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 Read more

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 Read more

MoMA Sees Reputation Boost After Displaying Muslim Artists (DATA)

Here’s what market research reveals about MoMA’s decision to display artwork from artists hailing from the Muslim-majority nations affected Read more

Five Videos That Will Make You Proud To Work With A Cultural Organization

Let’s pause and celebrate the hard and important work of working with cultural organizations. Talk of defunding the National Endowment Read more

Data Reveals The Worst Thing About Visiting Cultural Organizations

The primary dissatisfier among visitors to both exhibit AND performance-based cultural organizations is something we can fix. What is the Read more

People, Planet, Profit: Checks and Balances for Cultural Organizations

It’s a time of change and evaluation for cultural organizations – and that’s a good thing. The societal current Read more

Community Engagement

Why Discounting Hurts Your Cultural Organization And What To Do Instead (Fast Fact Video)

Discounts don’t do what organizations think that they do…

Check out this week’s KYOB Fast Facts video to get the two-minute low-down on discounts verse promotions (Hint: promotions are a much better idea – and, yes, they are extremely different). 

Discounting Is Bad Business For Cultural Organizations

It’s true: “Getting discounts” is often cited as the top reason why many people engage with an organization’s social media channels. So it seems logical that if you want to bump your number of fans and followers, offering discounts is a surefire way to go. And it works – if your sole measure of success is chasing these types of meaningless metrics. But, before you go crazy with discount offers on social networks just to get your “likes” up, here’s another thing that’s true: Offering discounts – especially via public social media channels – cultivates a “market addiction” that often has long-term, negative consequences on the health of your organization. In many ways, offering discounts creates a vicious cycle whereby a visitor-serving organization realizes and ever-diminishing return on the value visitation.

A discount is when an organization offers free or reduced admission to broad, undefined audiences for no clearly identifiable reason. Offering discounts devalues your brand and often makes it look like your organization’s admission isn’t priced correctly in the first place. This is generally true for discounts delivered via all channels, but discounts breed a special type of pervasive problem when they are offered on the digital platforms. When an organization provides discounts, it often results in five not-so-awesome outcomes:

 

1) You verify that your communication channels are sources for discounts and, thus, encourage your community to expect these discounts

Posting a discount to attract more followers on a social media channel (or to get people to engage with a social media competition, etc.) will very likely result in a bump in likes and engagement. But know that in doing this, you are verifying that your social media channel is a source for discounts.

Discounting attracts low-level engagers who are more likely to be following your channels for a discount than they are for any reason related to your mission. It is far better for your brand and bottom line to have 100 fans who share and interact with your content to create meaningful relationships than it is to have 1,000 fans who simply like you for a discount.

I can hear the rumbling now: Some of you are thinking, “But we’ve used discounts to attract more likes and it worked” (i.e. it generated more likes on social media). That’s not surprising at all. Over time, however, these low-level engagers may stop following you or simply disengage if you do not continue to offer discounts. That is, after all, the reason why they followed you in the first place…and you have shown them that, yes, indeed, you will post discounts on social media.

Generally, these people are not actual evangelists – and cultivating real evangelists to build a strong online community is the whole point of social media. You want folks who actually care about what you’re doing.

 

2) Your community will wait for discounts before deciding to visit, thereby altering visitation cycles

Data indicate that offering coupons on social media channels – even once – causes people to postpone their visits or wait until you offer another discount before visiting you again. Worse yet, the new discount generally needs to be perceived as a “better” offer (i.e. an even greater discount) to motivate a new visit. This observation is consistent with many aspects of discount pricing psychology, whereby a stable discount is perceptually worth “less” over time. In other words, the same 20% discount that motivated your market to visit last month will likely have a diminishing impact when re-deployed. Next time, to achieve the same outcome, your organization may have to offer a 35% discount…and then a 50% discount, etc. You see where I’m going with this…

 

3) You are not necessarily capturing new visitation with discounts

In fact, data from IMPACTS suggests that many of the folks using your discount were likely to visit anyway…and pay full price! This is a classic example of an ill-advised discounting strategy “leaving money on the table.”

“But visitation increased when we offered a discount!” you say. But did it really? The average person in the United States visits a cultural center once every 19 months. When an organization offers a discount, it is rarely actually attracting larger volume of visitation to the organization. Instead, the organization is often simply accelerating its audience’s re-visitation cycle on a one-time basis. This sounds great…until the organization realizes the significant downside to this happening: Your audience just visited your organization without paying the full price that they were actually willing to pay and  likely won’t visit your organization again for (on average) another 19 months. 

Think of it this way: A visitor coming to your organization in May may be (on average) likely visit to again the following December (i.e. in 19 months). Let’s say that you offer them a discount that motivates them to visit in October instead of December. Now, you’ve linked their intentions to visit to a discount offer and decoupled it from what should be their primary motivation – your content and mission! And, by doing so, you’ve created an environment where content as a motivator has become secondary to “the deal.” In other words, you will have moved your market from their regular visitation cycle to a visitation cycle dependent on an ever-increasing discount. Can your organization afford to keep motivating visitation in this way?

A note: Different organizations generally have different visitation cycles. 19 months is a US average. Regardless of how many months make up your organization’s visitation cycle, discounting disrupts that cycle and partners it with a perceived “deal.”

 

4) Discounts actually decrease the likelihood of re-vistation

What of the idea that discounts get people to try your organization and become regular attendees? It’s largely a myth. In fact, the steeper discount, the less likely folks are to re-visit within one year. This is classic pricing psychology at play: People value what they pay for. If your organization’s admission price is set at an optimal point, then your organization has largely removed price as a barrier to engagement, and discounting actually does the exact opposite of what many organizations think that it’s doing. That “discounted trial” that some organizations believe that they are offering falls flat because the folks who profile as being likely attendees are able and willing to pay the full price. Your organization is demonstrating that it devalues its brand and, in turn, audiences devalue your brand.

Hey. You started it.

IMPACTS-Revisitation and discounts

 

5) Your organization becomes addicted to discounting

Organizations sometimes confuse the response (i.e. a visit) to the stimuli (i.e. a discount) with efficacy. Once a discount has been offered to motivate a visit, we regularly witness the market “holding out” for another discount before visiting again. And what are organizations doing while the market waits for this new discount? Often times the answer is that they are panicking.

If you run an organization that offers discounts, you’ve probably spent some time in this uncomfortable space – we observe the market’s behavior (or, in this case, their lack of behavior), and begin to get anxious because attendance numbers are down. What’s a quick fix to ease the pain of low visitation? Another discount! So we offer this discount…and, in the process, reward the market for holding out for the discount to begin with. That is the insidious thing about many discounting strategies: They actually train your audience to withhold their regular engagement, and then reward them for their constraint. We feed their addiction and, in turn, we become addicted ourselves to the short-term remedy that is “an offer they can’t refuse.”

Like most addictive – but ultimately deleterious – activities, there is no denying that discounts “work” – provided that your sole measure of the effectiveness of a discount is its ability to generate a short-term spike in visitation or increase low-level social media “likes.” But, once the intoxicating high of a crowded gallery or filled theater has passed, very often all that we’re left with is a nasty hangover.

 

Promotions are a better strategy

“But aren’t promotions pretty much the same thing as discounts?” No. They aren’t. Many organizations fail to stop and consider the differences between discounts and promotions and, specifically, the different effects that each has on the perceptions of the cultural organization offering the opportunity. If your organization confuses the two, then you’ll likely end up paying the price. Literally.

Promotions offer a targeted benefit for certain audiences for an identifiable reason. The biggest difference between promotions and discounts may be how they are each perceived. As previously mentioned, discounts offer free or reduced admission to a broad, undefined audience for no apparent reason. Promotions celebrate your community. Examples of promotions may include reduced admission for mothers on Mother’s Day, a pricing special to celebrate a new program, or a reduced admission day for local audiences. Promotions demonstrate why an organization is offering free or reduced pricing in the communication of the promotion. That reason is usually something that celebrates an organization’s mission or an organization’s audience, and it is made clear that it is something special.

While some may learn the differentiation between these two approaches and consider it to be a framing of communication, it’s actually a reflection of an organization’s culture. Whether an organization’s go-to strategy includes either promotions or discounts demonstrates a great deal about the organization and the thoughtfulness of its engagement approach, as well as the value that it places on its reputation. In the end, one approach is more about your organization’s flailing attempts to hit specific attendance numbers at the expense of its brand and mission, and the other is more about your organization’s relationship with target audiences and communities.

