Martin Haigh’s favorite ever concert was by The Cure.
Total Ticketing’s Sales Director saw the British Goth legends in Hong Kong, and was treated to a set that, for a while at least, felt like it wouldn’t end.
“In Hong Kong people tend to fly back to England at about midnight,” he smiles. “So I think The Cure basically had a midnight flight and just thought, we might as well play almost up until midnight. The concert was right by the airport.
“So I think they played for like three hours. I was thinking, ‘When are they gonna go home?!’ It was incredible, they just kept on giving.”
Across a career that’s spanned companies such as Ticketmaster Asia and Magnetic Asia – not to mention various roles in the film industry, an advisory position at VenueHub HK and Board positions with organizations such as Global Philanthropic – the Hong Kong based Haigh has learned a thing or two about ticketing, particularly in Asia.
Indeed, his LinkedIn profile promises, “If you don’t know what you don’t know about live event ticketing I might be the right person to ask, and if I don’t know the answer I’ll introduce you to someone that does.”
Never one to turn down an invitation, we took the opportunity to speak with Haigh about ticketing, venue access, marketing channels and more…
What are the important things event organizers should look for when deciding on a ticketing partner to work with?
It’s incredibly hard for an event organizer to work out which ticketing system they should go with. When I was head of Ticketmaster Asia, our entry strategy was by M&A. So I was on that buyer side looking for ticketing systems, and I looked at 107 different ticketing systems across Asia.
You really have to do your due diligence; you have to talk to a lot of people and really look under the skin. Because when you look at it just at the website level, you have no idea if it's a fully featured ticketing system or not. I mean, they allow people to buy tickets very easily. At a very basic level, it's very simple to do.
So what's really important, I think, is finding a system that's got a proper architecture, and modern, API base, it's got to be robust, it's got to be agile, it’s got to allow people to build upon things without breaking other things. And it matches their current and future needs.
Development queues are quite important – how much influence they’ve got over a development queue, for instance. I've lost count of the amount of people that I've been selling ticketing systems to who say, ‘My current service provider promised me this ages ago and hasn't delivered.’ That's a common thread amongst people who are looking to switch systems.
CRM is important as well. Then there's membership schemes and NFTs, Blockchain as well – maybe you need to get a third party supplier in for those.
What about access to data – is that also a consideration?
With Cookie things coming in it's becoming less easy to collect data organically. Lots of our clients are asking, ‘Have you got configurable data collection during the checkout process? Or when the account is set up?’ And, yes, we do have all that stuff. Most ticketing systems do, you could ask whatever questions you want.
However, I would say that when we do make it configurable, how many clients are actually asking lots of those questions? Then there's a bit of an issue about, well, the more questions you ask, is that going to impact my checkout?
And so we've found a lot of people saying I'd rather make it a really quick checkout than ask lots of questions. Or let's not ask the questions upfront. And after we've sold the ticket, then let's try and ask those questions.
How many questions is too many? Do you have any data around the appropriate number of questions you can ask without drop off?
Oh, yeah, we have lots of data on that.
It’s very difficult to get a controlled experiment in there, because you have different generations buying different types of tickets. If you've got BTS in Korea, you can ask as many questions as you want, and everyone's going to fill it in because everyone wants a BTS ticket.
But generally, the more questions you ask, you do get some drop off. And it depends on what type of questions you ask as well. If you're asking an age range, for instance, you're much more likely to get someone to fill that in than if you want exact age.
And also, if you do ask them exact age, are they going to lie to you? They might do as well, because they don’t want you to know.
How are you seeing the smart operators really use segmentation? And hand in hand with that, use a CRM?
It depends on what side of the fence you’re on. So if you're a B2C ticketing company, like Ticketmaster, AXS, TEG, when people are arriving on your website you've definitely got lots of things in there, like IP addresses and things to serve up events that are in your region, for instance.
Or they know that you're always looking at comedy events, so they're definitely going to put that in front of you to start off with.
But if you're a B2B ticketing company, that's not the same journey. So the other thing you've got to remember is that most people arrive at a B2C ticketing website because they've been sent there by the promoter’s marketing, or the ticketing company’s marketing.
You click on a link, you go direct to that site. I used to work for Ticketmaster, and it’s a dream that people come to your website to browse events and say, ‘What am I going to do this weekend?’
Most people don't do that. They're sent there for a reason.
