Special Exhibits vs. Permanent Collections (DATA)

Special exhibits don’t do what many cultural organizations think that they do. If fact, they often do the opposite. Read more

Eight Realities To Help You Become A Data-Informed Cultural Organization

Is your organization integrating market research into strategic decision-making processes yet? Here are eight important things to keep in Read more

A Quarter of Likely Visitors to Cultural Organizations Are In One Age Bracket (DATA)

Nearly 25% of potential attendees to visitor-serving organizations fall into one, ten-year age bracket. Which generation has the greatest Read more

People Trust Museums More Than Newspapers. Here Is Why That Matters Right Now (DATA)

Actually, it always matters. But data lend particular insight into an important role that audiences want museums to play Read more

The Top Seven Macro Trends Impacting Cultural Organizations

These seven macro trends are driving the market for visitor-serving organizations. Big data helps spot market trends. The data that Read more

The Three Most Overlooked Marketing Realities For Cultural Organizations

These three marketing realities for cultural organizations may be the most urgent – and also the most overlooked. This Read more

Special Exhibits vs. Permanent Collections (DATA)

Special exhibits don’t do what many cultural organizations think that they do. If fact, they often do the opposite.

The prospect of hosting special exhibits – and blockbuster exhibits, in particular – often makes exhibit-based cultural organizations excited. They sound cool! They spice things up! They are temporary so it makes visitation urgent! It’s new content upon which to underscore expertise! What’s not to like?

A whole bunch, actually.

Hosting special exhibit after special exhibit – and, especially, so-called blockbuster exhibits – often results in more long-term damage than dinero for cultural organizations. I’ve previously shared information about the phenomenon of “Death by Curation” (also known as “Blockbuster Suicide”). Essentially, data suggest that blockbuster exhibits often create a negative cycle that challenges the solvency of the visitor-serving organizations that come to rely upon them as a primary audience engagement strategy.

This flawed, unsustainable strategy finds organizations over-reliant on visitation from special exhibits – rather than their permanent collections – in order to (hopefully) achieve their attendance and financial goals. It’s no secret that a true blockbuster exhibit can boost a museum’s attendance to record levels. However, a “blockbuster” is rare, and the fact that these blockbusters spike attendance so dramatically is an important finding: Blockbusters are anomalies – not the basis of a sustainable plan. It’s another example of our getting so excited about short-term visitation spikes that we forget to zoom out longer than our annual timelines in order to see what is really going on.

Death by Curation happens a lot, but we don’t often talk about it within the exhibit-based cultural industry. I’m not in the business of calling out individual organizations, but if you think of organizations that have fallen on hard financial times, you may note the frequency with which Death By Curation plays a role in their respective struggles. Death by Curation is the business of staking your reputation and attendance goals on a stimulus that will by definition soon leave your organization. It’s the business of making arguably your organization’s best reputational equities ephemeral. It’s pouring sacred budgeting resources into building affinity for a special exhibit rather than a meaningful destination – your organization.

Essentially, Death by Curation happens because organizations focus on special exhibits at the expense of their permanent collections. We put a lot of endorsement energy and marketing expenditures around special exhibits and that makes sense. Special exhibits often cost quite a bit to actualize, and there is an understandable want to aggressively promote them in the hopes of recouping our investments. That doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Data suggest that an organization’s permanent collections – perhaps more so than special exhibits – matter in terms of overall organizational wellness and sustainability.

The data below contemplate the perceptions of visitors to six visitor-serving organizations that recently (since January 2014) featured a separately ticketed special exhibit in addition to their regular, permanent collections.

Some important numbers before we dive in: The data indicate that 31.7% of visitors only visited the special exhibits – regardless of if their special exhibit admission included access to the permanent collection. This means that though they may have had access to the permanent collection, they report simply visiting the special exhibit and then leaving. Additionally, 34.9% of folks reported visiting both the special exhibit and permanent collection, and 33.4% of visitors reported visiting only the permanent collection.

The special exhibits are different and the organizations are not all of the same “type” (i.e. all history museums). However, they are all exhibit-based. (Performance-based cultural organizations can eat popcorn on the sidelines here. A form of Death By Curation may reasonably apply to performance-based organizations as well, but I do not have apples-to-apples data to make a comparison.) I also want to mention that these six organizations did not take on the same exhibit so as to preemptively address a possible defense against critical thinking: “There’s no way this applies to my organization!”

Let’s take a look at visitor perceptions concerning (a) value for cost; (b) overall satisfaction; and (c) intent to re-visit within one year. Let’s look at value for cost measures first, because this outcome may be the least surprising and it serves a bit like required reading prior to digging into our next two charts.

The value for cost metric measures, essentially, how much bang a person believes that they got for their buck. You will note that value for cost perceptions are reliably lower for those who purchased the separately ticketed special exhibit – and this, too, makes sense: The special exhibit costs more!  However, this metric is not a measure of cost but rather of perceived value – so the goal is for visitors to perceive high value for cost regardless of the expense. In other words, this metric allows that a visitor may perceive a premium experience with a premium cost more favorably than a lower cost, lesser experience. What organizations often forget when they charge an extra fee is that it increases the expectation of an experience worthy of that additional expense.

Another item of note is the generally minor change in value for cost between those who only saw the permanent collection and those who saw both the permanent collection and the special exhibit. This may be surprising, as organizations might guess that someone who saw both permanent and special exhibits might have much higher value for cost perceptions than those who only saw the permanent collection. Depending on the visitor’s perception of the special exhibit, the exhibit risks disproportionately influencing their perceptions and kicking down the value for cost perceptions of those who saw both the special exhibit as well as the permanent collection.

You will note that overall satisfaction is essentially similar among people solely visiting either the special exhibit or permanent collection. Overall satisfaction is 1.18% higher among those who only visited the permanent collection. As previously noted, this is likely due to the role that value for cost plays in the market’s contemplation of overall satisfaction (i.e. lower value for cost perceptions tend to demean overall satisfaction).  In no case are either the value for cost or overall satisfaction metrics less among those who visited the permanent collections when compared to those who only visited the special exhibit.

These data should perhaps give you pause and encourage some consideration. Intent to re-visit for those who only visited the special exhibit are dramatically less than indicated for those who visited the permanent collection.  Again, this may make sense: Those motivated to visit primarily by a special exhibit may naturally be more inclined to wait until the next special exhibit before re-visiting…and the next special exhibit may not open within the next year. This is one of the negative side effects of special exhibits (all the more magnified when we pour a lot of marketing resources into them): We tie intent to re-visit to temporary experiences and thus encourage potential visitors to wait until we have another one to come back. We invest significant resources in underscoring that our special exhibit is indeed the most “special” experience we offer, and then we are surprised when the market believes us and behaves accordingly.

Death By Curation – and an over-reliance on “bigger and better” special exhibits in general – takes its toll on exhibit-based cultural organizations on the whole. It’s the prevalence of the practice of Death By Curation that “nothing new to do or see” is a top reason why people who have reported specific interest in visiting cultural organization’s don’t make it through the door! It is so common that it is a popular reason for not attending cultural organizations. In many ways, we’ve trained the public to believe that our special exhibits are more special than our organizations on the whole – possibly even more important than our missions and the reasons why we exist. We may be sabotaging one of our biggest reputational advantages: That cultural organizations are more than attractions, and that they can and do change communities and the world.

Special exhibits can do good things, of course, when they are carefully considered beyond the quick hit of a temporary attendance spike that comes at the expense of long-term visitation. And perhaps “It’s time to think about our next special exhibit” shouldn’t be a second-nature thought for cultural executives. Perhaps it’s better to think, “What’s the best thing that we can do to walk our talk in terms of who we are and what we stand for?” Sometimes the answer is a special exhibit. However, I’d like to propose that perhaps it’s not the only answer…or, even, a frequently appropriate response.

Chasing audiences with special exhibits – and especially blockbuster/blockbuster-wannabe exhibits – isn’t generally sustainable in the long-term. It also calls to question the total costs of developing and actualizing these exhibits as a means of engaging visitors – including the costs to promote them – when compared to potential alternative uses of the same funds. There are many other proven ways to increase visitation that may be more sustainable than tying visitation to special exhibits.

Consider this: Perhaps what is special is what lives inside of your organization. Building affinity for specific items in a permanent collection may be an underrated move. Items in your permanent collection stand for who you are, and not simply what might be hot right now.

 

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Leave a comment

Eight Realities To Help You Become A Data-Informed Cultural Organization

Is your organization integrating market research into strategic decision-making processes yet? Here are eight important things to keep in mind.

I just returned from a whirlwind 24 hours in St. Louis for (a portion of) the American Alliance of Museums annual conference. While I was there, I had the honor of serving on a panel to talk data with some rad folks: Rob Stein (American Alliance of Museums), Kaywin Feldman (Minneapolis Institute of Art), Seb Chan (Australian Center for the Moving Image), and Kari Allderedge (McKinsey & Company). We spoke about how data can be used to help inform strategic decisions. Prior to the conference, Rob asked each of us to send him our key takeaways regarding our portion of the discussion. If you couldn’t make it – or if you could and you simply like a good refresher – these were my six takeaways…with two additional points that I want to add on after our discussion.

Here are eight, important things to keep in mind regardless of where your organization is in the process of integrating market research into strategic decision-making processes:

 

1) The need to make different audiences into regular audiences is urgent.

Cultural organizations are experiencing a phenomenon called the negative substitution of the historic visitor. Negative substitution occurs when the number of people who profile as historic visitors exiting the market outpaces the number of people who profile as historic visitors entering the market. It’s the driving reason for the decline in attendance to museums, zoos, aquariums, performing arts entities, and other visitor-serving organizations (particularly when contextualized by the rate of population growth). Negative substitution is taking place because the market is growing more diverse, while perceptions of cultural organizations as being places for a certain kind of person have remained largely static.

The negative substitution rate for museums shows that for every one historic visitor who leaves the US market (by way of death, relocation, or migration), they are being replaced by only 0.948 of a person (by way of birth, relocation, or immigration). This may not sound impressive – but this is actually a huge difference.

Think of it this way: An organization with a stable attendance of 1,000,000 visitors may keep doing everything right by their current audiences (e.g. marketing, developing exhibits, etc.), and then might reasonably expect to engage 948,000 future visitors…and then 899,000 visitors…and then progressively fewer yet visitors over time absent interdiction. And they will be doing everything right by their current audiences!

