The Hidden Value of Millennial Visitors to Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Data suggest that millennial visitors possess three behavioral characteristics that make them cultural organizations’ most valuable audiences. Okay, okay. Read more

The Surprising Reason Why Organizations Underestimate Attendance Loss During Closures (DATA)

When cultural organizations experience unforeseen facility closures, they lose more visitors than simply those who were planning to visit Read more

Nonprofit Recognition: What Matters More To Visitors Than Your Tax Status (DATA)

Do visitors know that museums  and other cultural organizations are nonprofits? Data says: Nope. Here’s what really matters to Read more

Real Talk: Why Cultural Organizations Must Better Engage Millennials (DATA)

Millennials are cultural organizations' most frequent and loyal visitors...but this audience remains underserved.  Here's why that's a big problem Read more

How Much Money Should Your Cultural Nonprofit Invest in Getting People in The Door? (DATA)

Here’s how much money museums and cultural organizations should be spending to get people in the door – according Read more

Most Popular Posts of 2015 For Cultural Organizations

From data on free admission to donor desires - here are the top ten most popular posts on Know Read more

Community Engagement

The Hidden Value of Millennial Visitors to Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Data suggest that millennial visitors possess three behavioral characteristics that make them cultural organizations’ most valuable audiences.

Okay, okay. You’re sick of talking about the importance of reaching millennial audiences…even though industry data suggest that cultural organizations are not attracting these audiences at the rate that we should be AND millennials are not “growing into” caring about arts and culture. But let’s put all that aside for a moment…

This week’s KYOB Fast Facts video covers three behavioral characteristics that data suggest make millennials particularly important audiences. I’ve written about them before with the data cut a bit differently.

Take a look at these findings from IMPACTS that compares three behavioral characteristics of Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), Generation X (born 1965- 1979) and millennials (born 1980-2000) who profile as high-propensity visitors to cultural organizations (i.e. museums, performing arts organizations, aquariums, historic sites, etc.). That is, they demonstrate the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral characteristics that indicate an increased likelihood of visiting a cultural organization. Like much of the data that I am able to share here on KYOB, it comes from the ongoing National Attitudes, Awareness, and Usage Study.

High Propensity Visitor Indicators -Millennials

Let’s briefly go over these findings one-by-one:

1) Millennial visitors are most likely to come back within the year

Millennials are revisiting more often than other generations. In fact, millennials make up the majority of visits to cultural organizations because they are revisiting these types of organizations. And this is awesome! It means that attracting millennial audiences gives us bang for our audience acquisition buck. In fact, with index values under 100 for both Baby Boomers and members of Generation X, non-millennials are actually unlikely to revisit a cultural organization within one year.

Coming back is important because it helps these audiences grow potentially longer-lasting relationships with these institutions. Why focus on attracting cultural center-loving individuals who are likely to pay a single visit to a cultural organization when there’s a whole host of cultural center-loving millennials that are likely to visit more than once?

 

2) Millennial visitors are most likely to recommend a visit to a friend

Sometimes our reputation for having big mouths pay off! Millennial visitors are more likely than Baby Boomers or members of Generation X to recommend a visit to a friend when they have a good experience. This means that not only are millennial audiences most likely to revisit a cultural organization within a one-year duration, but they are also most likely to tell others to do the same. Talk about payoff!

 

3) Millennial visitors are the most connected visitors

This is important: All high-propensity visitors to cultural organizations profile as being “super-connected.” That is, they have access to the web at home, at work, and on mobile devices. Though the web plays a big role in the connectivity of millennials, it is undeniably critical for Baby Boomers and members of Generation X as well (as evidenced by index values coming in at over 100 for all three groups). If you work for a cultural organization and you are trying to get people in the door, data suggest that the web is insanely important in order to effectively attract any demographic. Got it? Good. I’ll move on…

It’s great that millennials are most likely to come back and also to tell their friends to pay a cultural organization a visit…but they are also the most connected audiences among the three generational cohorts – by a long shot. The constant connectivity of millennials means that this audience shares messages with their friends and family (likely also high-propensity visitors) with a reach that’s a bit like traditional media on steroids.

 

When you put all of this together, the case for prioritizing millennial engagement is rather compelling. While a Baby Boomer may visit once per year and not necessarily recommend their experience to a friend, millennial visitors are more likely to come back and tell LOTS of their friends to do the same. Millennials may be the best connectors to other millennials – and perhaps simply to other people in general.

When data are considered, the task of reaching millennials may even seem less like a burden and more like an opportunity. (Too much? Okay. I won’t push you. I’ll just encourage you to scroll back up to the chart and let the data do the talking.)

 

Like this post? You can check out more Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Leave a comment

Nonprofit Recognition: What Matters More To Visitors Than Your Tax Status (DATA)

Do visitors know that museums  and other cultural organizations are nonprofits? Data says: Nope. Here’s what really matters to audiences about your organization.

This week’s Fast Facts video covers a big misconception that folks working within cultural organizations (often unknowingly) promulgate: That being a nonprofit is a key differentiating factor to their audiences. As it turns out, data suggest that your organization’s tax status is relatively unknown among visitors and non-visitors alike.

This video explores the data. Not a video person? (That’s cool. You do you.) Here’s what you need to know:

 

1) The majority of people in the US do NOT think cultural organizations are nonprofits

Check out this data from IMPACTS that uncovers the percentage of the US adult population that believes that cultural organizations such as museums (e.g. art, science, history), zoos, performing arts centers, botanic gardens, and aquariums are nonprofit organizations. Like much of the non-proprietary data that I am able to share on Know Your Own Bone, the findings informing this analysis come from the ongoing National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study of 98,000 adults (and counting).

KYOB- Nonprofit recognition data

The findings may be a tad alarming to some. I’ve personally heard the “but we’re a nonprofit” excuse for not keeping up with financial realities (among other things) more times that I can count. This data flips the popular excuse for lack of evolution on its head. Not only are most non-visitors to these institutions not aware that cultural organizations are nonprofit organizations, but over half of the people who do visit these types of organizations are unaware that they are nonprofit organizations.

Take a look at history museums, for instance. Only 47.2% of visitors to history museums know that they are nonprofit organizations. The other 52.8% of visitors (over half) are unaware that they are reliant on philanthropic support: They believe that the organizations are for-profit entities, or government-funded operations that are otherwise provided for by their taxes.

Regardless of the reason for the misperceptions, more than half of visitors to ALL cultural organizations do not believe that they play any role in keeping these organizations healthy or alive after walking in the door. Beyond paying admission (to what they consider a business) or paying their taxes (to an organization with free admission because their taxes fund a government-operated entity), the majority of visitors risk believing that there is no further need for their support.

