Audience Insights: Organizations Overlook the Most Important Clues

Clues for increased satisfaction and visitation are often right under the noses of cultural organizations. I frequently hear executive leaders Read more

Do Expansions Increase Long-Term Attendance? (DATA)

Sometimes it feels like nearly every cultural organization is taking on a major expansion project. But do these projects Read more

Over 60% of Recent Visitors Attended Cultural Organizations As Children (DATA)

You may have guessed it was true – but here’s why this statistic matters. The idea that those who visit Read more

Cultural Organizations: It Is Time To Get Real About Failures

Hey cultural organizations! Do you know what we don’t do often enough? Talk about our failures. It’s a huge, Read more

How Annual Timeframes Hurt Cultural Organizations

Some cultural executives still aim for short-term attendance spikes at the expense of long-term financial solvency – and they Read more

Special Exhibits vs. Permanent Collections (DATA)

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

Financial Solvency

A Hint for the Future of Museums: Europe is Looking to US Aquariums

In my line of work (developing predictive data) and my spot in that line (analyzing and applying data on behalf of organizations equally concerned with social and fiscal bottom lines), opportunity often comes from keeping a pulse on the market. Along these lines, I’ve recently experienced shifts in my professional world that may be illustrative of the future of museums and the broader nonprofit community.

"7 hours and 57 minutes until I am officially based out of Chicago AND London! Let's do this!"

“7 hours, 57 minutes until I’m officially based out of Chicago AND London! Let’s do this!” (4/1/13)

In April, I officially joined the ranks of part-time expatriates (and long-haul commuters) when IMPACTS asked me to help open our London office while also maintaining a “home base” in Chicago.  Preparations for our London office enabled me to hire a Digital Marketing Manager to provide additional support to our projects, and also challenged me to be more thoughtful about how I could focus my efforts to best serve our clients.  A few months removed from my hop across the pond, I’ve been reliably asked two questions from colleagues, other museum professionals and even friends and family – the answers to which are closely related and may provide interesting insight to the museum industry:

1) Why London?

The obvious answer: proximity. I am in London largely because it is an accessible base for much of the work that IMPACTS is currently performing on behalf of visitor-serving organizations (e.g. museums) throughout the Americas, Europe and the Middle East.

The more interesting answer: market demand in Europe for the American nonprofit business model. You read that right! Any quick glance at the news tells stories of shifting economies that have created an unprecedented struggle for many of Europe’s most treasured museums.  While not-too-long ago many of the elite European institutions might have politely sneered at the suggestion of adopting a more “American model” of doing business (especially “nonprofit business!”), these sentiments are quickly shifting.

The “American model” (as it is colloquially referred to in my dealings) is a euphemism for a visitor-serving business that doesn’t rely on government support (or grants or endowments) and, instead, is a market-driven enterprise whose success hinges on engaging a diverse, sustainable constituency.

In other words, many of the world’s greatest museums – the ones that we Americans revere and admire with a distant and mysterious “otherness” – are looking to U.S. visitor-serving organizations as sources of inspiration, innovation and know-how when it comes to reinventing their business models to best respond to their current economic conditions.

2) Why do you spend so much time working with aquariums?

It’s true. I do find myself increasingly spending more time and energy working closely with aquariums. Here’s the end-game: We have an interest in aquariums because they are often cited by our clients as best-in-class practitioners of the “American model.” (Stick with me, other-types-of-museum folks. I’ll connect the dots…)

IMPACTS works with nearly every form of visitor-serving organization from art museums and symphonies to science centers and botanical gardens, and there’s one thing that we’ve found to be generally true: The market-driven practices developed by aquariums may have the greatest impact and “usability” for exalting the entire visitor-serving industry.  While the role of aquariums as models may seem surprising to many of America’s most venerable museums, the relative esteem with which U.S. aquariums are internationally regarded evidences itself in my work on a daily basis. In fact, the European organizations (including many art museums) that I work with have less interest in the “best practices” of American art museums and, increasingly, more interest in those of American aquariums.

Here’s why.  There are two conditions that make U.S. aquariums of particular interest to the global museum and visitor-serving industry:

 

A) The U.S. aquarium business model is motivated by market demand (and not overly dependent on grants, endowments, or government funding)

This is not to say that aquariums do not seek to obtain grants or secure government appropriations – but, as a group, the chart below indicates that aquariums tend to rely least on contributed and dividend revenues when compared to other types of visitor-serving organizations:

IMPACTS Visitor Serving Organization Earned Revenue

Theoretically, if government funding were to cease on a macro-level tomorrow, aquariums (as well as select museums, theaters, science centers and other more self-reliant organizations) may have the greatest chance of keeping their doors open long-term.

Also, after evaluating a representative sample of 224 U.S.-based visitor-serving organizations, aquariums generally have the smallest endowments relative to their annual operating budgets – perhaps suggesting that aquariums must be particularly attuned to the market since they have less “cushion” in their revenue streams. We see outcomes of this market responsiveness all the time: While some museums are hiring extra grantwriters and expanding their lobbying efforts for funding, many aquariums are hiring social media and online community managers because they understand that digital engagement helps drive attendance. Of course, smart museums also realize this and are hiring these kinds of people, too – but as the chart below illustrates, the lack of a “safety net” places a particular financial imperative on aquariums to be responsive to market opportunities:

IMPACTS - Visitor Serving organization endowment backstop

 

B) Many aquariums regularly invest in active, global, social missions that extend beyond education and research

I can hear you now: “But all museums aim to change the world!” I know. This does not mean that other missions are any less important – simply that many organizations with which I work consider aquariums to be at an interesting intersection between topic expertise and “right now” relevance…particularly when it comes to prominent, controversial issues such as climate change and other environmental topics. In short, while the social missions and operations of aquariums tackle education and research (two critical items that are also common among other, select visitor-serving organizations), they also take up the battle of ocean conservation. The initiatives attendant to this addition are particularly timely, global, and live in a rather elusive “save the world” space.

It’s a seemingly at-odds and extreme combination:  Aquariums may be considered among the most “for profit” of organizations in that they rely heavily on earned revenues, but they also aim to be among the most globally impactful among organizations pursuing active, social missions.