Although the negative substitution rate for aggregated cultural organizations is 0.948:1.00, rates are slightly different among visitor-serving organization types. For instance, for history museums, the number is 0.951. For art museums, it’s 0.946, and for science museums it is 0.939. For more about these rates and those for some other organization types, check out this article.

 

2) Audience research and market research are different. We need them both.

Negative substitution is an important example of a pressing reason why organizations must contemplate market research. Market research includes both visitors and non-visitors alike. It is helpful for spotting trends, informing strategic decisions, reaching new audiences, and providing clues for effective engagement. In order to know what people really think of our organization, we also need to know what the people who do not decide to pay us a visit think.

Market research is the type of research that helps inform our more global reputations and identifies primary barriers to visitation. Asking only current audiences about our reputations would be like Donald Trump solely asking the GOP what they think of him. Of course, the GOP is incredibly important to Donald Trump – they presumably comprise the core of his constituency. But, in order to get a more complete and accurate view of his reputation, he would need to include folks who may decide not to support him as well.

Market research tends to be “bigger” data, and it’s generally harder for cultural organizations to obtain. After all, without significant investment, it can be difficult to reach the folks who are not engaging with an organization. They aren’t likely following the entity on social media, they probably aren’t on the organizations’ email lists, nor are they onsite to survey. Adding these folks to the mix helps us understand the bigger picture of our organization’s effectiveness and reputation. Market research informs strategic decisions, and it helps answer the question, “What should we do?”

Audience research is also incredibly important! It Includes visitors to our institutions and participants in our programs. Once we’ve created a program, it helps us figure out how it can be improved.  It can also let us know what current audiences like and don’t like, and what they expect from our organizations in the future. Audience research can help affirm and monitor the efficacy of strategic decisions, and it helps answer the question, “Is what we are doing working for our current audiences?”

Here’s a brief overview video of the difference between audience and market research that provides more information.

 

3) Market research does not seek to affirm decisions (although it can). It informs them.

Market research functions fundamentally differently than audience research. Simply, it is not a wholly adequate tool for affirming decisions. It’s not a thing to be considered after a decision has been made, but something to consider in the development of programs and initiatives. Market data can be helpful for evolving and altering programs so that they meet market expectations, but it may be better – and much more efficient – to utilize market research to design effective programs in the first place.

Remember: Market research includes high-propensity visitors. High-propensity visitors are people who profile as likely visitors, but they may not necessarily have visited your organization (yet). They represent market potential. Market potential can be different than actual visitation. For instance, some organizations think that their low visitation numbers from adults without children indicate that adults without children do not have interest in visiting the organization. Data suggest that this may be untrue. Moreover, nearly a quarter of potential visitors to cultural organizations fall in a single, ten-year age cohort that may not necessarily match an organization’s attendance – outlining a potential opportunity.

 

4) Effective organizations prioritize the perspectives of the market.

Organizations that take an “outside-in” approach to strategic decision-making generally outperform those still taking “inside-out” approaches. In other words, it pays to pay attention to the market and listen to its expectations, perspectives, and behaviors. Traditionally, visitor-serving organizations may be more used to the opposite strategy of essentially bestowing upon themselves the responsibility of determining for their audiences what these audiences should care about.

“I think” doesn’t count from an insider professional because we are not the market. We are not our audiences, so we need to ask and observe audiences in order to have a baseline understanding of their needs, wants, and expectations. We benefit by paying attention to target audiences, and realizing that we don’t know our audiences better than they know themselves.

 

5) Confirmation biases create blind spots. Challenge what you think you know to get real answers.

Confirmation bias may be the root of our industry’s most popular misconceptions. It certainly plays a big role in why Know Your Own Bone is sometimes called “controversial” by industry insiders and generally reads more like common sense to not industry-insiders.

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses. It’s human – and also prevalent and incredibly damaging.

Here’s just one example. We frequently observe in demographic surveys that more educated and higher income people visit cultural organizations during broadly publicized reduced admission days than during full-price admission days. (As a side, this makes perfect sense. Cultural audiences tend to be more wealthy and educated than the general public, so it’s wealthy folks who take up the deal when our initiatives aren’t specifically targeted). Confirmation bias makes us think that our organization is exempt from this happening because we saw some people who looked “low income” (whatever that means) on an affordable access day…particularly when went out of our way to look for people that we believed were low income.

Confirmation bias is often what makes cultural industry leaders utter that most damaging and defensive phrase, “That data doesn’t apply to me” when it applies exactly to them.

Again, confirmation bias is completely human. I even have coworkers that I run my ideas by for Know Your Own Bone articles or who help me edit them when I worry that my own confirmation biases may be popping up.  These folks help me remind myself to question and look into even things that our industry assumes to be unassailable. It’s by looking into them that I’ve realized just how much of our industry best practices are still housed on an unstable rubble of “I think” rather than a sturdy foundation of economics or consumer behavior.

Confirmation bias makes us all blind. If you work with data, remember that you may not be able to completely remove those blinders, but you need to acknowledge that they are there or you may not be able to move forward accurately. We benefit by testing even what we think we know, and even that which will make us most uncomfortable if we’ve been doing it “wrong.”

 

6) Sometimes data makes people angry, but hard truths can help us evolve.

Real data will be hard sometimes. It’s data. You don’t get to chose the outcomes. Inevitably, sometimes there will be bad or surprising news.

If your organization never receives hard truths from data, then one of two things may be going on: First, your organization may be a miracle of modern cultural business practices, or – more likely – you’re not asking the right questions that lead to growth and learning.

If you’re truly asking good questions and chipping away at engagement barriers, you will get hard answers sometimes. They may be different than the Board Chair’s personal preference. This will be challenging. (Remember: A sample size of one person is not a significant sample – even if that person is the Board Chair.) It downright stinks to deliver data that says that your friend Tim-in-the-Community-Engagement-Department’s pet project isn’t reaching affordable access audiences, or your lunch buddy Nancy-the-Curator’s idea for an exhibit won’t be worth the cost. Though data can be hard to swallow, it’s great to get it. If we don’t learn, we cannot grow. If data suggest that a board member’s idea isn’t the best, then the board member isn’t dumb – they are great for coming up with the idea to test. And your organization is great for testing it first.

Organizations benefit by creating a culture where leadership is comfortable being uncomfortable. It’s the side effect of being thoughtful. It’s also the side effect of creating impact in a data-informed world.

 

7) Aim to collect signals rather than noise.

Sure, there’s a lot of data that you (or a third party entity on your behalf) could collect – but collecting data for the sake of collecting data without an idea of how it will be used to help you achieve your strategic goals can be a huge waste of time (and even a liability if you’re not careful with data management practices). Data can be a tremendous asset and, indeed, it should increasingly inform strategic decisions. That said, collecting data for data’s sake seems like a vain exercise in pseudo best practices. Measure what counts.

Consider what you need to know in order to best reach your organization’s goals and then use data to uncover the answers. Do you want to know if your organization is trusted? If an expansion project is a good idea? If people believe they are getting a good value for your cost of admission? The average amount of time between visits? If your new exhibit idea will attract new audiences? Why people with reported interest aren’t coming? Start with the questions. Data is important because it helps answer the questions that informs strategic decisions.

Figure out what you want to learn about the market or your audiences and measure signals.  For instance, measure your reputation, your intent-to-revisit chronologies, trust, visitor satisfaction, value-for-cost perceptions…things that mean something. It’s easy to get distracted by noise. We get misled by noise because noise is often the easiest to get – nevermind that it doesn’t really matter and often wastes time. Noise includes vanity metrics like click-through-rates, web visits, mobile app downloads, social media followers, and other numbers that don’t usually correlate with success in motivating visitation or heightening mission execution. These things can be helpful diagnostic metrics, but they are NOT key performance indicators. They generally do not belong in board packets. They are largely noise that can make the task of truly being a data-informed organization harder in the long run.

 

8) You do not need to be a data expert to make smart strategic decisions based on data.

You are already presumably expert at the job that you have. You are probably already pretty darn stretched thin, too. You may be thinking, “We just got social media figured out…and now we need to navigate the ins and outs of data?!” Building a culture based on more data-informed decision-making may mean that it’s increasingly important for folks within an organization to know its value and possesses a baseline understanding of it. This does not mean that everyone in an organization needs to add to their job the work of becoming expert at data collection and management. In fact, that sounds like a disaster sure to result in a lot of noise and some very bad data collected by non-experts. Bad data can be worse than no data.

I work in analyzing cultural organization data every single day. I write about outcomes here every week. I keynoted about it last week in California and I am keynoting about it next week in Australia. I analyze data – but I don’t collect it. Other people in the company with significant academic and professional experiences related to data collection do that. I don’t conduct surveys or create questionnaires for market research. I help let people who are expert at creating unbiased instruments know the questions to which client organizations want answers. I don’t personally know the ins and outs of data collection and privacy laws – other people in the company with law degrees do that. (I hear that they are called lawyers!)

I like to think that I know a lot of things. I certainly don’t know everything about data collection, management, rules and restrictions, creating effective and unbiased survey instruments, the specific details of deploying those instruments, structural equation modeling, or network theory modeling (for starters)…and I am a “data person” who knows a great deal about data and uses it every day.

I believe that people who work in cultural organizations are superheroes in many, many ways. That said, if my full-time job revolves around data and I work predominately in one portion of it (analysis), then I think it may be a bit unfair for you to expect yourselves to become specialized mathematicians, behavioral economists, and lawyers in addition to your regular important work of educating and inspiring the masses.

That’s not how you become a data-informed organization. Becoming a data-informed organization means asking hard questions, challenging how you think and doing it critically, and using data to inform strategic decisions that is developed, deployed, and analyzed by experts.

 

Here are some ways that your organization can obtain data:

I’ve included a broad range of solutions and this list is nowhere near exhaustive. Organizations have different budgets, capacities, and capabilities.

  • Have a good evaluations team for audience research
  • Create a specialized data-related department with data-related experts. Some larger organizations already have these and they can be a big help!
  • Hire a firm to collect, manage, and analyze market research
  • Hire a firm to help collect, manage, and analyze audience research
  • Follow market research available on the web to stay informed of trends
  • Associations are increasingly investing in and distributing industry data. Follow them.
  • Partner with a university. Many have departments that can help!
  • Partner with a grant-making entity
  • Create a cultural consortium of organizations in the area to share research costs
  • Read Know Your Own Bone (Oh hey!)

 

I cannot possibly do this entire topic justice in one article, but boy did I just attempt a broad overview! I hope that it proved helpful and provided some food for thought. Again, there are many areas relevant to the topic of “data.” On the AAM panel, we spoke at length about data security. That is also relevant and important, and I didn’t even touch it here.

