Chicago Symphony Tunes Database for Best Patrons

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is examining its database to better understand the characteristics of its most loyal and dedicated patrons and communicate with them in a meaningful way.

Like many arts organizations nationwide, the symphony has seen sluggish growth in its subscriber base over the past few years. This customer profile and segmentation analysis aims to change that.

“Specifically, this study is meant to address a few issues — an aging subscriber base, to increase season-ticket renewals and conversion of single-ticket buyers into subscribers and, in general, find targeted ways to reach new patrons,” said Joe DeCosmo, president of DeCosmo and Associates Inc., Burr Ridge, IL. DeCosmo is the data mining and market research firm on the symphony account.

The symphony's database from the past five years will be analyzed for the various customer groups within it. DeCosmo will overlay third-party demographic data and combine it with the symphony's transactional history. Customer profiles and segments will be built for marketing efforts.

To do that, DeCosmo will start with cross-tabs and comparisons of various customer groups. For example, donors will be compared with non-donors and season-ticket subscribers with single-ticket buyers.

“After that, we'll utilize more sophisticated multivariate techniques such as Chi-Square Automatic Interaction Detection, decision tree and latent class analysis to build unique customer segments,” he said.

The symphony in the past five years has drawn about 130,000 non-corporate patrons conducting 750,000 donations, ticket purchases and other transactions. One-third of this database donates to the symphony.

“Like many leisure activities, the competition for the [symphony] patron is intense,” DeCosmo said. “Not only do patrons have less time for the arts, there are many more outlets in the Chicagoland area for the arts enthusiast. “For example, the Chicago theater scene has become much more vibrant in the last few years, and since many [symphony] patrons are also interested in theater, they are more likely to divide their time between these activities.”

To further complicate matters, the symphony has broadened its offerings to include pop and jazz programs, sampler series and other nontraditional items.

“The result,” he said, “is that there simply is not a typical Chicago Symphony Orchestra patron anymore. Their products now attract a diverse profile of patrons.”

An undisclosed management consultancy a few years ago tried to tackle the symphony's problem with a qualitative, attitudinal study of its patrons and the Chicago arts landscape.

A number of customer satisfaction surveys were conducted over the past few years to collect similar qualitative insight from patrons. But the findings have not gone far enough to address the symphony's issues.

Due for a May wrap-up, DeCosmo's findings will be submitted to the symphony's marketing department.

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