 

I “go deep” in my work with aquariums because helping them evolve and perfect their business model to remain solvent in both fiscal and social terms provides the lessons that help other organizations achieve their similarly aspirational ideals.

I’m intentionally speaking in terms of sector generalities – not all zoos rely on government funding, not every museum lives on its endowment, and, for that matter, not all aquariums are truly bringing their A-game to the “save the ocean” effort. The organizations operating with the objectives of being both market-relevant AND “big mission-serving” (aquarium or not) may be our best models for the future of museums. They can survive on their own, and they can do it while serving a very large-scale social mission.

 

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 Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

Minding Your Ps and Qs: The Importance of Early Adopters in Marketing Your Nonprofit (DATA)

Early Adopter

Nonprofit marketers increasingly understand the importance of reach and remaining top-of-mind when it comes to building affinity with potential visitors and donors in the digital era.  In a perfect world – one with unlimited resources – we would simply throw money at our marketing channels until everyone heard our message. However, in the real world of finite marketing budgets, many organizations mistakenly target the broadest swath of their market under the misguided notion that maximizing marketing efficacy depends on a “target the majority” strategy.

Instead, the modern nonprofit should understand that the number of people who see your message (i.e. how many) is significantly less important than the imitative value of the people who see your message (i.e. who).

Savvy marketers understand the critical importance of targeting “Market Makers” (as opposed to the broader market) to efficiently generate and sustain sales velocity…and the reasoning behind this strategy is undeniable.

As a friendly heads-up: I’ll warn you all that this post is a little wonkish (bear with me!), but for those of us who don’t have a degree in economics, here’s the play-by-play from an English major with a master’s degree in public administration (read: not math) who gets to see these items in action every day in her work with IMPACTS.

 

1. No amount of paid media (“P”) overcomes a lack of reviews from trusted sources (“Q”) when it comes to elevating reputation, driving attendance, or securing donations

IMPACTS - Diffusion of messaging

This model (which I’ve shared before) also demonstrates how dramatically marketing has changed in the last twenty years. Paid media (“P”) used to be the fastest way to reach the most people. Now – thanks to technology – we have more real-time access to reviews from trusted resources (“Q”) than ever before…and the ability to promulgate these views with the press of a touchscreen.

While some organizations seem to be afraid of harnessing the power of “Q“, sophisticated organizations may view this shift as one of the best things happening in the marketing world. We’ve flipped the influence potential from outlets controlled by third-party publishers and broadcasters to one primarily influenced by our own relationships with our audiences! Now, marketers have the opportunity to reach people and foster relationships via a much more effective and influential method (i.e. word of mouth from trusted sources).

 

2) Certain people have higher “Q” values than others (and thus serve as more trusted resources for spreading your message)

IMPACTS - importance of Q value

We all have a friend who, when they make a recommendation, we listen. These are the friends whom we consider to be “in-the-know.” They’re the first ones to go to the new, cool restaurant, and the first to sport the season’s best fashion.  In marketing-speak, they have a high “Q” values (AKA “high imitative values”). Like positive reviews in The New Yorker or The New York Times, reviews from these high “Q” value folks can make a world of difference for an organization. These folks are likely your “Market Makers” – the trend-starters and experts that get your organization’s ball rolling…and keep it in motion.

Similarly, we probably all have a friend (erm…or two) who, when they make a recommendation, we smile and nod but won’t touch that product with a ten-foot-pole.  These people have low “Q” values and, unfortunately, many organizations target these folks just as much as high “Q” folks with their broader marketing strategies.  Worse yet, without endeavoring to identify and target  “Market Makers,” an organization may be wasting valuable resources on “Laggards” who only adopt a product when it is on the precipice of being passé.

 

3) The “Q value” of the individuals you target determines the “velocity” of your message (how sustainable it will be over time)

IMPACTS - Q velocity

Imagine the adoption model above as a roller coaster. Now imagine that your organization’s goal is to engage the maximum amount of the audience.  As anyone who has screamed their lungs out while plunging down the big hill surely knows, the higher up the roller coaster starts, the more velocity the roller coaster has available to propel itself up and over other obstacles. If the ride starts at a height that is insufficient, the cart will not have the requisite velocity to reach its desired destination (i.e. your maximum audience).

In other words, if you start your marketing effort by “marketing to the middle” (i.e. the early majority), then the models suggest that your efforts will only gain the necessary velocity to carry your message through the late majority.  Sure – this strategy stands to reach 68% of the audience…but it ignores the most influential Market Makers who promise long-term relevance and sustainability.  Perhaps this explains why many visitor-serving organizations have essentially flat-lined their levels of visitation in spite of growing populations levels.

 

Bottom line: To increase reach and promote your brand most effectively, it is critical that your nonprofit targets Market Makers.

The web and social media allow for personalization. Taking the time and energy to identify and target high “Q” individuals (content creators, online critics) is among the most efficient, impactful, and valuable type of market research available to an organization.

Does this mean that the only folks who should matter in your nonprofit marketing strategy are Innovators and Early Adopters? Of course not. Your organization must be ready to engage other audiences, as that is – of course – the goal of targeting Market Makers: To leverage their imitative behaviors to help you reach broader audiences.

Clearly, not all online audiences are of equal value, yet organizations regularly (lazily?) develop strategies for their online audiences as if they were a single, homogenous constituency.  This is akin to developing “a targeted strategy for all things that breathe.” It is time for organizations to think of their online audiences with the same degree of segmenting sophistication that they lend to donors.  Identifying your Market Makers, targeting these highly influential persons with your messaging, and trusting their imitative values to amplify your message to the balance of the market are the hallmarks of an efficient and effective marketing strategy.