Holy moly did I meet many great Know Your Own Bone readers while I was at AAM! It served to reinforce what a great group of thinkers are perusing this site. I aim to be a data-informed resource for strategic decisions. If you’re reading Know Your Own Bone – and especially if your organization is passing it around – then you’re already creating a culture of data-informed, strategic decision-making. You’re asking hard questions and you’re likely already an “outside-in” thinker.

It’s an exciting time of change for cultural organizations that will lead to more effective operations. Data is a tool that can help organizations do what they already do best: educate and inspire their communities.

 

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

A Quarter of Likely Visitors to Cultural Organizations Are In One Age Bracket (DATA)

Nearly 25% of potential attendees to visitor-serving organizations fall into one, ten-year age bracket.

Which generation has the greatest percentage of folks who profile as likely visitors to cultural organizations? That’s the focus of this week’s Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video. The answer might surprise you.

…Or, maybe the answer WON’T surprise you, given all the recent talk about the importance of engaging millennials for visitor-serving organizations such as museums, zoos, aquariums, science centers, performing arts entities, and even national and state parks. Certainly, a subset of millennials cannot possibly take the cake as having the most people who are likely visitors! Au contraire. As it turns out, we millennials really do our best to be ever worthy of attention.

A high-propensity visitor is a person who has the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood to visit a cultural organization. In other words, these are the people who are most likely to actually walk through our doors. It’s may be challenging for some of us to believe, but not everybody who hears the word “history museum” or “ballet” thinks, “Yes! Let’s go!” (or even a less enthusiastic variation of this statement). However, there are folks who are more likely to think this way, and these people are our high-propensity visitors. They are the people who are most likely to visit cultural organizations.

Remember: High-propensity visitors are not the same as historic visitors. People who profile as historic visitors are those with the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that match those who traditionally visit cultural organizations. Simply, all historic visitors (traditional, actual visitors) are generally included in the high-propensity visitor group (potential visitors), but not all high-propensity visitors profile as historic visitors. To be overly glib, not all likely visitors to cultural organizations are wealthy and white. (Again, that’s an extreme over-simplification, but my hope is that it gives you a sense of the distinction.) In fact, it’s quite the opposite…

Historic visitors – people who look and act like the people that cultural organizations have had success engaging in the past – are exiting the market (e.g. due death, relocation, etc.) at a faster rate than they are being replaced (e.g. via birth, immigration, etc). This phenomenon is called negative substitution. If organizations do not do a better job of engaging emerging audiences with an interest in visiting, it will continue to be a challenge for visitation to keep pace with population growth. We need to get better at engaging new audiences.

In the chart below, the red bar on the left shows the percentage of the US adult market by age cohort as per the US Census Bureau. The blue bar on the right indicates the percentage of adult high-propensity visitors to visitor-serving organizations (VSOs) as informed by the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study.

This chart is segmented by age rather than by more broad generational cohorts, and that allows us to dig deeper and better understand the particular dynamics of each age group.

Almost a quarter (24.3%) of adult high-propensity visitors in the US were millennials between the ages of 25-34 in year 2016. That is so much millennial potential! And it’s not surprising, really, as I’ve written a great deal about the cultural industry’s millennial engagement opportunity before.

The fact that the greatest percentage of potential visitors falls into a millennial age cohort is a big deal because cultural organizations are not adequately securing millennial visitation. In fact, it’s a bit more of a unique and attention-worthy situation than that…

Simply put, data suggest that millennials are both the most frequent visitors to cultural organizations and also comprise their greatest percentage of overall attendance potential. At the same time, millennials are also the most under-represented generational cohort in terms of visitation. There are simply so many of us that we’re both the cultural industry’s most frequent current visitors that need to be kept happy – and ALSO the generation that organizations must do a better job of attracting. Here’s the data on millennial visitation and the extent to which millennials make up our greatest volume of visitation and yet still are not visiting at representative rates.

Moreover, data suggest that there are other “millennial characteristics” that make this age group a critical target audience for cultural organizations.

Before opening this article, you may have already been thinking something like, “Jeez! It feels like we are slaves to the millennial generation!”  I think that sentiment makes sense. We talk about millennials a lot. (Even I get a bit tired of talking about us and I’m a millennial!) Here are some important things to remember if you’re getting fed up with millennial talk. Most importantly, “millennial talk” is code for “everybody talk.” Perhaps as a result of living in our super-connected world, other age groups increasingly share “millennial characteristics.” Think about it: Millennials are far from the only generation that utilizes the web and values brand transparency and personalization.

Adding all of these factors up might make a non-millennial groan, but it doesn’t make them less important: (1) Millennials are already the most frequent attendees to cultural organizations; (2) They are our most under-served age cohort (as they are not visiting at representative population rates); (3) They are sort of a canary in the coalmine for engagement of all audiences today; and (4) Millennials comprise the highest percentage of high-propensity visitors to cultural organizations.

Yikes! How’s that for being deserving of special treatment?

 

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, Millennials 1 Comment

People Trust Museums More Than Newspapers. Here Is Why That Matters Right Now (DATA)

Actually, it always matters. But data lend particular insight into an important role that audiences want museums to play right now.

“Are museums perceived as experts – and are they trusted? To what extent?” These are the questions that I hoped to shine a light upon when I requested a topic-specific data cut on cultural organizations from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study. The NAAU is an ongoing study regarding market perceptions of visitor-serving organizations and it currently quantifies feedback from over 108,000 respondents. The resulting data reveal important takeaways for museums today – and specifically underscore an important role that the market expects museums to play. As a heads-up, the data below is cut for the United States market and not only high-propensity visitors. In other words, this isn’t simply “what people who believe in climate change” think about museums.

The data and analysis in this article contribute to several debates taking place in the visitor-serving industry right now from crowd-curated exhibits and the “education vs. entertainment” debate, to implications regarding participation in last week’s March for Science. Knowing how much people trust museums is important information for developing relevant and sustainable organizations. But data reveal that being trusted comes with the responsibility to communicate action and recommend mission-driven behaviors.

Hey museums, you have the superpower of public trust. Like your superpower of being facilitators of shared experiences, you may not even realize the importance of this superpower. Remember: Your organization may declare importance, but the market determines relevance. Here’s what the market thinks about cultural organizations when it comes to credibility, trust, and their duty to the communities they serve.

 

Museums are highly credible sources of information

Aquariums, art museums, history museums, science centers/museums, natural history museums, and zoos are highly credible sources of information. And, as the data indicate, these values aren’t merely “good,” they’re rather fantastic! With values in the upper-seventies, there is a strong level of agreement with the statement “[Entity type] is a highly credible source of information.”

While the strength of the sentiment may or may not surprise you, what is notable are the perceptions of museums as credible sources when compared to NGOs, federal agencies, and even the daily newspaper. Yes, folks, museums are trusted more than the daily newspaper.

The NGO category includes non-governmental organizations that are not museums. The mean values at 64.2 for NGOs and 61.3 for state agencies indicate a relative level of credibility – with perceptions largely influenced by the degree to which the respective NGO or agency conforms to the respondent’s worldview.  For example, no matter what the integrity of the information published by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an avowed climate change denier is unlikely to find the NRDC unassailably credible. Federal agencies (with a mean value of 51.4), represent an even more bifurcated public view – which makes sense in our current partisan condition.

These data tie into the never-ending “education vs. entertainment” priority debate within visitor-serving organizations. It’s a never-ending debate because there isn’t a clear winner. Data suggest that cultural organizations need to be both entertaining and educational in order to succeed, though they play different roles in the visitor experience. It’s also a never-ending debate because – although the two may be unstoppable when they team up – the topic has become stupidly polarizing among some industry professionals. It’s divided within some organizations (e.g. education vs. marketing departments) and outside of them (e.g. topic-experts vs. museum consultants). Again, they play different roles, but we really should write a ‘thank you’ note to whomever invented that silly/awesome word “edu-tainment.” (Anybody know his or her address?)

Entertainment value is critical for an organization’s solvency and success, but organizations that veer too far on the “entertainment” side of things risk losing the reputational equity of credibility. And it’s an area in which museums shine.

 

Museums are trusted

Not only are museums viewed as highly credible sources of information, they are also trusted entities overall. This type of trust is not to be taken lightly, and it’s a testament to organizations that stand by their missions to educate and inspire audiences.

This is important information for all museums contemplated in these data, and it is especially worthy of an extra look for zoos and aquariums. Zoos and aquariums are trusted by the market at-large…and rather significantly so. I point this out because it lends context to some of the debates taking place in the zoo and aquarium world regarding captive animals. Certainly, IMPACTS data reveal stark trend lines regarding perceptions of exhibits such as dolphin shows, but the market at large still largely trusts zoos and aquariums to evolve and make value-based decisions driven by their missions. This is not an excuse for zoos and aquariums not to listen up and evolve alongside market perceptions of “right” and “wrong” (to the extent that they may/may not be evolving). It’s the opposite. It’s a reminder not to let people down.

It may be argued that museums are trusted because they employ and/or consult topic experts and thus provide expert content. That might be it, friends! Regardless: Trusted, they are.

These data also provide aid for thinking about crowd-curated exhibits. The market views museums as expert sources of information. While crowd-curated exhibits certainly can be an effective way to engage the public depending on how they are administrated and actualized, they also risk perceptually undermining a museum’s own hard-earned trust and credibility. Engagement is super great! Engagement that results in a greater loss of equity than the payoff (especially when there are other avenues for engagement) is not super great.

 

Museums are not seen as having political agendas

Here’s how these data fit in with the rest: They underscore that museums are seen as factual and impartial – more so than government agencies and the daily newspaper.

Are museums trusted because they are not seen as having political agendas? Maybe, but you can only stick the landing there if you jump to some conclusions. While I am sharing this alongside trust and credibility metrics, I’m not yet certain of the exact nature of the relationship between being political and being trustworthy as it relates to visitor-serving organizations – and neither are you. (If you don’t have data, then you have an opinion. That’s cool, but it doesn’t count here. Mine doesn’t, either.) There’s more to these values – and they are interesting and worth putting on our thinking caps to explore.

“Political” may understandably correlate with having connection to or trying to influence policy. This may be the reason why aquariums and zoos indicate a higher level of agreement with the statement, despite having lower levels of government funding and more earned revenue imperative than other visitor-serving entities. Some zoos and aquariums encourage audiences to vote in a certain direction (e.g. in favor of plastic bag bans). It makes sense that NGOs may have the strongest perception of having a political agenda – they openly do things like encourage people to fight global warming and feed the homeless. Federal and state agencies being perceived as having a political agenda seems to make good sense, too, from where I stand.

