Broadway’s return isn’t about marketing. It’s about habit-ing.
While we don’t exactly know when we’ll be able to ‘light the lights’ on Broadway just yet . . . there’s already been a lot of discussion about how to get our audiences’ butts back in our non-socially-distanced seats.
“What do we say to our audiences?” “When and where do we say it?” “What incentive or offer do we need to provide?”
These are all classic marketing questions whenever you bring a product to market . . . but no one on Broadway could ever have imagined we’d have to ask them to figure out how we bring our product back to market.
All of these questions need answers, and I have it on very good authority (cuz I’ve seen the plans myself) that some of the brightest advertising and marketing minds on Broadway EVER are working on this challenge just as hard as the scientists all over the world are working on a vaccine.
And they’re going to crack it. And I’m sure we’ll see a fantastic return to Broadway campaign . . . as soon as we know when Broadway is going to return.
That said, to return to the record breakin’ levels Broadway was pre-Covid, and to grow beyond them, we’re going to be required to be more than marketers . . . we’re going to need to be habit-makers.
Stick with me here . . .
If you’ve ever tried to make a change in your life . . . exercise more, eat healthily, stop smoking, etc., then you know, that kind of change is haaaaard.
That’s because what you’re doing is trying to create a brand new habit in your life.
And that’s like trying to turn the Titanic.
You’re set in your ways. You are “at rest.” And just like Newton taught us, “an object at rest tends to stay at rest.”
Of course, it’s not impossible. You can get to the gym, change your diet, drop your golf handicap, whatever you want . . . it just takes a lot of effort . . . and time.
How much time?
Well, there are all sorts of theories on how long it takes to create a habit. Some say 21 days. Some say 30 days. Some say months . . .
One of the best books I’ve read that had a huge habit-making impact on my personal and professional life is Atomic Habits by James Clear. In it, James suggests it takes about two months to create an automatic habit (like getting up early, writing every day, etc.).
And here’s the problem that is related to theatergoing . . . the moment you skip a workout, binge on some Oreos instead of almonds, etc., the harder it is to get back on track. Especially if that habit is expensive and time-consuming. You’ve probably experienced this yourself, right?
Now, what does this have to do with the price of a Broadway ticket in a pandemic?
For the core Broadway theatergoer . . . going to Broadway is a habit. Some have a once once a month habit. Others 4x a year. But however often they go . . . it’s a habit.
And that habit was just broken. Big time.
To put it in terms we can all understand . . . We’re not just skipping going to the gym. The gym was shut down entirely.
Pretty easy to just sit on your couch and not sweat, am I right?
And, when this sort of thing happens, it’s not only that old habits are broken. It’s that new ones are created. And those new habits are usually whatever is readily available and easy (enter the couch and the Oreos). And right now, that might be, oh, I don’t know, Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime . . . YouTube! (Don’t get me started on why theater and Broadway isn’t more available on streaming platforms . . . actually DO get me started! I’ll just save it for a blog next week.)
If all this wasn’t enough, the longer that time goes by before we try to restore a broken habit, the harder it is to get it back again.
An object at rest tends to stay at rest.
So, to sum up . . .
For the average theatergoer, the habit of going to the theater is broken. And new habits are taking its place. And these new habits grow stronger every day, as the old habit of going to the theater grow weaker.
We’re not the only industry that this is happening to, of course. People are creating new habits of cooking, and breaking habits of going out (this survey says half of the people who are cooking more will continue that habit.) People can’t go to the gym, so they’re exercising at home, or not.
And these new habits will affect the rebound of the restaurant industry and the gym.
In any business, making your product a habit with the most amount of people possible is what makes your product a smash hit. Checking your Facebook page, your morning Starbucks, Googling something every time you need an answer . . . habits are why these companies are billion-dollar empires.
Our job now is not just to market Broadway, but we must come up with ways to restore the theatergoing habit to the people who have lost it.
How do we do it? Good question.
Good news/bad news? We probably have a bit of time to figure it out.
So tell me, how would you put the habit of going to the theater back into the lifestyle of our audience?
Throw some ideas in the comments below and I’ll do a follow-up blog with some ideas in the next few weeks.
(Oh, and I meant it about that streaming blog . . . expect a rant coming soon to this space.)
P.S. Join me and my guest tonight as we go LIVE on my Facebook page. I’m thrilled to be sitting down with Julie Halston (Tootsie, On The Town, Hairspray) at 8pm EDT here.
On my morning commute, I scoot past a giant hole…
Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.