Could (and should) shows offer a guarantee? Case study results REVEALED.

Marketing 101 for 90% of the businesses in the world teaches entrepreneurs to offer guarantees for their products or services.

It’s a show of confidence in your product.  It reduces risk for the consumer.  And it should increase conversions.

I’ve brought up the concept of guarantees in the theater to many people in the biz and the resistance I hear is usually twofold . . .

1.  “We’re the theater, we’re not a mattress company.  Guarantees cheapen our product.”

I guess I understand this argument, but I think it’s outdated.  There was a time when we made people buy tickets to shows without giving them seat locations (!) because we treated consumers like they were lucky to be in our theaters in the first place.  We live in the age of the consumer.  They have more power and more choices than ever before.  We need to respect that and be more aggressive in our efforts to get them in our theaters.  Besides, guarantees are offered by car companies, hotels, and the finest dept. stores in the land . . . surely we’re in those camps.  But I hear you, naysayers, even though we are a form of art that people can’t see before buying it (imagine buying a painting for your living room sight unseen), we are still an art and I have a counter proposal (see below).

2.  “We could end up giving away thousands of dollars worth of tickets!”

Ok, if this is your concern, then you probably shouldn’t be producing the show in the first place . . . because you don’t believe in it.  And if people are demanding refunds left and right, then odds are you’re not going to be around much longer anyway.  One marketing guru’s test before initiating a guarantee is to ask yourself, “How many people complained about my product or service in the past X months?”  If the answer is low, odds are you’re pretty safe.

Could you end up giving back money?  Sure.  But without a doubt the strength of a guaranteed offer should sell you more tickets than you’ll give back.  The net will be positive.

These are all good theories, right?  But are they true in practice?

I decided to put them to the test . . . and I’m going to reveal the results to you now.

Last fall I sent out a paid email blast for Spring Awakening to about half a million people.  In that email I offered a no questions asked money back guarantee to anyone that purchased using that specific code.

How many refund requests did I get . . . from those half a million people?  3.  That’s right. 3.

Now, wait for it.

Two of them never followed through on their requests (they didn’t use the right code and had just “heard” there was a guarantee . . . and the more we dug into it, the more we realized they were just trying to hustle us out of our bucks . . . and they gave up).

The other ONE (out of a half a million) . . . he asked that we donate the money to charity (he liked our production and was glad he saw it but just enjoyed the original more).

So we ended up giving up less than 1/10 of a percent of our overall sales on the blast.

But wait, there’s more . . .

I also sent out an email about Daddy Long Legs with the same guarantee . . . number of refund requests received?  1.  One.  Uno singular sensation.

Want another case study?

I tried this five years ago too . . . on Altar Boyz to that same half a million sized list.  2 refund requests received.

There is no doubt in my mind that offering a guarantee on these three shows sold more tickets.

So, the takeaway?  As long as you are confident in the show that you’re presenting, a guarantee can only help.  And if you’re not confident, well, you should find another show.

Now, you’ll notice that all of these guarantees were offered in private, direct marketing initiatives . . . requiring people to use specific codes, timeframes, etc. in order to qualify for that guarantee.

There hasn’t been a show that has offered a fully advertised, blanket, right at the box office, 100% satisfaction guarantee . . . yet.

Should there be?  (And the bigger question is . . . would the theater owners allow it?)

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.


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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.