Confidence in cultural organizations took a plunge after the presidential election, and it remains low. The New York Times reports that we are divided in terms of consumer optimism: Some of us have great confidence in the economy, and some of us don’t. Unfortunately, those who profile as high-propensity visitors to cultural organizations largely fall in the “don’t” category. The reason for this dip seems to be concern that organizations are not standing by their missions (e.g. science museums remaining oddly quiet when confronted with “alternative facts” concerning climate change, or concern about board members that don’t support an organization’s mission running the show). In sum, this may not be a matter of “being political,” but rather one of integrity.

Indeed, taking a political stand for the sake of taking a political stand seems like it may be mission drift for most organizations. However, recent happenings suggest that when your mission is pinned against a “politicized” topic, standing up for your mission wins. This is illustrated by the data-informed success seen at MoMA when they highlighted artwork by artists from countries impacted by the original Muslim-majority nation travel ban.

Museums are viewed as impartial entities, and this may be because they are trusted to present the facts with expertise. Where things get messy is when an organization’s very mission becomes politicized. Or perhaps more simply: when facts become politicized.

 

People believe that museums should recommend action

This data set is probably the most important. People believe that museums should suggest or recommend certain behaviors or ways for the general public to support their causes and missions. Got that? People think that it’s the job of museums to recommend behaviors. That’s huge, and it’s likely tied to the combined force of the high levels of trust and credibility that these organizations possess.

Consider that recommending action is not the same as “being political.” Recommending things like cutting down on single use plastics (as a zoo or aquarium may advise) or contributing funding for art programs that an organization carries out (as an art museum may recommend), may not be seen as necessarily “political” to the market, but rather seen as an organization walking its talk in terms of supporting its mission. The data doesn’t specifically support museums recommending protesting (for instance). The data support organizations leveraging the trust that the market has in them to suggest behaviors that underscore their missions – which the market perceives not to be innately political.

Museums are becoming forums for community engagement on important issues related to their missions, and that may be a terrific thing. Museums are heroes for their missions, and there’s incredible potential to lead the charge in helping to actualize these missions. That’s an important superpower – and it’s an enormously humbling responsibility.

Museums, zoos, and aquariums are highly trusted to produce and output content and information. They are viewed as expert, factual, and impartial – more so than government agencies and even daily newspapers. The market – which generally doesn’t like to be told what to do in today’s connected world – is even willing to accept prescriptive recommendations from museums.

Museums are experts. Museums can make expert recommendations, and people believe that they should do just that. To shirk this market-determined capability for influence may be the greatest blow to an organization’s mission of all. Data suggest that museums may play a role in leading us all toward a more educated, connected, and inspired world…if they are willing to take up the calling.

 

(Credit: The header photo on this article comes from the Field Museum’s totally watch-worthy #DayOfFacts video.)

 

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 7 Comments

The Top Seven Macro Trends Impacting Cultural Organizations

These seven macro trends are driving the market for visitor-serving organizations.

Big data helps spot market trends. The data that we collect at IMPACTS is no different. (After all, it is big data!) There are certain trends that come up again and again, and they provide clues as to how cultural organizations may best evolve to remain relevant.

Unsurprisingly, visitor-serving organizations are not immune to the forces affecting the rest of the world. In other words, it’s rather common to see market trends that affect for-profit and government entities affect visitor-serving organizations as well. Makes sense, right? As much as we may sometimes wish we lived in an alternate reality with regard to things like adequate marketing investments, we, too, are members of this Planet Earth in all it’s economically-driven glory.

But that’s not all bad news. Just because “but we’re a nonprofit” increasingly isn’t a thing, that doesn’t mean that the reality is all that sobering. Some of the key trends affecting the market at large right now are areas wherein nonprofits traditionally shine! These seven macro trends manifest themselves in not only IMPACTS data tracing public perceptions and expectations of cultural organizations, but in much of the data that you’ll find coming from any reliable source right now for nearly any economically-concerned entity. Yes, cultural organizations are economically concerned entities. That may sound gross to my friends on the mission-execution end, but it’s important for cultural organizations to stay afloat so that they can…well, execute missions.

These macro trends are largely informed by the realities of our living in a more connected world than ever before – but they seem to affect nearly everything that organizations do onsite and offsite. They seem to affect the way that the market views the world right now, and its expectations for brands and experiences. These are the seven words and concepts that my clients and coworkers are probably the most sick of hearing every time we review a new set of data. (A possible exception may be the term “symbolic capital,” because I personally love it and thus I try to sneak it into most conversations – and not always seamlessly.)

Because these trends are apparent in much of the market data, there are lots of links to Know Your Own Bone in this article –so feel free to dig in and deep dive a bit!

 

Personalization

Just as the world that we live risks increased noisiness with all of the information that we have at our fingertips, it’s similarly becoming increasingly personalized. Ads, status updates, and online experiences are increasingly targeted and personalized for us. As such, personalization is becoming the expectation for folks. Obviously, this has implications for cultural organizations in the online realm. There’s an expectation that organizations will respond to people on social media on a personal level, that ads and posts will be relevant to them (this is why smarter targeting is important), and that we’ll interact with our most important supporters equally well offsite as we do onsite.

Positive, personalized interactions between staff members and visitors is the single most reliable way to increase visitor satisfaction onsite. Simply put, personalized experiences – be they online or onsite – have a greater likelihood of being relevant.  Personalization can be a smart relevance hack.

Similarly, alongside personalization is the decreased interest in standardized experiences. This can be seen in the decrease in interest in group sales and the growing popularity of personalized tours and experiences (à la Museum Hack). Disney World has added a feature to its famous Haunted Mansion ride wherein the hitchhiking ghosts hold up a sign that mentions your home city as your doombuggy ride draws to an end. In It’s a Small World, the riders’ names appear on those multi-lingual goodbye flowers. The Disney experience is increasingly self-curated and can be personalized. Immersion and interaction are driving concepts behind the new Star Wars Land set to open in 2019. While the high-propensity visitor profile is not the same to Disney World as it is to cultural organizations (e.g. they don’t necessarily have the same demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate likely visitation), I mention Disney World because it’s an entity with significant visitation that is capitalizing on the personalization trend.

 

Social connectivity

Connectivity is king – and, like the other macro-trends on this list – this is true both onsite and offsite. Offsite may seem rather obvious: Social media plays an important role in driving visitation to cultural organizations, and it’s a critical element of the visitor engagement cycle. High-propensity visitors to cultural organizations qualify as being “super-connected” to the web in that they have access to the web at home, at work, and on a mobile device. This is true of the folks who are most likely to visit cultural organizations regardless of age. (So, nope, not just millennials).

Onsite, social connectivity makes perhaps its biggest splash: Data suggest that who people are with is often more important than what they see when they visit a cultural organization. Not only that, folks who value “with > what” also have the most satisfying experiences and a greater intent to revisit. Social connectivity is another reason why personalized interactions between staff members and visitors matter. While interactions with staff can lead to the greatest increases in visitor satisfaction, rude staff are the single biggest onsite dissatisfier for cultural organizations by a large measure. For performance-based organizations (e.g. ballets, theaters, symphonies) rude guests is the second biggest dissatisfier. Interactions with humans matter big time, folks.

Sure, we’re mighty connected online in today’s world – but being connected to humans onsite is just as critical as ever before. In fact, onsite digital connectivity does not increase visitor satisfaction as much as good ol’ face-to-face communication. (But onsite digital does increase visitor satisfaction so I propose that you aim to rock both.)

 

Social mission

Corporate social responsibility has been called mandatory for for-profit companies today. Simply put, it’s increasingly an expectation that organizations will give something back. That’s part of the reason why the market is increasingly sector agnostic – it doesn’t matter much if your organization is nonprofit or for-profit. What matters is that you do the social good that you say that you do. Organizations that highlight their missions outperform those marketing primarily as attractions. It’s cool to be kind. While social missions may sound like a unique differentiator for nonprofits, they’re not. For-profit companies increasingly have well publicized “so whats?” too.

Not only that, members that like your organization for its mission generally invest more by purchasing more expensive memberships and find greater satisfaction in their memberships than transaction-based members who primarily seek event access and discounts. Here’s the data. Simply, what folks want from memberships is changing. With all the talk about armchair activism, we find that people really do want to actively take part in and contribute to something meaningful.

 

Entertainment vs. education

Boy-oh-boy is this a big topic right now in the cultural sector. IMPACTS has tons of data about the importance of being educational vs. being entertaining, and the results are both obvious and frustrating: We need to be both – but not necessarily equally or in the same way. We need to understand the collaborating role that these two visitor experience aspects play in driving behaviors and, specifically, getting folks to act in our organizations’ interest by paying us a visit, becoming a member, or making a donation.

This is a bigger discussion than I intend to tackle in this article, but here’s a very basic overview of how they work together. Simply, entertainment value drives visitor satisfaction and visitor satisfaction is critical for attendance and solvency. Period. Entertainment value is fiercely important. When we act like “entertainment” is an enemy to “education” instead of its often times greatest partner, we do our organizations a grave disservice. That said, education value serves as an important, unique differentiator that may play a role in the decision to visit a cultural organization instead of taking part in a different leisure activity. (“Interest in an alternative activity” is the biggest reason why folks with reported interest don’t make it through the door.)

Why is this on a list of market trends? Because though the words may be different, this issue isn’t unique to cultural organizations.  Folks want to have a pleasurable experience and having a “so what?” or “it’s good for me/my loved ones” can serve as a competitive advantage when compared to other services/experiences when perceived entertainment value is relatively equal to the alternative. It’s the root of much corporate social responsibility and it requires a tough conversation about reputational equities.

 

Real-time and authentic

This trend is roped to personalization and social connectivity. Social media and digital engagement are real-time, and audiences expect responses in real-time. The real-time trend mirrors the rise of certain social media channels and features, including Snapchat (now, Snap), Instagram and Facebook stories – not to mention live video. These platforms allow for limited professional editing by brands and organizations, forcing – in a way – a kind of authenticity that heretofore organizations could more carefully manage. These trends force behind-the-scenes culture to the front lines. Is your organization really doing interesting things? Show it.

Trends toward real-time and more (seemingly) authentic engagement underscore the need for organizations to walk their talk. It’s time to show and not simply tell. We “show” by what we post online each day and through onsite experiences. Because of the increased want for self-curation and consumer power (discussed next), these trends affect visitation and also philanthropic giving.

