Duluth Superior Symphony—Introductory half-price subscription offer

Increasing the Subscriber Base

The premise:

The Duluth Superior Symphony wanted to increase its subscriber base, so it looked to the magazine industry for a model—a deep discount for first-time buyers, followed by renewal at full price in the following season. The philosophy behind the program was to encourage ticket buyers who had never before subscribed to see how much they’d like the orchestra if they attended more frequently and were treated as "members of the family."

In addition to seeking new subscribers, this plan also sought long-lapsed subscribers from four or more years in the past. For this group, the DSSO's new music director provided a potential draw, allowing the orchestra to use a "have you heard us lately" hook.

How it works:

Though in the program’s first season the DSSO feared a backlash from long-term subscribers, it was exactly this group that turned out to be the best salespeople, recruiting their friends to join them at the concerts. In the four years the half-price deal has been offered, the orchestra has steadily pushed the qualifying date back, so that now any former subscriber who has not previously received the deal can take advantage of it. The deal is available only on the DSSO’s longer series of seven or ten concerts (not the three-concert series), and does not apply to the highest-priced tickets in the hall.

Early results:

Retaining subscribers is always easier over time; typical retention rates with traditional pricing models are 45% after the first year, 75%-85% the second year of subscription, and 85-95% in the next ten years. The DSSO reports that the half-price subscribers are renewing at the typical first-year renewal rate of about 45%, but since there are more new subscribers under the half-price deal, the actual number of renewals is also higher, making the program a wise investment. Succeeding years have yielded fewer new subscribers each year (350 in the current season). This is still, however, more than enough to continue the program for the coming season. The orchestra has approximately 1600 total subscribers this year.

The orchestra responds to rare complaints from long-term subscribers with a reminder that the half-price deal brings new people in the door, and helps them see the great product that the long-term subscriber already knows is a good deal (after all, that’s why they keep subscribing). The orchestra also notes politely that the hall used to be about half-full before the deal, and the new sales effort has brought many more people to the orchestra.

What do orchestras do the year after?  Click Here to Follow up with Introductory Half-price Subscription Offer