Promotions make people say, “Wow, I feel valued by this organization!” Discounts make people say, “Hey, I got in cheap.” The approach that respects both the organization and its community beats out the short-sighted discount strategy when it comes to increasing long-term visitation.

 

Want to see more Fast Fact videos? Subscribe to my YouTube channel, or check them out here:

 

 Please subscribe over on the right hand column to get KYOB posts delivered right into your email inbox. Interested in getting 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, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing Comments Off on Why Discounting Hurts Your Cultural Organization And What To Do Instead (Fast Fact Video)

How to Engage New and Diverse Audiences in Cultural Organizations (DATA)

How to engage new audiences in cultural institutions

Cultural organizations need to reach new audiences or they risk their long-term survival. Here’s the data-informed cheat sheet on how to do it.

I am excited to have had the opportunity to recently speak at MuseumNext at its first stateside conference. My talk was called Inclusion or Irrelevance: The Data Behind The Urgent Need to Reach New Audiences. (Here’s a link to a video of the talk.) And, indeed, that need is desperately urgent. Here’s a strategic framework for how to do it.

 

Why cultural organizations need to reach new audiences

At IMPACTS, I work on projects that help keep visitor-serving organizations solvent. My experience is that non-executives hate “solvency” talk. It seems almost evil and at-odds with mission to some (it’s not). It also demands accountability. However, smart executives understand its necessity – an organization cannot invest in its mission or people if it has nothing to invest.

While “inclusion” may immediately strike many as “mission work,” it’s increasingly a business requirement. Here’s why:

A) The US population is increasing, but visitation is on the decline.

Not only that: High-propensity visitors are increasing and attendance remains in decline. A high-propensity visitor is a person who demonstrates the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood of visiting a cultural organization.

High-propensity visitors are potential visitors that are actually likely to come to a cultural organization. As you can see, we are in an even more target-rich environment than we were 5 years ago and attendance has still declined in that same duration. It’s a big problem.

IMPACTS VSO US attendance vs HPVs

Below is the same data contemplated in another way. This is what this data looks like when we consider how these markets are performing when compared to expectation over the last 5 years. Considering the growth of high-propensity visitors, here’s how much cultural organizations are underperforming the opportunity:

IMPACTS VSO attendance performance vs expectation

B) This is in large part due to the negative substitution of the historic visitor.

First of all, a “historic visitor” is different than a high-propensity visitor. High-propensity visitors have potential to visit; historic visitors are people who actually do visit. All historic visitors are high-propensity visitors, but not all high-propensity visitors fit the profile of our average historic visitor.

Today, for every one historic visitor that leaves the market, they are being replaced with less than one visitor. Or, for every thousand people leaving the market, only 948 similar historic visitors are replacing them.

IMPACTS negative substitution

Let’s say that we keep doing exactly what most organizations are doing today (i.e. having a few one-off inclusion programs here and there and not making a more sustained investment in engaging these audiences). If we keep on our current path, an organization in the United States that has one million onsite visitors today would only stand to engage 808,000 historic visitors five years from now. In other words, negative substitution would suggest an onsite audience decline of 192,000 visitors for this hypothetical organization in the next five years.

For many organizations, this situation can all be generalized in one, honest sentence: America is producing fewer and fewer rich, educated, white people – the broad cohort that has been the historic visitor, member, and donor for many organizations.

This is the current glide path. To remedy this condition, we must change the profile of our historic visitor. We need to convert potential visitors in emerging audience groups to ACTUAL visitors. This means making them not our special visitors, but our regular, paying (if you have admission) visitors, supportive members, and donors.

This is a big deal. As far as we know, cultural organizations in America have never, ever changed the general profile of their historic visitor. Those rich white folks have largely provided the support that keeps these types of organizations going.

 

C) Organizations must cultivate new visitors from three emerging audience groups.

We need to pull new audiences from these three audiences in order to achieve long-term solvency:

  1. Millennials
  2. “Minority majorities” (generally, people of ethnic and racial backgrounds that differ from historic visitors)
  3.  Affordable access audiences

All three of these audiences are important. However, millennials and minority majorities represent the key demographics wherein high-propensity visitors are increasing, but these same folks aren’t converting to actual visitation in representative numbers. So the first two groups represent more immediate opportunity and payoff.

The good news is that organizations will experience positive substitution in the future as emerging audiences acculturate – so long as organizations begin engaging them today. However, the realistic news is this: Cultivating new visitors is going to take time and it needs to start now.

 

Taking a MAPS approach to integrating new audiences helps cultivate regular attendees and supporters 

So how do we convert emerging audiences into regular audiences? We use MAPS. MAPS is a data-informed framework for tackling the challenge of engaging emerging audiences. This framework is equally applicable to all organizations regardless of size, city, and operating budget. It focuses on four elements: Highlighting your mission, understanding access barriers and opportunities, providing personalized programs, and facilitating shared experiences.

MAPS a framework for engaging emerging audiences

1) (Underscore your) MISSION

Being good at your mission matters. Organizations that highlight their mission consistently outperform organizations that market themselves primarily as attractions. The best way to show this data is using two, composite metrics:

Revenue efficiency contemplates revenue streams (including admission, membership contributions, and program revenues) relative to operating expenses and the number of people that an organization serves.  A more “revenue efficient” organization is generally more financially stable.

Reputational equities contemplate visitor perceptions such as reputation, trust, authority, credibility, and satisfaction. Basically, it’s the market’s opinion of how well an organization delivers its mission and experiences.

In the interest of maintaining appropriate confidences, I’ve anonymized the organizations represented. You’ll still get a good sense of the trend. Each letter represents one of 13 notable US museums.

IMPACTS- Museums revenue and reputation correlation

We reliably observe that those organizations who the market perceives as most effectively delivering on their mission are the same organizations who achieve the greatest revenue efficiencies. Since commenced tracking this metric several years ago, the data continue to evidence a strong correlation between reputational equities and revenue efficiency. Though the data shown here represents museums in particular, we observe a similar relationship among nearly all types of visitor-serving organizations – including zoos and aquariumsBeing good at your mission is good business.

 

2) (Understand your) ACCESS OPPORTUNITIES/BARRIERS

Identifying access opportunities means finding out why emerging audiences aren’t coming and removing those barriers. You can only figure this out by asking the people who aren’t coming why they aren’t coming.

On the whole, visitor-serving organizations pride themselves on their understanding of the need to do audience research. Indeed, many organizations have in-house capacities for audience research. Organizations need to shift their focus from audience research to market research.

Often, true barriers are completely different than what an organization believes to be its barriers to engagement. True barriers may be reputation (specifically, affinity attitudes – or audiences believing that an organization is “not for people like me”). Reputation plays a very important role in visitation. Other barriers to engagement may include the timing of programs, hours of operation, or transportation barriers.

A word to the wise: Be careful about jumping to price as a primary barrier – it usually isn’t the sole barrier. Remember, we are trying to cultivate emerging audiences as regular visitors – not affordable access visitors – so do your organizations a favor and don’t jump to this “barrier” first. This is difficult, because price is usually where lazy organizations start the conversation. In other words, many organizations believe simply that if they build something, people will come…and if people don’t come, then it must be because of the price.

Making matters worse, “expensive” is also how lazy visitors fill out survey questions. When asked why they don’t attend a new program, many folks will simply report, “It’s too expensive.” Be wary of this response. Certainly, sometimes program fees ARE too expensive, but we can find our true barriers this by figuring out the end of this sentence: “It’s too expensive for….”.

“It’s too expensive for….” what? It may be “Too expensive for doing something that I think is boring.” It may be “Too expensive for missing dinner with my family.” It may be, “Too expensive for the time that I spend stuck in traffic to get there” or “Too expensive for the distance that I need to travel.” Uncovering the end of this sentence can help organizations pinpoint primary barriers.

In sum: It’s critical to know why people ARE NOT coming to your organization before you can even try to engage emerging audiences. Without this information, other programmatic investments may be a waste of resources.

 

3) (Create) PERSONALIZED PROGRAMS

Once your organization knows its true barriers, it can create programs that help to remove them.

Increasingly, we don’t live in a one-size-fits-all world. Programs to reach emerging audiences are not one-off initiatives, but should be integrated into everything that an organization does. And personalization is affecting everything.

For example, personalization trends are affecting how people measure the satisfaction of their onsite experiences. Personalization affects how different audiences prefer to experience cultural organizations. It affects expectations for communication on social media and other online platforms. It also demands that communications and content are more targeted and connective. Perhaps most importantly, the preferences of different audience members demands full integration into day-to-day operations and support structures.