 

Consumer control

Everyone is a curator today, but this trend isn’t about literally allowing audiences to curate collections in cultural organizations. It’s about consumer power and control borne of folks having a whole heck of a lot of information at their fingertips nowadays. People want to decide things for themselves because they can. It’s why walking our talk matters. It’s why social media increasingly empowers giving decisions. All this being said, the market views cultural organizations as expert and trustworthy, and that’s a valuable reputational equity that we possess.  (I have the data on this ready to go up  next week, so stay tuned.) We need to walk a fine line to be successful…an “open and yet expert” line.

On social media, we’re seeing this trend take place a bit in SMS messaging, Snap, and Instagram. We can post publically to our “friends,” and we can send private messages to our maybe-more-real friends. We have more and more power to decide who sees our posts.

This trend plays nicely with personalization. As mentioned above, we increasingly expect personalized experiences and interactions, but once the personalized message hits us, folks want to decide on their own if visiting an organization is worth the time and energy investment. This is the reason why more visitation decisions are informed by an organization’s social media channels than an organization’s website.

 

Integrity

This one is big right now, and it’s showing up rather dramatically in market data. We have fake news on the mind! Like trends toward authenticity, desired integrity necessitates that an organization walk its talk.

Not only is the US divided politically, we are divided in terms of how people view the economy as well. Unfortunately for cultural organizations, high-propensity visitors aren’t super happy with things right now. (High-propensity visitors are people with the demographic, psychographic and behavioral attributes that indicate likely attendance to nonprofit, visitor-serving organizations.) Visitor confidence in cultural organizations remains at a dramatic low because, simply, it’s difficult to tell what we stand for during this highly politicized time. Organizations that have stood behind their social missions during this time have reaped important reputational rewards. Why? Integrity, folks. It’s a big deal right now for the people who actually go to museums, aquariums, gardens, and performing arts organizations.

But this trend isn’t necessarily a “political” one. It’s infiltrated operations. A demonstrated lack of integrity is the biggest dissatisfier for high-level members to cultural organizations. We know their names and cell phone numbers perhaps too well when carrying out solicitations, but we suddenly forget who they are when they’re onsite. That’s a disconnect. Some organizations even have (sometimes completely ridiculous, over-the-top) member-ID-checking-police guarding their entrances as if they were border checkpoints. Unsurprisingly, questioning the integrity of our own members is also high on their list of membership dissatisfiers.

 

These seven macro-trends are strongly connected to one another. The organizations that will succeed in reaching new audiences (which data suggests needs to be a primary goal for cultural organizations)  and cultivating engagement are those that don’t simply aim to “one-off program” their way to success. Organizations may be best served to integrate these trends into the new reality of how they operate and do business.

Do these trends sound familiar? Do they ring a bell? Excellent! We can declare importance, but the market determines our relevance. These trends provide a peek into how audiences are doing that. Let’s keep these macro-trends in mind and keep moving forward.

 

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on The Top Seven Macro Trends Impacting Cultural Organizations

The Three Most Overlooked Marketing Realities For Cultural Organizations

These three marketing realities for cultural organizations may be the most urgent – and also the most overlooked.

This one’s got a Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video, folks! If you’d like to share this message with a team (or you would rather watch a little video than dive into written content), check out the video below or head over to my YouTube channel and dive in.

These are three urgent marketing realities for cultural organizations that, while they aren’t actually new at all, seem to surprise executives when we at IMPACTS underscore them as contributors to diminishing audiences. All three of these realities may be whack-you-in-the-face obvious when you stop to think about them, but many organization leaders seem…not to think about them. And it makes sense. Organizations may turn a blind eye to these three realities because they are inconvenient. They’re real – and they are kind of annoying. That is, they involve evolving the way that leaders and executives think about marketing and communications. Perhaps that is a reason why – however obvious these realities may be – I find myself repeating them many times over. HERE’S THE VIDEO:

There is another reason why they may be repeatedly overlooked: Mastering these realities requires skillsets that heretofore haven’t been prioritized by many organizations. We’re used to traditional communication channels and how to think about communications – and the leaders of cultural institutions have been “doing communications” for years! The thing is, this digital engagement thing keeps us on our toes. It’s why today’s cultural executives need to be more like conductors, and less like the first chairs of instruments. There’s a lot going on! Personalization, transparency, social connectivity, real-time communications, and brand integrity matter more in our digital world then they ever have before, and, thus, we need to change up our more traditional ways of thinking.

Connectivity is king and, within the more financially successful organizations with which IMPACTS works, communications departments function more like strategic partners than bottom-of-the-chain service departments. Misunderstanding the evolving role that marketing and communications play in driving visitation and engagement in our connected world is the reason why some people still say these three stupid things to the marketing department.

I could write a hefty, data-based essay explaining why every person who works for a cultural organization should be showering friendly frontline staff and thoughtful social media community managers with flowers, cupcakes, and (consent OK-ed) big hugs. Data reveal time and time again that staff who engage directly with constituents are our champions of shared experiences. They make-or-break both our offsite reputation and our onsite satisfaction. Marketing and communications are increasingly important in our connected world. And, as Uncle Ben from Spiderman has taught us all, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

While these items may “live in” the marketing or communications departments, the culture required to adapt to these changes may require a culture shift within some entities. It’s the responsibility of the entire organization to create a culture that more than acknowledges these three realities. We’ve got to keep up. We’ve got this! Let’s dive in…

 

1) Meet audiences where they are

Data suggest that communication channels that talk WITH audiences (such social media and the web) are considered more go-to sources of information than channels that talk AT audiences (such television, radio, or direct mail). If we want to engage folks, we need to be masters at reaching them where they are now…not where they were last year. We don’t get to decide where to speak with audiences to be most effective – they do. If we ignore their preference, we won’t be heard.

This is obvious. But even though it’s obvious, old habits die hard. For decades, things that weren’t digital were what worked…because “digital” simply didn’t exist in the way that it does now. And it’s not likely to exist in the next decade in the way it exists today. Things are fast-moving. It’s important to keep tabs on not only where audiences are spending their time, but also what they expect and want to receive in terms of messaging for each communication channel – digital or otherwise. Here’s some data on the power of specific social media channels right now.

One of the reasons why digital engagement (and social media, in particular) is so important for cultural organizations is because these channels facilitate word of mouth endorsement. What other people say about you and the sharing of their own experiences is 12.85 times more important in driving your reputation than things that you pay to say about yourself.

 

2) Target the people and not the place

It’s time to pause and consider that we can identify and target individuals now more intelligently, efficiently, and cost-effectively than ever before. As such, we similarly need to evolve how we think about “targeting.”

Think about it: The ads and endorsements that we see every time we turn on our phones or computers are tailored for us based on various technologies’ algorithmic secret sauces. We live in a world that is increasingly personalized, and personalization is fast becoming the expectation of our audiences. As such, it’s generally a better idea to leverage technologies that serve your content to targeted individuals with specific indicators of interest in your organizations, then it is to advertise more broadly on a “place” such as a single website. The name of the game nowadays is to target digital audiences across the entirety of the Web – not engaging only those who happen to visit the one website where you purchased advertising.

Putting a banner ad on a local newspaper’s website may have been considered “targeting” in the past, but it isn’t anymore. The world has gotten smarter about targeting and personalizing messages to effectively reach audiences. It’s time for cultural organizations to make sure that they are smart about it, too.

 

3) Adequate marketing investments matter

“But we got a great deal on the banner ad on the local newspaper’s website!” Awesome. Getting a “deal” on a possible misuse of funds is strangely a thing that too many nonprofit organizations brag about regularly. A “deal” simply isn’t a sufficient motivator for a suboptimal ad spend – or any marketing effort – that isn’t strategically determined to be the best for the organization. The problem here is the chronic nonprofit misunderstanding that an organization can “save its way to prosperity.” That’s not a thing. It costs money to make money.

Instead of following market realities, some organizations still invest “last year’s budget plus five percent.” Some simply reinvest last year’s budget. Unfortunately, that’s not how audience acquisition investments work. Budgets need to be contemplative of the true costs of new technologies and evolving marketing best practices.

Not sure how much to invest or which channels to invest in? IMPACTS uncovered a data-informed equation for determining optimal audience acquisition investments. Remember that it’s not only about spending the proper amount and budget allocation to each channel – it’s also about spending those funds thoughtfully and strategically. Knowing appropriate spending lets you know the size of the frame. To be successful, your organization still needs to paint the picture.

 

Do these three marketing realities sound obvious to you? Excellent! It’s probably because these “new” realities are simply 2.0 versions of tried-and-true ways to think about marketing: Target the right people, in the right place, with the right amount of investment. It’s not rocket science. But we do need to remember that these things change. It’s not a fancy-sounding, simplified, marketing best-practice that you can frame and put on your wall and always understand exactly what it means. We need to be constantly asking ourselves:

 

Are we doing the best thing to target the right people?”

“Are we targeting people where they actually are and not simply where would be most convenient for us?”

“Are we investing the amount that we need in order to succeed in today’s environment?

 

Sometimes, it’s a matter of asking the right questions and not just the questions that are convenient. And yeah – that can be annoying – because folks working within cultural organizations are already working hard with limited budgets to educate and inspire people. It’s a labor of love that you are doing out there, reader! But I’m going to bring this one back to Spiderman again because, indeed, we have a great responsibility.

 

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 2 Comments

Are Mobile Apps Worth It For Cultural Organizations? (DATA)

The short answer: No.

Mobile applications have been a hot topic for a long while within the visitor-serving industry. There are mobile applications for all kinds of museums, zoos, aquariums, historic sites, and performing arts entities. But are people using them? And do they increase meaningful performance metrics like visitor satisfaction?

A (rad) museum professional recently tagged me in a Facebook conversation, asking if I had data that I could share regarding cultural audiences and mobile applications. Why didn’t I think about that before? At first I was a bit flummoxed about how to approach this, as IMPACTS has done work with individual client organizations to dig into the real benefits (or lack thereof) deriving from investments in developing mobile applications, but that data is proprietary. Translation: Not for publishing on Know Your Own Bone.

Fear not, friends! The trusty National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study (NAAU) includes information related to mobile applications – and it’s shareable and reveals compelling and important information for visitor-serving entities. As a reminder, the NAAU is an ongoing study of over 108,000 individuals and counting (“and counting” because IMPACTS is constantly in-market collecting data). This study is also the source of much of the data that I share on my website.