But once you've got them in there, that's where most of that segmentation is happening. You’ve bought the ticket, then the segmentation comes in to say, ‘I've got other events that we think you'd like the look of.’ So I think it's the post-sales segmentation for many that works best.
"Everyone's buying late, which is very scary for lots of promoters. But the younger people have got less discretionary budget, they're becoming a lot more discerning."
Are you seeing any distinct customer behavior trends around buying tickets?
Most of our business is in Asia, so you’ve got to remember we're still just coming out of COVID. I think most of the Western world is about a year or so in advance of what I'm seeing, so it's difficult for me to tell you current trends that might resonate with the more Western or less COVID impacted people.
But before, we had no supply so everyone was just buying absolutely everything. Now it's changing a bit because [of the] cost of living crisis. So the trends in the last year of being, I'll just buy anything because I'm so glad to get out there, that's swiftly changing to, well, what can I afford?
Everyone's buying late, which is very scary for lots of promoters. But the younger people have got less discretionary budget, they're becoming a lot more discerning.
Is payment plan ticketing therefore becoming more important?
Yes, although there's legislation coming in on that.
Soon you're going to have to answer lots of questions to enter a payment plan. And my job as a ticketing person is to sell that ticket. So if halfway through the purchasing cycle you're gonna get, ‘Can you answer these 15 questions about your ability to pay this back?’, I think that could be something new that's going to come up.
I deal mostly in Asia, and these payment plans, you have to have specific ones in separate countries. So I have to have seven different integrations with seven different payment plan people because there's different laws in Singapore versus Korea versus Japan. Where if you're in Europe, it tends to be one homogenous bit of legislation, or in America, one homogenous thing. So I've got seven different buy now pay later people who want to do business. So that makes things complicated.
In terms of marketing and selling tickets, how do you tailor your messaging specifically to the Asian audience?
We are an integrated events company. So we have our own festival as well, it’s Hong Kong's largest music and arts festival, called Clockenflap.
So we do different types of marketing as we have two audiences. We have a Western audience, and we have a local audience. We have international, regional and local bands there. So we're really appealing to a broad church.
And broadly, we have different ways of marketing to the more Asian based people – it's a fear of missing out. So we would say to them things like, ‘What will you be doing on Monday when all your friends are talking about what they did at Clockenflap?’
Whereas to the Western audience we will say, ‘We’ve got this wonderful music, we've got these headliners.’ I mean, my CMO will probably hate me saying it in this broad-brush approach. But basically, there are different ways. And we would approach fear of missing out more for the Asian audience.
Throughout Asia are platforms like WeChat important for event marketing and selling tickets?
Absolutely. We've got so many different ways we can connect with people and we have clients all over Asia, and they're using lots of different platforms.
WeChat Mini Programs, we have that within our system. That's extremely important.
If I was a Western ticketing company, you could sell a lot more tickets if you had WeChat Mini Programs in your own country. Even if you think, 'I don't need that, because that's a China thing or an Asia thing' – Asian communities in Europe and America and South America are using WeChat all the time.
It's pretty interesting – I think Philippines is called the SMS capital of the world. In Japan you definitely want to use Twitter more than others. There are all these other ones in China.
So yes, you do have to use all these different platforms for sure.
"Some of the younger audiences or Gen Z are looking for things that look more authentic and lo-fi, not as polished. They don't want to be sold to."
I was speaking to someone last week who promotes through WeChat, and their approach is very conversational – you create a channel or drop in on a channel, and rather than doing a big sell or posting a tour poster, it's a little bit more conversational. Does that ring true with you?
Yeah, it does.
Also, lo-fi works better with Gen Z. So we did an A/B test a while ago where we had a very, very polished show reel of previous events: ‘This is why you should come to the next event.’
Then I saw something that looked like my Mum could have done it, and that sold a load more tickets because it looked more genuine.
Some of the younger audiences or Gen Z are looking for things that look more authentic and lo-fi, not as polished. They don't want to be sold to.
One of the offers on the Total Ticketing website is the packages you can put together. What kind of packages tend to resonate more in the Asian territories?
Sometimes if you put together too many different packages, people get paralysis by analysis, like which one do I want, there's so much going on.
So really, quite basic packages – maybe a three for two, or buy one, get one free. But also people like vouchers, dining and things like this.