 

2) The market is sector agnostic

The misconception that these types of cultural organizations do not need support as nonprofit organizations is a problem – but how big of a problem? We’ve created a situation wherein people think admission to cultural organizations is largely either a pre-paid entitlement (thanks to taxes), or a fee paid to a for-profit company. Admission to most cultural organizations are neither of these things.

Tied to the misconceptions regarding the need to support cultural organizations is another market-based truth: Today’s audiences are generally sector agnostic. This means that they don’t much care about an organization’s tax status. They care about how well your company or organization does what it claims to be expert at doing. Loyal Know Your Own Bone readers (you guys rock) know that I’ve shared this nonprofit recognition data before in a post about how, today, for-profit and nonprofit organizations compete against one another. At IMPACTS, we continue to find evidence supporting this fact nearly every day.

Let’s be honest: Market confusion makes sense in the case of many nonprofit, visitor-serving organizations. We’re nonprofit, but our operations often follow a traditional economic utility curve. In other words, unlike giving to a charity that supports the homeless, people are “paying” for the personal experience of visiting our organizations. But unlike SeaWorld (for instance), those revenues cycle exclusively back into our social missions to educate and inspire…because that’s what 501(c)3 organizations do. And that brings up another potential point of confusion: Disney World, SeaWorld, and Universal Studios are for-profit companies – and SeaWorld hits the “we’re mission-driven” button hard (or rather, it tries to). It makes sense that the market might give up on differentiating visitor-serving nonprofits from for-profits! And until recently, most nonprofit, visitor-serving organizations were marketing themselves primarily as attractions – NOT mission driven organizations. Some laggard nonprofit visitor-serving organizations still do…

 

3) The tax status of cultural organizations is not their differentiating factor

So far this is looking bad. Our audiences largely don’t know that we rely on their support in order to stay alive and they are sector agnostic so they, in a sense, don’t even care that we are nonprofit. So what do our audiences care about? How well we carry out our missions.

But nonprofits don’t “own” social good, and that’s a big reason for evidence of the market’s sector agnosticism. Corporate social responsibility is a necessity for companies today. There are countless articles on the importance of for-profit companies “doing good.” It is a key tactic for gaining more customers. And that’s interesting because there are still some cultural organizations that do this weird, outdated thing where they try to overlook their social advantage and exclusively promulgate “visit us today!” messages (and even offer discounts that devalue their brand and cause even more sector confusion for cultural organizations). It’s like some of them are trying to be like Disney World…

Being good at your mission is good business. Data demonstrate that organizations highlighting their missions outperform organizations marketing primarily as attractions. Perhaps, in all of our “But we are a nonprofit” excuse making, we missed the true differentiator that has provided us that tax status in the first place: Our bottom line of making a difference.

Our key differentiator is not our tax status, but that our dedication to making a difference is embedded in the very structure of how we operate. There’s a thought that we need to run “more like for-profit companies” (and in some ways we do, but the blanket directive is an ignorant miss). But look around. For-profit companies are actually trying to be more like us in the sense that they want audiences to know that they stand for something that makes the world a better place.

 

4) Communicating nonprofit status is critical in order to make the case for support (but it is a secondary communications goal)

When people don’t know that we are nonprofit organizations, it is a lot more difficult to secure members and donors. For that reason, we do need to better communicate our need for support. But perhaps before we ask for support, we need to do a better job showing the world what supporting us means. In other words, the lack of knowledge about our need for support may be indicative of a long-term communication and programmatic failure.

We educate. We inspire. We connect. We conserve. We teach. We change the world, one mind at a time. But perhaps the misconception about the need for support stems from our own communications focused not around how we change the world, but how we don’t change the world: “Visit!” “Discount!” “New exhibit!” Those messages are important, but are they most important? After all, can we blame the market for not knowing that we are nonprofit organizations if we bury the missions and ideals that are the foundation for our existence in more commercial messages and programs?

 

Fewer than half of U.S. audiences are aware of the nonprofit status of cultural organizations. That’s a big deal, because it makes it harder to secure support. But it’s also a good reminder that audiences are increasingly sector-agnostic, and our competitive advantage may not be our tax status, but what our tax status means: That we are here to change the world.

 

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 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, Fundraising, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Leave a comment

Real Talk: Why Cultural Organizations Must Better Engage Millennials (DATA)

Why Cultural Organizations Must Better Engage Millennials (Know Your Own Bone)

Millennials are cultural organizations’ most frequent and loyal visitors…but this audience remains underserved.  Here’s why that’s a big problem for the future well-being of the industry.

“We need to be better at engaging millennials!” You’ve heard this before. Likely, you’ve heard it more times than you can count. Even if you are a millennial working within a cultural institution, you’re still probably sick of the sentiment. You’re probably sick of it even if you know that data suggest that millennial audiences are cultural centers’ best audiences.

The need for cultural organizations (e.g. museums, zoos, aquariums, symphonies, theaters, botanic gardens, orchestras, etc.) to reach millennial audiences is deeper and more complicated than we may realize.

I’d like to ask you a favor.

Indeed, I’m going to land here at the end of this post: “We need to be better at engaging millennials.” Instead of closing this tab before you dig in and saying, “yeah, yeah, yeah…” I hope that you’ll stop and consider why we need to reach millennial audiences…why it’s a big deal, what it means for our solvency, and why its so hard for some of our executive leaders to do.

Here are four things that all cultural organizations should know about millennial visitors and our efforts to engage them:

 

1) Millennials are the most frequent attendees to cultural organizations

 

Bet some of you didn’t see that coming! Check out this data from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study that represents a sample population of more than 98,000 respondents. These particular data compare millennial and Baby Boomer visitors in terms of the composition of attendance to the 224 visitor-serving cultural organizations contemplated in the study during the past five years

IMPACTS- Millennial vs Boomer visitation 

Millennials make up the largest share of visitors to cultural organizations and the observed trend indicates growing percentages year over year. Millennials aren’t coming. Millennials are here and they are already the largest realized audience visiting cultural organizations. This means that the “We need to cultivate millennials while satisfying our current, baby boomer audience” sentence is baseless. And you want it to be baseless. If baby boomers still actually make up the majority of your visitors, then you’re behind. 

This means that programs and initiatives that engage millennials should be in full force right now and integrated into operations. Programs that engage millennials should be recognized as your new way of life. And, please, don’t worry too much about engaging, interactive, authentic, trustworthy, dynamic, participatory, expert, real-time programs alienating members of Generation X and some Baby Boomers. The market at large increasingly has these things ingrained into how they evaluate brands and organizations as well.

