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

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

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

Data suggest that a sizable number of people report interest in visiting cultural organizations…and yet over thirty percent of those Read more

MoMA Sees Reputation Boost After Displaying Muslim Artists (DATA)

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

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

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

Data Reveals The Worst Thing About Visiting Cultural Organizations

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

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

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

Community Engagement

Finding: Museums That Highlight Mission Financially Outperform Museums That Market Primarily as Attractions (DATA)

seafood watch

This article kicks off a four-part series intended to help visitor-serving organizations understand and respond to emerging trends that will impact their ability to achieve their financial and mission-related goals. Learn more about the series here. 

Data suggest a “new” draw to your organization that is now key to engaging both visitation and donor support. Well, actually, it’s not “new” – it’s the reason why your organization exists: Your mission. How credibly the market perceives your organization in terms of your ability to effectively deliver on your mission has a very strong positive correlation with your organization’s financial performance.

An analysis of the recent financial performance of a large and representative number of visitor-serving organizations coupled with the public perceptions of these same organizations reveals an outcome that may not be surprising for those who keep tabs on consumer behaviors: Organizations perceived as “best-in-class” in terms of mission delivery reliably outperform organizations that rely more on their reputations as “attractions” when it comes to their financial bottom lines.  In other words, mission and business are not in conflict – being superlative at your mission is good business!

There are three overall findings relating to the “mission is good business” trend:

1) Organizations perceived as more credible actors in terms of fulfilling their mission financially outperform peer organizations whose reputational equities relate primarily to their roles as attractions

IMPACTS collects and analyzes attitudinal and awareness data for 224 visitor-serving organizations in the US (and that may even include your own). This data and analysis informs the development of key performance indicators that reveal trends and correlations affecting visitor-serving enterprise.  The charts below indicate the relationship between 35 visitor-serving organizations’ financial performance in terms of “revenue efficiency” coupled with the market’s perception of these same organizations’ “reputational equities.”  (In the interest of maintaining appropriate confidences, I’ve “anonymized” the findings)

First, a few quick definitions (with advance apologies for the analytical jargon):

Revenue Efficiency: A composite metric contemplative of onsite-related earned and contributed revenues (e.g. admission, contributions, grants, membership, programs) contemplated relative to the cost to deliver onsite services (i.e. operating expenses) and the number of persons served onsite.  Generally, a more “revenue efficient” organization exhibits more favorable financial key performance indicators (e.g. greater revenues, greater net operating surplus) and reduced financial volatility than does a less revenue efficient organization.  Data informing the IMPACTS revenue efficiency calculation are commonly available in an organization’s financial statements, annual reports, and Form 990 filings.

Reputational Equities: A composite metric contemplative of numerous visitor perceptions such as reputation, trust, authority, credibility, and satisfaction that collectively indicate the market’s opinion of an organization’s relative efficacy in delivering its mission.  As mentioned previously, IMPACTS collects perceptual data from 224 visitor-serving organizations in the US to inform its reputational equities calculation.

KYOB aquariums reputation and revenue

Aquariums are a good place to start because (a) in addition to tackling the mission of inspiring audiences, they are also increasingly engaging audiences on broader conservation issues; and (b) aquariums tend to be more reliant on earned revenues than their museum and zoo brethren who may have greater public funding and/or endowment support. In short, absent the safety net of large endowments and government appropriations, aquariums are among the most market-driven businesses in the nonprofit sector, and translating positive reputational equities has an enormous financial benefit for these organizations (and, in inverse, lessened reputational perceptions bear tremendous risk to an organization’s bottom line).

Generally, revenue efficiency follows reputational equities (so working to increase reputational equities tends to positively affect revenue efficiency). Thus, we can reasonably surmise that year 2014 may bring continued challenges for Aquariums H, I, K and L should they choose not to prioritize remedy for their lacking perceptions as credible actors when it comes to delivering on their missions.

KYOB zoos reputation and revenues

Much like aquariums, the zoos that are perceived as credible actors in regard to their mission achieve the greatest revenue efficiency. Again, in the example indicated by the assessed zoos, the relationship between reputational equities as a predictor of financial success is clear and compelling.

KYOB museums reputation and revenues

Again, when segmented by museums (in the above example, all of the assessed organizations would be rightfully classified as either “art” or “natural history” museums), the trend holds true: Those museums perceived by the market as the most esteemed in terms of fulfilling the promise of their missions achieve the greatest financial performance.

You’ll notice that out of the 35 organizations represented in this assessment, Museum H is the only organization that does not indicate the relationship between reputational equities and financial performance – and, even in this exception to the trend, the difference is very slight.

 

2) Your organization must increasingly be MORE THAN an attraction but it still must be an entertaining destination.

The reputational equity metric is contemplative of overall satisfaction and data indicate that providing an entertaining experience is an extremely important component of visitor satisfaction. To be clear: The data do not support abandoning efforts to deliver an entertaining experience in the hopes of enhancing your organization’s reputation as a credible, mission-related authority. Instead, data support efforts to underscore your social mission and demonstrate topic expertise alongside location-based content to help drive visitation and provide insight into the entertaining and inspiring experiences that you provide.

Simply put, people want to visit organizations that are more than just attractions.