 

4) (Facilitate) SHARED EXPERIENCES

Shared experiences close the circle. This means allowing for sharing both onsite and digitally. HPVs profile as being “super-connected,” or, connected to the web at home, at work, and on mobile devices. Word of mouth endorsement is absolutely critical to this audience. Digital connectivity helps organizations tap into this cycle and allows successfully engaged audiences to communicate with their friends (who may also be emerging audience members).

Perhaps most importantly, the numbers are growing in regard to shared experiences being the best part of a visit for all audiences. Who people are with is more than twice as important than what people see when they visit a cultural organization.

IMPACTS with over what

That means that being places for creating connections – not just to collections, but to other people – is incredibly important. We must understand that our organizations themselves are facilitators of shared experiences. It is one of our greatest assets. It’s where that market believes that we shine.

 

Take this MAPS strategic framework. Use it as a road map. Fill it up with your own data-informed inputs.

We all need to work together to change up the profile of our “historic” visitor to better engage emerging audiences as our regular attendees and supporters. Let’s be places where everyone wants to visit and where everyone feels welcome. Only then can we achieve our missions while ensuring our long-term solvency.

 

Like this post? Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

Please subscribe over on the right hand column to get KYOB posts delivered right into your email inbox. Interested in getting 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, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Sector Evolution, Trends 6 Comments

Why It Is Okay If Your Nonprofit Hates Data (And Why You Need It Anyway)

Why it is okay if your nonprofit hates data and why you need it anyway

It’s true: If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.

On one hand, I absolutely love it when nonprofiteers call Know Your Own Bone and the data and analysis provided here “controversial.” It means that I – and IMPACTS – are making people think and sparking conversations.

On the other hand, I think calling data “controversial” shows how far nonprofits have to go before they understand the need to evolve in order to be both relevant and sustainable. Data is data. Facts are facts. These ones are not biased. They are not “set up.” Their purpose is to show a true picture of the world we live in – not to make executive leaders unduly angry or defensive. But the fact that sometimes data manages to achieve this outcome is perhaps telling.

I’m the messenger. Please don’t shoot. 

The truth is that it’s good to hate data. It’s good to find data challenging, threatening, and deeply inconvenient. If you do, then you’re realizing a need to evolve. You’re thinking. You’re helping your organization move forward. Here are three reasons why it’s totally okay if your organization hates market data – and why paying attention to it is fiercely important anyway.

 

1) If data doesn’t challenge you then it doesn’t change you

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you” has become a popular motivational saying (I see it making its rounds nearly every week on Pinterest.) The thing is, it’s true. It’s especially true in the case of trend data.

It seems that the more threatening we find certain data sets, the more indicative it may be of how much an organization needs to evolve to stay relevant. It’s been my experience that the organizations that pout and cross their arms are the very ones that are most behind the times. The best, most actionable, most prescient data often challenges groupthink and our notions regarding the “reality” of the world in which we live.

Which data is more likely to light a fire under you? This (peaceful, reaffirming, and rather obvious) data showing that the more satisfied a visitor is to a cultural organization, then the more likely they are to come back within two years…

IMPACTS- Intent to visit based on satisfaction

Or this data demonstrating that millennials consider art and culture to be such a relatively unimportant cause priority in today’s world that not only are they not “aging into” caring about arts and culture, but they are carrying their lack of caring along with them as they mature into more senior age cohorts?

IMPACTS millennial cause priority- arts and culture

This second graph should make you scared. It makes me scared. But it also means that we’ve uncovered an opportunity! It’s easier to tackle a beast and devise a plan when you know that it’s approaching. This data lights the path for further opportunities for exploration: Why aren’t arts and culture a cause priority for younger audiences? What’s the best gateway for getting them to care? If you hate this data, you’ll probably hate the data that arises from the follow-up questions, too. And that’s a good thing.

If you don’t hate data, then perhaps it’s not uncovering a need to grow and helping you to understand how to do that. If data’s not helping you grow, then why are you collecting it in the first place?

 

2) If data doesn’t change you then your organization (and the industry) suffers

Your organization suffers when it ignores data. If your organization doesn’t rise to the challenge of tackling current and emerging issues, then it may increasingly get swallowed by them.

Once, I was asked to give a presentation at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums on millennial attitudes toward dolphin shows and the captivity of certain species. Despite being present at all of the other presentations, the organizations that had recently invested tens of millions of dollars in dolphin shows and count these types of shows as their bread and butter somehow “didn’t make it” to my talk. Today, a look at their finances reveals that they are already paying a steep price for “avoiding” hard conversations…and the market has dictated their narrative on their behalf. It’s no secret that this narrative – not to mention their impugned reputational equities – aren’t exactly thrilling these organizations who practiced data avoidance and denial as standard operating procedure.

If data doesn’t challenge us, then it doesn’t change us. If data doesn’t change us, then we face difficulties in both securing revenue and executing our missions. If we want change, we need to do more than wish for it – we need to embrace it and carry it out.

That’s another good reason to hate data: It makes us realize that we have a lot of hard work to do. (But that’s kind of a good thing, too.)

Comic- Who wants change?

 

3) Data resets your organization’s warped notion of time

Data doesn’t show the future (unless it is modeled out using advanced, predictive technologies). Data shows the past because that data has already been collected. When you think about it this way, then it seems really messed up that we consider data-informed trends to be representative of the future and we use that as an argument to put off important conversations.

Think about that for a second. It’s really messed up.

If there’s data on it, then it has already happened! That doesn’t mean that data cannot be indicative of a trend’s growth or decline over time – but the data that you see…that’s already happened. People already feel that way, think that way, or do that thing!

When organizations justify putting off conversations about data and market trends because they consider trend talk to be synonymous with “the luxury of prospecting about the future,” they are, essentially, standing in a bullring hoping that they won’t be attacked while they cover their eyes and sing “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” (Bad metaphors, folks. I love them.)

When exploring and discussing trend data becomes part of an organization’s culture, it becomes difficult to maintain this warped sense of time. These conversations help create agile, forward-thinking, empowered organizations. We need to know what is happening in order to capitalize on opportunities to maximize financial solvency and mission execution.

 

Trend data helps organizations reframe their thinking…and reframing old-age thinking is tough stuff. It’s hard, but it’s important. There’s a lot of data that we uncover at IMPACTS that makes even me sigh and say inside, “This really, really stinks.” Some of that data is here and here. But, much like getting sick and going to the doctor, when we know what’s happening, we are empowered to more effectively and efficiently treat it before permanent damage is done.

It’s okay (and even good) to hate data sometimes. If you’re collecting any data worth collecting, then it challenges you, threatens you, and makes you think. If it doesn’t do that, then it doesn’t fulfill its purpose. Data worth collecting is easy to dislike, and that’s exactly why it makes us better.

 

Like this post? Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

 Please subscribe over on the right hand column to get KYOB posts delivered right into your email inbox. Interested in getting 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

 

*Comic credit goes to justintarte.com

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, Sector Evolution, Trends 1 Comment

Admission Pricing is Not An Affordable Access Program (Fast Fact Video)

Admission pricing and affordable access are two completely different things that are frequently – and inappropriately – conflated in many conversations. Let’s untangle them and move forward.

Check out today’s new video on the true relationship between admission pricing and affordable access programming.

I’ve recently written about the data-informed evidence that free admission is not a cure-all for engagement. What matters when it comes to engaging audiences are the programs and experiences that an organization offers – not free admission. “Free” does not necessarily mean “worthy of one’s time.”

One of the biggest reasons why the topic of free admission is so sensitive is due to a deeply-rooted (and unhealthy) confusion: The idea that admission pricing and affordable access programs are even close to the same thing. The only thing that admission prices and affordable access programs have in common is that they determine how (and how much) someone “pays” to attend an organization. When organizations jumble up admission and affordable access, they commit one of today’s biggest engagement blunders: They “welcome all” instead of “welcoming each.” Our world, our audiences, and our economics are simply too advanced for this old, “welcome all” approach.

A deeper look at the data:

In reality, optimal admission pricing enables affordable access programming. Within the realm of “affordability,” things can be relatively affordable – that is to say, less expensive is naturally more affordable.  However, once prices cross a certain threshold, being “unaffordable” is binary: A price is either affordable, or it isn’t. Effective affordable access programs that actually reach underserved audiences cost money and require investment. If an organization charges less than its data-informed, optimal admission price, then it may not generate sufficient revenues to support effective affordable access programming.