Don’t forget that the “white space” here isn’t simply Generation X. It also includes Traditionalists (the generation before the Baby Boomers) and Generation Z (the generation after Generation X). And thank goodness that millennials are the most frequent visitors to cultural organizations! Millennials represent the largest generation in human history, so if they weren’t attending organizations more than their other, large-generation (Baby Boomer) buddies, it would be a huge problem. Cultural organizations as a whole engaging anything smaller than the data-informed expectation for audience engagement relative to their cohort size is very bad news…

 

2) But millennials remain underserved as organizations underperform the business opportunity 

 

…See, but that’s the problem: Millennials ARE NOT attending at the minimum expected levels. To evaluate this, we need to step back and look at visitation to our organizations in the context of the US population. In 2015, there were 322 million people in the United States. Adult baby boomers made up 23.6% of the U.S. population and adult millennials made up 27.1% of the U.S. population.

IMPACTS- Millennials are underserved

According to the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study, only 21.9% of adult millennials visited a cultural organization in 2015. To be merely representative, 27.1% of visitation should be adult millennials. The simple fact of the matter is that cultural organizations are underserving millennials when compared to the U.S. population. (“Underserved” means that participation – be it attendance, enrollment, etc. is less than the representative population.) In other words, cultural organizations are underserving millennial audiences by a factor of 19%.

To those of you thinking, “Yeah! But at least we’re getting them!” …I like you, because you are a glass-is-half-full person…but maybe it’s time to strap on your thinking cap a little tighter. Serving representative audiences is one of the top grantmaking considerations for many audience engagement initiatives that are seeking support. Not only that, underperforming the opportunity by 19% with this particular audience puts us in a doubly bad place because of this generation’s attributes and its word-of-mouth-informed visitation cycles.

 

3) Millennials are the most loyal audiences with the highest lifetime value

 

According to the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study, 23.8% of boomers said they visited a cultural organization (any cultural organization) in 2015. But Boomers only comprise 22.5% of cultural attendance. Meanwhile, only 21.9% of adult millennials visited a cultural organization, but they comprise 30.9% of total US cultural visitation. What does this mean? Millenials are far more likely to revisit within the year than other generations. They are the most loyal. It proves that millennial “intent to visit” is manifesting itself as actual visits.

IMPACTS- Millennial visitation loyalty

Combine this good news data with the bad news data on how much we are underserving millennial audiences, though, and the picture isn’t a pretty one: For every one millennial that we fail to engage as a sector, we miss out on 1.411 visits to cultural organizations.

If 30% of cultural visitors are millennials, are 30% of organizations’ resources allocated to engaging them? Probably not. We should be representatively engaging this audience because, well, that makes cut-and-dry business sense. Our missions may depend on it.

This is a big deal! Any organization that continues to underserve its best, most frequent, and most loyal customers – that also make up the majority of the country’s population – in the way that cultural organizations are doing risks going out of business. 

 

4) Why this change may be understandably hard for Baby Boomers in cultural organizations

 

Boomers know better than anyone that not all audiences are created equal. They know that because they’ve been by far the most valuable audience for a very long time.

Why is it so hard for Baby Boomers to grasp the necessity of engaging millennials and do more than talk about this audience in conference rooms? Why do they say, “We need to engage millennials,” only to move forward with frozen mindsets?

I’m no psychologist here and I may be going out on a limb, but I work predominantly with Baby Boomers that I have the honor of seeing in action every day, so I’ll give this an outsider shot: Baby Boomers may still think of themselves as primary target audiences (despite data indicating otherwise) because they were trained to think of themselves that way. They’ve have been the apple of every marketer’s eye for decades. For at least 25 years, the Baby Boomers that succeeded most were the ones who were best at marketing and creating programs for themselves. They were trained to successfully engage themselves and they were rewarded for successfully engaging themselves. Most boomers were appropriately predisposed and actively incentivized to reaffirm their generation’s own importance. Thus, it would make sense that there would be a want for boomers to keep doing what they do best: creating programs for themselves. That’s where they’re expert- and being expert at targeting Baby Boomers is why they are successful.

Basically, this same issue is likely to arise with us millennials if a large generation steps up to the plate in our own future. (And when it does, will one of you kindly forward this post to me from your 4D interactive teleportation wrist watch thingy to remind me that I knew it would be equally difficult for us to pass the baton?)

And things get even more difficult yet for Boomers. They may have imagined that they’d pass the baton in more conventional, chronologically successive terms to Generation X. Instead, they need to make a symbolically bigger leap and pass it (largely) to Millennials. It’s got to be hard to (kind of) skip a generation. Certainly, there’d be a conceptual belief that Traditionalists might pass an equal amount of influence to Boomers, who might pass an equal amount of influence to Generation X, who might pass an equal amount of influence to Generation Y…but data doesn’t demonstrate that that’s a smart move.

(Generation X, the always-impossibly-cool-in-my-mind, autonomous, and unlucky generation sandwiched between large and needy millennials and baby boomers, is roughly half the size of Generation Y. So if Generation X and Generation Y combined to form Generation XY, millennials would compose nearly 2/3 of that generation. This is also makes Generation X an often untapped resource to help bridge the generation gap because they seem to see all the crazy that’s above them and that’s below them with clarity in some cases. But I digress…)

 

 

All organizations have finite resources. In today’s world of hyper-targeting, every dollar we spend chasing one demographic is a dollar that we cannot spend chasing another demographic. The data is clear that cultural organizations are underserving millennial audiences. On top of that, millennials are our audiences with the greatest likelihood of re-visitation. Now, I don’t know if we’re the best audiences for post-it notes or patio furniture or tea pots – but millennials (which obviously include the 44.2% of us that are from “minority race” backgrounds) are definitely the most critical audience for cultural organizations to engage right now.

This does NOT mean that Baby Boomers and Generation X are not important targets. But it does mean that the percentage of energy, effort, and investment should be allocated representatively to the percentage of each age cohort’s market potential. Three factors should influence how your organization prioritizes its investments and dedicates its energy: 1) the size of the cohort; 2) the buying power of cohort; and 3) the cohort’s propensities to participate. Millennials represent the largest opportunity on all three fronts and, thus, create a compelling case for where to allocate representatively significant investments of resources.

I’ll end where I promised, but I hope that the sentence carries more meaning and understanding than it did at your last staff meeting: We need to get better at engaging millennials.

 

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 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 Leave a comment

How Much Money Should Your Cultural Nonprofit Invest in Getting People in The Door? (DATA)

Here’s how much money museums and cultural organizations should be spending to get people in the door – according to data.  

My post on optimal audience acquisition costs made its way onto the list of the top-ten most popular Know Your Own Bone posts of 2015. And I’m glad it did. It’s an important one. So to really hit it home, I’ve summarized the findings in a KYOB Fast Facts video here.

