A look ahead to arts marketing in 2024
Written by marketing and audience development consultant Christina Lister, this insightful article explores key trends that will affect arts marketing in 2024 and beyond. Lister draws on her extensive experience in the sector to offer practical advice and advocacy to help arts marketers navigate an evolving landscape of audiences, platforms, values, and more.
A thoughtful analysis of current audience behaviours, economic factors, emerging technologies like AI, ethical considerations, internal team dynamics, and the broader value of arts and culture. This valuable resource by Christina Lister coincides with the launch of her latest book, Marketing Strategy for Museums.
- Unsettled audience trends
- The cost-of-living crisis
- Evolving platforms and channels
- Content trends
- The expansion of AI
- Changing search behaviours
- Values-driven marketing
- Transforming internal marketing functions
- Advocating for marketing internally
- Advocating for heritage and culture more broadly
Marketing is constantly evolving and as marketers we need to adapt and adjust to the latest societal developments, audience preferences and behaviours, marketing best practice, legislation, technology, and algorithms. Arguably the pace of change is speedier than in previous decades – a Hubspot survey of over 1,200 global marketers at the end of 2022 found that 78% agreed with the statement that “Marketing has changed more in the past three years than in the past 50”. This can be utterly overwhelming and exhausting for arts marketers who are already thinly stretched and deftly plate-spinning like circus pros.
But change also offers exciting opportunities, and adapting is ultimately a necessity if we are to stay relevant and keep connecting with audiences – existing and new. This article looks ahead to 2024, suggesting a series of trends in the sector, in marketing and broader society, that are likely to affect arts marketers and their work: unsettled audience trends, the cost-of-living crisis, evolving platforms and channels, content trends, the expansion of AI, changing search behaviours, values-driven marketing, transforming internal marketing functions, advocating for marketing internally and advocating for heritage and culture more broadly.
Audiences will continue to evolve throughout 2024 but as a mixed picture across the sector. Whilst some organisations are back to their pre-pandemic audience numbers – if not patterns – and some are exceeding them, others are still struggling to reach pre-pandemic numbers.
There are many individual factors and circumstances that impact each organisation, but there have also been broader trends in the sector, such as more last-minute booking and membership renewal rates down. Organisations’ offers varies, from tapping into familiarity, much-loved classics and nostalgia (for example the Nutcracker, panto, and Bucks Museum’s I Grew Up 80s exhibition), to originality and moving the dial (Jamie Lloyd’s take on Sunset Boulevard, The National Trust’s Children’s Country House at Sudbury created with and for children, and the National Theatre’s pilot of early evening shows starting at 6.30pm from February 2024).
The Audience Agency’s Summer 2023 Cultural Participation Monitor found that 59% of respondents said they are actively put off attending arts and culture by cost-of-living concerns. The least culturally engaged audiences already continue to be the most affected, compounding the existing inequality gap in cultural consumption.
The worst cost-of-living pressures are predicted to ease across 2024, but they won’t disappear overnight. Although free venues and activities have a head start, being free doesn’t guarantee audiences as there are other barriers at play too, and an entry charge isn’t an issue for everyone.
The ‘lipstick effect’ has also – and will continue to – come in to play, the notion that even when times are tight, many people still treat themselves to little luxuries, treats and pick-me-ups.
Ultimately, audiences will only part with their money, attention, time and support, if we provide something they value in a way that’s meaningful to them.
The evolution of different marketing platforms will continue throughout 2024, although it’s hard to predict exactly how… Twitter hasn’t yet imploded but is chugging along, albeit with a different name and feel. The past year’s volatility of X has left a lot of cultural organisations questioning their future on the platform, with some coming off or pausing activity due to toxicity, algorithm shenanigans, a lack of engagement, and a mismatch with their organisational values, whilst others remain on the platform while their audiences remain there.
Despite hype around alternatives such as Mastodon, Threads, Discord and BlueSky, no other platform has yet emerged as a definitive and widely adopted substitute to X. LinkedIn has become a popular alternative for staying connected within the sector at a time when many of us have limited headspace, let alone time, to get to know a new platform. The splintering of social media spaces is seeing other more specialised platforms and apps springing up, each appealing to a niche and smaller audience. This can create opportunities for targeted marketing with a better return on investment than the broader channels, although the time and effort needed to understand each platform can be challenging for marketers who are already thinly stretched.
Whilst the global daily average amount of time that 16-64 year old internet users spend using social media is 2.5 hours, digital exclusion still affects many people and needs to be considered so that our marketing remains inclusive. Digital exclusion is nuanced and may include a lack of access to devices or data, a lack of digital skills, or a lack of motivation to go online. Although digital skills have improved in recent years, the cost-of-living crisis is exacerbating digital exclusion, with an estimated one million people in the UK having cut back or cancelled internet packages in the past year due to affordability issues.
In a fractured and overwhelming world, the arts’ ability to bring people together and support and create communities has arguably never been so important, from combatting loneliness, to creating moments of escapism, to providing a creative outlet. Examples of how arts marketers can help build or reach communities include shifting membership beyond transactional benefits; tapping into online fandoms; working with relevant micro- and nano-influencers and content creators on authentic partnerships; or even just making time to respond to online audiences’ comments and amplifying user-generated content.
Video is set to continue its dominance, whether that’s TikTok and YouTube topping the list of the average time per month that UK users spend on each social media platform, or algorithms on Instagram and Facebook favouring video content. The Content Marketing Institute found that 67% of marketers say video has become more important to their business over the last year but only 7% say they use it to its full potential – and I’d say this is echoed across the heritage and culture sectors. Although engaging video content doesn’t have to have the highest production values, it still takes skill and time to plan, produce, edit, approve, and share.
