SMOKIN’: Blackberry Smoke performs. Amped up social media campaigns engage consumers and drive ticket sales at Sand Mountain Amphitheatre. (Kevin Terrell / SoFly Productions)

Strong Brand Identity, Use Of Social Media Is Essential

Concert tour volume and local competition creates challenges for independent venues with lean budgets and small staffs.

Tim Gerst CEO of Thinkswell, a Nashville-based marketing agency that specializes in content strategy and execution for music venues, artists and corporate brands, offered some best practices for driving attendance and navigating the various platforms that reach potential consumers.

“With small venues, gaining market share is about being creative and for me that is finding new ways to alert people about upcoming concerts and finding ways to stand out from the competition,” Gerst said.

Venues should have a strong brand identity that can be consistently used across all advertising and marketing platforms. Officials can start by creating a consistent style guide with specific colors, fonts, logos and messaging. Creating the template and then adding information about touring artists and shows provides continuity and awareness in the market, according to Gerst, who provides marketing support for Sand Mountain Amphitheater in Albertville, Alabama, a 6,000-cap, open air venue with pit seating for 2,000, 42 VIP boxes and lawn access.

“Every single poster and design for every single show is branded for Sand Mountain,” Gerst said, adding that necessary details about the artist and performances is also included. “We create an identity specific for that venue so the community knows they are seeing something from them and that has been very effective.”

“We have our own in-house marketing department but concerts are so niche and the music industry is so niche,” explained Patrick O’Brien the general manager of Sand Mountain Amphitheater. “As a venue we lay out a lot of risk to execute shows, and we do 10 to 12 per year. So, we made the decision to partner with a marketing agency that had specific experience and contacts with the information and data to complement our efforts.”

Social media is a routine part of any strategy to gain better market share. Gerst, whose company works with venues in Alabama and Mississippi, recommends focusing on available data from previous ticket purchases to make decisions about where to allocate marketing dollars.

“They presented a strategy based on data and analytics as opposed to emotion,” O’Brien said.

“Look at the core data,” Gerst said. “We saw a heavy amount of traffic was coming from social and really from referral of advertising in the digital space. So, we put a heavy emphasis and dollars on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Google ads.”

Tracking campaigns means checking for traffic spikes around local radio campaigns and utilizing music website, which alerts users when an artist is in the market, to purchase email, according to Gerst.

Sand Mountain Amphitheater uses for its direct-to-consumer texting list. “We’ve grown it to be substantial,” Gerst said. “We are able to drive a large amount of traffic from their first-person owned data on texting and email.”

The goal for a venue is to use first-person data sources to sell tickets using their own data and not leaning into radio and paid social advertising to get the word out.

“Ticket sales are always something at a concert venue where you have to pay close attention,” O’Brien said. “Thinkswell helped us move the needle.”

“I believe the best marketing tools are the things you can track 100 percent,” Gerst said. “That can be anything from email, text and social and that can be paid or organic.”

Contesting helps grow numbers by offering tickets before they go on sale or season passes. They work because the consumer “is getting something in return, you are not just selling to them all the time,” Gerst said.

Socials can be used to help drive a venue’s text list. Keeping it simple and interesting helps. For a recent rock show, a contest to text a guitar Emoji to be entered to win resulted in 900 participants. Having that information allows venues to segment and filter their lists for future events. You can engage, but don’t bombard so followers don’t unsubscribe.

“Ninety-five percent of text messages are opened in the first five minutes so you know that people are going to see it,” Gerst said. “For me, a text phone number means that they have given me permission to reach them on their most intimate device.”

“Marketing is changing, we all know that,” said O’Brien. “At Sand Mountain Park we have a lot of things to market but for the concert industry, the ticket buyer – depending on the show, because it does change – their experience on the digital side helped us we. We allocated more dollars on the digital said than we did in year one and we saw better success.”

“If you want to tell me that a 70-year-old woman that came for a country show for Dailey & Vincent is the same fan of Nelly, I might tell you you’re crazy,” Gerst elaborated. “We as marketers need to identify and talk to our audience appropriately and realize that not every fan is a fan of everything.”

It varies by market, but demographic focused radio buys can move the needle. But the outlet doesn’t have to be genre specific. For a recent rock show, Gerst purchased local sports talk because the target buy for each was the same – middle-aged male. Routine evaluation of what worked and what didn’t is necessary to make pivots.

Understanding the community and the audience helps maintain focus when spending marketing dollars. Examining something as granular as driving patters and ticket-buyer history, to identify helpful advertising data – especially in secondary markets. Understanding how far people are willing to drive to see a show, helps venues make informed decisions about how far out to spend (or save) marketing dollars.

Monitoring buying patterns by genre is also useful. “People buy differently depending on the show,” Gerst said.

For example, at Sand Mountain, Gerst discovered that hip hop shows sold heavier on the front end while country shows were selling primarily on the back end. “So, what we’ve done is put a larger emphasis on the on sale for hip hop and a bigger emphasis on our closing for country, knowing that has been the trend,” he added.

Things to do before you start is to have a clear vision of what how you want to be perceived and what you want to be known for as a venue.

“Buckle up,” O’Brien said. “I think if you are trying to do this yourself you have to have someone on the team who is in tune with specific analytics for the artists, you have to be able to justify the dollars you are spending and you’ve got to be able to adapt – even within the show runway. Finding someone like that can be tough.”