 

3) The importance of underscoring reputational equities is likely to grow as millennials increasingly comprise a greater percentage of museum audiences

The analysis indicating the relationship between favorable reputational equities and financial performance for visitor-serving organizations aligns with multiple findings concerning the influence of social missions (in business-speak, think “corporate social responsibility”) on consumer purchasing behaviors. Namely, people – and especially millennials – are more likely to purchase products that support a mission.

The data has long suggested that millennials are particularly public-service motivated, and as Gen Y has become a more powerful market segment (indeed, millennials are the largest generation in human history), organizations have experienced a “market shift” in support of organizations that support “social good.”

That sounds great for educational, conservation, and cultural organizations such as museums, aquariums, and zoos, right? Well…maybe not…especially because millennials are generally sector agnostic. Millennials tend to support organizations and businesses that appeal to them regardless of whether or not there is 501(c)3 designation involved. (In other words, while the IRS may care about your tax-exempt status, the market increasingly does not!) This means that in terms of securing support, many nonprofits are “competing” directly with for-profits for the market’s time, attention, and resources.

Organizations that have marketed themselves too heavily as attractions without underscoring their mission and social impact have lost a valuable opportunity to differentiate themselves as superlative to a critical demographic. Potentially worse yet, they may have built their reputations based on motivations that millennials don’t care about. Case-in-point: Take a look at what millennials want out of a zoo, aquarium, or museum membership compared to older generations.

Organizations that the market favorably perceives as more than “just an attraction” tend to financially outperform organizations perceived primarily as attractions.  Money follows reputational equities. Zoos, aquariums, and museums that have been trying to “sell” the wrong brand attributes may find themselves struggling even more in the future as emerging audiences emphasize mission and social impact as vital attributes of the relationship that they seek with the organizations that they support.  Year 2013 was only the tip of the iceberg. Perceptions are changing and the data affirms a strong, encouraging trend:

Finally, it’s cool to be kind.  More than that, it’s plain good business.

National Aquarium cleaning debris

National Aquarium

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 1 Comment

New Data Reveals How Your Organization Can Improve Its Online Advertising

Marketoonist rather be earned media

Data suggest that landing your online audiences on peer review and social media content rather than the e-commerce (e.g. ticket sales) portion of your website is now one of the most effective ways to maximize online conversions.

Because how the market uses websites has changed with the widespread use of social media and other word-of-mouth inspired outlets, the way to optimally utilize websites to inspire desired behaviors has changed as well. Namely, the frequent and oft-cited “rule” that the best online ads lead only to direct conversion sites (or your own website for that matter) is now… well, irrelevant.

In the not-too-distant past, the prevailing wisdom was to “land” your online customer on the web page where they could transact business with you with the least number of clicks (i.e. land them on the “buy tickets” page).  Today, the data suggest that a more informed customer – one who has availed him/herself of the information and reviews of third-parties such as those found on many social and peer review platforms – are more likely to complete a transaction than a customer whose primary online experience with your organization was an ad.

Consider the chart below – chosen as it is generally representative of customer behaviors for many visitor-serving organizations (e.g. museums, aquariums, zoos, performing arts centers, etc.) with online ticketing capabilities –  quantifying the “abandon rate” (i.e. the percentage of persons who initiated but did not complete an online behavior) segmented by the representative organization’s landing page (i.e. the web page where the customer was routed after clicking on an ad): 

IMPACTS ad abandon rates data

 

Immediately, you notice that the abandon rate for customers who land on a “buy tickets now” type landing page is 19.6% higher than the abandon rate for customers who are first routed to a web page featuring third-party reviews.  Similarly, the abandon rate is 15.8% higher for a customer landing on a “buy now” page when compared to customers first routed to a social media channel.  In fact, the data indicate that in terms of actually translating a click to a conversion, that the absolute worst thing that an organization can do is route its online advertising to a “buy now” type of landing environment.

In today’s world of heightened connectivity and increased empowerment of potential customers to make informed decisions based upon perceptions of reputation and brand transparency, your customers expect access to product information, reviews from trusted resources, and reliable customer support.  (Is it any wonder that the most admired and successful visitor-serving organizations – and, for that matter, the most rapidly growing brands from most any sector –  invariably have the most robust reviews and social care/social CRM functionalities?)

For those who do not have many dealings in abandon rates and may be shocked that abandon rates may be high at all, here’s some background: Abandon rates for all types of e-commerce hover around 74% – in other words, on average, three out of four persons who click on an item to buy online don’t actually end up completing the transaction.  Consider more broadly: It’s often only after proceeding to the “checkout” page that a customer can learn the shipping costs, the delivery timeframes, or even if their preferred method of payment is accepted  In the case of many visitor-serving organizations, compound these factors with cumbersome website navigation and outdated e-commerce functions, and it’s no wonder that abandon rates for some organizations approach 90%.  The point is: Overcoming abandonment issues is a very real part of an organization’s online strategy, and any finding that moves the needle even slightly on this front has potentially huge implications in terms of visitor engagement and earned revenues.

At IMPACTS, we leverage “big data” and sophisticated technologies to deliver highly-customized, micro-targeting online advertising…and we have a LOT of intelligence on what works and what doesn’t. (For my regular readers thinking, “But Colleen, I thought you worked in active, digital engagement?” I do. I specialize in the Coefficient of Imitation realm of brand perception (reviews from trusted sources) while IMPACTS, more broadly, takes on the Coefficient of Innovation (paid media)). These two functions (paid advertising and earned media) serve as a relay team handing the baton (i.e. the customer) from one runner to the next – the advertising function can be a “conversation starter” that attracts the attention and interest of a wide audience; the social media and other digital communication tools are the functions that manage the relationship with the customer across the finish line (i.e. the conversion). This may be a helpful way for organizations to think about the often necessary interactions between word-of-mouth and paid media-related methods of cultivating desired affinities and behaviors.

