A woman with long brown hair, seen from the shoulders up, smiling. A bright pink background behind her.

Head of Entertainments and Exhibitions, Waterfront Hall and Ulster Hall

Belfast’s Waterfront Hall and Ulster Hall nominated for national marketing award

10 min

Belfast’s Waterfront Hall and Ulster Hall have earned a nomination for a Chartered Institute of Marketing Award for Best Use of Data and Insight.

Operating two spaces, Waterfront Hall and Ulster Hall are a leading presenter of shows in Northern Ireland. The organisation went live with Tessitura in August of 2019.

Ashleigh Davidson, Head of Entertainments and Exhibitions, discussed some of their goals around the move. Their previous ticketing system presented several challenges, and with the organisation aiming to streamline internal processes, “We had to have a system that supported our goals,” Ashleigh explains. “And we had to have a system that allowed us to maximise existing and additional revenue streams while supporting efficiencies throughout the sales process.”

In terms of functionality, “A good online journey was essential for us. Following a review of our audiences and marketing platforms, we adopted a digital first approach to our marketing and if we were going to be driving our audiences online, we had to be able to match the demands and expectations of the customer.”

In addition, “We wanted a partner who was innovative,” she said. With Tessitura, Ashleigh says, “The big thing is that you have a real partnership. Tessitura isn’t just our system provider, the Tessitura team is as invested in our journey as we are; that’s partnership.”

“The Tessitura team is as invested in our journey as we are; that’s partnership.”

Online customer journey

The online purchase path was one of the primary areas that Waterfront Hall and Ulster Hall wanted to improve. “Our focus was to deliver a seamless purchase funnel for the customer and improve our online conversion rate”, says Ashleigh, and they’ve been able to make numerous advances with Tessitura.

“Prior to switching to Tessitura we were experiencing a 57% basket drop-off,” Ashleigh recalls. In other words, 57% of people who added tickets to their basket did not complete the purchase. With web traffic from seat selection to completed purchase, they were seeing a 67% drop-off.

“Contributing to the drop-off rate was the inability for the customers to understand where in the auditorium they would be sitting,” she explains. “This not only resulted in reduced online sales but an increase in calls to our box office. We also had customers arriving on the night of the show and complaining of vertigo when they realise how tall our auditorium is and how far back their seats are.”

A show at Waterfront Hall

Waterfront Hall and Ulster Hall opted to use Tessitura’s prebuilt e-commerce solution, which has expanded the team’s options for shaping the online purchase path. “The ability to enhance the customer journey with show information and artwork, which follow the customer from event page through to checkout, makes for a deeper connection to the show,” Ashleigh says.

Another advantage is the included Select-Your-Own-Seat capabilities. “The seat maps were one of the strong selling points,” says Ashleigh. She appreciates “the ability for customers to have a clear depiction of where they would be seated and make an informed decision,” and notes that since going live the number of box office calls has reduced by 10%.

With Tessitura, Ashleigh says, “we’re able to give information at every step of the customer journey. If it’s a standing gig, we’re able to say over sixteens only in the standing area. If there’s an age guidance, like strictly 18 plus, or, what is commonly being asked now by artists — restrictions such as a maximum of four tickets per person or lead booker must be present on the night, we are able to tell customers at every step of the purchase, which further protects us as a business.”  

“We’re able to give information at every step of the customer journey.”

Another area where performers and promoters can be sensitive is when large stretches of seats are visibly available. With Tessitura, Waterfront Hall and Ulster Hall are able to easily switch to Best Available seating instead of Select-Your-Own-Seat. Ashleigh reports that this “keeps artists happy, as many don’t want to be able to see how many seats are left.”

The new website is working well for customers as well. “Usually when you launch a new website and a new customer pathway, you expect your conversion rate to drop,” Ashleigh says, because your existing customers are seeing something new and unfamiliar. When Waterfront Hall and Ulster Hall launched their new Tessitura-powered website, Ashleigh reports: “It is rare to see, but our conversion rate has actually grown 15% when compared to the same time period last year. That in itself is testament to the fact that people wanted that easier customer journey, and if we can make it easier for them to buy tickets they will.”

“Our conversion rate has grown 15% when compared to the same time period last year.”

Giving audiences the information they need

One of the challenges of running two venues is that audiences would frequently arrive at the wrong hall. “We really got hit with customers going to the wrong venue,” Ashleigh says. This is an area where they’ve been able to make big improvements.

The Waterfront Hall and Ulster Hall team have been able to emphasise the venue within the purchase path. While the event pages already listed the venue for an event, a photo has a far higher impact than text. Now, the customer sees a photo of the venue before selecting their seat and understands their seat location. “Being able to see the venue, it's a no brainer as to what venue you’re at,” Ashleigh says. “Before, we didn't have that option.” 

A screenshot showing a photo of Waterfront Hall seating, taken from the stage. Next to it, buttons for Upper Terrace, Lower Terrace, and Ground Floor seating.

A screenshot of the purchase path for an event at Waterfront Hall, showing a venue photo as part of the seat selection process

Pre-show emails offer yet another way to make sure customers have the information they need. On their previous system, they were unable to send emails specifying the show or the venue. “Our old pre-show email just said ‘Hello, you are coming to a show at one of our venues and we look forward to seeing you,’” Ashleigh says. Now, they are able to make use of dynamic content to personalise these emails with the customer name and show info. “Because of the integration of Tessitura and Wordfly, we are able to personalise that for them, personalise it for the show, let them know exactly what venue it is to go into.”