IMPACTS has consolidated data from different types of cultural organizations and there’s an important lesson here: When organizations deny their optimal, data-driven price point and instead charge “a little bit less,” their admission prices still aren’t affordable for underserved audiences. Moreover, they are too low for a vast majority of the people who actually attend these organizations.

IMPACTS Affordability is binary

As you can see in the consolidated data, a $15 ticket is no more practically affordable for a household earning less than $35,000 per year than is a $20 ticket, so when an organization decides not to charge its optimal price point, the organization both leaves money on the table AND is still unable to reach underserved audiences.

Keep in mind: These prices are compilations from several types of visitor-serving organizations and they illustrate that there’s a certain point in which affordability is binary. So please don’t go rushing off and charging $9…that has absolutely nothing to do with what your high-propensity visitors (the people who actually visit and like going to cultural organizations) are willing to pay. A better way to use this data is to note the difference between what folks earning less than $35,000 per year consider affordable and what the balance of your audiences are willing to pay.

Different household incomes have different capabilities when it comes to paying admission. Here’s another look at the composite data that underscores the point. Trying to find a “middle ground” admission price-point both leaves money on the table from audiences able to pay the optimal rate and also still excludes affordable access audiences.

IMPACTS- General admission pricing analysis

Again, this is consolidated data among different types of cultural centers and nonprofit visitor-serving organizations. It demonstrates why and how affordable access and admission pricing are two, separate strategies and are not intended to stand in for any specific organization’s due diligence in determining its optimal pricing strategy.

As a reminder: Value advantaged means that your organization is leaving money on the table. Value disadvantaged means that you may be starting to jeopardize attendance.

In sum, admission and affordable access are separate strategies. Organizations need a strategic price point for high-propensity visitors, and another completely different strategy to reach, celebrate, and welcome underserved audiences. It’s time that we remove the emotion and start recognizing the necessity of “welcoming each” via unique avenues of access.

 

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 Please subscribe over on the right hand column to get KYOB posts delivered right into your email inbox. Interested in getting 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, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

Three New Realities for Cultivating Big Donors in the 21st Century (DATA)

Three New Fundraising Realities for Nonprofits in the 21st Century- Know Your Own Bone

Our world has evolved and so has fundraising. It’s time for organizations to embrace these three, new realities for cultivating bigger donors.

Our rapidly evolving, super-connected world has introduced new realities for visitor-serving organizations – particularly with regard to admission and affordable access opportunities. Similarly, the information age has created new opportunities for organizations to more successfully approach fundraising. Maximizing these opportunities requires that organizations embrace many of the challenges currently affecting how nonprofits operate. Fundraising is no exception to this need for evolution.

When organizations consider the evolved role of fundraising, they often seem to think of crowdfunding campaigns aimed to raise money from (often small) donations from a large number of people. No doubt, crowdfunding campaigns can be powerful! (And cultural organizations are benefiting from them, too!) But what about cultivating bigger donors and more directly building long-term affinity for the organization as opposed to a specific project? Well, those realities have shifted a bit as well.  Here are three fundraising realities- contemplative of the fast-paced, connected world in which we now live- that organizations should consider if they want to reach bigger donors:

 

1) Donor targeting can be done more intelligently than ever before (but this is not done often enough by nonprofits)

I’m big on the fact that optimal admission pricing for cultural organizations is a product of data sciences. While not exactly the same, donor targeting is becoming more of a science, too. There’s reason to consider that soon the days of casting the general “Make a donation today!” net to all audiences may be long gone.

Much like certain people profile as likely visitors to cultural organizations more than others, some folks profile as more likely donors than others. Increasingly, organizations can research current and potential donors (or members!) in order to identify the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate a likely donor. And, while the nuance of this profiling effort will vary by specific organization, extant data reveals terrific insight into the type of people who are currently engaging with cultural organizations as donors. The table below indicates a High-Propensity Donor profile based on member/donors annually contributing at least $500 to a nonprofit, cultural organization (e.g. zoo, aquarium, museum, science center, botanical garden, symphony, theater, etc.) If you’re a cultural organization, your $500+ donors will fit this profile, but the specifics of your organization may lend additional attributes to the mix.

IMPACTS HPV donor profile

Once an organization has an idea of what kind of people are most likely to be their respective high-propensity donors, then the organization can focus on identifying and targeting specific individuals who possess those same attributes and may have an affinity for the organization. And organizations can deploy the same targeting methods for potential donors as cultural organizations do for potential visitors. (Side note: Why don’t more organizations do this beyond the few at the top? From what I can tell, a contributing factor may be the fact that marketing and fundraising are often separate, siloed divisions that tend to consider their own expertise as singular and sacred. How can we do that “we’re better together” thing more often within the same institution?)

Data, analytics, and technologies allow organizations to identify, target, and deliver highly-customized messaging to high-propensity visitors and donors alike. Many smart organizations are already doing this to engage onsite audiences – it’s a natural extension of the same best practices to leverage these resources to support contributed revenue categories. It’s time to invest in fundraising data and intelligence… and then consider this information in the formation, targeting, and deployment of fundraising strategies. Data-informed audience identification and targeting are every bit as useful to development departments as they are for marketing teams.

 

2) Cultivating donors is a time-investment strategy with a new twist

Today, the speed of information sharing and the ease of connectivity allow for potential donors to hear about the work of organizations long before those organizations reach out to potential donors. It also becomes easier to form an opinion about an organization before an organization is aware of it. This means that fundraising departments are less able to “curate” a donor’s pathway of engagement with clear certainty than in a pre-digital era. In the past, a fundraising department could be relatively certain of a donor’s interactions with an organization. Today, a donor may check out an organization on Facebook, share a post, or even “hide” posts from an organization that is not of interest to them. Donor opinions of organizations can be formed earlier than they were in the past because of our increased connectivity.

This is important to note because a major gift (such as one that is seven figures or above) may require decades of careful donor cultivation. Fundraising big bucks is not like an annual advertising campaign – it requires a substantial investment of time. For more robust fundraising success, organizations benefit by investing for a sustained period of time and actively building a relationship on the potential donor’s desired platforms. (As you can see in the chart, high-propensity donors are “super-connected” via the web, so know what you’re doing with donors on social media.)

Many organizations measure giving amounts in years, not decades. It makes sense that we measure progress on an annual basis, but when we don’t look at fundraising over longer periods of time, we tend to promote a culture wherein we focus on this year’s giving and fail to prioritize long-term potential donors. If it takes ten years to cultivate a ten million dollar donor and fundraisers are primarily focused on the current year, then an organization may never receive that ten million dollar donation. Though the instant gratification of today’s society may be making us perpetually impatient, we must remember that fundraising and building meaningful relationships (still) cannot often be rushed. 

 

3) Competition for donor engagement has gone global

Competition for donors can now be more global and intense. Potential donors need not be more involved with or committed to organizations in their backyards. We live in a world where a donor in New York can be cultivated by an organization in Los Angeles. Being “local” matters less- or at least, it doesn’t necessarily make an organization a shoe-in for a potential donor’s support. In the past, it was more difficult to connect with organizations that did not reside in a donor’s community. There may be a bit of a lag in this development for cultural organizations, as many donors appreciate having the ability to attend these institutions. However, as cultural organizations necessarily focus more on their social missions instead of their existence as straightforward attractions, they may see the same fate as other types of nonprofit organizations when it comes to global competition for donors. Being a local organization can still be important to a donor , but in our world of increased connectivity, it isn’t necessary and may matter less than the efficacy of mission execution.

The fact that donor competition has “gone global” means that it’s even more critical for organizations to realize that if a donor is giving in a big way to one organization, he/she often cannot give big in the same way to another. This is true across organizations and causes. Big donations are often zero-sum games. A donor who makes a major gift to one organization has that much less giving wherewithal to donate to another organization. Is it possible that this same donor may reach further into their well of largesse to support your organization with a similar, significant, bit-time gift immediately after giving to another organization? Yes. Is this a good strategy to bank on? No.

Think about your own giving! You probably have a kind of overall, annual giving quota based on what you feel comfortable with and what you can afford. Once you max out, you max out. Again, that’s not true for everyone, but it’s probably not a good idea to build a strategy around an exception. Know that there’s competition, and be contemplative of the donors gifts to other organizations and causes as well. As much as we romanticize big givers, most are not – actually- bottomless pits of never-ending cash.

 

The digital era has changed more on the fundraising front than simply bringing us crowdfunding campaigns and social media communication. It’s increased opportunities for effective donor targeting, altered traditional donor engagement pathways, and increased global competition for big donors.  It’s time to get serious about evolving to more informed methods of fundraising – because if you’re not doing it, then another organization likely is. Let’s take these new realities into account and move forward with the important work of finding and connecting with those who have a passion-match with our mission.