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, Digital Connectivity, IMPACTS Data, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends Comments Off on New Data Reveals How Your Organization Can Improve Its Online Advertising

What Museums Can Learn From Online Dating (Hint: Touch Really Matters) (VIDEO)

*Accessing this post via email and having problems viewing the video? You can watch it here

Is social media hurting the onsite visitor experience? Data suggest that in today’s world, museums need to be masters of both offsite communication (social/earned media) and onsite, face-to-face communication in order to be successful. Increasingly, a museum’s business strategy cannot thrive without one or the other.

Here’s a handy (pun intended) concept that I recently presented for thinking about the relationship that “digital touch” and “physical touch” play in driving museum visitation and maximizing visitor satisfaction.

Westmusings

I was honored to have had the opportunity to take part in the Western Museum Association’s first-ever WestMusings: Ten Minute Museum Talks in October in Salt Lake City.  What Museums Can Learn From Online Dating briefly traces a museum visitor from the visitation decision-making process through a museum visit and demonstrates how “digital touch” and “physical touch” work together to “seal the deal” of getting folks in the door to experience sparks of informal learning.

Here are those slides about reputation up close (what motivates the visitation decision and the diffusion of messaging).

While I spoke about museums in connection to online dating, I had the opportunity to take part in the WestMusings initiative with three, fabulous museos who imparted their own wisdom regarding museums and their connection to similarly creative topics: Scott Stulen of the Walker Art Center spoke about cat videos, James Pepper Henry of the Heard Museum spoke about culture clashes, and Carrie Snow of the Church History Museum spoke about roller derby (in full roller derby attire, no less)! Intrigued? Check out their WestMusings here.

 

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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 2 Comments

Does Your Nonprofit Believe This Myth? The Best Indicator That An Organization Is Bad At Social Media

Wheel ROI

The easiest way to spot an organization that completely misunderstands the role of social media is to look for those boasting that it’s cheap or free. It’s not. And it hasn’t been for a while now.

Social media arguably represents your single most impactful marketing channel. Believing social media is free is especially dangerous for nonprofit organizations. Carrying out an effective content strategy and monitoring online platforms takes time…a lot of it – not to mention talent, buy-in, strategy, cooperation, and integration. While social media may have initially boomed among nonprofit organizations due to the ability to set up free profiles on various platforms, that certainly doesn’t mean that maintaining an effective online presence is “cheap” – let alone free.

If you still think social media is cheap or free, then you are doing it wrong. Here’s why:

 

1) Time is money

And executing effective digital engagement strategies takes a lot of it. This point, however, is especially exacerbated for nonprofit organizations that frequently stretch employee responsibilities.  

What executives often refer to as “social media responsibilities” encompasses much more than simply “posting stuff on Facebook.” It involves the development and ongoing evolution of content strategy, constant content creation, real-time and ongoing “listening,” social care (e.g. Did you know that 42% of folks who post a question on your Facebook wall expect a response within one hour?), and keeping abreast of engagement strategies and evolving platforms in the digital media realm – which move at a breakneck pace. Cut corners on these and you may not reap the benefits of social and earned media, negating any investment in this powerful method of communication.

Think one person can do all this well while they are stretched thin with other responsibilities and expected to manage social media “on the side?”  Organizations that treat employee time and energy like bottomless renewable resources risk resource depletion, burnout, and speedy staff turnover. In terms of social media, turnover without a clearly defined social media strategy often results in inconsistent tone, sporadic postings, unclear calls to action, and alienating or inappropriate content (such as “selling” too hard or promulgating marketing messages that appear “spammy” and result in negative feedback).

 

2) Talent is money

Successful online engagement necessitates an understanding of how the market communicates and makes decisions – as well as a keen ability to align aspects of social media communications (like the Four T’s of Online Engagement) to optimize initiatives and individual posts. It takes an understanding of public relations and a knack for communicating with an open authority mindset.

What all this means is that it’s not likely that, say, Jack Smith – who suddenly has free time on his hands after serving as an A/V tech at last month’s donor event – taking over your online engagement efforts is a good idea. In fact, it’s probably a very, very bad one. Social media (and earned media and word of mouth resulting from social media efforts) are incredibly potent communication tools and they are easy to mess up…and the consequences can be colossal in terms of trust in your brand.

 

3) Hiring more people is money

Don’t have the time and talent on staff? You’ll have to hire someone. And as social care needs increase (i.e. as more and more people turn to social media for real-time conversation, information, and question-answering – a need which is already rather aggressive) you may need to hire more people.

 

4) Good content is money

Facebook’s algorithms generally aim to deliver more effective content to more people, while suppressing content that is unlikely to merit significant engagement. This means that your content needs to be engaging in order to reach the most people – or even to be delivered into your fans’ newsfeeds. Content is still king on social media, and as other organizations improve their content and initiatives, your organization will need to keep up or it will be drowned out by content that is deemed more effective.   Time required to create quality content aside (where much of this cost resides), creating this content costs money in terms of cameras and like technologies, staging, design, etc. This doesn’t mean that all videos or content must be “expensive” to produce in order to be successful – but it does mean that if you don’t have the tools to make content that will aid in engagement rates then…well, you just cannot create or maximize that strategy.

