Yesterday, I introduced the idea of a Value Proposition. I know I have emphasized ad nauseum that your choice of customer segment strongly influences what you’re offering (and later, how you present that offering), but it is SO important, and it is something that theater people have a tendency to overlook. Our preference is to get into rehearsal as quickly as possible and hope that the audience finds us. Then we’re shocked when they don’t. I was no different. Back in the day, a buddy of mine and I produced Ibsen’s The Master Builder, decided to run it for 3 weekends (because we just knew it was going to be packed), and one night we played to an audience of one person. It’s just what we do.
And to repeat myself again (by way of Steve Blank), you need to “get out of the building” (i.e., get out of your imaginative assumptions) and talk to people who resemble the Customer Segment you wish to serve. The purpose of doing so is to create a customer profile, the topic of this post. [The book Value Proposition Design: How to Create Products and Services Customer Want is a great resource, one that I am drawing on extensively.]
The Customer Profile has three segments: jobs, pains, and gains. These segments seem sort of foreign to a theater artist, it seems to me: what does my production have to do with somebody’s job? And what problem does it solve? The answer is that there are different kinds of “jobs.”
There are functional jobs. These are tasks a customer is trying to get done. Functional jobs are the closest to what we usually think of when we say “jobs.” If you’re a waitperson, your functional job might be to serve as the conduit between the kitchen and the customer; if you own a home, your functional job might be to mow the lawn or vacuum the carpets.
More important to theater, I think, are social jobs and personal/emotional jobs.
Social jobs “describe how a customer wants to be seen by others.” Does going to a show at your theater provide the customer prestige, for instance? Think of all those people trying to get tickets to Hamilton. We they dyed-in-the-wool theatergoers desperate to see a great piece of theater? Probably not. But being able to say “I have tickets to Hamilton“– well, that conferred prestige. Maybe certain venues are considered particularly hip–long ago in a galaxy far away, Studio 54 had such a reputation, and getting in was a sign that you were “someone;” similarly, when the Guthrie Theatre opened to much fanfare, having season tickets gave you a certain cachet in the Twin Cities. But there are certain social circles in which going to the theater is a sign that you are cultured, sophisticated, or educated, and not necessarily in a snobbish way. If you have friends who share your love of reading good books, for example, shopping at a cool indie bookstore with a coffee bar instead of shopping online at Amazon might signal that you deserve to be part of the group.
Personal/emotional jobs are where customers are seeking a “specific emotional state.” I once did a single performance of Love Letters opposite Andie McDowell on Valentine’s Day. The venue sold out weeks prior to the performance, and while I suspect there was some social prestige attached to seeing McDowell in person, I’m certain the personal job stakes were high for all those couples looking for something special to do to celebrate Valentine’s Day. But these sort of jobs can take many forms. Some people go to a performance because they love the playwright’s work (the Shakespeare Industry has this as a foundation), or because they like being part of an audience laughing and applauding together, or they know somebody in the cast and they like seeing them perform, or they like learning new things. There are many, many personal or emotional reasons to attend theater.
You can imagine answers, of course, but until you are actually hearing from someone outside your circle of friends, you’re just guessing (and most likely projecting you own preferences onto other people). When you’re talking to someone representing your ideal audience member, listen very carefully, and try to find out what type of “job” theater (or other forms of storytelling, for that matter) helps them with.
Sometimes, the best way to determine this is by hearing about “pains” and “gains.” That will be tomorrow’s post.