Let’s update our thinking about finding and communicating with people who can help us make the world a better place.

 

Like this post? 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, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Three New Realities for Cultivating Big Donors in the 21st Century (DATA)

How Free Admission Really Affects Museum Attendance (DATA)

Free Admission is not a Driver of Museum Attendance or Engaging New Audiences (DATA)

Spoiler alert: It doesn’t much…and misunderstanding this engagement tactic may jeopardize industry sustainability.

The debate about whether museums should be free is a big one right now. It’s the source of a lot of discussion in the popular press and nonprofit boardrooms alike. What seems to be lost in this discussion are due consideration of two very important factors: First, does eliminating the cost of admission actually help engage underserved audiences? And, second, in a time marked by increasing austerity measures that threaten traditional cultural funding, is eliminating a key earned revenue source sustainable as a long-term business model? The truth is that free admission comes with a cost. Free admission is far from the engagement cure-all that some of its supporters believe it to be.

Am I suggesting that free admission to museums and other cultural organizations is an altogether bad idea? Of course not. For those organizations whose financial models depend less on earned revenues (i.e. those with mega endowments or significant public funding), free admission may prove viable. However, for those organizations whose mission delivery depends on their business viability, then the issue of free admission is a far more complex topic.

Certainly, varying perspectives and important considerations inform this broader conversation, but I’m going to stick to the facts regarding only one aspect of this big issue. For the sake of facilitating intelligent, data-informed conversation about an emotional topic, let’s acknowledge some established facts regarding admission pricing and attendance: 

 

1) Not everyone is interested in visiting museums- and admission price is NOT the primary barrier to engagement

This is a fact that data folks know well, but it’s one that we often overlook as an industry. At IMPACTS, we gather a lot of information on the general public, but we focus particularly on high-propensity visitors (those people who demonstrate the demographic, psychographic and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood of visiting a cultural organization). These are the people who actually go to museums and cultural organizations. They are the people who say, “Yeah! I’d like to do that!” when the suggestion of visiting a museum emerges. Not everyone is a high-propensity visitor – not by a long shot. In spite of all of our best engagement and marketing efforts, some people simply aren’t going to visit our organizations for several different reasons. As it turns out, admission fees are generally not a major factor in their lack of inclination to visit a museum.

Volker Kirchberg’s landmark analysis, “Entrance Fees as a Subjective Barrier to Visiting Museums,” published in the Journal of Cultural Economics, found that admission cost is a secondary factor when considering a museum visit. A lack of time (i.e. schedule considerations) or a simple lack of interest (i.e. relevance) were far more important factors in one’s decision not to visit a museum than were admission fees. In other words, a decision not to visit a museum is often more a function of lifestyle than finances.

When we consider the population subset of high-propensity visitors (HPVs) – our most likely audiences – cost absolutely pales in comparison to schedule and reputation when it comes to factors influencing their discretionary leisure activities. A big contributor to this often-overlooked fact is that, for both the general public and high-propensity visitors in particular, their time is more important than their money. This data from IMPACTS shows this well:

IMPACTS HPV time verses money

Need even more supporting analysis? According to national survey of museum visitors in New Zealand (Ministry for Culture and Heritage, New Zealand, A Measure of Culture: Cultural experiences and cultural spending in New Zealand), convenience and time are more important factors than cost when it comes to considering a cultural experience. The study further revealed that for those persons who visit museums but are unable to visit more often, the main barriers are lack of time (54%), travel distance (30%), and a lack of transportation (15%). For those who had not visited at all, the main barriers were lack of time (49%), travel distance (29%), and a lack of transport (18%). In fact, for both visitors and non-visitors, cost was only cited as a factor 11% of the time – again, this finding doesn’t diminish cost as a factor…but it does lend perspective to its relative importance in the public’s decision-making process.

Similar results were found in the Visitors to Museums and Galleries Study published in the UK by The Council for Museums, Libraries, and Archives. 32% cited a lack of time as a primary barrier, 22% a lack of interest, 19% a lack of anything they want to see, and 11% noted difficulties simply getting to the site of the organization. Only 8% of those sampled cited admission charges as a negative factor.

In sum: Admission fees are generally not a primary visitation barrier.

 

2) Free admission does not significantly affect long-term attendance.

Admission price doesn’t significantly change intentions to visit for first-time visitors – further reaffirming that if an audience isn’t interested or doesn’t have the time, then “free” won’t get them in the door. There seems to be a sort of thought that free admission means that attendance numbers will go through the roof…and, if an organization does experience a short-term “novelty” spike, then this increase will be sustained. Again, data suggest the contrary. Check out this data from the National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study of Visitor-Serving Organizations (which is updated annually and has tracked the opinions, perceptions, and behaviors of a sample population totaling 98,000 US adults):

IMPACTS intent to visit by admission price

The data indicate that intentions to visit within any duration do not significantly increase as the price of admission decreases or is even eliminated. In fact, in most instances, audiences indicate greater intentions to visit organizations that charge more than $20 for an adult admission than those that are free.

It doesn’t stop there. The definitive work on the (negligible) impact of admission price on sustained museum visitation was published by noted economists William Luksetich and Mark Partridge in Applied Economics in their analysis, “Demand Functions for Museums Services.” Their study suggests that the adverse effects of admission charges on attendance are small and ”relatively easy to alleviate.”

That, “If it’s not free, people won’t go” argument? The data has spoken. It’s not a thing.

 

3) Free admission accelerates re-visitation- but for audiences who are already visiting

Free admission does accelerate the re-visitation process – but mostly from existing audience members. This finding is from a study by the UK’s Department of Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) – whose members instituted free admission in year 2001. The DCMS study found that attendance increases frequently attributed to removing admission fees were often due to the same audiences visiting more frequently – NOT necessarily from engaging new audiences.

Basically, to the degree that organizations consider an attendance increase as a successful outcome of eliminating admission pricing, the key visitor count to examine isn’t total visitation – it’s unique visitation. For example: Let’s say that a museum with an admission fee receives 400,000 annual visits from 300,000 unique visitors (1.33 visits per unique visitor).  Then, the same museum decides to “go free” and annual attendance increases by 15% to 460,000 visitors – but from the same 300,000 unique visitors (1.53 visitors per unique visitors). In this hypothetical example, annual attendance went up…but unique visitation remained the same.

Again, data from the National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study of Visitor-Serving Organizations reaffirms this finding:

IMPACTS intent to revisit by admission price

Whereas free admission does not impact intentions to visit for first-time visitors, it does increase intentions to re-visit for existing audiences. The implication? It may not be wholly accurate for an organization to declare success by citing raw attendance numbers as proof of the efficacy of a free admission policy. There isn’t evidence that free admission generally cultivates increased visitation from new audiences. 

 

4) We need to engage emerging audiences- and free admission is not a cure-all for greater industry challenges

Data suggest that cultural organizations need to be reaching new audiences right now if we want these types of organizations to be around in the future. Offering free admission in an attempt to appeal to emerging audiences isn’t a complete solution to a more complex problem. We need to reevaluate our strategy for engaging new audiences because the “free admission” fix may not prove sustainable. Moreover, focusing on free general admission may be distracting organizations from cultivating more effective engagement strategies and programs for reaching new audiences.

Consider that Smithsonian Institute museums – without admission fees – saw total attendance decline by nearly 7% from 30 million visitors in years 2012 and 2013 to 28 million visitors in year 2014. In the same duration, the US population increased from 314 million (2012) to 319 million (2014). Also, in the same duration, overseas visits to the US increased from 29.8 million in 2012 to 34.4 million in 2014. Visitation to many museums – even world-famous, free museums – is not keeping pace with population growth.

Our industry is rife with examples of how even organizations with free admission are unable to cultivate increased (or, in many cases, even stable) attendance levels – particularly when considered in the prevailing context of overall population growth and travel to the United States. Free admission does not serve as engagement panacea. For example, In 1997, attendance at the Baltimore Museum of Art – then with an admission basis – approximated 320,000 annually. In 2006, the Baltimore Museum of Art eliminated admission charges. Today, onsite annual attendance is down 44% to 180,000. The organization attributes this decrease in attendance to the BMA’s recent renovation project. There are many factors that affect attendance and admission pricing is hardly the cure-all that many imagine it to be.