Who knew that your mother was such a prescient marketer when she told you to mind your Ps and Qs? (Sorry, guys. I had to…) 🙂

 

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

 

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, IMPACTS Data, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

Time, Treasure, Talent: Priority Confusion on Nonprofit Boards Limits Success (STUDY)

Finding: Nonprofit board members grossly overestimate the importance of their own time and talent, and believe personal philanthropy to be the least of their responsibilities in the “time, treasure, talent” continuum.

time treasure talent

For nonprofit executive leaders, “Give [money], get [money], or get off [the board]” seems to have been a board development maxim since the beginning of nonprofit-time. Despite this fact, many CEOs consistently struggle to raise meaningful funds from their board members. This may be due to a convenient untruth that board members may be using as an excuse to sidestep the “give, get, or get off” maxim: The belief that time, treasure, and talent are of equal value to a nonprofit organization.

A recent study conducted by IMPACTS reveals that, among visitor-serving organizations, there is a stark perceptual delta between executive leadership and board members when assessing the primary asset that board members bring to their organizations. And perhaps unsurprisingly, this difference of opinion regarding board responsibilities is pronounced within “smaller” organizations (i.e. those serving 500,000 or fewer visitors annually).

IMPACTS (the predictive technology company for which I work) was engaged to develop intelligence and analysis concerning the efficacy of nonprofit boards of trustees.  The related research and interviews sought to improve the understanding of the optimal role of the board as it relates to the governance and operation of the contemporary, nonprofit, visitor-serving organization.

The data collection processes included quantitative intelligence gathering and qualitative interviews with both the executive leadership and members of the boards of 49 nonprofit, visitor-serving organizations (e.g. aquariums, museums, performing arts organizations and zoos).  The study sought to include a broad, representative sample of nonprofit organizations of various types, usage levels, and annual operating budgets.

 

1) Staff leadership believe that securing funds is by far the most important role of board members

 

IMPACTS staff perspective of board role

Giving/securing “treasure” for an organization is clearly identified as the most important role of a board member by CEOs and other executive leaders. Lending “talent” (think of an attorney on the board providing legal counsel) holds significantly less value according to these same leaders.

Qualitative assessments from leaders reveal that the delta between “treasure” and “talent” may be in large part due to an organization’s strong preference to buy talent with treasure (as opposed to relying on the “in-kind,” donated talent of their board members). Executive leadership tends to believe that this type of “hired,” on-demand, best-in-class talent puts the organization in a better position to succeed than does a board member who is potentially less specifically qualified and/or has less time dedicated to the organization. (Not to mention the fact that many nonprofit organizations have conflict of interest policies that limit or restrict a board member’s participation in aspects of the organization’s operation.)

 

2) With the exception of larger organizations, board members believe that lending their own talent is their key role and raising funds is the least of their responsibilities

 

IMPACTS Board perspective of board roles

An argument may be made that organizations serving greater than 500,000 annual visitors are necessarily larger operations and may reliably attract more experienced, “sophisticated” board members than smaller organizations. This type of board member may have more experience on a greater diversity of boards, and may have a better understanding of the needs of nonprofit organizations and their own role on the board.

 

Key Finding: Nonprofit board members over-emphasize the importance of their own time and talent

 

IMPACTS Board and staff perspective of board roles

Some may say that my interpretation of these assessments assumes that the nonprofit CEOs have a better perspective of what will lend success to an organization than board members themselves. I’d like to propose an alternative point of view in regard to the survey outcomes: Board members seem to believe that their biggest contribution is a thing that the organization isn’t always asking for (i.e. their respective talents), and the single thing that many organizations require most to keep their doors open is the very thing that many board members do not view as their primary responsibility (i.e. treasure). From this perspective, some organizations serving 500,000 or fewer visitors per year (or boards of any nonprofit organizations with “smaller” annual revenues) may be stuck in a cycle:

Nonprofit board members may disproportionally view their own “talent” as beneficial because they don’t perceive that the organization possesses equivalent talent on-staff. So, because the organization lacks internal capacities, its board members disproportionally value their  own (occasional, off-staff) “talent” – but in valuing their talents over their “treasure,” they limit the organization’s ability to develop more robust resources and capacities. Thus, the organization comes to depend on board “talent” largely because its board members choose not to alternatively supply the organization with sufficient “treasure.”

Does this mean that board perspectives are unimportant? Most certainly not. The experiences and connections afforded organizations by their board members are important assets. However, if they don’t positively impact the long-term solvency of an organization in a meaningful way, then these connections may not be worth as much as “status board” members seem to believe them to be. Connections, networks and experiences are all latent benefits that may be made manifest in terms of an organization’s financial health. Unlike these potential latent benefits that board members lend to an organization, donations provide direct benefit.  Ultimately, organizations quantify financial health in numbers – and numbers don’t lie.

 

In Their Own Words:

“I think that it takes all three (i.e. ‘time, talent, and treasure’) to be a great board member. Arguably the greatest talent of all is realizing that your time is less valuable than your treasure.”- Chief Executive Officer, attendance = 500,000 – 1 million 

“A particular challenge for many of our new board members is the time that it takes for them to understand that we didn’t ask them on the board because of their professional abilities and talents. We asked them on the board to gain access to the wealth that the practice of their professional abilities and talents has enabled.”- Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees, attendance = 250,000 – 500,000

“I’m proud of the way that our board has evolved. It now understands it has an absolute and significant giving imperative. With all due respect to our board members’ abilities and talents, if you don’t give in a meaningful fashion, then you are short for our world.”- Chief Executive Officer, attendance = >1 million

“It drives me crazy that we still have board members who think that their job is to critique staff decisions, plan galas, and stuff envelopes. As a donor, it is embarrassing that the outside world considers these people to be my peers.” – Member, Board of Trustees, attendance = 100,000 – 250,000

“The best thing about leading a large organization was saying goodbye to the ‘bake sale boards’ of my past where every financial crisis was met with a social-status-elevating fundraiser that never netted any real funds but was deemed a success if it got the chairwomen mentioned in ‘Town & Country.’”- Chief Executive Officer, attendance = >1 million

“As a board member, you have two obligations: Number One is your fiduciary obligation to the organization. Number Two is your financial obligation to the organization. The entire ‘time, talent, and treasure’ discussion is bunk – a board member’s duty is to ensure that the organization is able to buy the time of those resources possessing the most talent.” Chief Executive Officer, attendance = 250,000 – 500,000