What we're seeing, which is pretty interesting, is in Asia I've got clients that are registered as travel agents. We’ve got one client who's packaging chopper rides. They're a casino in Macau. They have chopper rides into Macau, they have cross border buses into Macau, they have trains, all this stuff.
So they're packaging travel with accommodation, with vouchers for food and the ticket as well as the event ticket.
"Sometimes if you put together too many different packages, people get paralysis by analysis."
How do you tend to market these packages?
In the case of the Macau clients, huge casinos, they're not allowed to market globally. [They can’t say] ‘Come to my casino to gamble.’
They're allowed to say, ‘Come to my casino to watch BTS’, if they had BTS. And so they're packaging all these things up. And we've got one client that's got 300 travel agents, mainly Asian travel agents, connected to the inventory through our system.
It's all quite funky, you don't have to have lots of hold codes – that would be crazy if you tried to do that with 300 different travel agents. It's all done through APIs. And so we deliver the inventory and these vouchers off to the travel agents, they're packaging it with all these different other things that they will sell into that. And that's working very, very well.
One of these travel agencies, trip.com, I think they've got at last count… was it two or maybe 300 million monthly active users? So I think inventory going to hundreds of different sales channels is probably a big thing for the future.
How do you see that playing out?
Well, in the past, I would say the main ticketing companies of the world – Ticketmaster, AXS – would probably drive everyone to their own website, and they want to sell everything through there. That's changed quite a lot.
I mean, Ticketmaster did a deal with Groupon a while ago. They allow Spotify to sell tickets through their system now. That gated area where you can only buy the tickets from one place has changed.
Ticketmaster are very selective about who they allow to sell through, AXS I'm sure are the same. However, I would think that the promoters and the organizers now are demanding when they give inventory to a ticketing system, either B2C or B2B, how many channels can you plug me into? You've got internal channels like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WeChat, how many other channels have you got?
What do you think are the most effective ways of quickly and safely getting audiences into shows? There’s been a lot of talk about identity-based ticketing being the future…
Well, there's lots of different ways to get there. You've got people using sound to get in – your phone emits a frequency that allows you to get in and out – you've got facial recognition, you've got fingerprints, you've got geofenced things so that when your phone gets within a certain radius of the event we're going to deliver [the ticket], that sort of stuff to try and stop touting and fake tickets.
I think there's a big deal around legislation, about data storage and things. Some people will be reticent around wanting their fingerprint or their face to be recorded.
A while ago, we had mobile phones scanning things, but their focal lengths varied, they took ages under low light conditions. It was awful.
Then we went to laser scanners. The problem with laser scanners is they're too quick. You just have to get anywhere near and it beeps.
But the best thing is really just getting back to basics. When you arrive, lots of big signage. And I'm a massive fan, especially if you're doing names on tickets, of what we've been seeing in the airline industry for ages. You have the redemption at the front of the queue, and you have people walking down the queue that are pre-qualifying you – they look at your passport, they check it matches, then when you get to the front of the queue, they don't have to recheck that.
I'm a fan of massive signage that says, 'Get your ticket out' beforehand. So things like SMS messages just beforehand saying, ‘Here's your ticket.’ So you don't have to look at your email and try and find it.
"I'm a massive fan, especially if you're doing names on tickets, of what we've been seeing in the airline industry for ages."
What do you think the next 12 to 24 months holds in store for ticketing?
I think we've had phases of new revenue models for ticketing companies, like dynamic pricing, like insurance. I think the next one is going to be sustainability. I went to [ticketing conference] INTIX in Seattle.
There were so many people talking about sustainability. So I believe that people will buy tickets to events that are carbon neutral. And some boroughs, some councils are saying you can only have a licence to put on a show if you are carbon neutral. And you've got to demonstrate that.
So I believe that will absolutely feed into the ticketing side. I think you're going to be offered, 'Do you want to offset your carbon footprint?' And hopefully, it'd be an easy way of doing it. I mean, what you don't want as a ticketing company is to say, ‘Okay, how far are you going to walk, how far are you going to cycle? Are you going to take a plane, then a bus and a train?’ That's way too complex, and people will not want to buy tickets, or they'll lie or whatever.
So you just want to make it quite a simple checkout. But I think you'll be offered, 'Do you want to offset your carbon footprint for attending? Yes or No?' If yes, it costs you five bucks. And that's going to go into a verified carbon offset program somewhere. That way the event organizer can demonstrate their carbon offsetting. You can do some good as well. So I think that'll be the next big thing.