Let’s revisit the data in order to share some additional information on this audience acquisition equation:

Marketing budgets seem to be an unnecessarily emotional topic for many nonprofit organizations. Optimizing marketing investments – like determining admission price– is increasingly a product of math and science (read: decidedly not “intuition” or “trial and error”). They need not be based on fuzzy-feelings and inappropriate loyalties to failing business models that ignore the realities of the outside world.

We live in a pay-to-play world where organizations have to spend money to make money. When it comes to budgeting for audience acquisition costs, many organizations seem to have fallen into that familiar trap of “last year plus 5%” that lazily assumes the continued efficacy of the same old platforms and strategies. Of course, such a strategy completely ignores shifting advertising cost factors, evolving platforms and channels, and technological innovation. Say it aloud: Nonprofits do not operate in a vacuum and cannot afford to ignore the changed economies and technologies of the world around them.

Several organizations that have made this realization have asked IMPACTS if there is an equation to inform their audience acquisition costs so as to maximize their opportunities for financial success. And, the findings of a three-year study suggest: Yes, there most certainly is!

 

Determining audience acquisition investment

Let’s first establish a few definitions and “same page” this conversation:

Audience acquisition costs are the investments that an organization makes in advertising, public relations, social media, community relations…basically, anything and everything intended to engage your audiences. (It does not include staff costs unless an organization has internalized the media planning and PR functions that would ordinarily be accounted for within the agency fees line item.)

Market potential is a data-based, modeled outcome that indicates an organization’s potential engagement with its audiences. For most organizations, “market potential” primarily concerns onsite visitation. In other words, it answers the question, “If everything goes well, how many people can we reasonably expect to visit us this year? (NOTE: Market potential may not match an organization’s historic attendance – organizations underperform their market potential all the time…for reasons that we’ll soon explore.)

Earned revenues are the product of admissions, memberships, merchandising, food and beverage, facility rentals…basically, all revenues attendant to the onsite experience that are supported by audience acquisition investments. These revenues exclude annual fund, grants, endowment distributions and other sorts of philanthropy.

Here’s the equation to maximize your market potential as suggested by the recently completed three-year study:

IMPACTS audience acquisition equation

Expressed another way: Optimal Audience Acquisition Costs = 12.5% of Earned Revenues. For example, if your organization generates annual earned revenues of $20 million, then this would suggest an annual audience acquisition investment of $2.5 million.

Further, additional analysis would suggest that 75% of the audience acquisition costs should be earmarked to support paid media (i.e. advertising). So, of the $2.5 million suggested above for audience acquisition, nearly $1.9 million should support paid media.  The remaining 25% (or, in this example, approximately $600,000) would support agency fees, public relations expenses, social media, community engagement – all of the programs and initiatives that round out an integrated marketing strategy. Forget to invest that 25% at your own peril. Earned media is critical for success and many social media channels are also becoming pay-to-play.

Why such a large percentage allocated to paid media? Again, ours is an increasingly pay-to-play world. Rising above the noise to engage our audiences frequently means investing to identify and target audience members with the propensity to act in our interest (e.g. visit our organizations, become members, etc.). There is tremendous competition for these same audience members  from the nonprofit and for-profit communities alike.  Think of the most admired and successful campaigns in the world – do Nike and Apple rely on 3am cable TV “bonus” spots that they get for a reduced rate and that don’t hit target audiences? Nope. While earned media plays a major role in driving reputation, paid media plays an important role in a cohesive strategy – and doing it right costs money.

This equation determines how much your marketing budget should be and how to allocate that optimal budget. If you have a marketing budget that is arbitrarily determined or based on “how we’ve always done it,” then you may be working with a budget that doesn’t allow you to maximize any investment.

 

The equation in action

How does the study suggest this equation? Check out the chart below. It indicates the relationship between performance relative to market potential (i.e. how well the organization actually performed when compared to its market potential) and the audience acquisition investments made by 42 visitor-serving organizations (including aquariums, museums, performing arts organizations, and zoos) over a three-year period:

IMPACTS - Audience Acquisition

The data strongly suggests that there is a correlation between an optimized audience acquisition investment and achieving market potential. It also indicates the perils of “underspending the opportunity” – a modest investment intended to achieve cost-savings may forfend exponential revenues. (Though the data never has – and likely never will – support it, many organizations seem to foolishly hold dear to the notion that they might somehow “save their way to prosperity.”)

Additional analysis indicates that the studied organizations invested an average of 7.9% of earned revenues toward audience acquisition…but only achieved 76.0% of their market potential. However, the organizations achieving ≥95.0% of their respective market potentials invested an average of 12.7% of their earned revenues toward audience acquisition.

In no instance did an organization investing less than 5.0% of earned revenues on audience acquisition achieve greater than 60.0% of its market potential.

Overall, the data suggests that the “sweet spot” for audience acquisition investment is in the 10.0-15.0% of earned revenue range. Splitting the difference (and further supported by the findings of organizations achieving ≥95.0% of their market potential in the study) gives us our 12.5%.

NOTE: Before we start parsing the nuances of media planning and creative approaches to advertising, let’s baseline the conversation by acknowledging that each of the studied organizations were led by competent persons operating with the best of intentions. Yes – “great creative” matters – but it doesn’t offset an inadequate marketing investment. Sure, a viral social campaign helps…but it doesn’t negate the importance of other media channels. In other words, there aren’t exemptions from the need to invest in audience acquisition for visitor-serving organizations that rely on earned revenues.

 

If your organization is struggling to meet its market potential, it may have less to do with all of the usual suspects such as parking, staff courtesy, special exhibits, pricing, etc. and more to do with an antiquated view of the necessity of meaningful marketing investments. Can your organization overspend? You bet. However, that doesn’t seem to be the problem confronting most visitor-serving nonprofit organizations. If your organization is struggling to meet its market potential, then it may be that in today’s pay-to-play world, you simply aren’t paying enough to play in the first place.

 

If you have questions, please check out the original posting of this information. Several folks have weighed in with great questions and I have provided answers there. Don’t see what you’re looking for? Please comment below or on the original post!

 

Like this video? You can check out more on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing Leave a comment

The Membership Benefits That Millennials Want From Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Don’t have many millennial members? Maybe you aren’t offering a membership program that millennials actually want.

If millennials (folks born between 1980 and 2000) are the largest generation in human history, why don’t they make up a vast majority of members for cultural organizations? Today’s Know Your Own Bone – Fast Facts video dives into research about the kinds of membership benefits that this generation actually wants.

If you think that millennials just don’t want to be members to cultural organizations, then think again. IMPACTS data reveal that millennials report more interest in joining many cultural organizations as members than do their Generation X and Baby Boomer predecessors. Here’s the data (regarding zoos, aquariums, and museums in this case) courtesy of the National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study:

IMPACTS data- Membership interest by age cohort 2015

 

And it’s not just a “this year” thing. Interest in membership among millennials is actually on the rise. Notably, interest in memberships among Baby Boomers is on the decline.

