Studio Owners

Why It’s More Important Than Ever for Dance Companies to Watch Marketing Trends

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It's easy to come up with excuses not to spend time and money on marketing right now.

You may have lost revenue due to canceled classes and recitals and need to be tight with your budget. You may fear appearing opportunistic during a global crisis. You may worry that people just don't have any money to spend right now.

While these are all understandable, they miss the larger point: Marketing is ultimately about building relationships with your community, says Gretchen Fox, CEO and founder of MTO Agency. And these relationships matter more now than ever—especially within our tight-knit dance community.

We talked to the experts at MTO about best practices for marketing during difficult times, and the trends that all dance companies should be paying attention to right now. And to get even deeper into your questions about everything from promoting your virtual classes to making up for lost recital revenue, join us for a (free!) live webinar with MTO, June 25 at 3 pm ET.

Put your values (and your value) first.

There's a reason why you're probably turned off by certain commercials you're seeing during this time. As a consumer, it's obvious when a brand isn't being genuine in their marketing, says Arielle Mullen, strategic marketing specialist at MTO. (For example, a corporation that spends millions on a commercial thanking its employees, when we know from the news that those same employees aren't being treated fairly.)

Instead, focus on what really matters to you as a brand, and let that come through in all your marketing. "Make sure your values are where you are grounded," says Fox. "They are the number-one reason why we connect with each other, and people are more and more making their purchasing decisions based on values. It's a way to stand out." Are you driven by helping dancers perform at their best? By bringing quality dance performances to the most people possible? By providing dancers and dance educators with the tools they need to succeed? Know what your values are, and communicate them clearly.

In addition to leading with your values, focus on the value you're offering, says Mullen. You have something worthwhile to share—like a fun, educational class, or an exciting, enriching performance—and being clear about that will help you avoid coming across as opportunistic.

Be forward-looking.

Raise your hand if you're tired of hearing the phrase "uncertain times." How about "unprecedented"?

Instead of telling your audience what they already know—and overusing language that's become cliché around the current crisis—tell them about how you're looking to the future. "Share what your vision is or how you're working to build new things," says Fox. "We need some light at the end of the tunnel. We need some leadership, some hope and some orientation right now."

Promoting your innovative virtual class offerings or giving your community a peek at your safe and creative plan for staging performances can give everyone something to look forward to.

Be sure to also look ahead to any prescheduled promotions—perhaps around summer intensives or camps—and make sure your language and framing still feel appropriate given the circumstances, says Mullen.

Market smart, not hard.

Effective marketing doesn't have to cost you lots of time and money. In fact, paying attention to trends can save you both.

For example, Mullen says that since the beginning of the pandemic, Facebook has seen a significant drop in ad spending—which means that those who do spend see their money go further. "Lots of small businesses reacted out of fear and pulled way back," she says. "It means the competition isn't there right now. That won't last forever, but we're seeing higher click-throughs, engagements and delivery than we've seen in the past few years."

Paying close attention to Google Trends, too, can help you keep track of what consumers are interested in right now. Mullen says that keywords and phrases have been fluctuating more rapidly than usual during this time.

And in general, focus on making the highest impact in the leanest way possible with a minimum viable product, says Fox—whether you're trying out marketing on a new social platform or launching a video series. That way, she says, you can learn what works before overbuilding an idea and wasting time and money. "If people take that approach to their resources, that's better than me saying, 'Spend money here. Spend money there,'" she says.

See marketing as change management.

The pandemic has forced everyone in the dance world to rethink their entire business models.

Instead of thinking of marketing as an extra thing you have to do on top of all this, understand that marketing is an essential part of any organizational change.

"Relationships matter a lot as we're transitioning as companies," says Fox. "Marketing is the tip of the sphere for change management for an organization."

Whether you're pivoting from classes in the studio to classes online or outside, or restructuring your season, communicating these changes to your community is essential.

Have more questions about running your dance company during this time? Join us June 25 at 3 pm ET for a free webinar with MTO.

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Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

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