“Honestly, our board is a joke. They want to derive every social benefit and milk every professional network that comes from being on our board, but they don’t think that they should pay for the privilege. We’ve let ourselves become a status symbol…the worst sort of trophy wife. What I would do to fire the whole lot of them and start over!” Chief Executive Officer, attendance = 500,000 – 1 million

“On our board, it is both implicitly and explicitly understood that you pay for the privilege of your vote. There is no representation without taxation. If you don’t like our arrangement, then, frankly, we’d prefer that you not serve on our board.” – Chief Executive Officer, attendance= >1 million

“Over the years, I’ve been asked to speak to other boards about how they, too, can increase their respective board giving capacities. Invariably, they cite an inability to ‘attract heavy hitters’ to their boards. I ask them to survey the room – the so-called ‘heavy hitters’ don’t keep company with people who don’t value personal philanthropy. No one wants to be the deep pockets on a board who subsidizes their fellow board members. So, if a board wants to raise more money, the first step that they need to embrace is significantly increasing their own personal giving in the hopes of attracting more like-minded philanthropists. The second step often involves stepping aside and allowing these philanthropists to assume your position on the board. The best board donors try to replace themselves with even better donors on a regular, ongoing basis.”- Chairman of the Board of Trustees, attendance= > 1 million

“I appreciate how invested with their time our board members are, but I’d be lying to say that I didn’t wish that they weren’t equally invested with their money. We struggle to meet the giving benchmarks of our peers. My board’s answer to EVERYTHING is ‘Let’s have a fundraiser!” or “Let’s try for this grant!” – never anything out of their own pocket. They’re in love with other peoples’ money.”- Chief Executive Officer, attendance = 250,000 – 500,000

“A sure sign of a lousy board is a bunch of ‘talented’ people on your marketing committee. That’s where organizations dump the folks whose sole currency is hot air.”- Chief Executive Officer, attendance = 100,000 – 250,000

 

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 Financial Solvency, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution 7 Comments

Non-Nuclear Proliferation: Who is REALLY Visiting Museums Nowadays?

family visiting museum

Is your nonprofit or museum still operating under the assumption that most of the folks visiting zoos, aquariums, museums, and performing arts venues are doing so with their nuclear families? Think again. Data concerning visitor-serving organizations (VSOs) reveals that travel party constructs have evolved. While only seven years ago a majority of visitors attended VSOs with their nuclear families, the majority are now visiting with significant others.

Why does this matter? Well, if you don’t know who your audience is, then it is more difficult to target them or retain their support. And keep in mind: Your “audience” is a dynamic group comprised of both online and onsite persons, as well as would-be and actual visitors alike. In other words, just because you are marketing your nonprofit to families and households with children doesn’t necessarily mean that they comprise the majority of your audience.

In fact, my colleagues and I at IMPACTS have observed this evolving reality within many of our client VSOs.  Several clients who have been predominantly marketing to their perceived, “traditional” base (i.e. the nuclear family) have had to adapt their engagement strategies to recognize the emergence of persons who visit without children.

To illustrate this change, I’ll present two sets of data: one for the U.S. composite audience (which includes travel party construct data for a representative sample of the total US population), and another for high-propensity visitors (HPVs, or those persons possessing the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that tend to suggest an increased likelihood to visit a VSO). One quick note: The data represent “discretionary consumer behaviors” – that is to say, it does not contemplate educational groups, field trips, and other group-motivated activities.

Let’s start by examining the change in travel party constructs for the overall U.S. population:

IMPACTS US Composite Visiting Party Construct

 

Notice that the dominant travel party construct has changed from “with family” to “with spouse.” Currently, nearly 50% of the overall U.S. population visiting a VSO is doing so without a child (quantified above in the “By self” + “With spouse” + “With friends” categories). This same cohort grew by 11% during the relatively brief tracking period!

Now let’s take a look to see with whom high-propensity visitors (HPVs, or, the folks that largely butter your bread) are attending organizations…

 IMPACTS HPV Visiting Party Construct

For HPVs, we witness a similar decline of people visiting with children…and, keep in mind, this behavior is amongst those persons most likely to visit your organization in the first place! Here are four noteworthy takeaways from the data:

1) The number of families attending VSOs has decreased

During the quantified duration, VSOs experienced a 10% decline in family visitation (from 41.8% in year 2006 to 37.5% in year 2012) and a 13% decline amongst HPV families.  Part of this decline relates to our evolving demography – there is a corresponding decline in “birth over death rate” amongst the educated, affluent populations that have historically comprised many VSOs core audiences.  Fewer children means fewer “traditional” families…so if your VSO’s primary selling point is “great for the kids,” then you may expect to see a fall off in your attendance numbers.

2) The number of folks attending VSOs as couples has increased

Among the overall US population, the percentage of people visiting VSOs with their spouses or significant others increased 14% during the assessed duration.  For the same period, “HPV couple” visitation increased by 10%.

Many organizations are observing this increase in “couples” visiting VSOs and are tailoring their marketing efforts accordingly.  At IMPACTS, we are often tasked by clients to assess the relative “favorability” (i.e. do people “like” the campaign) and “actionability” (i.e. how likely is the campaign to motivate visitation) of potential advertising campaigns, and what we increasingly find is that while “family-centric” advertising may risk engaging adults without children, more couples-focused messaging generally does not alienate family audiences.  Why?  The market has an intrinsic understanding that many VSOs are well-suited for families and children… often the “break-through” market for additional engagement is couples without children.

3) Grandparents are the new babysitters

Grandparents are increasingly important decision-makers when it comes to bringing a child to a VSO.  This may be symptomatic of more dual-income households or of a broader societal trend toward more grandparents raising their grandchildren, but the prominence of grandparents as both heads of households and proxy parents is clear.  Many VSOs have acknowledged this trend by re-imagining their family membership programs to be more contemplative of grandparents.  Other organizations are adjusting their marketing and communication techniques to better engage this growing market segment.