 

IMPACTS generational membership interest multi-year

 

In terms of potentially engaging millennials as members, this is great news! But the findings would be even more promising if more organizations knew what it is that millennials want from a membership to a cultural organization. We looked into this question on behalf of a large (annual visitation >1million people) aquarium client with a conservation mission. We found that what millennials want from a membership is a tad different than what older generations want. Take a look:

 

IMPACTS data- Primary benefits of membership

Notice that, with the exception of free admission, the primary benefits of membership according to millennials are less transaction-based than are the responses from their preceding generations. Millennials care about “belonging,” “supporting,” and “impact.”

This information should inform how cultural organizations go about creating and marketing membership programs to these audience members. If we keep focusing on the benefits that millennials don’t actually value – and miss opportunities to highlight our mission impact – then it may be difficult to create long-term relationships with these young supporters. These responses from millennials may not come as a surprise. After all, in today’s world, your mission matters – and carrying out that mission is critical for an organization’s solvency. 

Want to attract millennial members? Make sure that you have the types of memberships that millennials value.

 

Like this video? You can check out more on my YouTube channel. Here are a few Fast Fact post that you might also enjoy:

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fast Facts Video, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Leave a comment

Five Famous Movie Quotes on How NOT To Run a Nonprofit Organization

Five Famous Movie Quotes on How NOT To Run a Nonprofit Organization

These quotes are not intended as maxims about running cultural organizations – though too many institutions act as if they are.

It’s December! This month is crazy. Organizations are pushing out their final charitable giving requests and I’m scrambling between clients giving annual wrap-up reports. And despite the work craziness right now, many of us will also be doing what we can to spend the last few weeks of the year with our friends and loved ones. That’s the time for excellent company, good books, hot chocolate, warm blankets, and good movies (if you ask me)!

In the spirit of celebrating the upcoming holidays and some much deserved time to relax, let’s do something fun: Here are five, famous movie quotes that summarize how some organizations mistakenly approach their operations.

(My runner up title: How NOT to Run A Nonprofit Organization – With Thanks to Hollywood.)

 

If you build it, they will come

Technically, the quote is “If you build it, he will come,” for you finicky quote folks – and it’s untrue. It’s especially untrue for visitor-serving organizations. If it were true, no newly constructed buildings would remain massively underused. Having free admission would be a cure-all for engagement (it’s not), and every new program or performance would be filled wall-to-wall with audience members and participants. Cultural organizations from museums to symphonies wouldn’t be experiencing declining attendance contrasted against burgeoning population growth…but they are.

Organizations often assume that anything they “build” is something that the market wants or needs – and that’s simply not the case. In fact, that’s the basis for a lot of the work that IMPACTS does and was summarized quite nicely in an article in The New Yorker, “[IMPACTS Research and Development] helps museums and similar institutions draw more visitors and assess whether a proposed new building or attraction will find enough audience to justify its expense. Usually, the answer is no.” Want a – more often than not – reliable way to increase visitor satisfaction and ultimately attract and retain more visitors? Get smarter about 21st century marketing and communications and invest in frontline staff.

(While admitting this movie has nearly nothing at all to do with the realities of running a visitor-serving organization, this (different) scene really does get me every dang time.)

 

I'll have what she's having

It is hard work running a nonprofit organization – so much so that a big part of my job is sharing nonprofit engagement techniques that actually inform for-profit companies! It’s such hard work that sometimes organizations get a wee bit tired and look to broad industry practices to validate their efforts. You might have a problem if someone in your organization has ever held up nonprofit industry benchmark numbers and said, “Look! We’re right in the middle for communication spending compared to other nonprofits!” or “Look! We’re slightly above average when it comes to attracting more diverse audience members!” To be in the middle among a set of organizations that are collectively not doing so great is worse than mediocrity – it’s a prelude to a downward spiral!

Organizations often forget to think critically when it comes to comparing themselves to other organizations and initiatives – and this oversight can lead them to copy bad practices. It leads to case study envy and continuous cycles of re-emerging industry failures highlighted as successes. It helps to be aware of the difference between a good model and a good example, and think twice about what other organizations are doing before copying something or even comparing their efforts to those of your own.

 

You had me at hello

Updated for 2015 and put through the lens of nonprofit audience engagement, this line would read, “You had me at your first targeted ad followed by your three engaging social media posts, your timely response to my question on your Facebook wall, that email that made me feel inspired, and then your timely Kickstarter campaign for your good cause!” Okay, maybe that’s a lot. The point is: We live in a world in which simply announcing presence without establishing a connection makes it difficult to develop true evangelists for your organization and its cause. Connectivity is king.

Creating – and then actively and intelligently fostering – relationships is critical in today’s noisy world. It’s not only about the content and what your organization says in a communication that grabs someone’s attention. It’s also about being worthy of that connection long-term.

(Okay, yes, movie folks. I understand that this context is completely different than the context of the movie. However, the line itself illustrates a key concept that may be helpful for organizations…because it is largely untrue in this context)

 

Love means never having to say you're sorry

Just…No. You are not Oliver Barrett and your audience is not Jennifer Cavilleri spurting sweet and understanding tears at your mistakes. Transparency and fostering connection is critical for building a strong reputation and attracting supporters. Some people probably would say that they love your brand/organization – especially if you are delivering on your mission – but when you mess up, you need to say sorry.

Look, sometimes organizations make mistakes…but if your organization does something that jeopardizes the trust that your supporters have in you, then you need to make it right. Often, when supporters get upset, it is because an organization is doing something that people perceive as running counterintuitive to its values or stated mission. If you’re doing honest, good work and something just goes wrong, tell the story. Social media is now a major force empowering giving decisions. Now, more than ever, it’s critical to communicate with your audiences when things don’t go as planned, and explain how your going to make it right (and then do the thing that makes it right).

 

You can't handle the truth

You can totally handle the truth! Not only that, in our industry, the truth really stinks sometimes. (I believe that the more the truth stinks, the more important it is that we handle it.) If we don’t embrace hard truths, how can mission-driven organizations succeed and build new, sustainable best practices?

A big part of what I do here on KYOB is bust industry myths, and I’ve noticed that my readers are the kind of people who think that the myths that hold our organizations back should be busted. Why put anything in the way of accomplishing great social missions? We can handle the truth because we have to handle the truth.

 

As the new year approaches, let’s try to keep these famous words on the screen and out of our nonprofit organizations. (Although I acknowledge that select movie lines may be relevant to certain cultural organizations – I know some curators who really do see dead people on a daily basis.)

Remember folks. It’s just a movie.

