Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' approach to Customer Relationship Strategy

 Most arts organizations offer some sort of subscription or membership service, allowing for some amount of personalization – the patron gets to pick what events to attend, when, and in the case of performing arts, where they sit. However, this falls under what The Experience Economy calls “mass customization.” (Gilmore, 2011) It is personal on a very superficial level, and the organizations really only cater to you once a year – when it is time to renew a subscription or membership.

The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, however, is taking  the customer relationship strategy to a new level with its YBCA:You membership program. YBCA:You works more like a Netflix or gym membership – it is renewed on a monthly basis rather than annually, allowing members to join and rejoin as they please. Patrons that join YBCA:You are given a one-on-one orientation where the patron learns about the benefits and ins and outs of the membership program. On top of that, YBCA:You members are assigned a “Live Guide” – this person is essentially an art/aesthetics coach, that is there to assist in “creating and refining [the patron’s] personal art goals” (YBCA, 2013). The Live Guides offer the personalized service seen in hotels like the Ritz Carlton, ensuring much stronger customer loyalty. Such individual attention and customization turns an arts membership from a service into a reliable, memorable experience.

Yerba Buena recently presented on its innovative membership program at the National Arts Marketing Project conference, where it was only one of a few organizations seeking an alternative to the basic subscription model.

While arts organizations often excel at CRM techniques when it comes to soliciting funds, they are further behind in personalization in the earned income realm. Is that because they can get away with it? Is it because people will always want to have arts experiences? Where is the disconnect – why aren’t more organizations innovating like Yerba Buena?


Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Accessed April 9, 2014.

Gilmore, James H., B. Joseph Pine II. The Experience Economy. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2011.

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