4) The evolution of the travel party construct is not a museum phenomenon, but a reflection of the overall market

When you consider all of the data, the shifts that we’re observing in terms of travel party construct aren’t at all surprising.  Rich, white folks – who still make up a substantial number of HPVs  – are having fewer children. From a societal point of view, the traditional “family” has undeniably evolved. Baby boomers – another demographic that has a high percentage of traditional HPVs – are bringing their grandchildren to their favorite museums, operas, and botanical gardens.  And, of course, the Baby Boomers are a huge generation – so a corresponding increase in people visiting with grandchildren makes chronological sense. Generation Y – the largest generation of all  – is taking over the market, having children later in life (and, thus, are more likely to visit with friends or significant others), and also having children out of wedlock (and, thus, are more likely to visit without a spouse).

 

At IMPACTS, we develop specific data for our VSO partners and it yields very similar findings across the board. In nearly every case, the organization is a tad surprised to learn that while they had their noses to the grindstone, the world turned. These changes affect not only how VSOs target audiences for marketing purposes, but also how they cultivate members, gather financial supporters, create appropriate programs, and engage with online and onsite audiences.

Still not a believer? Though the percentage of movement may seem small, it is indicative of a significant trend. If you can, take a moment to visually survey your current visitors. Suddenly, you may realize that the world is changing and it’s taking your museum with it.

 

*Top image photo credit belongs to Margaret Middleton’s On Exhibit

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Non-Nuclear Proliferation: Who is REALLY Visiting Museums Nowadays?

Urgent Evolution: Marketing Your Nonprofit to the Audience of Tomorrow (DATA)

IMPACTS Historic visitor substitution

There are many reasons why your visitor-serving organization should be marketing to Millennials and other emerging audiences in order to ensure its long-term relevance and solvency. However, the single most urgent reason to target these audiences is that the “historic” museum visitor market is slowly dwindling, and organizations that do not evolve their marketing strategies risk long-term survival.

At IMPACTS, we collect ongoing, nationwide (and crazy-massive) data sets of the US market, and have uncovered the demographic, psychographic and behavioral attributes that tend to suggest one’s likelihood to go to or otherwise support a visitor-serving organization (zoo, aquarium, museum, botanic garden, performing arts organization, etc.). We call folks possessing these indicators high-propensity visitors (HPVs). While individual organizations may have slightly varying HPVs, we’ve found that there are several characteristics that a vast majority of organizations’ audiences share. And we’ve found something alarming: visitor-serving organizations’ (VSOs) “historic” visitors are leaving the market at a faster rate than new HPVs are entering the market, creating a negative substitution phenomenon that does not paint a bright future (or present, for that matter) for VSOs.

In fact, for every one historic HPV that leaves the market, they are being replaced by 0.989 “new” HPVs. Sound like a small difference? These people add up! Keep up your hard work reaching your traditional audiences and – for no fault of your own – negative substitution factors would suggest that an organization currently serving one million annual visitors will attract 946,000 visitors five years from now (that is 54,000 fewer people, and a likely corresponding decline in membership and program participation). This troubling “glide path” also considers that you’ll be doing everything that you can to meet your current audience’s needs, and continue to market to them like exceptional rockstars! This data suggests that the key to long-term organizational solvency is to evolve our engagement strategies to include our emerging HPVs. This means – as an industry – evolving our target audiences.

Though we observe broad negative substitution indicators for VSOs nationwide, the specific data referenced above contemplates VSOs residing within the top 50 metro markets as determined by Nielsen (a cohort representing nearly 70% of the US population).

 

Why is this happening? Our data points to three primary reasons:

 

1)   Rich, white people are having fewer children.

(Too blunt or refreshingly direct?) For the vast majority of U.S. visitor-serving organizations, this demographic represents their historic visitor. These folks are statistically more likely to have the household income, leisure interests, educational attainment levels, and psychographic profiles that tend to suggest an increased propensity to visit a museum, zoo, aquarium, botanic garden, performing arts venue, etc.

 

2)   The United States population is growing increasingly diverse with folks that aren’t currently planning a visit to your organization.

(I’m going for “charming directness” again!) Museums and other cultural visitor-serving organizations have not yet succeeded in breaking the conceptual barrier of being top of mind destinations for non-HPVs. At IMPACTS, we see disappointingly low perceptions of zoos, aquariums, museums, and performing entities as “a place for people like me” in the minds of emerging audience members.  (We call these perceptions “attitude affinities.”) Though select organizations are successfully executing strategies to engage these emerging audiences, the large-scale wave of change that we are seeking may only occur when we can alter the overall perception of VSOs as a sector.

 

3)   Millennials are taking over the market, but VSOs are reluctant and/or slow in figuring out how to attract them.

Millennials can be a gosh-darn confusing bunch for older generations to understand. As digital natives, we simply think differently. If you feel like your organization is always trying to play catch-up to capture this audience, it’s because most VSOs are!

Millennials (born roughly 1980 to 1995) represent the single largest generation in human history (nearly 20 million kiddos larger than the Baby Boomers) and too few organizations are currently cultivating them as donors or even potential visitors. Some aren’t targeting Millennials because older generations just don’t see how they could be that important in driving business (“My kids can’t dictate how I do things!”) Well, most Millennials aren’t kids anymore, and the sheer volume of this generation means that they are already starting the lead the market. Some believe that Millennials just won’t be significant donors so they aren’t cultivating this group (despite evidence that – despite debt and student loans – this generation is incredibly confident about its financial future and may be more financially responsible than older generations). Other VSOs aren’t targeting Millennials because they simply don’t know how or don’t have the proper skillset on staff. (If that’s your thing, here are some baseline pointers for marketing to Millennials). Regardless, this is a demographic that nonprofit organizations simply cannot afford to ignore. As “historic” HPVs – who think and behave in a way that executive leaders understand – leave the market, there will be a void. In fact, this largely contributes to the negative substitution at hand.

 

In sum, visitor-serving organizations need to evolve their target audience in a big way. And they need to work together to do it soon. Data suggests that many visitor-serving organizations are already observing the challenging effects of  negative substitution (e.g. declining attendance levels).  Of course, this doesn’t mean altogether ignoring the “historic” visitor that is currently many an organizations “bread and butter”…because, indeed, these people will continue to visit (albeit in increasingly smaller numbers).

