Part 1: New study builds demographic profile or World Class DCI corps

by Mike Ferlazzo, DCW staff

This article originally appeared in the May 2008 issue of Drum Corps World (Volume 37, Number 2).

While the creative staffs design the shows, it’s the performers who ultimately make Drum Corps International’s World Class corps the top marching musical units in the world. And thanks to recent market research efforts, DCI now has a better idea of just who are wearing the uniforms in its top corps.

Stephen Auditore, chair of its marketing advisory board, has been spearheading DCI’s market research efforts through his Dayton, OH-based marketing firm, Vaticinate. One of his studies analyzed online responses made last May by 1,116 of a possible 2,593 members (43 percent) from 21 of the 23 World Class corps (Mandarins and Pioneer did not participate). It found these trends among World Class members:

• They’re 19.47 years old, on average.
• 60 percent are in college.
• 59 percent anticipate studying music at college in some form (performance, education, business, etc.), with another eight percent planning to study other performance art forms.
• 79 percent are Caucasian.
• 73 percent carry GPAs of 3.1 or higher (on a 4.0 scale).
• 88 percent had prior high school marching band experience.
• 62 percent are in their first or second year in drum corps.
• They’re traveling nearly 800 miles (793) from home, on average, to perform with a corps.
• 49 percent are paying for the drum corps experience out of savings from work.
• They’re plugged into today’s latest digital devices.

The new study is part of a broader effort this decade by the marketing advisory board — which includes Auditore, DCI Marketing Quarterback Bob Jacobs, Executive Director Dan Acheson, Bluecoats Director David Glasgow and former Cavaliers Executive Director Jeff Fielder — to provide research analysis of DCI’s three biggest markets: performers, fans and music educators. They’re using the research to refine their marketing approach and provide additional data on DCI’s impact to corporate sponsors.

“The root of why we choose the research that we do — and have done – is because we spent a lot of time the past five years or so trying to improve the Drum Corps International marketing,” said Auditore, who became the first non-director elected to DCI’s Board of Directors in 1991, eventually serving two terms between 1991-1995 and 1998-2003.

“Up until the early 2000s, it [DCI’s marketing efforts] wasn’t very focused,” he said. “It wasn’t driven by a whole lot of understanding of who’s out there. It wasn’t driven by a whole lot of targeting. It was driven by a lot of ‘I thinks’.”

Project Persona 2007

Auditore presented “2007 Statistical Summary and Analysis for Drum Corps International: Participants and Audience” at January’s Annual Meeting & Conference Weekend in Orlando, FL. “Project Persona 2007” was the name he gave the latest participants study, which was a follow-up to a study conducted with members in 2006. It included 50 one-to-one interviews and six focus groups with Division I corps members. This year’s study provided quantitative numbers to last year’s qualitative study — both the 2006 and 2007 “Persona” studies included the quantitative survey that was written about. One to the key players in the 2006 study was Chauncey Holder, then an MBA student at UW and a percussion technician with the Boston Crusaders. He did all the in-field interviews.

“We were really interested [in the 2006 study] in seeing why the kids were participating and what was motivating them to be part of it [a DCI Division I corps], and what they felt were important or not important issues,” Auditore said. “So those were much more candid types of discussions that had a lot of texture and depth to them.

“Why you end up with these statistical studies is because we [DCI] started to have more success at attracting corporate partners and corporate relationships,” he said. “And one of the issues that’s involved with those is the questions of ‘Who’s involved?’ ‘What do they like?’ ‘What do they read?’ What do they do?’ ‘Who are they?’ ‘How old are they?’ And up until a few years ago, we had zero information that we could say that we know what our students were like. We had a lot of ‘We think this is what they’re like’, but we wanted to establish a baseline of what we know about them. So that’s why the “Persona Project” began in 2006 and continued through 2007.”

Based on that research, it appears as if the educational experience is at the root of why most participants pick their World Class corps. In ranking importance of why they chose a corps on a 1 to 5 scale, respondents rated “the quality of education received” the highest of the 11 choices (4.59 avg.). “Prior placement at finals”, “friends and family march or marched there” and “corps is close to my home” tied for the lowest-ranking criteria (2.92 avg.).

And when respondents selected the most important reason they chose their corps, “the instructional staff” tied with “friends and family march or marched there” as the most popular choices — at 15 percent apiece — with “quality of education received” at 14 percent. Only two percent of respondents chose “prior finals placement.”