 

This data simply scratches the surface of this controversial debate. There are other, incredibly important factors to consider: individual business models, the impacts of increased reliance on contributed revenues and government funding, opportunities to develop more agile operations so as to allow museums to be more audience-focused, and even the reputational equities attendant to being a “free” organization versus one with an admission fee.

One thing is for sure: Critical conversations are taking place and organizations are realizing that it’s time to evolve both their engagement models and their financial plans. We have too much to lose not to move forward in the most fully-informed manner possible. If we want to keep museums alive, we need to think about engagement, audience motivations and barriers, and actual economics.

 

Like this post? 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 ). 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, Sector Evolution, Trends 27 Comments

Fast Fact: Admission Pricing is a Science- Not an Art (VIDEO)

Organizations don’t have to guess when it comes to determining an optimal admission price.

Let’s try something new – starting today. I’d like to introduce you to a new project: Know Your Own Bone: Fast Facts for Cultural Executives. Traditional Know Your Own Bone posts will continue to be posted every-other Wednesday. In the weeks between, I will be posting short (around three minutes or less), Fast Facts videos featuring a key takeaway for cultural executives and staff members alike. I hope that you will provide me with feedback, and I am eager to know what you all think! Let’s start here:

Admission pricing is a science. Check out the video to learn why.

 

A deeper dive into data:

Unintentional collusion drives many-an-organization’s pricing strategy, but it’s a bad practice (or, at least a silly one). Today, your organization should be looking at data to inform its optimal price point for admission. Here’s an example of an organization’s data-informed pricing “sweet spot” that data suggest is neither leaving money on the table nor jeopardizing attendance. Every organization has this kind of optimal price point:

Adult Admission Analysis- Aquarium

Your pricing should be contemplative of the attributes of your organization’s high-propensity visitors (jargon translated: it should consider the people who profile as being actually interested in attending your organization). The above example indicates relative price inelasticity between $15.95 and $19.95 – suggesting that as many folks would visit the organization at a $19.95 as they would if the price were $15.95. If this is your organization and you are charging $15.95, you’re not losing visitors – you’re losing revenue that can help keep your doors open and your mission alive.

Different markets, different audiences, and different experiences demand different price points, so I want to emphasize that while this graph is a real example, it’s not necessarily a replicable model for your organization. (Read: I’m not encouraging everyone out there to charge $19.95. I would encourage THIS organization to change $19.95.)

To illustrate, here’s another example of a pricing analysis for a different organization and experience:

Adult admission analysis- performing arts

Finding an organization’s optimal price point has two, basic steps: Collecting data and modeling the data. Optimal pricing is informed by the type of data typically acquired via the conduct of an awareness, attitudes, and usage study that includes price-related metrics and perceptions from visitors and non-visitors alike. From there, price elasticity of demand models aid organizations in quantifying the demand for your experience. If you don’t have the know-how the collect this data on your own or you need help with the models, universities make excellent partners – as do professionals with experience working in this space! The point is: In today’s world – in which data is increasingly available, and more organizations are collecting it – there’s no excuse for blindly following the “leader” or simply guessing when it comes to your organization’s optimal admission price.

 

Words to Know to Be In-the-Know:

 

Unintentional collusion:

Many organizations unknowingly have strategies based upon unintentional collusion. Unintentional collusion is what happens when an organization follows the “leader” thinking the leader knows something that they don’t. Basically, it’s when somebody guesses and other organizations simply copy that guess. When organizations do this, they reaffirm one another’s unscientific strategies.

Value advantaged:

Admission pricing that is set too low and thus “leaves money on the table” for an organization. It is a price point that fails to maximize the data-informed level of revenue that an organization may be able to achieve.

Value disadvantaged:

Admission pricing that is set too high and risks jeopardizing attendance. It is a price point that fails to inspire visitation among those who profile as likely visitors because the high cost to attend poses a barrier to engagement.

Let’s stop guessing when it comes to admission pricing. Today, pricing is not an art. It’s a science.

 

I hope that these Fast Fact videos will provide thought-fuel for your organization! Please let me know if you have thoughts or feedback so that I may evolve these videos to be most helpful over time.  The next short video will be posted on August 19th.

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, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution 10 Comments

Why Millennials May Be The Most Valuable Generation for Cultural Nonprofits (DATA)

Data Show That Millennial Visitors May be Most Valuable Visitors for Cultural Organizations (DATA) {Know Your Own Bone}

The sheer size of the millennial generation makes them a critical target audience, but data suggest that millennial visitors may actually be the best visitors. Here’s why.

Millennials are the largest generation in human history. We know that they are a critical audience to engage now in order for cultural organizations to exist later. And, quite frankly, you’re probably tired of hearing about this public-service motivated, connected, social, educated, super-duper-special, hierarchy-hating, everyone-is-an-MVP bunch. (Heck, I’m a true-blue millennial and I’m right there with you!) However, all this talk about the need to engage millennials seems to still be met with an eye-roll and a “Here are even more things that we need to do for them” attitude from too many executive leaders. It seems that the size of this generation is the primary reason driving the need to engage millennials for many…and that’s an important reason. But it’s even close to the whole story.

Let’s change this attitude. Let’s do it with data.

Data suggest that millennial visitors are an organization’s most loyal – and they do much more loyalty-driving work for organizations than older audiences. When it comes to engaging millennials, a little is a lot more likely to go a long way. (But…that doesn’t justify organizations doing a little.) This generation is most likely to work for you. Overall, millennials are arguably a cultural organization’s most valuable visitors.

High-propensity visitors (HPVs, in my world (hold judgement on the acronym)) are people who possess the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood to visit cultural organizations such as museums, aquariums, gardens, performing arts organizations, historic sites, science centers, zoos, etc. These are the people who actually go to cultural organizations and data can bring to light what these folks have in common. Interesting findings arise when we take a look at millennial high-propensity visitors compared to non-millennial high-propensity visitors. Here are three, data-informed millennial visitor qualities that work to an organization’s terrific advantage compared to more traditional audiences:

High-propensity visitor indicators by age

(A quick note on the data: It comes from IMPACTS and the National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study of Visitor-Serving Organizations, first published in 2011 and updated annually thereafter. Since its initial publication, the study has tracked the opinions, perceptions, and behaviors of a sample population totaling 98,000 US adults, and is believed to be the largest and most comprehensive study of its kind.)

1) Millennial visitors are most likely to come back sooner.

Millennial high-propensity visitors have a shorter re-visitation cycle than even other generations of high-propensity visitors. In fact, millennial high-propensity visitors are 30.9% more likely to revisit an organization within one year than high-propensity visitors aged 55 or older. That’s a big difference. Moreover – and to the possible surprise of many – millennial HPVs are 20.5% more likely to join as a member than HPVs aged 55 and older. (Though those age 35-54 still take the cake when it comes to likelihood to become a members.) Millennials are an organization’s most loyal high-propensity visitors when it comes to driving repeat visitation. Capture us, and the data suggest we are most likely to come back – and relatively quickly!

 

2) Millennial visitors are more likely to spread positive word of mouth about cultural organizations to drive visitation.

As a reminder (that I provide on KYOB constantly): Data suggest that reputation is a key driver of visitation, and what other people say about your organization is 12.85x more important in driving your reputation than advertising. So what people say about your organization to one another is really important in getting people in the door. We millennial HPVs shine here compared to other HPV generations, and are 18.1% more likely to recommend experiences to a friend than those aged 35-54 and 20.5% more likely than HPVs aged 55 and older. Show us an organization that we like, and we are significantly more likely than older generations to endorse that organization to other people. Millennial high-propensity visitors are more likely than any other generational cohort to provide your organization with what data indicate is the single most valuable form of marketing.

 

3) Millennial visitors reach more people.

Why does being most likely to recommend a cultural experience to a friend particularly matter? Because millennial high-propensity visitors are crazy “super-connected.” This means that we are empowered to recommend experiences with a collective reach that’s like “traditional media” on steroids. “Super-connected” means that these folks are most likely to have access to – and be engaged with – the web at home, at work, and/or on mobiles devices. Admittedly, this can be an incredible asset or detriment to organizations based upon whether or not an individual had a positive or negative experience, but, provided that your organization is doing it’s best on the “satisfying experience” front, positive experiences can go a very long way.

We’re also much more likely than other HPV generations to make purchases online, further underscoring that if your audiences aren’t buying tickets online, it may have to do with your own organization’s online ticket buying strategy. As the world becomes more digital, more folks are making purchases online. Millennials are more than twice as likely to have made a large purchase online within the last year than folks aged 55 or older.