 

5) Effectively utilizing platforms is money

Social media monitoring tools often cost money – and monitoring (or “listening”) is critical for even social media mediocrity, let alone success. It’s possible to find “free” tools, but some require an investment to get to the information that may actually be helpful to your organization.

Also, social media platforms are increasingly becoming “pay-to-play” in regard to promoted or sponsored posts. If you want to stay in the “game,” it is wise to consider these options at least from time to time as they may help your organization rise above social media “noise.”

Finally, learning tools for your staff like conferences and webinars cost money. Unfortunately, this kind of development often gets cut within some organizations, but social media platforms and best practices are constantly evolving. Your organization may benefit to know what is going on so that it may adapt and most effectively utilize digital tools.

 

6) Buy-in and integration is money

Marketing is the wingman for your mission-based departments so that they may score some action with donors and constituents. In order for PR and Marketing departments to be most effective in delivering engaging messages, they need support (both content and ongoing communication) from multiple other departments within the organization. This means that – for effective organizations – there is a portion of nearly everyone’s time that is ultimately dedicated to social media initiatives. Social media requires time above and beyond “the usual suspects” within marketing and PR departments.

Within a museum, for instance, social media managers need aid from curators and collections staff in creating accurate, expert content. They need to coordinate with guest relations to uncover methods of communicating important dates and museum information. They need to be in constant communication with operations folks to answer questions about logistics and customer service – and in dialogue with education departments to answer content-related questions in real-time. Moreover, they need to work with development to make sure that members and donors are recognized and “courted” on social media platforms. In short, social media is an “every department” job and organizations that deny this are “leaving money on the table.”

 

Not only is social media NOT cheap, it is a very real investment. And it’s one that your organization would be unwise not to make. At broader, industry conferences, it always looks the same: an organization steps up to discuss their social media practices (presumably, because they think they are good at it) and start with a slide that says, “Why are we on social media?! BECAUSE IT’S FREE!”  It leaves me baffled and, indeed, wondering how they do it.

How can you execute social media strategies that bring about monetary support without spending any time on strategy (or anything else related to social media), without creating any kind of content, without any talent, with ignorance of all changing platforms, and without time or support from anyone? Increasingly, you can’t.  And if you think you can with a minor investment, then you probably aren’t seeing any of the real strategic, monetary benefits of having an online presence at all.

 

*Image photo credit goes to Rob Cottingham

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, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 3 Comments

Myth-Busting Museum and Nonprofit Best Practices. Is Your Organization Celebrating its Own Demise? (DATA)

mythbusting

It sounds dramatic, but it’s true: Many organizations still apply “best practices” for short-term wins that data suggest leave them far, far worse off in terms of achieving their long-term goals.

As I’ve recently reported, If I weren’t providing market insight and analysis for museums and nonprofits for a living, I’d want to be a host of the show “Mythbusters.” It occurs to me, however, that in my own profession, I already get to do a whole lot of myth-busting.  And I’ve written a whole bunch of myth-busting posts to boot!

Here’s a myth-busting round-up of my three, favorite situations in which executives and board members most frequently (and cheerfully) celebrate their own decline. Dramatic? I’m channeling my fit-for-TV alter ego.

 

1) The Myth of the Special Exhibition that Permanently Boosts Your Attendance

The hope that visitors to special exhibits will become your regular museum-goers is often where this myth begins (It’s just not true) – but it runs far deeper. Blockbusters are anomalies – NOT a sustainable business plan. Museums that frequently feature these kinds of exhibits find themselves engaged in “death by curation” – a vicious cycle of having to host progressively bigger and more expensive exhibits in order to maintain their level of visitation over time as visitors create connections with transient highlights rather than the museum’s permanent collections. (In my line of work, dependency upon special exhibits is also fittingly called “blockbuster suicide.”)

At best, these special exhibits support an unsustainable, short-term increase in attendance that often leaves executives patting themselves on the back. Next year, when that same executive must pay double for another special exhibit that yields only a portion of the hopeful attendance boon, the executive will usually blame the exhibit instead of considering the short-sightedness of the business strategy.

 

2) The Myth of the Social Media Discount that Helps Your Organization Achieve Its Goals

Offering discounts or giving away your admission for free is generally a bad idea – and it’s an extremely bad idea to do this on social media. Like “death by curation,” offering discounts (even once) via social media channels creates a cycle that is detrimental to your organization’s strategic goals. Specifically, it creates four, huge problems: 1. Once offered and promulgated by your organization, your community comes to expect more discounts. 2. (And perhaps most importantly) your community will wait for discounts. Once so trained by an organization to respond to discounts, the data compellingly indicate that potential visitors will actually defer a full-price visit and, instead, watch your social accounts for a chance to come for less money. 3. The steeper the discount, the less likely the visitor is to come back again. (This is symptomatic of having perceptually devalued your experience to the point that it loses all its hard-earned premium connotations.  In other words, discounts frequently succeed in doing little more than “cheapening” your reputational equities.) 4. Discounts rarely capture new audiences. Instead, they allow folks who would have otherwise paid full-price (that’s moola for your mission!) to come for less money.