Negative substitution quantifies the urgent need to evolve, and moreover, compellingly indicates the risk of “standing still.” In order to foster a change in market perception of VSOs as welcoming and relevant, organizations will need to start adapting their engagement strategies and outreach initiatives. Perhaps you’re thinking, “Really? Another thing that I need to worry about in the midst of so much market change?” The answer is, “Yes.” Let’s start worrying. Let’s evolve.

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Urgent Evolution: Marketing Your Nonprofit to the Audience of Tomorrow (DATA)

Trust Your Audience: Data Debunks Nonprofit Social Media Fears

the scream

Despite the myriad good reasons to be using social media (including data indicating social media’s leading role in motivating visitation and donor support), some nonprofit organizations and museums have been hesitant to open content-related communications to online audiences. They wonder: What if someone posts something bad about us? What if they use our Facebook page to promulgate viewpoints that are contrary to our mission or practices? What if they say something inaccurate on our expert page?

Data suggests that fears regarding radical trust may be largely unfounded and/or dramatically over-emphasized. Why? Because there is proof that people do not believe everything that they read online. Though this may sound axiomatic or silly to some (“Of course people don’t believe everything that they read online!”), organizations that don’t trust their online audiences to make informed, intelligent assessments often cite this doubt as a justification to not embrace open authority. Simply put, many organizations are frightened by social media and the means by which it empowers online audiences to express their respective points of view – which may be negative about the nonprofit, factually incorrect, or even “irrational.”

The data concerning this reticence to trust is quite clear: Organizations that instinctively move to limit communications – or react to a crisis only when standing on the sidelines is simply no longer an option – are failing their constituents. Here are three things to consider regarding reticence to engage on social media due to fears of opening authority to others:

 

1. Data suggests that social media is used by the public to gather information to form opinions… and not as a tool to dictate facts

Online audiences visit your social media sites to assess how you react and engage with the public in order to determine their level of personal affinity with your organization. They want to make their own decisions about what they think about your posts…and, similarly, they consider comments from others (and your responses to these comments) as key components of their information-gathering process.

Consider data from IMPACTS regarding the general public’s trust of various marketing channels and note the level of trust that the public ascribes to social media:

IMPACTS- Trust in Marketing Channels

I’ve posted this data before highlighting the reach, amplification, trust and overall weighted-values of various information channels. It may well be the single most “expensive to acquire” data freely available to nonprofit organizations on Know Your Own Bone. (Read: I hope that you’ll please take advantage of this free-to-you information that was originally funded by for-profit clients. After all, that’s why I write!)

This data indicates the public’s relatively low trust in social media when compared to other information channels with higher publication thresholds (e.g. newspapers) and “traceable,” credible endorsers (e.g. word of mouth). While the findings suggest that social media is, overall, the most powerful channel as a source for information, it additionally indicates that the public understands that there are some crazy people on social media.

Online audiences do not believe that other fans typing on Facebook walls are writing truisms in stone. While these comments may exist for the world to see, what is more important is how organizations react to these comments…

 

2. Online interactions establish relevance and transparency… and may clarify negative comments that organizations fear

As described previously, online audiences referencing your website and social media platforms are making decisions about how to feel about your organization. It is important that you are transparent, trustworthy, and authentically engage with these potential online evangelists. Some may even test you like this little lady did in her post on the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s Facebook page…

Smithsonian Facebook Comment

This interaction demonstrates the importance of responding to comments and interactions on your social sites – even, at times, when “negative” comments strike. If the museum hadn’t responded, the public may have perceived that the museum does not pay attention to online audiences, so why bother engaging? Worse yet, such perceived indifference may have actually inspired additional negative sentiment. At the very least, not-yet visitors to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History may consider that perhaps the museum is indeed “really boring” without having uncovered that feedback from this user was not sincere.

Nonprofit leaders need not fear comments such as the one above because being an “online organization” allows for both social media users and the nonprofit to uncover information that may aid other users in determining their level of trust in these communications.

 

3. Online interactions provide constructive feedback that, if acted upon, may position your nonprofit to evolve and thrive

While some executive leaders may claim to fear comments from less educated audiences than their own employed “experts” posting on social platforms, many may actually be concerned about receiving plain old negative feedback that stakeholders might observe on these same sites. They may fear that these critiques might then resurface in board rooms or donor conversations.

Avoiding feedback by denying a platform for conversation is rejecting low-hanging fruit to aid in the improvement of the organization. For executive leaders or marketing managers for which this is the case, well, you may have bigger issues within your organization than not being active on social media.

As the world changes (new technologies arise, new generations take the lead…), organizations confront numerous challenges. Often, the severity of these changes is correlated with how quickly the organization can evolve and adapt in alignment with changing constituent and stakeholder needs. Organizations that fear feedback may already know that they are behind the times. The solution to this is not to back away, but, rather, to consider embracing the insight that social media interactions may provide for your organization.

Leaders may be surprised how positively a simple, “Thank you for your feedback. We hear you and we’re getting started on fixing that by…!” resonates with online audience members with thoughtful, informative gripes (provided, of course, that you indeed start to address issues that arise and further complaints do not surface that may indicate insincerity). Also, executives and managers may breathe a little more easily knowing that – if a comment is legitimate – your organization probably (hopefully?) has the knowledge required to respond to thoughtful, negative feedback in a considered and helpful manner.

All this is not intended to suggest that negative comments do not have the ability to impact your brand. Instead, it suggests that organizations who fail to actively engage their audiences, do not respond to interactions, and adopt a “hear no evil” position when confronted by a challenging comment are doing themselves a grave disservice by not treating these moments as important customer service (and audience engagement) opportunities. In the end, if an organization rightfully considers thoughtful, negative comments as opportunities to listen, obtain feedback, and improve, and if the public is already considering the veracity of fan comments, what plausible excuse remains for an organization to fear social media?

You can’t argue with crazy. And, you can’t argue with facts. The public has figured this out. Isn’t it time that nonprofit organizations catch-up with the public when it comes to the ways and means by which we communicate with our constituents?