 

4) Millennials likely have the highest lifetime value.

This generation’s size and lifetime customer value suggest that organizations that successfully engage millennials stand to reap a big reward. Millennials are the youngest of the three generations (i.e. Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers) currently visiting cultural organizations – meaning that millennials have the longest expected lifetimes to contribute value as customers. In addition, the large size of this demographic (nearly twice that of Generation X) compounds the composite lifetime value of engaging this audience.

Note that high-propensity millennial visitors are more educated than their generational predecessors. This is important to understand, because often when organizations say, “Let’s target millennials!” they mean ALL millennials. That’s not always a bad move. But, the reality is that millennials who currently profile as being likely to visit cultural organizations are a subset of the population just as high-propensity visitors from other generations are a subset of the population. Not everyone on the planet thinks, “Hey, I’ll do that!” when someone suggests visiting a cultural organization. For various reasons (e.g. free time, access to transportation, cultural background, income, etc.), that’s just not the case with some people. A goal of efficiently engaging millennial audiences is to tap into high-propensity visitors – those persons most inclined to visit in the first place (i.e. “the path of least resistance”).

Heads-up: We also aren’t watching a lot of live TV. Those aged 55 and older are nearly 60% more likely to be watching more than 10 hours of weekly live TV than we millennials. So if you’re appearing on a morning news show, we’re less likely to be tuning in. It may be beneficial to record that segment and put it somewhere where we can see it later if millennial viewership is a particular goal

.

Compared to other generations, millennial high-propensity visitors are more likely to visit more often. They are also super-connected and more likely to spread an organization’s message, providing incredibly valuable word of mouth endorsement. All things being equal, millennial audiences may well be a cultural organization’s most valuable visitors.

Let’s stop rolling our eyes and get psyched about engaging these cheerleaders! (Too much enthusiasm? I’ll it step back.) Here: Let’s change how we frame the conversation. Instead of groaning about the “otherness” of millennials, let’s embrace this opportunity to engage a new cohort of folks who will visit us again and again, tell their friends, and – if we do our jobs right – will be around loving us for a long time.

 

Like this post? 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 ). 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, Sector Evolution, Trends 1 Comment

The Myth of Saving Your Way to Prosperity: Three Financial Realities for Nonprofit Executives

The Myth of Saving Your Way to Prosperity: Four Financial Realities for Nonprofit Executives

An organization attempting to “save its way to prosperity” actually paves its way to financial demise. Here’s why.

It seems that many nonprofit marketing and communication departments are constantly being tasked by their executive leadership to “do more with less.” While cost-efficiencies are desirable in all types of businesses, nonprofit organizations seem to be especially prone to overlooking the cost of doing business.

My work with nonprofit clients at IMPACTS reveals that, more often than not, marketing leaders react to the “do more with less” mandate by desperately trying to “save their way to prosperity.” That is, they attempt to achieve goals not by optimizing spending to maximize the ROI (i.e. increasing their investments if the ROI warrants additional investment), but by saving as much as possible within their already woefully underfunded marketing and communication budgets.

Attempting to save your way to prosperity comes with a hefty price tag for organizations. Let’s hit this difficult topic head-on. It’s time to uncross our fingers and quit pretending that the prevailing forces of the economy don’t apply to nonprofit organizations. Here are three financial realities for executive leaders to consider:

 

1) Marketing is an investment, not a cost

Okay. It’s technically a cost – but when organizations think about it primarily as a cost rather than an investment, they do their organizations’ internal culture a grave disservice. Indeed, it costs money to “market” and communicate…but such is the basic cost of doing business. You need to spend money in order to get people in the door. There is a data-driven optimal investment of revenues required to optimize audience acquisition. If you don’t invest to connect with your audiences, then don’t be surprised when very few audience members choose to invest in your organization and programming. Sure, you’ll save money by not telling folks to come, but you also… won’t have anyone coming.

Compounding matters is the fact that some organizations still think social is “free” or low-cost, but social media networks are increasingly pay-to-play. Moreover, data suggest that things people say about your organization are 12.85 times more important in driving your organization’s reputation than your advertising. That fact may ostensibly sound like a great resource-hoarding angle to a CMO with a “save your way to prosperity” mindset but, instead, it should be acknowledged as a terrific investment priority to maximize support and achieve long-term financial solvency. In other words, social investment isn’t necessarily a replacement for traditional paid media – it is a cost-efficient opportunity for additional investment with additional benefits. If you don’t make the investment, then you cannot realize the return.

 

2. Costs to reacquire audiences are MUCH higher than costs to maintain and retain them.

Let’s say the “save your way to prosperity” angle is your thing, and you choose to save some resources from your already cash-strapped marketing department. You’re probably quite proud of yourself. And the CEO might be as well. At this time, you haven’t completed the engagement cycle (or, if you’re a cultural center, the visitation cycle) to see the impacts of your lack of investment yet. You’re looking and feeling like a penny-pinching rockstar.

Unfortunately for penny-pinching CMOs, it costs significantly more to re-acquire audience members than it does to maintain and retain them – as much as 7x more! Take a look at this often referenced analysis from Bain & Company that quantifies the value of investing in your current audiences:

Bain Retention Analysis

Also consider that the price of advertising is increasing. The “last year +5%” budgeting rule is out of play, making it more important than ever for nonprofit executives (CMOs and CEOs alike) to make wise investments. If you make a bad investment – or no investment at all – the bill will come due. You’ll lose your hard-earned audiences and need to spend more to get them back.

 

3) Deferred bills always come due.

Speaking of bills coming due, “deferred” doesn’t mean “dismissed” – and it especially doesn’t mean “resolved.” Inaction can be extremely expensive. Tiny deferred cost savings add up to very large bills.

While it can be tempting to put off inevitable expenses – particularly during times of financial stress – ultimately, this proves to be a shortsighted approach for an organization. Juggling expenses between operating quarters doesn’t actually change your organization’s performance during that same duration. Saving money by not fixing the roof doesn’t mean that you don’t need a new roof. Again, deferred bills always come due. These budget shell games are often designed to forfend scrutiny – but this is a short-term magical accounting game. We live in a spend a little now or a lot later world. And, failing to spend appropriately risks greater peril than merely mounting deferred expenses – your organization may be perceived as irrelevant.

You can’t save your way to prosperity. The best you can do with this mindset is spend less, lose loyal attendees and not acquire new ones, and “defer” costs that may risk lowering your organization’s reputation. That’s not “savings” and that’s certainly not “prosperity.” That’s actually spending your way to demise, or, the very thing your CEO is trying to avoid in the first place.

Don’t save your way to prosperity. Instead have a deep understanding of how your industry works and maximize your investments. If you’re a visitor-serving organization, here’s some help: 1) Understand the cost of advertising, 2) Know how to budget to maximize audience acquisition, and 3) Understand the need to invest and strategize to adapt to reach emerging audiences. Saving your way to prosperity is, at best, a short-term faux-solution. At worst, it’s a long-term recipe for disaster.

Know the cost of doing business. Learn what things actually cost. Get smart about your investments because to remain relevant, you’ll have to make them. Make sure you make the best ones possible.

 

Like this post? 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 Financial Solvency, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution Comments Off on The Myth of Saving Your Way to Prosperity: Three Financial Realities for Nonprofit Executives

Death By Curation: The Exhibit Strategy That Threatens Visitation and Cultural Center Survival (DATA)

Death by curation- a lesson from Jurassic World

Indominus Rex would not have sparked a long-term increase in Jurassic World visitation anyway. Here’s a real-world, data-informed reminder of the dangers of “Death by Curation” for cultural organizations.

Considering my obvious museum nerdiness, you can bet that I was one of the folks contributing to Jurassic World’s $511.8 million opening weekend (in 3D glasses and parked eagerly in front of an IMAX screen on opening day, no less). I was giddy about the dinos, of course, but, throughout the film, I couldn’t help but focus on the data-denying stupidity of the Jurassic World business model (Of all things…). While watching, I mentally revisited data from a popular Know Your Own Bone post titled “Death By Curation”. In consideration of Jurassic World – and in the spirit of sequels – data about the realities of “death by curation” (or, “blockbuster suicide”) are worth a revisit for visitor-serving organizations. Let’s re-bust the myth of the blockbuster exhibit strategy. 

Also, in honor of Jurassic World, let’s do it dramatically (…but with real data).