 

3) The Myth of Social Media Success Metrics

There are just so many myths here. Here’s some bustin’: Your number of followers on social media channels doesn’t matter because not all social media users are of equal value to your organization.  Thus, smart organizations know better than to rely too heavily on vanity metrics because they are not key performance indicators, but, instead, diagnostic metrics. Website metrics are not immune to these myths as well. For instance, your organization may reasonably aim to get eyes on its website or feet in the door (if you’re a museum). Increasingly, organizations cannot do both.

 

There are loads of busted myths all over Know Your Own Bone – but these three are my very favorite.  I think that is because they are extremely prevalent and seem to be deeply engrained in the way that many executives view success.

Runners-up include the fact that what people see at the museum is less important than who they are with, and entertainment is more important to visitor satisfaction and long-term solvency than education. For nonprofits looking to hire social media positions, here are some counter-intuitive tips: don’t hire for Klout score and absolutely skip someone with long-term, formal schooling in social media…and scratch that “professional writing experience” requirement. Someone too focused on this may not be your best bet for an accessible tone on social media.

In fact, Know Your Own Bone may be an entire blog about data-informed nonprofit and museum myth-busting and future-proofing. Hmmm…I like that. It makes me feel a bit like a superhero defending the honor of visitor serving organizations! Now, back to the action-packed task of dominating PowerPoint slides for this week’s Meetings of Myth Devastation! (Wait…Not cool? Did I lose you? Oh well…It was fun while it lasted.)

 

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 Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Myth-Busting Museum and Nonprofit Best Practices. Is Your Organization Celebrating its Own Demise? (DATA)

Why Your Visitors Are Not Buying Tickets Online (And Why It May Be Your Fault)

Ticket sales cartoon

“We added online ticketing to our website…so why aren’t more people buying their tickets online?”

This question seems common among certain leaders in museums and visitor-serving organizations (generally, because it’s true). Unfortunately, it also seems to have found a life as a shortsighted, defensive rationale for not investing in web-based platforms to engage visitors. Perhaps it hasn’t occurred to these leaders that the market is no dummy – simply deploying online ticketing doesn’t necessarily mean that the market will be inclined to actually use it.

Museum high propensity visitors profile as being “super-connected” with access to the web at home, work and on mobile devices. They use social media and online platforms to make visitation decisions. So why aren’t a vast majority of visitors buying tickets online to most organizations?

Because while you may think that you’re making life easier for your potential visitors by selling tickets online, many organizations actually make the act of purchasing a ticket a more expensive and/or more cumbersome process for their would-be visitors. While it’s inarguably “better” and more efficient for an organization to have the market avail itself of online ticketing, until the benefits of buying tickets online outweigh the costs (in terms of both convenience and currency) most people won’t do it. Here are four common conditions that may create needless barriers to your market purchasing a ticket online:

 

1) It is impossible (or exceedingly difficult) to purchase tickets via mobile platforms

Mobile web is among the fastest growing communication channels.  According to Pew Research, 56% of American adults have a smartphone and 29% of cell owners describe their phone as “something they can’t imagine living without.” 34% of mobile users go online mostly using their phones (as opposed to another device such as a desktop or laptop computer). On top of all this, more than 5 billion people will use mobile phones by 2017.  This is all a long way of saying that smartphones play an increasingly critical role in motivating and facilitating museum visitation decisions. If your potential visitors cannot easily purchase tickets on a mobile platform, then you’re missing a critical opportunity to act in your visitors’ interests…and you’re making it hard for them to act in yours.

 

2) Purchasing tickets online is time consuming, and perhaps more cumbersome than applying for a mortgage

I’m exaggerating…kind of.  Have you ever tried to purchase a ticket on your own website? If yours is like the ticket buying interfaces of many visitor-serving organizations, then this is an elaborate, multi-click process that requires digital maneuvering between websites and a seemingly never-ending array of repetitive requests for personal information.

I’ll quote myself from a previous post on the matter: For many organizations, selling admission is a critical component of their financial plans. We live in a world where you can buy an airline ticket from San Francisco to Tokyo on a smartphone in less than 60 seconds, but it frustratingly requires five long minutes to purchase a ticket to some museums on the same device.

Some organizations have entered into long-term agreements with ticketing providers and are apt to shrug their shoulders and excuse their bad practices by saying, “Well, there’s nothing that we can do about online ticketing. We have a contract.” As a reminder: To the market, this is a “you” problem. The market doesn’t know that you’ve signed a contract with a company that doesn’t meet your needs – only that you’re not meeting theirs. (Which is especially strange when you consider that in this situation, their interest is to act in your interest!)

 

3) It costs more to buy tickets online than at the gate

Speaking of entering into long-term agreements with ticketing providers, many of them take a cut of online ticket sales or require a fee that is, in turn, imposed upon your visitors so that they must (quite literally) pay for your organization’s decision to engage with the ticketing provider. To organizations perhaps less concerned with their customer service standards, this may sound like a problem for the visitor (“Hey, this is what happens if you want to buy tickets online”). Smart organizations, however, realize that such fees present a significant barrier to entry.

Many organizations are very deliberately priced so as to maximize revenue without “leaving money on the table.” The market is very sensitive to pricing. The market reacts differently to a price point of $19.95 than it does to $21.95 – and the fees charged by ticket providers may well exceed the threshold at which your market finds value in your admission price. Organizations that charge additional fees for online transactions may unintentionally undermine their otherwise sound, research-based pricing strategies.