 

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

 

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Photo credit to gobeyondseo.com

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Leave a comment

Free Admission Days Do Not Actually Attract Underserved Visitors to Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Free Days Do Not Reach Underserved Audiences

In reality, free days often do the very opposite of mission work. Here’s the data.

This post is going to make people angry. And that’s a good thing. Get angry. Being challenged helps us think critically and evolve our strategies to more effectively serve our missions and audiences.

I made some folks angry when I shared data and pointed out the compelling economic research behind why free admission is not a cure-all for getting folks to visit cultural organizations. How much does free admission really affect attendance? Turns out, not all that much. I’ve also pointed out that admission pricing is a science (not an art), and how admission pricing is such an emotional topic for cultural organizations is because we confuse admission with affordable access programming. As a sector, we cultural organizations often really mess that up.

Today I’d like to share another data-based finding that should turn our traditional business strategies upside down: Free admission days do not usually engage affordable access audiences. In fact, data suggest that free days often accomplish the very opposite of their intended purpose for many cultural organizations.

Here are four, data-informed realities regarding free days for cultural organizations. (This includes museums, aquariums, zoos, theaters, symphonies, historic sites, etc.) It’s time to face some realities and put on our collective thinking caps…

 

1) Admission price is not usually the primary barrier to visitation

When contemplating a free program or event, many organizations mistakenly believe that, “If we build it, they will come.” It is a line from a great movie, but it’s an ineffective business practice. Admission price usually isn’t the primary barrier to engagement for non-visiting audiences. It just happens to be our most convenient excuse.

True primary barriers for non-visiting audiences usually revolve around other factors than simply cost. These often include things like reputation (i.e. they just aren’t interested in the content and programs), transportation and parking (“How are we going to get everyone together and get there?”), or schedule (“That’s awesome that you have a free day on Tuesday. I have to work on Tuesday.”) When the primary barrier to visitation is anything other than admission price, then having a free day becomes relatively irrelevant. An admission fee is straightforward, but for many potential visitors, other barriers are the most challenging part of the visitation equation.

When we think that making something free means that everyone will come, then we are assuming that visiting us is the most important thing in every potential visitor’s life after cost savings. We all know that’s not true… and, somehow, we still resist thinking critically about primary barriers to entry. We aren’t taking the time to do the necessary market research that enables us to be more responsive to audience needs. Sometimes admission really is a big barrier to entry. Yes – money is precious. Many organizations seem to know this. But time is precious, too. Too many organizations seem to forget this.

 

2) Free days attract higher earning and higher educated audiences than paid attendance days

This is a hard pill to swallow: For most organizations, data suggest that people who visit on free days actually have higher household incomes and educational attainment than people who visit on non-free days. For many organizations, free days are reaching a relatively small number of true affordable access audiences – and a whole heck of a lot of people who could pay to support your organization through regular admission or membership instead.

Check out this data from IMPACTS that is collected from 48 cultural organizations that offer regular, scheduled free days in an effort to reach affordable access audiences. The sample represents museums, performing arts organizations, and other visitor-serving organizations.

Annual household income on free days- IMPACTS

Educational attainment on free days- IMPACTS

The common, defensive response to this data is to make an excuse and say that this data does not apply to your organization’s free days! Know this: Free days engaging higher earning households instead of affordable access audiences is the rule – not the exception. At IMPACTS, we are asked to supply this kind of information to many grant-making entities. So please, instead of making excuses, do your organization a favor and actually look into this situation. Increasingly, smart grant-making entities are catching onto these things and are aching to see programs that actually engage the targeted audience segments.

 

3) Free days engender less trial from new audiences than paid admission days

Why do folks visiting on free days have higher household income levels? One of the reasons is because data suggest that the folks actually attending free days are more likely to be repeat visitors than on paid attendance days- and repeat visitors often profile as higher-income high propensity visitors. The people who attend free days for cultural organizations have usually visited the organization before, and the free day is simply accelerating their pace of re-visitation.

Repeat visitors on free days- IMPACTS

“Great!” you may say. “We are getting folks to come back!” But now think about this: These people are coming back for free and they are higher earners who could have been converted into members. “Free” actually provides an incentive for your most likely and loyal audiences to visit you again. These are the very same people who – with proper cultivation – likely profile as potential members. Free days directly cannibalize membership opportunities and do not engender increased trial from underserved audiences. 

You may notice a few audience members that you believe to represent your organization’s underserved audiences roaming your halls on a free day. But keep in mind, you’re likely looking for these types of people on these days. (There likely are some affordable access audience members- just fewer than there are on paid admission days.) Instead of offering proof of the efficacy of your initiative, these sightings are more likely a classic case of confirmation bias (i.e. the tendency to search for data that confirms one’s hopes or preconceptions). When considered in the relative context of total attendance, many free days don’t engage a higher percentage of first-time visitors than do non-free days.

 

4) Cultural organizations do not generally target affordable access audiences for free days

This fact is basic, overlooked, and often a driving reason for the last two conditions: A majority of organizations don’t even reach out to affordable access audiences regarding their free days. Instead, we tend to target high-propensity visitors- the people we know how to target.

Underserved audiences are not in your database. These audience members are not likely on your email list (they are underserved!), in direct mailings (you don’t know their names!), or following you on social media (they don’t visit you!). Many of them also may not be subscribers to the local newspaper (depending on the demographic subscribed to that newspaper). When we use our traditional communication channels to spread messages about free days, we are often primarily connecting with high-propensity visitors instead of underserved audiences.

But we don’t make affordable access promotions available primarily to upper middle-class, educated people because we’re stupid. We often use these channels because we don’t want to lose even more money. Reaching real affordable access audiences is a true investment. It often involves buying advertising that specifically targets those audiences who do not generally engage with your earned and social media programming. It occasionally requires creating programs that do not interest traditional audiences. It means spending money so that audiences who are not likely to provide any significant financial support can engage with your organization and not contribute admission revenue on top of it.

Many organizations may be relatively comfortable with the notion of needing to spend money to make money. But affordable access programs often require spending money to better achieve our missions… and lots more money than a loss of a day of revenue.

 

In a way, many organizations unknowingly do free days to feel better about themselves and their missions – not because they work.

This doesn’t mean that free days are always a bad idea. Sometimes the situation is complicated and that’s when having a free day could logically be on the table as a smart move. For instance, a government entity may request access for locals in order to provide significant support.

We will only create effective programs that reach underserved audiences when we realize that many past practices have been largely inadequate at achieving the very outcomes that they are created to achieve. The fact that underserved audiences exist at all means that, well, we haven’t been effectively engaging all of our potential audiences – even when we’re free.

 

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, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 20 Comments

How To Build Brand Credibility for Cultural Organizations (Fast Fact Video)

When it comes to building credibility, here are four things for every leader to always have on their radar.