Furthermore, using dynamic content in these emails can “deepen the emotional connection that the customer feels with both the venue and the artist,” says Ashleigh. And that emotional connection can lead to greater loyalty down the road.

Email marketing

Waterfront Hall and Ulster Hall previously experienced several challenges in their email marketing. When switching to Tessitura, they opted to work with the email service Wordfly, one of Tessitura’s ecosystem partners.

Ashleigh noted numerous improvements over their previous email system:

  • Emails are easier to build and allow more room for creativity
  • Open rates and click-through rates are improving
  • List creation is easier, faster and more accurate
  • Pre-show emails are personalised and provide more useful information to the patron
  • Post-show surveys are streamlined and integrated into analytics

Previously, staff had to build emails manually in HTML, which took around 45 minutes for their weekly newsletter. Wordfly’s drag-and-drop interface has streamlined their workflow, with the email now taking a fraction of the time to build. That extra time lets staff shift their priorities: “We're able to let them explore their creativity rather than worry about HTML coding,” Ashleigh says.

“We're able to let staff explore their creativity rather than worry about HTML coding.”

With Tessitura, Waterfront Hall and Ulster Hall are able to create lists based on any number of criteria. Previously, their lists were unsearchable, which meant a single list of lookalike audiences would consume around 20 minutes of staff time. Now it takes them just a few minutes to generate a bespoke list for a routine mailing.

In addition, they have notably improved their post-show surveys. Previously, surveys could not be integrated and instead were sent via a third party. With Wordfly’s integrated survey functionality, they can now send surveys directly from their main email provider, and the survey results feed into Tessitura Analytics for data mining.

A performance hall filled with standing people, with fog in the air and lights on stage.

An event at Ulster Hall

Streamlining workflow

In addition to these customer-facing improvements, Waterfront Hall and Ulster Hall have been able to streamline numerous back-end processes as well. Previously, Ashleigh says, “Our event page and on-sale process was manual. Not only was it labour intensive, taking around 45 minutes to create an event page, but it was open to human error at every point of the build process.”

With Tessitura’s powerful API, they’ve streamlined this process considerably. They’ve created connections that automatically add performance information to their website platform for the marketing team to enhance. In addition, it’s now easier for the box office team to release tickets to sold out shows. Now it takes them less than half the time to build an event page, and with less room for error.

Now it takes less than half the time to build an event page, and with less room for error.

In addition, they have integrated Queue-it, a Tessitura ecosystem partner offering an online virtual waiting room to control website traffic surges. That integration “was introduced from the outset with a safety net in action at all times, allowing us to manage unexpected traffic to the website,” Ashleigh says, as well as for the planned traffic of large-scale onsales. The integration has also eliminated the manual input that in the past had led to typos and broken links.

Queue-it and Wordfly are just two of the companies from the Tessitura partnership ecosystem that Waterfront Hall and Ulster Hall are working with. Another is Booking Protect, which offers customers the option of purchasing ticket protection. “The fact that you have so many partners within the Network,” Ashleigh comments, “the fact that you have the choice and you're able to pick the supplier that best suits the needs of your business, that’s a massive help.”

A stone building seen at night, with the blurred yellow light of a car having just gone by.

Exterior of Ulster Hall at night

Insights through analytics

With Tessitura, “The analytics is second to none,” Ashleigh declares. Tessitura offers an interactive tool for analysing data in intuitive, visually appealing ways. The Waterfront Hall and Ulster Hall staff look at analytics for several areas: how ticket sales are trending, how many people want their tickets mailed versus held at box office, scanning data showing what time people arrive, answers from post-show surveys, and more.

“The analytics is second to none.”

Another feature they appreciate is the ability to have reports run and emailed at any given interval. As an example, Ashleigh says: “I created a daily sales report that I send out. It gives an overview to everybody of the ticket sales for all the shows and what the daily movement is, so they can monitor any ongoing campaigns, and also flags our most underperforming shows, so that the team can pick up with the promoter to action a campaign.”

Data analysis is a jumping-off point for asking questions. For example, Ashleigh says: “When I first came in, our online sales were at 65% and in December, we hit our record there with 85% online sales. Once we have the data, we get down to understanding what picture it is painting: why isn't it higher or how can we improve that? Or, why has it got there and what is it that's improving it? Is this trend continuing and how can I use this information to manage staffing or forecasting?”

An example of what they are looking at now is the dispatch methods, monitoring the trends in e-ticket growth and how to better manage collections. “It’s a given that e-tickets are in growth mode,” Ashleigh says. “We have to embrace the shift in customer desire to be more environmentally friendly and promote the fact that we offer a more sustainable way of enjoying your night out. By monitoring the change in trend, we can then account for that within our forecasting and make plans as to how we uplift other revenue streams to ensure we maintain growth.”

“When I first came in, our online sales were at 65% and in December, we hit our record with 85% online sales.”

At Waterfront Hall and Ulster Hall, data is an essential part of any decision-making process. “One of our key considerations within our project implementation, both website and ticketing system, was to ensure our decisions were based on data and not based on opinion,” Ashleigh says. “By doing this, we could justify any significant business change.”

A partner, not a client

The nomination for the CIM Award is strong justification that this significant business change is working. The Waterfront Hall and Ulster Hall team have big goals to meet, and feel that in Tessitura they’ve found the right tools and the right partner to help them achieve those goals.

“You see us as a partner and not as a client,” Ashleigh says, “and you are invested in what we want to do.” She recalls meeting the Tessitura team for the first time and feeling, “They got it. They got the vision, they got where we wanted to be.”


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