would they like to see it develop? What could you do to help them engage more?
  • Better understand audience motivations for attendance and use this to feed into audience development and programming strategies
  • Compare your audience data with your funders and stakeholders to show how much your audiences are also their audiences
  • Think about partnering with other bodies to build and share data for advocacy or development purposes – for example, to feed into regional, national or international datasets. 

Remember to ensure that you have an agreed policy for use and dissemination of any data gathered from audiences, and that you only use identifiable data with consent.

How does audience research link to audience development?

We would suggest that they are two sides of the same coin – without the right information about your audiences, generated by research, it is impossible to develop your audience effectively.  Ideally, a clear audience development plan will inform your audience research process and the two will work synergetically, the one allowing the other to develop and grow.  Don’t let the lack of a complete audience development plan stop you from starting to find out more about your audiences, though – it may be that the data you find throws up some interesting questions that you will attempt to answer through an audience development plan.

Where can I find out more about how to develop my audiences?

These are some of the most comprehensive English language websites focused on audience development in the arts, many of which include free toolkits, do-it-yourself guides and step-by-step help on understanding and developing your audiences:

Arts Marketing Association www.a-m-a.co.uk - the website also hosts CultureHive, with 1500 free articles, guides and case studies on marketing and audiences to the cultural sector
Audiences Europe Networkwww.audienceseurope.com - gives detail on AEN featured projects and also includes a range of toolkits and resources for audience development

Engage Audienceswww.engageaudiences.eu - this Creative Europe-funded project website includes a wide range of resources, including many case studies, a two-part practical guide to developing your audiences and an extensive bibliography of audience development studies

IETM - www.ietm.org - this international network for performing arts has a full range of audience development-based resources