I am often asked, “What makes us [our institution] seen as a credible actor by the market?” Check out this week’s fast fact video for the low down. 

It’s an excellent question – and information from several KYOB posts came flooding to me all at once. Fortunately, there’s sufficient analysis about what informs positive brand perceptions and relationships to pull out four, key factors that contribute to sustained, meaningful engagement in the digital age. Combine these factors with the more tactical four Ts of digital engagement, and you’ve got a good basis for a successful organization’s public-perception strategy.

Considering how your organization approaches its audiences within these four realms is likely critical for the successful achievement of your mission and financial goals alike:

 

1) Relevance

Being relevant isn’t just about being active on Facebook and (although that can help). Being relevant means connecting with audiences though mission-based content. In today’s world, content is no longer king. Connectivity is king. Connectivity happens when an organization presents a passion or platform that resonates with a potential constituent. Therefore, connectivity is about your organization and its relationship with other people, while content is only about your organization. Connectivity is necessarily relevant, while content risks operating in isolation if it fails to engage its hopeful audiences. Connectivity – or sharing an implicitly understood “So what?” with a potential supporter – is prerequisite to action. Simply put: Without connectivity, nobody cares about your organization. Don’t just aim to be “important,” aim to be relevant.

Ask: Are we connecting with audiences in a meaningful way?

 

2) Resonance

Resonance occurs when an organization “walks its talk” and actually shows the values that it tells. Resonance is about creating meaningful impact – and successfully communicating that impact – so that the shared passion that makes an organization relevant (see #1) can be justified and solidified by supporters. We live in a world in which the market – and especially potential donors and supporters – make decisions based on their own perceptions of how an organization achieves its mission. Studies reveal that demonstrating impact is a key driver of giving decisions. Right now, it’s cool to be kind and many organizations are sinking or swimming based on their perceived abilities to actually carry out their missions. Visitor-serving organizations that highlight their mission outperform organizations marketing themselves primarily as attractions for a reason: They do what they say they are going to do and people can see it, thus, reaffirming their decisions to support the organization. It all boils down to this: An organization must be continually delivering on its promise of relevance in order to resonate with supporters. As mission-driven organizations, this is our sweet spot. Nonprofits are increasingly competing with for-profits and we may risk irrelevance as an entire industry if we fail to deliver on resonance.

Ask: Is this organization walking its talk?

 

3) Reputation

Certainly, all of these points may play a role in providing the foundation for an organization’s overall reputation. However, reputation – or, what other people say about you (in marketing parlance think, “third-party endorsements”) – plays a particularly important role in driving success. In fact, data suggest that an organization’s “reputation” is a primary motivator for engaging high-propensity visitors (i.e. those who demonstrate the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral characteristics that indicate a heightened likelihood to visit a museum, symphony, historic site, or other visitor-serving organization).

So, what comprises an organization’s reputation? Good question. Regular KYOB readers know that I talk about this…a lot. The answer is a little bit of paid media (e.g. promotions and advertising) and a lot bit of reviews from trusted sources (particularly word of mouth and earned media – both of which are often facilitated 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 and promotions that likely make up the lion’s share of your media budget. If you’re really good, other people will talk about you…and the things that other people say about you (i.e. reviews from trusted sources) play a bigger role in enhancing reputation than does anything that an organization pays to say about itself. In order to achieve favorable reviews, an organization will benefit by first aiming to be relevant and resonate with audiences.

Ask: How is my department contributing to the organizational goal of building a positive reputation?

 

4) Responsiveness

“Social care” is a term for carrying out relationship building and customer service practices on communication platforms (digital and otherwise). Social care is expected by audiences in today’s world. Social media isn’t a one-way communication channel like a television ad or print ad or direct mail brochure – which data suggest are decreasing in overall marketing value when compared to the web and social media. In order to successfully execute engagement strategies, organizations must be “real-time” responsive to their online audiences. While social care and nurturing audience relationships composes one of the three key elements of social media success, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Responsiveness means being active listener and displaying transparency in order to elevate levels of trust in the organization. Being responsive demonstrates that the organization cares about its community of fans and supporters. Most importantly, it demonstrates trust in audiences – and that trust has the potential to be returned to the organization.

Responsiveness also moves beyond social care and indicates an organization’s ability to be agile and responsive to opportunities in today’s fast-paced world.  Things are rapidly changing from a business perspective and things that were set in stone five years ago are increasingly becoming useless. Today, leaders need to be able to evolve tactics as needed while sticking to their organization’s goals, values, and mission.

Ask: Are we showing our audiences the value that they lend to our community and responding to feedback? Also, are we evolving our tactics over time to be sure that we are executing the best possible strategies?

 

How an organization is perceived in this digital world of heightened noise – wherein every type of organization seems to have a social mission – is neither the cause of success nor the outcome of an organization’s success. It’s both.

The four “R”s of brand credibility move in a cycle. It’s important that organizations realize that they play an important role in making their own cycle ascend upward instead of spiraling downward. It’s time to step in and maximize our opportunity for success – and that means understanding the important role that we all play in driving it.

 

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, Fast Facts Video, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Leave a comment

Devastating Defenses: Five Common Excuses Sabotaging Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Devastating Defenses: Five Common Excuses Sabotaging Cultural Organizations

Cultural organizations use these defenses almost daily – and they are having a devastating effect on our institutions.

We live in a connected and constantly evolving world. Keeping up can be tough – and being cutting edge in developing new business strategies that actually aid in mission execution and long-term solvency sometimes feels overwhelming for cultural organizations such as museums, theaters, aquariums, symphonies, zoos, botanic gardens and historic sites. Our common industry response often seems to be to create more technology for technology’s sake – a distraction that allows us to show fancy things to board members that don’t necessarily help us achieve our goals…but they touch on something “digital” so they seem to scratch the superficial “we need to evolve” itch.

It leaves me frequently wondering: Why don’t we do much to really change our business strategies? Why don’t we talk more about changing membership structures and the informed economics of special exhibits instead of window dressing like mobile applications?

Here are the five most common defenses that I observe as excuses for failing to innovate and evolve. Let’s stop talking about how the dog ate our homework and get busy educating and inspiring audiences. It’s going to mean eliminating these five phrases from our daily dialogue.

 

1) “That does not apply to me!”

My colleagues and I frequently encounter this pervasive and poisonous “defense” when exploring data and attendant implications with various visitor-serving organizations that are having a difficult time adapting to change. Instead of thinking critically about findings, folks often say, “I’m not a museum, I’m a theater…so this could not possibly apply to me!” Even worse is something like this, “I’m not a children’s museum, I’m an art museum!” or “We’re not a symphony, we play jazz!” or “We aren’t a science museum, we’re a science center!” or “That science museum is in San Francisco and we’re in Texas. It’s completely different!”

