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Relationals versus Transactionals

Did you know that one of the possible ways of segmenting the performing arts or museum markets is to consider the behavior of their customers?

In large cities with an abundance of cultural offerings, the consumers have so many options that they can’t see everything. And just as their preferences vary, so do the ways in which they approach their relationship with companies or institutions. One way of segmenting the market is through the type of involvement the customer wants to have with your organization.

Some want to establish a relationship with the theater or museum. They’ll buy a subscription or become a member of the museum. However, they’re interested in more traditional works. They are ready for some more cutting-edge art but only in limited quantities. A season at the theatre can include more avant-garde content but they would not be attracted by a season that would be mainly that sort of artwork.  We could call those customers “relationals,” because, for them, it’s important to be part of the organization in some way; frequenting it assiduously through a subscription gives them a sense of belonging. They like to identify with the company or museum and come to consider it their own.

Theatre goers can be segmented according to their behavior
Theatre goers outside the Off-Off-Broadway Ars Nova theatre in New York City. 2007. Credit: Jeffrey O. Gustafson (Creative Commons)

The other market segment is made up of people who want to build their season. These are not people who will buy a subscription because they’re prepared to take greater risks and want to see what’s available on the market, then choose the works they will decide to see. We call them “transactionals.” Avant-garde pieces won’t put them off, on the contrary. Establishing a relationship with the organization is not part of their decision-making process.

The strategy to be employed is therefore different in the two cases. Relationals can be talked to as friends, so as to solidify their sense of belonging to the company. They will be sensitive to the benefits offered to subscribers. For “transactionals,” it’s more important to emphasize the interest of the show or exhibition. Capture their attention and provoke a desire to see this new work, encouraging them to put it in the basket of things they’ll want to see or not miss in the coming year.


François Colbert is MMIAM Codirector, Remi-Marcoux Chair in Arts Management, author of the book Marketing Culture and the Arts published in 15 langages along its five editions.

For a more complete discussion please see:

Voss, G.B., M. Montoya-Weiss, and Z.G. Voss. 2006. “Aligning Innovation with Market Characteristic in the Non-Profit Professional Theatre Industry.” Journal of Marketing Research, vol. 43 no. 2 (May): 296-302.

Browse our abridged research articles here.