 

4) Your museum has likely trained people to buy tickets at the door

Thanks to newly designed (or renovated) facilities, improved wayfinding, and efficient entry procedures, visitor-serving organizations have become quite good at enabling hassle-free onsite access…and this relative ease of access also erodes one of the potential incentives of buying a ticket online (i.e. the convenience of buying online as opposed to waiting in line).

Many visitor-serving organizations have actually trained visitors to simply show up with a reasonable expectation of buying a ticket and gaining access to facilities with a minimum amount of wait time.  Think about it: If you’ve visited a museum time and again and never encountered a significant wait or been denied access due to a sell-out, would you alter your behavior without reason?  Now, add to this learned behavior the various disincentives of higher ticket prices due to online fees and the inconvenience of trying to purchase a ticket on your smartphone, and it is no wonder that some organizations struggle to meet their online sales goals.

The good news? If your organization wants to increase online ticket sales, these conditions are subject to improvement. You absolutely can increase online ticket sales – if you are willing to consider the transaction from the perspective of your audience. The big takeaways: Executing strategic initiatives on online platforms aren’t simple IT functions, and certainly don’t operate on an “if you build it, they will come” basis. Like absolutely everything else related to your organization, if you aim to inspire action online, you must consider overall market perception, behaviors, and incentives. 

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 2 Comments

Five Characteristics That Differentiate Museum and Performance Arts Visitors From The General Market (INFOGRAPHIC)

Today I am breaking my “post every-other-week” rule to share with you a simple infographic that I’ve made with the data compiled in last week’s post on the attributes of high propensity visitors. This is the first image that I’ve tried to make with any kind of IMPACTS data, so let’s see what you all think… Please feel free to share, tweet, pin, and post this infographic if it is helpful to you!

Expect a fresh post as usual on Wednesday of next week and please enjoy this image and data in the meantime:

KYOB IMPACTS High Propensity Visitors Inforgraphic

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, IMPACTS Data, Nonprofit Marketing 8 Comments

High Propensity Visitors: The True Attributes of People Attending Museums and Cultural Centers (DATA)

High Propensity Visitors IMPACTS

High propensity visitors (HPVs) are the lifeblood of a visitor-serving organization – they keep the doors open for zoos, aquariums, museums, theaters, symphonies, botanical gardens, etc. – and, accordingly, I talk about them frequently both on Know Your Own Bone and during speaking engagements. But what are some of the attributes that indicate a likelihood of visiting these organizations? Data indicates several prominent attributes of high propensity visitors…and I am thrilled to dig a bit deeper in sharing some qualities of the HPV.  

What is a high propensity visitor and why are they important?

A high propensity visitor is a person who demonstrates the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that tend indicate an increased likelihood of visiting a visitor-serving organization. Research both identifies and “weighs” the respective value of these (demographic, psychographic, and behavioral) markers to quantify these attributes that best suggest a propensity to visit. In a nutshell, these are the people with whom your organization’s “bread is buttered.” These folks are absolutely the most critical audience for both immediate and long-term solvency for your visitor-serving organization.

Think data is only good for telling us “Information 101” like gender, ethnicity, household income, and education level? Or that when I describe an HPV, I am imagining some makeup of these largely demographic statistics (i.e. “An HPV is a white woman between 35-54 with an annual household income greater than $65,000?”) Think again. While certain organizations may have a “prototype visitor” that is this cut-and-dry, this type of segmentation is far, far too oversimplified to truly convey meaningful information about your HPVs. In actuality, this demographic information teams up with psychographic and behavioral information to paint a more accurate, complete portrait of the characteristics that indicate your likely visitors.

While acknowledging that there are multiple indicators of an HPV and that, at times, the specific make up of an HPV differs from entity to entity, the following five attributes are generally reliable across the board:

1. High propensity visitors are super connected

super connected 3HPVs have broadband access at home, work, and on at least one mobile device. In fact, these folks acquire information regarding leisure activities almost exclusively via web, social media, and peer review (i.e. Yelp, TripAdvisor) platforms – further underscoring the importance of investing in web-based communications for visitor-serving organizations. HPVs are approximately 2.5x more likely to be “super-connected” than the U.S. composite market.

2. High propensity visitors are pet owners

pet ownerThe people visiting your organization have a higher likelihood than the general population of being a pet owner.  They are also 12x more likely than the general population to own a horse for leisure/hobby (amateur) use. Put another way, not all HPVs own a horse…but those who own horses have a particularly high likelihood of being the kind of person who visits zoos, aquariums, museums, and music and theater performances. HPVs are approximately 2x more likely to be pet owners than the U.S. composite market.

 

3. High propensity visitors are foodies

foodieWe know that the perception of a critical mass of opportunity (such as access to unique shopping, urban waterfront, etc.) plays a role in motivating leisure activities – but for HPVs, access to good food also plays an important role. HPVs are leisure-travel motivated for fine dining and wine experiences. They also have daily food and beverage spending of $72.43 a day per capita. HPVs are approximately 2.5x more likely to be “foodies” than the U.S. composite market.