The spoiler (consistent with most individual client experiences as well) is simply that a mobile application is an answer to a visitor engagement question that very few people seem to be asking. What many cultural professionals likely know from their own experience (and that the data reaffirm) is this: Not many visitors use mobile applications either prior to their visits or while onsite, and the ones who do use an organization’s app do not experience a significant increase in visitor satisfaction.

This makes mobile applications sound like a potential waste of resources, but it’s worse than that. Other information channels are used more frequently before and during a visit, and they actually do result in higher visitor satisfaction. In addition to being a potential waste of funds, mobile applications may be an expensive distraction from areas wherein modest investments actually do improve reputation and satisfaction.

The chart above shows the percentage of respondents who had used each information source prior to a visit, with the sample taken from folks who had visited a cultural organization in the last year. We are talking about mobile applications here, and that number (5.5% usage) is not abysmal! But when we look at other avenues of engagement that likely already exist for an organization such as web, mobile web, and social media…that 5.5% looks awfully low in comparison. (Quick note: “Peer review web” refers to sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor, and “WOM” stands for “word of mouth.”)

I know the argument: “Not every organization has a mobile app, so of course people aren’t using them if they don’t exist!”  True.  People can’t use something that doesn’t exist.  Along these same lines, not every organization prints brochures, or has a mobile optimized web experience, or publishes information in newspapers or magazines.  That’s not the point.  The point is that a number of information sources broadly exist (including mobile apps), and these data indicate the market’s relative usage of broadly available resources.  Does every organization have a mobile app? No.  But do enough organizations have a mobile app to make them a broadly available information source?  Yes.  Moreover, mobile apps are sufficiently relevant in our overall culture to suggest their broad viability as an information source.  People absolutely use mobile apps in many aspects of  their life – they simply don’t seem to generally apply this usage to planning or visiting a cultural organization.

Take a look at the chart and consider: Mobile applications require an investment of funds to create – and that amount can be significant!

Also consider that information regarding the existence of an organization’s mobile application is likely to come from another source that is already more successful in providing pre-visit information. It is fair to consider that those 5.5% of folks may have already received information from another channel, and that’s how they knew to look for the application in the first place. The point is that even for the 5.5% who consulted a mobile application prior to their visit, they may not be consulting the mobile application alone.

But, then again, not all applications aim to be used pre-visit! Many aim to be used onsite in order to, theoretically, better engage and provide information for visitors! On that note, let’s look at the channels that folks reported having used onsite while attending a visitor-serving organization (museum, zoo, aquarium, theater, symphony, etc.)

There are a lot of interesting and surprising things to note here. The first of which is this: A smaller percentage of people use mobile applications during their visit (4.1%) than they do prior to their visit (5.5%) – and many applications are designed to be used onsite! In order to use a mobile application onsite, folks need to have already been willing to download it, or to take time out of their visit to get WiFi (depending on the size of the application) and download it on the spot. No joke: There are organizations that have invested in mobile applications but don’t have WiFi easily available to download it onsite in the first place. It’s a thing, folks! (As a note: “Web” is folks who bring laptops and use the web. Tablet web use is included in the “mobile web” category.)

Here’s another important finding: More than half of visitors use social media onsite. That finding alone is worth calling out. Social media is extremely important for cultural organizations for many reasons and plays an important role in increasing visitation.

With 31.5% of folks using mobile web onsite (looking up something on the web while on a mobile device or tablet that is not social media or a peer review site), it’s clear that there’s more of an inclination to use the web rather than a mobile application to gather information or engage onsite. This may underscore the opportunity to invest in website experiences that are mobile optimized instead of investing in a mobile application.

This chart is the arguably the most telling and important. Here’s how to read it: The red bar shows the overall visitor satisfaction level of people who report using a particular information source onsite (e.g. a mobile app). The blue bar shows the overall visitor satisfaction level of people who report not using that same information source (e.g. people who did not use a mobile app during their visit.)

As a reminder: Having high onsite satisfaction levels is critical for the solvency of visitor-serving organizations. Higher overall satisfaction correlates with greater reputation, more financial support, and increased likelihood for positive endorsements. In sum, high satisfaction is a major goal.

People who use mobile applications onsite do not report significantly higher satisfaction rates than those who do not. So, what was the point of that mobile application again? If it was to better engage audiences, the data is in and mobile applications – on the whole – don’t do that in meaningful manner. That finding in itself is significant.

Look at this: People who use social media or mobile web while they visit a cultural organization have a more satisfying overall experience than people who don’t use social media or mobile web during their visit. How interesting is that?! If your organization scoffs at folks on their mobile devices and considers them to be distracted or disengaged, stop it. Social media and mobile web make visitor experiences better (by good measure), not worse.

Regular Know Your Own Bone readers won’t be surprised by the onsite communication source that increases visitor satisfaction most: Talking to other humans. The overlooked superpower of visitor-serving organizations is that we are hubs of human connection. Reliably, interacting with other people is more important than the content that folks visit an organization to see – and interacting with frontline staff can make or break a visitor experience.

“But our mobile application is unique! It can be used to do X and Y and Z!” That’s great! The thing is: The market isn’t generally using mobile applications onsite and when they do, apps aren’t contributing to a significantly more satisfying experience…so your organization is singlehandedly attempting to “re-train” the market. Mobile applications have been used by cultural organizations for years now, and your organization may be looking to try and convert somebody who used one for another organization in the past (or your own first version) and felt it was “eh.” That’s a different starting point than where most organizations believe that they are: Developing a cool, new thing that tons of people will want to use out of the gate! Turns out, that’s not reality. Developing a mobile app comes with some embedded perceptual challenges.

More often than not, organizations that develop mobile applications are carrying out “technology for technology’s sake” when they haven’t tested its viability with the market, evaluated the related investment compared to alternative tools, or considered their goals or expectations. Simply, cultural organizations do it because they think they should or it makes them sound cool – nevermind if nobody uses it or it only makes the organization seem cool to staff or others in the industry. (Note: Others in the industry are not our important audiences).

With mobile applications dramatically underperforming the opportunity compared to other sources of information or avenues of engagement, a responsible organization should ask itself: Is investment in a mobile application the best possible use of funds? If there’s money in the budget, perhaps it ought to go to areas that audiences actually use and that make their experiences better. This includes investments in social media and also in frontline staff. (In fact, modest investments in frontline staff have yielded higher satisfaction rates for some client organizations than new exhibits and building expansions!)

This isn’t to say that no mobile application can be successful. No doubt, a select few gain notable usage – but these are exceptions, not expectations. If your organization is considering an investment in a mobile application because “I think we need one,” then you should probably consider the opportunity from the market’s perspective. Of course, organizations with good ideas should pursue them! Market test new concepts! Thinking caps are the best kind of caps, if you ask me. “Perhaps the kind of mobile app that we need to engage audiences hasn’t made it big or doesn’t largely exist yet!” Maybe you’re right.

It’s important to go into any initiative with an awareness of what visitors to cultural organizations are actually doing in the market and how mobile applications currently affect the visitor experience. (In general, they don’t.) Only then can an organization make an informed decision. That decision probably isn’t “to create a mobile application because everyone has one,” as many organizations may think.  Instead, the decision may be “to fight the existing market perceptions of mobile applications by doing something new.”

Are mobile applications working to best serve our audiences? Do organizations need them? Do data suggest that mobile applications are generally an effective use of funds? The data-informed answer – to all of these questions – is no.

 

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 4 Comments

Breaking Down Data-Informed Barriers to Visitation for Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Here’s a round-up of the primary reasons why people with an interest in visiting cultural organizations do not actually end up visiting…and what your organization needs to know to overcome these barriers.

I frequently dig into data about barriers to visitation among likely visitors to cultural organizations – and a round-up article is calling my name. Data suggest that over 30% of folks who report interest in visiting a cultural organization (such as a museum, zoo, aquarium, symphony, ballet, theater, or other visitor-serving organization) still haven’t visited one of these entities within the past two years. Many of the folks who report interest in visiting cultural organizations are high-propensity visitors. These are the people who possess the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood of attending a visitor-serving organization. Simply put, they are the people most likely to attend our organizations.

While data suggest that the specific barriers to visitation vary slightly among different visitor-serving organization types (e.g. a history museum vs. a symphony), we don’t observe generally massive differences – a barrier to visitation is a barrier to visitation. In other words, regardless of organization type or relative “rank” of the barrier, visitation barriers have the same outcome: They stop people from coming. A person who did not attend a cultural organization within the last two years because they had a schedule conflict and a person who did not visit because they had a negative experience with that organization both still did not visit.

IMPACTS consulted the trusty National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study, and we dug into why those 30% of folks with reported interest in visiting cultural organizations hadn’t actually visited one within the past two years. You can see the outcomes at the top of this article. These data are indicated as index values. Index values are a means of quantifying proportionality and relativity between assessed conditions, and they are a helpful way to benchmark and measure differences. Typically, a base measure (e.g. an average) is expressed as a value of 100, and all other data points are quantified in relation to the base measure.

I have conducted entire workshops on data related to overcoming these visitation barriers – and there’s quite a bit to dig into and discuss here. I encourage you and your organization to take a look and challenge yourselves to ask hard questions about your audiences. When leaders “That doesn’t apply to me” data, nobody wins (least of all the organization). Instead, I encourage organizations to consider these barriers and ask themselves, “To what extent is this a barrier to visitation for my organization, and what can I learn from this?”

Let’s jump in!

 

A) Preferred alternative leisure activity (Index 147.3)

With an index value of 147.3, this barrier to visitation is the strongest among cultural organizations. While it may sound obvious, despite having a general interest, those who do not visit may prefer to do something else. Of those folks who reported interest in visiting a cultural organization – but hadn’t done so within the past two years – the top reason is because they prefer an alternative activity. This may include an activity such as seeing a movie or sporting event, going jogging, bowling, or even enjoying trivia at a bar with friends. Simply put, for a good number of people interested in visiting a cultural organization, there are many other things that compete for their precious time. And, it seems, some of these other things take precedent. Yes, they are interested in visiting…but they would still rather do something else.

Compounding matters is the growing competition with the couch. In fact, the number of people who have expressed a preference to stay home during a week off from school or work has increased by 17.3% in the past five years. The amount of people who express a preference to stay home over the weekend has increased by 19.4%. Here’s a deeper dive into data on the couch contingent, and what your organization needs to know. Need a quick hit to communicate this trend with others? Here’s a Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video on the topic:

 

B) Access challenges (Index 132.2)

This barrier is perhaps as obvious as it is overlooked. When organizations consider why folks don’t attend, we often forget to consider some of the technicalities associated with getting to our front door. This barrier metric includes traffic, travel time and distance, construction along the way, etc.