Blockbuster exhibits sound nice, but they often create a negative cycle that threatens the solvency of the visitor-serving organizations that deploy them. Within this cycle, organizations (museums, zoos, aquariums, science centers, etc.) rely heavily on visitation from special exhibits – rather than their permanent collections – in order to achieve their attendance and financial goals. This is a case of “death by curation” – bringing in progressively bigger and bigger exhibits in order to sustain and grow revenues. 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.

Though Jurassic World is just a(n awesome) movie, “Death by Curation” is an actual, data-informed problem jeopardizing the long-term existence of many entities. Thankfully, when cultural organizations commit “Death by Curation” in the real-world, the result is typically… well, much less literal than it was in Jurassic World.

 

1) Misunderstanding

We know the story well: a museum decides that the best way to increase long-term visitation and attract new audiences is to create or host a special exhibit. They hear of attendance spikes from other, similar institutions that host or create blockbuster exhibits, and they see the newspaper articles boasting increased attendance during the exhibit. This is an innocent enough start. Not all special exhibits are blockbuster exhibits. But the want for a “blockbuster” increases among executives who are unaware of the long-term consequences of this kind of special exhibit. So the organization hosts one.

The organization sees a spike in attendance, which dips when the exhibit closes. The museum wants to hit these high numbers again so it hosts a “bigger” exhibit and hopes for the same visitation spike. This is the beginning of a costly, ineffective cycle.

 

2) Dependence

If the exhibition is successful, then the sequel must be grander – and usually more expensive. The organization comes to believe that it cannot motivate visitation without rotating, creating, or (in the case of Indominus Rex) genetically modifying increasingly “blockbuster”/ “bigger and better” exhibits. And, by doing this, museums train their audiences only to visit when there is a new exhibit. Thus, they risk curating themselves into unsustainable business practices.

Organizations train audiences to respond primarily to blockbuster exhibits. I like to think of this as a sort of “Pavlov for the museum world” – except instead of inspiring behavior with a bell, we’ve decided to provide Monet, Mondrian and Picasso as stimuli. This is all perhaps well and good…but it isn’t sustainable.

Consider the 20-year attendance history of a museum client of IMPACTS (the company for which I work). Take a look at the “blockbuster” years.

Death by Curation special exhibit attendance KYOB

Still drunk with success from their blockbuster exhibit in year 2004, this museum went to the “tried” (but, not necessarily, “true”) blockbuster formula in year 2009. As you can see, in terms of visitation, history decidedly did NOT repeat itself. In this example (which I selected because it is representative of the experience of many museums), the “blockbuster” exhibit of year 2004 resulted in a 47.6% spike in visitation. What is perhaps most telling is how quickly – post-blockbuster – the client’s annual visitation returned to its average level. Does this suggest that the client shouldn’t pursue another blockbuster? Well, they did. But not with the expected results.

Let’s consider the same chart again – this time with the special exhibits costs by year also indicated:

Death by Curation cost verses attendance

This where it becomes additionally important to acknowledge that “expensive does not a best-ever exhibit make” (although sometimes it can help when the investment is intelligent). If the museum begins to believe that they are being successful with this strategy of rotating and/or releasing blockbuster exhibits, then the exhibits grow grander and the attendant costs often grow at unsustainable rates…but become conceptually necessary for the museum to keep their lights on. Organizations often need to pay more money in order to hit that same, first-time blockbuster exhibition spike.

Also, I’m just going to leave this little chart right here…

Death by curation sequels KYOB

Another fun fact that will surprise absolutely no one in the museum world – audiences are fickle! Their preferences shift quickly and they become increasingly hard to please. In fact, first-time-ever museum visitors rate their overall satisfaction 18.1% higher than persons who have previously visited any other museum. We call this “point of reference sensitivity”– the market’s expectations, perceptions and tolerances are constantly shifting and being re-framed by its experiences.

 

3) Alienation

What of the hopeful thought that visitors to blockbuster exhibits will become regular museum-goers? It is largely a myth. An IMPACTS study of five art museums – each hosting a “blockbuster” exhibit between years 2007-2010, found that only 21.8% of visitors to the exhibit saw the “majority or entirety” of the museum experience. And, of those persons visiting the sampled art museums during the same time period, 50.5% indicated experiencing “only” the special exhibition. This data indicates that these special exhibit visitors are not seeing your permanent collections and, thus, are missing an opportunity to connect with your museum and become true evangelists.

The museums in this cycle train audiences to respond to blockbusters, not to develop relationships with permanent collections and that hurts their bottom lines. More often than not, organizations that are caught in the “Death by Curation” cycle actually cultivate visitation that is generally unsustainable. Or, at least less sustainable than many executives believe when having conversations about hosting or developing blockbuster exhibits. If you’re a visitor-serving organization always focused on releasing something bigger, better, and newer, you must be cautious not to devalue your permanent collections, and continually reinvent them as well.

 

4) Deprivation

Here’s where things get really ugly. Not only are organizations engaging in “Death by Curation” (a.k.a. “Blockbuster Suicide”) training regular audiences to respond primarily to special exhibits, failing to inspire connections with permanent collections, AND getting caught in an increasingly-expensive and unsustainable exhibit cycle…they are also creating and cultivating less loyal members.

Even members, whom museums often assume are more connected to their permanent collections than the general public, have been trained to respond almost exclusively to “blockbuster” stimuli by those organizations that consistently highlight these “bigger and better” exhibits year over year. To wit: The National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study recently updated in March 2015 indicates that of lapsed museum members with an intent to renew their memberships, 87.5% state that they will renew their memberships “when they next visit.” Of these same lapsed members, 60.8% indicate that they will defer their next visit “until there is a new exhibit.” In other words, museums have trained even their closest constituents to wait for these expensive exhibits in order to justify their return visit. It’s an unhealthy cycle. When hosting a series of blockbuster exhibits, an organization may get “high” on an attendance spike…but a crash is right around the corner.

After the “depravation” phase, many organizations cycle right back to “misunderstanding” and continue to spiral. Think of nearly any major museum that had made news with layoffs. Chances are that organization created a form of blockbuster suicide.

 

An alternative to blockbuster suicide

Here’s the good news: this cycle can be broken – or avoided entirely.

Museums and other cultural organizations often fail to recognize that the best part of the museum experience, according to visitors and substantial data, is who folks visit and interact with instead of what they see. Understanding that a museum visit is more about people than it is about exhibits can help organizations keep the relative success of blockbuster exhibits into perspective.

Instead of relying on the rotation (or new, ongoing addition) of increasingly expensive exhibits, many successful organizations instead invest in their frontline people and provide them with the tools to facilitate interactions that dramatically improve the visitor experience. Improving the visitor experience increases positive word of mouth that, in turn, brings more people through the door. Importantly, reviews from trusted resources (e.g. word of mouth, social media, and peer review sites) tend to not only inspire visitation, they also have the positive benefit of decreasing the amount of time between visits. People who have a better experience – which has a clear association with interactions with staff members – are more likely to come back again sooner (Okay, this is obvious…but when you bust outdated cultural business strategy myths for a living, it’s important to reexamine things that seem obvious, too).

KYOB intent to revisit based on satisfaction

The power of “with” over “what” has other positive financial implications for museums. If the institution focuses on increasing the overall experience (which, again, is a motivator in and of itself – as opposed to the “one-off effect” of gaining a single visit with a new exhibit), then the museum’s value-for-cost perception increases. In other words, it allows the organization to charge more money for admission without alienating audiences because these audiences are willing to pay a premium for a positive experience. (For you mission-driven folks shaking your head about how this potentially excludes underserved audiences, this is where your accessibility programs will shine. Admission revenues enable effective affordable access and increase their perceptual value as well.)

The “bigger, better, more expensive” business model is financially unsustainable and it alienates audiences. A better solution? Actually be good at fulfilling your mission/purpose and highlight considered experiences that support it.  

This isn’t to say that new content and engaging exhibits are not often critical to a museum’s success. Updating overall collections, keeping museums up-to-date, and developing timely, relevant programs is increasingly no longer optional for cultural center survival. It is to say, though, that times are changing. To sustain both in terms of economics and relevance, museums must evolve from organizations that are mostly about “us” (what we have is special and you’re lucky to see it), to organizations that are primarily concerned about “them” – the visitors.

Like it or not, the market is the ultimate arbiter of a museum’s success. Those of us with academic pedigree, years of experience, and technical expertise may well be in a position to declare “importance,” but it is the market that reserves the absolute right to determine relevance. In other words, while curators still largely design the ballots, it is the general public who cast the votes. In the race to sustain a relationship with the museum-going public, the returns are in and the special exhibit isn’t so special anymore.

 

Like this post? 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, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 6 Comments