Barely a few weeks removed from our nation’s most recent Inauguration, please excuse me as I play off of arguably the most famous inaugural address in our history to drive an important point home for nonprofit executive leaders: When it comes to social media, perhaps the only thing that we have to fear is fear itself.

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

Generation Y and Inheritance (It’s Time to Have a Talk)


Every once and a while, I get permission to share a terrific set of IMPACTS data that makes me absolutely giddy. Usually, this kind of data drives home a point that I’ve been seeing over and over again in my work with zoos, aquariums, and museums.

…but, sometimes, that “wow factor” data is a little bit more out-of-left-field. This is a series of such data.  It ties into my last post highlighting how millennials are optimistic about their financial futures.  And it may be alarming.

Now I’m no parent myself, folks, but if you have an adult child under 35 years old, you may want to talk to him or her about their inheritance – which may well help explain their remarkable optimism about their financial futures! Data suggests that there’s a rather significant expectation delta between millennials and their parents on this front. Here’s what we asked, and here’s what we found:

1) Do your parents plan to leave you a significant inheritance?

We asked several thousand millennials if they thought that their parents would leave them a “significant inheritance.” A majority of members of Generation Y reported, “Yes.” 

2) Do you actually plan to leave your child a significant inheritance?

Then we asked a similar question to parents of millennials. When comparing this to the above data, the discrepancy is astounding. A vast majority of parents with millennial children do NOT plan to leave their child a significant inheritance.

3) There’s an average difference of $359,970 between what parents plan to give their children in inheritance, and what their children expect to receive.

We asked millennials who believed that their parents would indeed leave them an inheritance to go one step deeper: How much did they think that their parents were going to leave them? An average of $403,845 it turns out!

We also asked parents who reported that they plan to leave their children an inheritance to quantify the amount of their planned monetary legacy.  The result?  An average inheritance of $43,875 – 9.2 times LESS than millennial children expected.

We millennials are indeed a financially optimistic group! One thing’s for sure: Generation Y is going to face some harsh realities in the coming decades that will no doubt alter the way that nonprofits need to build relationships with these folks. In the meantime, as organizations adjust their nonprofit PR strategy to target millennials, (and if you’re a parent), perhaps consider heading down to the basement living space of your millennial child and having “the talk” with them. Data suggests that we just may need a little snap back to reality.

 

Photo credit: LifeInc

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in IMPACTS Data, Millennials Comments Off on Generation Y and Inheritance (It’s Time to Have a Talk)

Two Critical Reasons To Target Your Fundraising & Nonprofit PR Strategy Toward Millennials (DATA)

It seems as if everyday I’m seeing another “best-in-class” organization announce a smart, new nonprofit PR strategy designed to better engage millennials. Millennials are the largest generation in human history, and represent the second-largest demographic in terms of buying power. Millennials also think and communicate very differently than their generational predecessors – and, accordingly, require different marketing and communication strategies.

There has never been a better time to have a public service mission because millennials are (relatively speaking) optimistic about their financial futures, and they consider themselves to be particularly generous. Data concerning millennial perceptions point toward two, informative reasons to target Gen Y with marketing and fundraising efforts:

 

1) Millennials are less worried about their families’ financial futures than are older generations, making them beneficial comparative targets for fundraising and marketing efforts.

Chalk it up to unique characteristics of Gen Y or the general optimism of youth, but millennials are not only less worried about the financial futures of their families than older individuals, but they are less worried than they were in 2008. Older individuals, however, are more worried. This suggests that there’s an opportunity to cultivate affinity with this demographic, as they may perceive themselves as being able to support your nonprofit in the future if they cannot support you right now.

While millennials certainly are feeling the effects of being the “screwed generation,” data suggests that we remain optimistic about our long-term futures…even more so than folks who could be considered “less screwed.” And, while millennials are spending more than they earn, they are still spending (and, thus, could be supporting nonprofit charitable causes if engaged adequately).

Regardless of whether members of this demographic have the money right now to make up your major donors (some do!), they believe that they will – and they are rather confident about it. Engage this demographic now so that the payoff will be there later. When they get the money (if they don’t have it already), make sure that your organization is top-of-mind and a quality relationship is already intact.

 

 2) Millennials consider themselves to be particularly generous compared to the self-perception of older individuals, presenting a potential opportunity for organizations to tap into Gen Y’s sense of self.

When IMPACTS pulled this data, the company CEO called me and asked, “On a scale of one-to-ten, how generous do you consider yourself to be?” I said eight. He burst out laughing and said, “and so do all of your buddies!”

Perhaps I should be embarrassed, but I’ll own up to the truth behind that finding! The self-perceived generosity of “my buddies” has been stable over the last few years – and it’s rather high! It is especially high compared to the dip in self-perceived generosity that older individuals have experienced.

This is good news for museums and nonprofit organizations because this data suggests that generosity is built into our own self-perception. We think of ourselves as “giving” people.  Conceptually, giving to nonprofit organizations fits nicely with our own personal brands. It’s our job as nonprofiteers to match up the desire to be generous with social missions. Marketing your nonprofit and targeting engagement initiatives toward members of Gen Y will pay off in the future (if it hasn’t already) – but engagement needs to start now. Increasingly, nonprofit organizations’ “bread is buttered” by this new, enormous demographic.

 

Given this (and other compelling) data, doesn’t it seem silly that any organization would continue to exclusively target their efforts toward individuals who are more financially “worried” and consider themselves to be less generous than those who make up a significantly larger, more optimistic generation?

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Two Critical Reasons To Target Your Fundraising & Nonprofit PR Strategy Toward Millennials (DATA)

The Importance of Social Media in Driving People to Your Museum or Visitor-Serving Nonprofit (DATA)

There’s a lot of conversation about the ROI of social media and confusion about how to explain its importance to executive leaders. Need help? Here’s some data behind how social media drives attendance to visitor-serving organizations (zoos, aquariums, museums, botanic gardens, theaters, etc). The research provided here is courtesy of IMPACTS.