These data are collected by way of lexical analysis, meaning that respondents identified barriers in their own words and they are quantified here as index values based on frequency of mention and strength of conviction. We didn’t ask folks to choose from a list of barriers and, as such, this category includes the perception of access as well. (Because humans.) For instance, if someone lives in the suburbs and the cultural organization is in the city, there may be a perceptual barrier associated with that trip (e.g. “It’s a hassle.”)

This barrier is a bit of a frustrating one, because until we can sponsor potential visitor teleportation, most organizations are stuck without control over traffic or travel time. The way to overcome this barrier often depends upon demonstrating that your organization’s unique experience is worthy of facing down access challenges. In this way, aiming to overcome the primary barrier to visitation of preferring another activity also may serve to aid in overcoming access challenges. There are also things that an organization can do to ease perceptions such as providing tips for traveling to your destination. Highlighting ease of access from popular destinations in the city may also play a small role in easing perceptions because data suggest that high-propensity visitors do not generally head into the city, for instance, only to visit a cultural organization.

Parking challenges are their own, separately identified barrier that were cited on their own (index value 88.8). Transportation issues – such as not having a car or easy means to get to the organization in the first place – also came up as uniquely differentiated from access challenges.

 

C) They have already visited (Index 118.4)

This barrier is our own dang fault, and if we want to overcome it, we’re going to have to do it together as a sector by developing smarter, more sustainable business practices. Not visiting because there’s “nothing new to see or do” is the outcome of decades of bigger organizations practicing the phenomenon of death by curation. Death by curation (also known as “blockbuster suicide”) is the unfortunate practice of sabotaging long-term solvency by dedicating a disproportionate level of resources in the pursuit of blockbuster, special exhibits at the expense of the everyday awesomeness of your permanent collections. Here’s data on the terrible cycle of death by curation and what it is doing to the cultural organizations that rely upon it as a business practice.

This is a barrier because, as a sector, we’ve trained audiences to come only when we’re doing something “special” (as opposed to underscoring our kick-butt permanent collections). As a rule, I do not call out bad practices of individual organizations with IMPACTS’s data (that’s not my place), but if you take a moment to think about many of the organizations that have fallen on hard times, chances are blockbuster suicide played a role. This is especially true for the kinds of organizations that have hosted our industry’s most well-known blockbusters (Body Worlds, Titanic, etc.) – though it doesn’t affect these types of organizations exclusively by any means. A fun fact that’s too strange for me to make up: There’s even a Jurassic World blockbuster exhibit making the rounds right now and I use the movie Jurassic World to illustrate the very deleterious cycle of death by curation.

 

You’ve likely heard an exchange that goes something like this:

Person 1: Let’s go to [X awesome organization]!

Person 2: What’s their special exhibit right now?

When a temporary exhibit becomes the decision-making qualifier to visitation, your organization suffers severely from the industry-driven phenomenon of death by curation. Unless your organization is solely an empty space for the passing through of exhibits, what’s coolest about your organization should be your organization. Special exhibits can motivate visitation, but when the allure of the exhibit trumps the allure of your brand, there’s a problem.

Is it a bad idea to have special exhibits? Not at all! Is it a bad idea to make them the primary reason to visit you? Yes. Very much so.

 

D) Schedule conflicts (Index 105.3 to 95.5)

Schedule is the leading motivator for visitation to cultural organizations, so it makes sense that work, school, and holiday conflicts are separate, leading barriers to visitation. The chart below is from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study, and “schedule” is – quite simply – being open during the dates and times that people want to attend your organization.

One of the biggest lies that we cultural organization folks tell ourselves is that we can lucratively impact and influence a visitor’s schedule. Frustratingly, the importance of schedule as a leading decision-making utility is the reason why cultural organizations generally cannot cost-effectively move visitation to shoulder seasons to distribute annual attendance.

Schedule is the leading barrier to visitation that we don’t seem to talk about. To overcome this barrier, we’ll have to start talking about it.

 

E) Negative precedent experience (Index 83.7)

Satisfaction and reputation drive visitor engagement, and having a negative precedent experience negatively influences both aspects of the engagement cycle. In short, those who have had a bad experience risk providing negative reviews (via word of mouth, social media, etc.) of the organization. This stinks, because likely visitors to cultural organizations qualify as “super-connected” – they have access to the web at home, at work, and on a mobile device.

These are the biggest onsite dissatisfiers for visitor-serving experiences, broken out by exhibit-based and performance-based organizations. (Spoiler alert: The worst thing about a visit to a cultural organization is the same for both organization types. According to visitors, negative interactions with staff members or volunteers is the worst thing about a visit to a cultural organization. Interestingly, positive interactions with staff and volunteers can have the most significant positive impact on visitor satisfaction as well.)

 

F) Not for adults (Index 76.7)

As you can see, being perceived as “not for adults” and also “not suitable for children” both make the barrier list. However, an important distinction is that organizations perceived as not suitable for children generally do not aim to primarily attract children (i.e. orchestras), while some organizations that aim to regularly attract adults and children alike (i.e. science museums) are perceived as not for adults. That’s a big problem. In fact, for science museums and science centers, being perceived as “not for adults” is the second strongest barrier to visitation. This is also a particularly big problem for aquariums and zoos.

I’ve previously shared a data-informed hack for overcoming this barrier, informed by data from IMPACTS clients. Here’s how to overcome the barrier of being viewed as “not for adults” if your organization does, in fact, aim to attract audiences beyond children and families.

 

G) Cost (is not a primary barrier to visitation for likely visitors)

Cost is simply not a primary barrier to visitation for likely visitors. This isn’t to say that it’s not a barrier at all, but it’s not anywhere near the barrier that cultural organizations pretend that it is.

In order to discuss cost at all, we need to underscore that admission pricing is not an affordable access program. They are not the same thing. Likely visitors are people who want to visit you, and data suggest that they will pay to do that. Axiomatically, unlikely visitors generally do not want to visit you at all, and, thus, are not likely to pay to do so. Affordable access programs should be targeted for those who truly do want to visit but cannot afford to do so. (This is different than not being willing to do so.) Effective affordable access programming is an investment, and understanding the basics of audience access makes these types of programs possible. A misunderstanding of what truly fuels audience access motivations is the reason why many organizations do not have effective access programming.

Data suggest that cost is simply not a primary barrier to visitation for people who want to visit – and free admission is not a cure-all for engagement. When it comes to measuring free admission as a barrier to visitation, things often get difficult because “free admission” is both a lazy person’s response to why they aren’t attending, and a lazy organization’s excuse for not reaching more audiences. Namely, when asked why people didn’t do something, cost generally comes up first for anything. Why didn’t I buy the daisies from the flower store? They were too expensive! The key to understanding the reality of cost as a barrier to visitation is to get to the end of this sentence, “Admission cost is too expensive for…”

…For missing an afternoon that I could spend doing something else with my friends? For taking the financial hit of taking off a day of work? For missing quality time with my kids? For spending an hour on the bus? For navigating through traffic to get there? For something that I’m not interested in seeing or doing? When it comes to removing barriers to visitation for folks who are not affordable access audiences, getting to the end of that sentence is important.

But lack of free admission is also the lazy cultural organization’s excuse for lack of engagement. It’s a thing that we can blame on the world, or on the board, or on the government, or on higher-ups. Of all of the primary barriers to visitation, it’s the one that causes us to question our own organizational practices the least. It’s the safest excuse for lack of evolution and time spent donning our thinking caps. But it’s a terrible excuse, as it doesn’t have a strong basis in reality.

Embedded below is a data-slam video about some of the reasons why we need to stop distracting ourselves with the idea of cost being a primary barrier to visitation for likely visitors. The economics don’t support it. (Want to read about the data and explore more links on this topic? Click here.)

 

Understanding barriers to visitation play a big role in the solvency and long-term sustainability of cultural organizations. For weekly data-informed analysis regarding best practices for cultural executives, don’t forget to subscribe to Know Your Own Bone.

 

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, IMPACTS Data, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution Comments Off on Breaking Down Data-Informed Barriers to Visitation for Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Market to Adults (Not Families) to Maximize Attendance to Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Marketing to adults increases visitation even if much of your current visitation comes from people visiting with children. Here’s why.

I’ve recently written quite a bit about the barriers to visitation for likely visitors to cultural organizations such as museums, zoos, aquariums, science centers, symphonies, ballets, and other mission-driven, visitor-serving entities. Generally, data do not suggest drastic differences in identified barriers among organization types. In other words, critical barriers to visitation – such as schedule conflicts, travel challenges, etc. – tend to be rather similar, regardless of if you are looking at data cut for a history museum or a ballet. When it comes to nailing down and overcoming barriers to visitation, some emerge as more frequent barriers than others (such as preferring an alternative activity), but a barrier is a barrier. If data suggest that something is stopping people who we’d like to welcome from coming in the door to our organization, we generally want to break up that blockage.

So let’s share information today on how to knock down one of those blockages. Namely, the misconception that certain visitor-serving experiences (aside from children’s museums) are “not for adults” or ”only for kids.”

 

Being perceived as a place only for kids is barrier to visitation

One barrier to visitation that reliably emerges in the data is the perception of an organization as being “only for kids,” and, by extension, less suited for adults. While this finding is applicable to many types of visitor-serving organizations, it may prove especially relevant for aquariums, science centers and science museums, and zoos. Here’s why (for science centers and science museums, in this case):

With an index value of 163.7, being perceived as “not for adults” is nearly a 3.5x greater perceptual barrier to visitation to a science center or science museum than is cost. While “not for adults” is a perceptual barrier among many different types of cultural organizations, it’s a biggie for science centers and science museums. It’s also an important barrier for zoos and aquariums. That said, again, it’s still a barrier for many types of organizations and, thus, it’s one that many types of organizations may want to knock down regardless of reported index value.

Being perceived as “not for adults” is also a contributory reason why some organizations are experiencing negative substitution of their historic visitors. It has been well-documented that millennials are having fewer kids and having them later in life. In a nutshell, there’s a massive generation who have grown up and are no longer going to organizations perceived as “not for adults” (because they’re now adults themselves). They also aren’t (re)producing another massive generation to keep the kid-flow going strong for those organizations that are perceived as “only for kids.”

 

How to overcome perceptions of being not for adults

There is hopeful news – organizations can work to overcome this perception. Here’s the hack: Market to couples and other adults visiting without children.