 

4. High propensity visitors are foreign travelers for leisure purposes

foreign travelThis is a big one. Folks who invest in foreign travel for leisure purposes have a very high likelihood of also being the same people who visit cultural centers. This is perhaps a very important consideration when endeavoring to understand the extreme competition for HPVs – for many museums, you are not merely competing with baseball games and movies for your audience.  HPVs are literally considering the world as it contemplates its leisure investments. The most popular destinations for HPVs include Europe and British Columbia (often, for skiing). Their average length of stay during foreign travel is six nights.  HPVs are approximately 6x more likely to be foreign travelers for leisure than the U.S. composite market. 

 

5. High propensity visitors are low intensity outdoor activists

HikingPeople who hike, ski, or golf  are also more likely to profile as the type of person to attend a visitor-serving organization or cultural performance. HPVs are approximately 3x more likely to be low intensity outdoor activists than the U.S. composite market.

 

Understanding these items helps organizations engage audiences

When we look at data and consider market trends, we pay special attention to the evolving behaviors, attitudes, and demographics of high propensity visitors. This information can help us market to folks with the greatest likelihood of visiting cultural centers, and also create programs and experiences that are most satisfying to these individuals. These are the people who reliably keep our doors open with their attendance, and also have tremendous opportunity to deepen their engagement with our organizations as members and donors.

Thinking of your visitors in terms beyond their demographics lends invaluable insight to our understanding of our audiences.  HPVs are the leading empirical indicator of the audiences that we are serving, and the people with whom we are best engaging.

 

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Photo credits: JapanPulse

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, IMPACTS Data, Nonprofit Marketing Comments Off on High Propensity Visitors: The True Attributes of People Attending Museums and Cultural Centers (DATA)

Leisure Activity Motivation: How People Decide to Attend Your Museum or Visitor Serving Organization (DATA)

MET museum

When it comes to motivating attendance, data suggest that offerings outside of your visitor-serving organization’s walls often play a greater role than what is inside.

Wondering why you’re not getting more people through the door of your museum or performing arts event? It could be due to many factors – both internal and external. Often, visitor-serving organizations (VSOs) get wrapped up in their own content and confuse the role that these offerings play in motivating visitation. Namely, they think that their own content or visitor experience plays the primary motivational role. However, data indicate that an organization’s own, internal offerings generally matter less to visitors than does the market’s perceptions of the surrounding macro-environment when it comes to motivating leisure visitation.

The chart below (featuring data collected by IMPACTS) illustrates findings related to leisure activity motivation. In other words, it demonstrates the primary motivators that determine how the market decides what to do with its leisure time. (The x-axis demonstrates the percent of respondents identifying that aspect/activity as a primary motivator. Respondents with multiple primary motivators are also represented.)

IMPACTS leisure activity motivation

This data features several, key takeaways for visitor-serving organizations:

 

1) “Critical mass” plays an important role in motivating leisure activity

“Yeah, yeah – VSOs in bigger cities have more people around and thus usually get more people to come through the door,” you’re probably thinking…but there’s more at play here than one might initially think. Major metro markets contain a density of attributes and experiences such as the ones indicated on this list. However, data suggest that in terms of motivating leisure activities, some markets have stronger, “standalone” motivators than others and merely being a major metro market can be a less enticing draw than possessing a mix of other attributes. A certain way to ensure that your organization is being considered as a viable destination is to be surrounded by a core, critical mass of other leisure opportunities. Consider the Monterey Bay Aquarium (to mention a frequent example for me): Monterey itself is not a major metro market, but the aquarium’s proximity to the waterfront, unique dining, golfing, and other specific opportunities create a density of experience that makes the location a viable leisure destination. In other words, the combination of these attributes – coupled with the appeal of the aquarium – are enough to motivate people to travel 2.5 hours from a major metro market (San Francisco) to visit the aquarium.

 

2) More than ninety percent of people need external motivators in order to attend your museum or performing arts event

Visitor-serving organizations may overestimate the motivational qualities or singularity of their own offerings in driving activity motivation. The modest influence that visiting a museum (9.9%), a zoo, aquarium, or science center (8.9%), or a performing arts event (4.2%) has on the leisure decision-making process is relatively low when compared to the influence of other visitor experiences or destination attributes. This means that more than 90% of people need additional, external motivators to enter your marketplace. A museum could put a visit to a destination over the top, but it’s generally not a primary motivator. This makes sense when contemplating the opportunity trade-offs attendant to leisure decisions: Visiting Aunt Janet sounds great – but if you could visit a major metro with unique shopping near the water – and visit a museum – you might make a different decision (and maybe even bring Aunt Janet)!

 

3) Who people are with still often beats what they are doing

The highest primary motivator of leisure activity is visiting friends or family (70.4%). This mirrors other data supporting the finding that who visitors are with often means more than what visitors see when they go to a museum or other type of visitor-serving organization. This is worth extra attention, as the greatest motivator according to the market is not tied specifically to a physical aspect or feature of a destination, but rather the draw of being with loved ones.

 

4) What is good for your city in terms of increasing critical mass is also good for your organization

This is the essence of the “rising tide lifts all ships” theory of visitor engagement. Organizations that see other activities or experiences as competition for their potential audience’s time may be missing the mark. It may go without saying, but communicating the availability of unique shopping and dining, celebrating historic assets within your community, and highlighting hiking, swimming, golfing, or other activities that take place outside your walls also helps you better engage your own visitors.