It’s as easy as 1-2-3 (or, rather, the transitive property in mathematics):

1. Reputation is a major motivator of intent to visit

The above data indicates the index value (i.e. the relative importance) of select factors (“utilities”) that influence the market’s decision to visit a visitor-serving organization (VSO).  The way to consider this data is that utilities with index values greater than 100.0 bear a proportionally greater “weight” in terms of how the market makes its visitation decisions.  In other words, a factor such as “schedule” with an index value of 203.5 is roughly 2x more influential in the decision-making process for a high-propensity visitor than is a factor such as cost with an index value of 100.4.

The US Composite data represents the overall US population. The High-Propensity Visitor (HPV) data shows the index value for folks who possess the demographic, psychographic and behavioral attributes that make them most likely to visit a VSO.  In other words, by collecting data about actual visitors to VSOs, it is possible to develop a “profile” of the types of people who are most likely to visit a zoo, aquarium, or museum.  In the end, every individual organization will have its own, specific list of weighted utilities that indicate the attributes of its visitors – but for the purpose of this example, the HPV utilities and index values indicated here are an average for all likely US visitors to visitor-serving organizations.

It is clear to see that for the overall US population and high-propensity visitors alike how important “reputation” is to your market’s overall decision-making process.  In fact, only “schedule” rates higher in terms of influence on your market.  (“Schedule” summarizes not just factors such as your hours of operation, but also factors such as how your offerings align with considerations such as school and work schedules.  It may sound obvious, but if your organization isn’t conveniently accessible for your audience during its preferred days and hours, then you are risking your visitation potential.) And, while special events are an important driver for the US composite market, they are less influential to the HPVs (which represent the market segment where VSOs may benefit by targeting the majority of their marketing efforts).

2. Social media drives reputation

So we know that reputation is a major driver of visitation. But, what, mathematically, comprises your reputation? The answer is a little bit paid media (e.g. advertising) and a lot bit of reviews from trusted sources (particularly word of mouth and earned media – both of which are often facilitated or made entirely possible by social media). In fact, reviews from trusted resources are 12.85 times more influential in terms of your organization’s reputation than is the advertising that comes out of your budget.

3. Thus, social media is a driver of visitation

Social media and online engagement positively contribute to your bottom line by enhancing your reputation, which is a significant driver of visitation.  Critically, it is almost impossible for an organization to quickly and efficiently overcome negative reputation perceptions.  So, not only do social media and other forms of online engagement help boost your bottom line, they are also wonderful risk mitigation tools that keep you connected to your audience.

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

Why Offering Discounts Through Social Media Is Bad Business for Nonprofit Organizations

There’s significant data compiled by multiple sources indicating that “getting discounts” is the top reason why 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 (perhaps less meaningful) metrics. But, before you go crazy with the discount offers on Facebook and Twitter just to get your “likes” up, here’s another thing that’s true: Offering discounts through social media channels cultivates a “market addiction” that will have long-term, negative consequences on the health of your organization.

I recently wrote a post called “Death by Curation” within which I shared data indicating the non-sustainable cycle that museums enter when they must rely on new, progressively more expensive “special” exhibits in the hopes of achieving attendance spikes (what has since been referred to by a reader of this blog as “Blockbuster Suicide”). In many ways, offering discounts creates a similarly vicious cycle whereby a visitor-serving organization finds itself realizing a diminishing return on the value of its visitation.

When an organization provides discounts through social media it trains their online audience to do two not-so-awesome things:

 

1) Your community expects more discounts

Here’s where your organization breeds an online audience of addicts accepting discounts…and, strangely enough, becomes addicted to offering discounts itself. Posting a discount to attract more likes on Facebook (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 for “likes” attracts low-level engagers (they are liking you for your discount, not your mission), and prevailing wisdoms increasingly suggest that your number of social media followers doesn’t matter. It is far better for your brand and bottom line to have 100 fans who share and interact with your content to create a meaningful relationship, than to have 1,000 fans who never share your message and liked you just for the 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). Over time, however, these low-level engagers will stop following you 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, you will post discounts on social media. This is the start of the addiction: In order to keep these likes, you need to offer more discounts.

Try this: Simply stop offering discounts. Over the course of a few months, your number of likes will go down (because these people only liked you for the discount, not your awesome, socially conscious content). They were 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 and will amplify your message (not the “we are offering a discount” message – which is the content that, unfortunately, frequently gets the most shares and perpetuates this cycle).

 

2) Perhaps more importantly, your community waits for discounts

Here’s where becoming an addict takes a toll on the organization’s health. Data indicates 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 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…

Here is the debunking of another popular misnomer that some organization’s use to justify their discount tactics: You are not necessarily capturing new visitation with discounts. In fact, data from the company for which I work suggests that 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.”

To compound matters, instead of hastening the re-visitation cycle, the “waiting for a discount” phenomena may actually increase the interval between visits for many visitors. The average museum-going person visits a zoo, aquarium, or museum once every 19 months. If you offer a discount, while you may not attract a larger volume of visitation to your organization, you may accelerate your audience’s re-visitation cycle on a one-time basis. This sounds great…until you realize the significant downsides to this happening: Your audience just visited your organization without paying the full price that they were actually willing to pay and they likely won’t visit your organization again for (on average) another 19 months. On top of all this, IMPACTS data illustrates that the steeper the discount, the less likely visitors are to value your product and return in a shorter time period.

Think of it this way: A visitor coming to your museum in May 2012 would likely visit again in December 2013 (i.e. in 19 months). Let’s say that you offer them a discount that motivates them to visit in October 2013. 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, 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 a 19-month visitation cycle to a visitation cycle dependent on an ever-increasing discount. Can your organization afford to keep motivating visitation in this way?

So, how do museums get addicted to discounts, too? Well, we 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 museums doing while the market waits for this new discount? Sadly, often times the answer is that they are panicking.

If you run a museum, 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. This 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 – items, 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. But, once the intoxicating high of a crowded gallery has passed, very often all that we’re left with is a nasty hangover. My advice to museums and nonprofit organizations contemplating a broad discount strategy on social media: Just say no!

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 6 Comments