“I’ve been around enough of the corps to understand that a lot of the kids were there for something other than just to win,” said Auditore. “There was a style issue or, in fact, educational issues. And that sort of meshes well with the notion that some of the kids — being music majors or arts majors — are trying to fill out a piece of their curriculum and resumé. They want to get involved in organizations that are going to deliver a fairly good educational piece to them.

“So I was a little surprised, but not terribly surprised,” he said. “I will tell you, however, that that information, across the board, did surprise some people.”

It may also be surprising how far some members are willing to travel for that educational experience — nearly 800 miles, on average, between their residence and corps’ rehearsal locations. When asked specifically how far they traveled to the winter rehearsal sites, 39 percent said more than 500 miles, with six percent reporting more than 2,000 miles.

When breaking it down by corps, only The Academy had an average travel distance under 500 miles (487.76) for its members. Three others had average distances over 1,000 miles — the Santa Clara Vanguard (1,176.14), Blue Devils (1,242.20) and Boston Crusaders (1,539.07).

Despite some daunting travel, most corps members are still probably coming from modest family income. While the survey didn’t specifically ask about household income, researchers used the residential zip code of the members to extract the median household income from industry-available demographic databases, finding it was under $50,000 ($49,418), on average, for corps families.

Yet only one percent of respondents ranked costs as the most important criteria for selecting their corps. And while the study found that 81 percent of the respondents were funded by parents and/or family, with nearly half funding their drum corps participation through savings from work, the survey didn’t measure the actual cost to each member.

“We weren’t really surprised at the lower rating of cost in making a decision,” Auditore said. “This is because we have seen dramatic increases in the number of students auditioning — hence concluded that cost was not likely a factor, since there didn’t seem to be a surfeit of students willing to pay.

“I think that there is some ‘pain’ in the total cost that students and their families feel, but we think that the value of the education and life experience is viewed as good investment, especially given the career aspirations that many students have expressed — professional music educators, music/arts performers, etc.”

Drum corps’ great diversity divide

But that experience is apparently being viewed as a good investment by mostly white families, with four out of every five members being Caucasian. Only three percent of the sample were African-American, Asian or multi-racial, respectively.

“I can tell you that we were not surprised by the demographics,” Auditore said. “We’ve known for some time that the number of minority kids participating in drum corps has been dropping. And I think it’s not necessarily a DCI issue. I think it’s an issue relative to, if you look where kids came from, almost all of them had high school marching band experience. And you’re not seeing a lot of that activity going on in areas where we used to see some of the traditional black/inner-city drum corps.

Those inner cities don’t have as much money to spend on music education and they don’t spend as much as other schools do. They don’t really have the football thing going on as much as some other schools do, so you don’t have that marching band opportunity.

“I think it’s an issue that people are aware of,” he said. “I think it comes up, really more in an abstract discussion of what is the philanthropic profile of Drum Corps International and how does that look relative to people who want to support traditional youth philanthropy through a fairly traditional prism of helping disadvantaged youth,” Auditore added.

But while World Class corps membership lacks diversity, they are appealing to today’s “best and brightest” students. More than half (60 percent) of the respondents were college students and 73 percent carried grade point   averages of 3.1 or higher. That’s probably not too surprising, given the hundreds who audition for one of the 150 spots in DCI’s elite corps today.

That academic profile might be slightly different if the Mandarins and Pioneer — two World Class corps with some younger members that only participated in the 2006 study — and DCI’s Open Class corps were included in the sample. Auditore has made plans to conduct an Open Class study this summer.

“On the Open Class corps, we had talked about doing one of those [surveys] in 2007, but some time issues on the Open Class people kind of impeded this effort,” he said. “We began discussions in January about doing one with the Open Class this year and our plan is to do one. We’re waiting for the Open Class people to come back and say, ‘These are the things that are important to us to know’. They have a whole different set of issues at that level and they’re probably concerned about such things as, ‘Did you try out for a Division I (World Class) corps?’ That is something that we would be interested in knowing across the board.”
The Open Class study may prove particularly valuable to those smaller corps, since the results are not only a marketing tool, but a resource to tell management how to build a better drum corps.

“We’re concerned about the corps because that’s our product,” Auditore said. “Whether or not they have a full roster shows whether a corps is doing its job or not. And if a corps is out there with 90 people when they could be marching 150, that says that corps is one we should be looking at to see what we can do to make it a more efficient vehicle.”

Next month: part two will summarize Vaticinate’s “2007 Audience Profile Study.”