This doesn’t just happen with visitor-serving industry data (which is drawn from organizations that generally have the same bottom lines of mission execution and financial solvency based largely on onsite engagement) – organizations seem to do this for every kind of data, including market data. We shoot ourselves in the foot when we make excuses for why we shouldn’t think critically about the applicability of data from every industry…especially data from our own industry.

Here’s what many cultural organizations have in common that fundamentally ties them together: Cultural, visitor-serving organizations are entities whose solvency relies upon attracting attendees and garnering financial support from advocates interested in the organization’s cause. At IMPACTS, we keep looking for big differences between visitation to various cultural organizations, and we find that the differentiation is often simply the content provided by each organization. Best practices remain fairly similar. Are all VSOs the same? Of course not – but these entities rely upon providing physical, social, and emotional experiences, and data suggest that makes these organizations unique as a group. Please don’t short sell your organization by dismissing data that is inconvenient. The world is full of emerging ideas and trends. Our industry needs more market data on the whole. Knowing what is going on in the world is part of our job as professionals.

Here’s my challenge to you: If you catch yourself ever saying, “Well, there’s no way that’s true for my organization for XYZ reason,” then pause and regroup. You may be right, but then ask yourself, “Wait. Am I sure of that?”

 

2) “But we are a nonprofit!”

When visitor-serving organizations don’t like nonprofit data, they sometimes say, “But we operate more like a for-profit!”…and when for-profit best practices surface, the inevitable rebuttal is, “But we are a nonprofit!” It’s a vicious habit wherein cultural enterprise put themselves in a never-ending position to “deny” themselves out of the realities of change and the need to keep up with the rest of the world.

Today, nonprofit organizations compete directly with private companies and audiences are largely sector agnostic. We don’t “own” social good, and data suggest that a majority of your visitors likely have no idea that your organization is nonprofit in the first place. Here’s a reminder of that data.

IMPACTS perception of VSOs as nonprofit

 

3) “Most industry changes have to do with marketing or technology or added tasks for lower-level staff. That is not my role!”

This is probably the mother of all uninformed, defensive excuses and arguably is the one most threatening to cultural organizations. Industry evolution is particularly critical for the leaders of visitor-serving organizations in all departments. Because the Web informs much of the world that we live in today, some leaders ignorantly shrug off these conversations, mistakenly thinking, “This isn’t my job.” The information age that we live in affects everything – and, increasingly, treating conversations with the word “digital” as someone else’s responsibility is doing nothing but making those professionals less qualified for their own jobs. In fact, the way that our industry approaches “digital” within higher level leadership may be the very thing keeping “digital from being effective.

So please, as you peruse the Web and go about your day, resist any potential desire to skip important articles, thinking, “This relates only to marketing” or, “I’ll just pass this along to a Coordinator.” It doesn’t and please don’t (without considering it first for yourself). Even the role of marketing has changed in today’s world. Hint: It is no longer a service department.

This excuse is likely why industry leaders are not often at conferences aiming to discuss industry evolution. Many leaders believe that “industry evolution” means “creating more mobile apps” – which, of course, is a huge miss.

Speaking of conferences…

 

4) “Let us share that failed project at [industry conference] and frame it as huge success!”

Of course, people don’t say that directly (that I know of…). But when you dig into 990s and look at them alongside presentations at conferences, it becomes clear that many institutions are actually sharing their current failures as models of success. It certainly isn’t true for all organizations and presentations – but we often note at IMPACTS that if an initiative creates mission drift or costs a very large sum of money and has no demonstrative payoff, then it’s going to be shared as a success at a conference.

Sadly, this response makes complete and total sense: There’s too much at stake to share our failures as actual failures. There are board member reputations, a CEO’s symbolic capital, and even funder satisfaction at risk when we admit to failure. If we admit it’s a failure, then we have to say to board members, “Hey, this big project that you supported and might have even been your idea didn’t work.” And we really don’t want to say that. So, instead, we say, “It didn’t increase visitation or notably impact our brand equities in a positive manner, but it helps position us as ‘experts’ in our industry! To prove it, we’ll share it at [insert industry conference].”

I’m not saying it’s not messed up, but I am saying that the fear of calling a dog a dog may be understandable in this context that disproportionately punishes risk. What’s more is that executive leaders seem to know that many of the case studies presented at conferences are actually failures. It’s a reason for the inverse correlation between trust and influence and information being shared at a conference. Yes. Executive leaders find information shared at conferences to be less trustworthy because it is shared at a conference.

Here’s how much executive leaders trust various information channels. An index value less than 100 indicates lessened trust in the information based on its source. (Here’s the link to the original post with the data and more information on it.)

KYOB IMPACTS - Trust of sources for cultural leaders

Think that’s bad? The data on the influence of information is much more alarming.

KYOB IMPACTS - influence of sources for cultural leaders

This is not to say that all presentations at industry conferences are useless – far from it. Conferences are a wonderful opportunity to connect and share experiences and, indeed, we need them. But they cannot help us unless we change how we approach them and stop making “finding the things that actually work” harder than spotting a sundress at Nordstrom Rack in the wintertime. It might be there – but you’ll have to search long and hard for it.

While excuses are prevalent in the industry, there are many excellent examples of organizations doing forward-facing things. It’s a shame that those examples are scarce and diluted by so many glorious funeral ceremonies for failures disguised as successes at conferences.

 

5) “Let us be leaders! But first find me a similar institution in our area who has already done it.”

This one may be a matter of courage and, again, a matter of pleasing key stakeholders. To be a leader, somebody needs to step forward and lead. Leading involves investment and risk. If you have a great idea for a program and you have market data to indicate that it may be effective in helping to reach your organizational goals, make like Nike and just do it.

I’ve worked with organizations that have devised entire strategies and then sat on them because they wanted another organization to do it first. It’s okay (and actually important) to do things that the Monterey Bay Aquarium, San Diego Zoo, LA Philharmonic, Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the Smithsonian Institution aren’t doing yet. These organizations can be amazing examples of institutions doing incredible things, but they – like any organization- can be terrible models.

Perhaps all of these excuses and defenses are failures of courage. Times are hard for cultural organizations and maybe we just need a little bit more love. Running a cultural organization today is hard. Very hard. And perhaps we don’t always give credit where it’s due.

It’s time that we acknowledge the hard work of inspiring engagement within cultural organizations and own up to our shortcomings. Let’s knock it off with these five excuses. They deny our organizations the benefit of our critical thinking and leadership.

 

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

 

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Photo credit goes to TravelPod member Eundel

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, IMPACTS Data, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 6 Comments

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.

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing Leave a comment
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