Personalisation will also continue to be a growth area for arts marketers, as well as increasingly being a consumer and audience expectation. Using data to communicate directly with audiences based on their needs, interests, and behaviours, personalisation can save audiences time and effort – for example by providing relevant product, exhibition, and event recommendations – helping to build relationships with audiences and increase conversion rates.
Regardless of whether you are an AI enthusiast, detractor, or currently reading this with your head in the sand about it, AI is inescapable and not going away. Having witnessed the hype in 2023, it’s time for arts marketers to go beyond the buzz in 2024.
Clearly there is cause for concern with issues such as bias, discrimination, copyright infringement, and misinformation, and the ensuing implications around authenticity, accuracy, creativity, and trust. But opportunities include using AI to analyse data, identify patterns and predict future outcomes of marketing campaigns; using chatbots for improved customer service; and using AI to create content (ideas, text, images and increasingly video) for marketing campaigns quickly and at scale.
Arguably the most fundamental advantage is freeing up capacity. Arts marketers and organisations might feel more comfortable using AI to automate behind-the-scenes (and often mundane or time-consuming) tasks, such as social media monitoring and listening; analysing audience data; analysing sentiment in audience reviews; or content ideas generation (rather than content creation itself), creating more time for strategic decision-making and creativity. And if consumers and audiences start to get used to seeing AI-generated content, perhaps the authentic and original content from trusted heritage and arts organisations will become even more meaningful.
2024 is likely to see a continuation of the increased use of social search – a lot of younger people in particular using social media like a search engine and turning to user-generated content on channels including TikTok, YouTube and Instagram, rather than search engines themselves. There are also opportunities for more cultural organisations to use social commerce (selling products and services directly through social media), for targeted promotion of key products, events, and memberships, reducing the friction and steps before purchase.
Voice search is increasing in popularity, meaning we need to optimise content for more natural language patterns and conversational search phrases (often using long-trail keywords), providing concise and direct answers to commonly asked questions. And of course AI will have an increasing impact on SEO and website traffic, although there isn’t a clear consensus from the SEO community around the net benefit, with both challenges and opportunities. For example it’s likely to get harder to get traffic to your website from traditional search as users increasingly find responses to their search queries directly on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) but there are opportunities to harness in terms using AI to support your SEO strategy and activity.
Consumers and audiences are increasingly choosing to align themselves with organisations that match their values. For example, Ipsos’ 2021 Global Trends research of over 24,000 people aged 16-75 in 25 countries, reported that 70% of people surveyed agree that they tend to buy brands that reflect their personal values. And the Audience Agency’s Cultural Participation Monitor Summer 2023 found that almost half of respondents are more actively willing to engage with organisations that take a visible stance on social issues and in particular the climate crisis.
In marketing, the sustainability conversation has moved on from focusing on cutting down on print to a much broader and holistic approach looking at everything from procurement and suppliers to website hosting and cleaning up digital storage, to encouraging audience behavioural change. The importance of marketing being accessible and inclusive has also been increasing, ensuring that our audiences can access our marketing content, that they want to access it, and that it resonates with them.
Marketers will also continue to have to deal with the effects of decisions that aren’t always within their direct control. For example, toxic philanthropy, what makes an acceptable sponsor, who is permitted to hire an arts venue, the merits of content or trigger warnings in theatre and in museums, and climate crisis protests at their venues.
As marketing, technology and audiences change, so too do the requirements of our teams, with skills such as content creation and video production having grown in importance in recent years.
Marketing departments must stay on top of the fast-moving pace of change and embrace curiosity, flexibility, and open-mindedness.
A culture that encourages experimentation and an investment of time (even if no budget is available) are valuable, as is staying connected with others in the sector.
There have also been recruitment issues, with some arts marketers leaving for other sectors and it being harder to recruit for needed skills. As well as healthy rates of pay, employees are increasingly placing value on a range of benefits such as hybrid working opportunities, flexible working and CPD budgets, as well as looking to work for organisations that align with their values. So cultural organisations must ensure they offer attractive packages to attract and retain good talent, and many organisations have introduced measures to support staff wellbeing and a healthy work/life balance, such as the Arts Marketing Association’s four-day week trial.
Marketers can’t keep doing more with less, especially more with less money and less time. Whilst many arts and heritage organisations (and certainly the bigger ones) have harnessed the power of marketing, this isn’t always the case across the sector.
Marketing can still be misunderstood or seen as a nice-to-have but ultimately not critical activity, rather than as a fundamental strategic function.
Although marketing departments are often not generously resourced (and marketing budgets are often among the first to be slashed in difficult times), expectations of marketing can be unrealistic (“make us go viral”).
So, it’s important that marketers advocate for marketing internally for example by running mini training sessions with non-marketers in the organisation, involving other teams in brainstorming sessions, avoiding jargon in reports, finding allies across the organisation and in the board of trustees, and ultimately showcasing the impact of marketing activity in meeting goals and objectives.
Marketers can also play a huge role in showcasing and championing the role that heritage and culture plays across the country and in our local communities and economies. With the recent conveyor belt of culture secretaries (12 in the last 13 years) and a general election in the UK due to be held within the next 13 months, it’s also critical that we all work together to keep culture and heritage on the political agenda. It’s up to us to help spread the magic of the arts, culture and heritage and its impact on individuals, communities, society, and the economy throughout 2024 and beyond.