“But our main audiences are families!” Yup. For some organizations, they are and that’s great. And they are going to keep coming – which is also great. IMPACTS has observed that organizations that market to couples and other adults generally manage to sustain their respective levels of family visitation. How is this so? Well, as the data attest, there exists a strong belief that many organizations are innately suitable for children. Marketing to families is a bit like proselytizing the church choir.

The risk of marketing solely or primarily to families is that these messages may serve to promulgate a perceptual barrier to engagement. And, in turn, this barrier may diminish an organization’s overall market potential. Here is the finding of note: The data suggest that appropriate adult-targeted marketing does not generally risk alienating families, but family-targeted marketing risks alienating couples and other adults.

“Prove it.”

Okay!

 

1) Adults without children favor marketing messages that target adults instead of children (but adults with children assess both concepts similarly)

These data come from concept testing that IMPACTS performed on behalf of a client organization. The organization’s advertising agency developed five similar concepts – three targeting families (i.e. adults visiting with children) and two targeting couples and other adults visiting without children. Favorability is a measure of the overall “like-ability” of a concept. If the market does not perceive the campaign concept as favorable, then it is extremely unlikely to respond to its message and call to action.

These data (like the balance of the data in this article) are indicated as index values. Index values are a means of quantifying proportionality and relativity between assessed conditions, and they are a helpful way to benchmark and measure differences. Typically, a base measure (e.g. an average) is expressed as a value of 100, and all other data points are quantified in relation to the base measure. When quantifying perceptions such as favorability and actionability, values greater than 100 are good/the aim (with higher values being proportionality more favorable or actionable).

While it’s probably not surprising that folks without kids favor messages without kids, the difference is notable. None of the three concepts targeting families had index values over 100 for adults without children in the household. However, adults with children in the household indicated remarkably similar favorability perceptions of couples-based concepts as did those adults without children in the household! These data affirm that marketing to adults does not necessarily alienate families. The market implicitly understands that many visitor-serving organizations are very effective at serving families.

 

2) Adults without children are more likely to act on marketing messages that target adults instead of families (but adults with children are equally likely to act on either)

As we’ve seen, there’s a difference in how much those with children and those without children favor messages that target families. That makes sense! But does it affect actionability? Actionability is a measure of the market’s likelihood and intention to respond to the campaign’s call to action (e.g. visit). Though the data below generally match the data shared above, favorability and actionability don’t always align. You can like a message and still report that you’re not any more likely to engage with that product, service, or experience based on the message. Think of some Super Bowl commercials! For instance, I’m one of those people who flipping loved PuppyMonkeyBaby in 2016. (I know it’s weird. I cannot explain it.) That said, I’m not any more likely to purchase Mountain Dew Kickstart. (I’m a sample size of one person, though, and that’s not a thing. However, I think this example demonstrates why actionability is an important metric to consider alongside favorability.)

Those without children in the household are simply less likely to act on messaging that targets families. Folks with kids in the household were just as likely to act in response to the concepts that primarily depicting couples as those primarily depiciting families.

 

3) Case Study A: Aquarium

So you’ve seen these data and you – hopefully – understand the value of concept testing. The next, smart question to ask is, “Does this strategy actually work?” Good question. I like the way you think.

To tackle this, I’d like to share three case studies from real life IMPACTS clients. Again, we’re looking at index values. I have expressed annual attendance numbers as index values as a means of both comparing performance and also helping to protect the identities of the organizations. In this usage, index values serve as a means of comparing relative performance across platforms (i.e. different organization types, different attendance volumes, different geographies, etc.).  In other words, it’s a means of standardizing for the sake of comparison. (Math lovers: This index value is determined by taking the average annual attendance of the contemplated years, dividing any one year’s attendance by the average, and then multiplying that value by 100.)

The first case study is from an aquarium client. In the charts, the shaded period indicates years 2006-2011 during which the focus of the organization’s marketing efforts primarily targeted families with children. As indicated, for years 2006-2016, family visitation (i.e. travel parties including children under the age of 18) has remained essentially stable during the assessed duration.

However, commencing in year 2012 when the organization updated its marketing efforts to better engage potential visitors traveling without children, annual adult visitation (i.e. adults visiting without children under the age of 18) increased by an average of 20.0%. And it didn’t negatively affect visitation from those with children in the household.

 

4) Case Study B: Science Museum

These data are from a science museum client. As in the last chart, the shaded region represents the time period during which the organization was promulgating predominately family-related messages. In 2012, this organization shifted to a campaign more contemplative of adult audiences, and attendance from adults without children in the household increased. Again, attendance from visitors with children in their respective households remained stable.

 

5) Case Study C: Zoo

We cannot forget zoos! You know the drill: The shaded region represents the time period during which this organization was primarily focused on targeting families. As you may expect by now, attendance from adults (and, thus, overall attendance) increased when the organization changed its messaging to more effectively target adults. Again, attendance from those with children in the household remained stable.

Supporting childhood education is a big part of many-an-organization’s mission, and organizations that highlight their missions outperform those marketing primarily as attractions. However, shifting demographics suggest a need for cultural organizations to rethink the means and messages that they use to engage their audiences. Being considered a place “only for kids” is completely different than being considered a place that “plays a role in supporting childhood education.” Places that are perceived as for children need not be the only types of organizations that support children. According to those who profile as likely visitors, a place that’s fun for adults may still be fun for kids. However, the reverse may not perceptually hold true.

On a personal note, this finding always reminds me of what was undoubtedly the worst job interview I’ve ever had. I was trying to line up a full-time gig after college graduation and was granted an interview to be a floor staff manager at a children’s museum. For the interview, I had to be observed interacting with children while wearing a laminated sign around my neck that read, “UNACCOMPANIED ADULT.” Though children’s museums are a different situation, I cannot say that it was a feel-good experience. It’s creepy to be that person. Loud, laminated sign or not, it’s probably not a feeling for which likely adult visitors to cultural organizations would sign up – let alone pay admission.

And, chances are, adults can and do have fun visiting your organization! This data isn’t to say that it’s necessarily a good idea to cease all messaging related to families. Simply, there’s visitation to be gained and audiences to be welcomed by taking on another approach and not only promulgating messages about and around family groups. If we want more than family groups to come through our doors, it’s time to underscore more directly that other individuals and group types are every bit as welcome.

 

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing 3 Comments

Why Those With Reported Interest Do Not Visit Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Data suggest that a sizable number of people report interest in visiting cultural organizations…and yet over thirty percent of those same people don’t actually attend. What’s going on? That’s the subject of this Know Your Own Bone Fast Fact video. The video summarizes the takeaways, and I encourage you to give it a watch.

Let’s start here: People who report interest in visiting cultural organizations do not always actually attend. This is because interest in visitation and intent to visit are completely different things. Interest is more theoretical and conceptually removes several key barriers to visitation, while intent forces thought about the more logistical reasons why one might not actually attend. Frustrating as it may sound, those logistical reasons are often the primary reason why folks who profile as likely visitors – and who express interest in attending your specific organization – don’t necessarily pay your organization a visit. Interest is important for organizations to uncover, but it doesn’t measure intent to visit. Intent to visit contemplates the barriers attendant to visitation and a person’s willingness to overcome those barriers within a defined duration. Interest is wishful thinking. (For an example of an “intent to visit” metric in action, check out last week’s post on the public’s intent to visit MoMA after rehanging their permanent collection to highlight artists from countries effected by the original travel ban.) This divide between interest and acting on this interest can be seen in the data below from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study.

While nearly 85% of survey respondents report interest in attending a visitor-serving organization such as a museum, zoo, aquarium, or performing arts center, only 51.8% had visited within the past year. Just as interestingly, only 54.2% had visited within the last two years, indicating that those who visit cultural organizations are those who…well, visit cultural organizations. There is a large group of people who report interest, but aren’t attending cultural organizations. The question, then, is: Why not?! In a nutshell, it boils down to a particularly important reason…and it’s one that we cultural organizations may not altogether deeply internalize:

Visitors to cultural organizations are competitive audiences.

While it may sound obvious, despite having interest, those who do not visit may prefer to do something else. Of those folks who reported interest in visiting a cultural organization, but who hadn’t done so within the past two years, the top reason is because they prefer an alternative activity. This may include an activity such as seeing a movie or sporting event, going jogging, bowling, or even enjoying trivia at a bar with friends. Simply put, for a good number of people interested in visiting a cultural organization, there are many other things that compete for their precious time. And, it seems, some of these other things take precedent. Yes, they are interested in visiting, but they would still rather do something else. 

This finding is important because it underscores that there is intense competition for the engagement of people who are willing to leave their homes to do anything at all! These are the same folks being targeted by the film industry, rock concerts, and sports teams. This finding also makes it all the more important for cultural organizations to communicate their brand values and market their unique experiences and missions.

Further underscoring this call to action is the fact that folks increasingly want to stay home. It’s not in your head. You really are hearing more and more about people wanting to stay home and marathon watch Stranger Things, This is Us, or Buffy The Vampire Slayer. (Happy 20th Anniversary, Buffy!) In fact, the number of people who have expressed a preference to stay home during a week off from school or work has increased by 17.3% in the past five years. The amount of people who express a preference to stay home over the weekend has increased by 19.4%. I recently wrote a post that shares the trend data on the increasing preference to stay home during one’s precious leisure time, and that post and data are worth revisiting.

These are big numbers – but all is not lost! Though they may be hanging out on the couch, data suggest that these people are still on the web, talking to friends, and connected to the outside world. There is still an opportunity to engage them if we can compellingly articulate the benefits of our experiences. This is where targeted, personalized communications – enabled by technology – are the key. Reputation plays an important role in driving visitation to cultural organizations, and potential visitors can still play an active role in taking in and sharing word of mouth endorsements regarding cultural organizations. These data point toward the importance of targeted messaging that underscores the unique experience offered by your organization. Remember, though, your mission matters when it comes to increasing visitation as well. The growing “couch contingent” is yet another reason why it is important to make sure that your organization is in agreement on its mission, vision, and brand (this may be especially important in today’s politicized environment), and investing adequately in audience acquisition.

 

In addition to movies, sporting events, and a day at the beach, our competition is increasingly the couch and a remote control. The best thing about competition, though? It raises all of our levels of play. Competition brings out the best in us, so long as we work to separate ourselves from the fray. We can do this by reminding would-be visitors that there is no “at-home” substitute for the wonder, awe, and social connectivity uniquely experienced at a cultural organization.

 

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Why Those With Reported Interest Do Not Visit Cultural Organizations (DATA)
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