Occasionally, museums and other visitor-serving organizations want to “silo” their organization as a more influential, standalone experience – a perspective that may be incongruent with the way that the market contemplates its leisure investments. Organizations should be careful to not forget that before a visitor can engage with your content they must first choose to visit your destination. Your visitors’ experience is often connected to the other experiences around you that make up their day. Promoting the robustness and vitality of neighboring organizations and the macro community is increasingly a wise strategy to maximize visitor engagement.

 

Quick note: I am pleased to be bouncing into Salt Lake City on October 12th to deliver a WestMusing: 10 Minute Museum Talk at the Western Museums Association Annual Meeting closing ceremony before hopping on the plane back to London! I’m thrilled to be delivering the talk alongside four great brains. If you’ll be there, come say hi or connect via one of my social channels!

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

 

*Top photo credit to nypress.com

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing 1 Comment

3 Market Changes That Have Completely Altered the Role of Marketing in Nonprofit Organizations

Word of mouth cartoon

 

Gone are the days of marketing from the inside-out…When the exhibits teams would decide on the new attraction and leave it to the marketing team to get folks in the door. Now, in order to remain relevant and solvent, nonprofit organizations must market from the outside-in.

The increasing importance of the role of technology in our lives has brought about several changes in how the market interacts with organizations, raised the stakes in brand communication (with a new emphasis on accessibility and transparency), and even altered how we maintain our own personal relationships. This era of stakeholder (donor and constituent) empowerment has also changed the way that smart, sustainable organizations operate on the whole…not just how they “market.”

The old, inside-out method of marketing: Nonprofit boards of directors, exhibits teams, program executives or other content gatekeepers decide on the next, big feature or program for an organization – often based solely on “experiential intuition” and supported by little or no market data.  In other words, the “Someone Important – a would-be expert – just decides” method of content development.

Once the decision is made, marketing teams are notified of the content and charged with the task of bringing people in the door to see/experience the content that this important person/committee likes. It’s a self-protecting system for higher-ups and other departments: If people didn’t come, it was the marketing department’s fault.

The new, necessary outside-in method of marketing: Organizations actively listen to their audiences and collect market data to determine what kind of content the organization’s visitors and supporters want. Instead of marketing and PR teams responding to executive committees alone, things are increasingly the other way around: Marketing folks are the experts on your audience and they work with decision-makers to determine which programs will engage the maximum audience (and, in turn, attendant revenues). Instead of being informed of what to “sell,” marketing teams within the most successful organizations that IMPACTS works with (nonprofit and for-profit clients alike) are brought on board in the earliest phases of the content development process to lend voice to the market’s preferences.

Here are three, critical evolutionary changes that serve as key reasons why organizations benefit by “marketing” from the outside-in:

 

1. There is an increased emphasis on product and experience (mostly, because you cannot hide it if people do not like your product or service)

How many times have you looked at your on-staff social media pro and asked urgently, “How can we increase our Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews?!” (Some CEOs even ask me this with the assumption that the answer lies in somehow “mastering” social media sites!) Your social media pro can’t increase your peer review ratings on their own because peer reviews are a result of audience experiences with your product or service. Marketers can frame the experience, provide critical clarification, and manage customer service on public platforms after the event, but you cannot sweet-talk your way out of several already-posted negative peer reviews harping on the same product or service downfall. In today’s world of transparency with the increased importance of word of mouth validation, smart organizations increasingly understand that sometimes maintaining support and affinity is dependent upon listening to audiences and then changing the product.

Increasingly, organizations are finding that they should not just have special exhibits – they should aim to have special exhibits and permanent collections that people want. (I’ll put extra emphasis on permanent collections because we can trace “Blockbuster Suicide”  to many of the financial perils currently faced by many museums).

 

2. Welcome to the age of the empowered constituent/supporter (and the increased need for audience interaction and participation)

Thanks in large part to the real-time nature of social media and digital platforms, today’s audiences are armed with vast amounts of real-time information. So much information, in fact, that audiences prefer to make decisions on their own or with the help of peer review sources (the value of which is on the rise). Indeed, if your organization isn’t particularly attune to the market (or chooses to selectively ignore potentially negative feedback as “anomalistic”), then there is an excellent chance that your audience may have more “visitor intelligence” than you do.

The role of the curator is evolving, and people now prefer to experience and interact rather than to be told what to do/think. We are seeing an increase in audience participation and crowdsourced exhibits. With these trends possibly re-defining the staid reputation of museums and other visitor-serving organizations, the “come to this because I told you so” method of thinking about marketing doesn’t work as well. It’s an outdated, inside-out approach to cultivating visitors. Today, organizations build stronger affinity when they articulate the value for the visitor (i.e. “What’s in it for the audience?”) rather than messages wherein the only apparent “gain” is the admission revenue (i.e. “What’s in it for the organization?”).  And, really, the “Because I say it will make you smarter” rationale doesn’t cut it as a major component of the value proposition.

Simply put, in order to articulate value to your visitor, you have to know your visitor now more than ever before.

 

3. Nonprofits sometimes determine importance, but the market always determines relevance (and organizations that misunderstand this now experience expedited financial strife)

I’ve written about this before, but it’s worth repeating: As highly-credible topic-experts and trusted authorities, nonprofits often are able to declare “importance.” However, if the market isn’t interested in your area of expertise or does not find it salient in their lives, they may deem your “importance” to be irrelevant. All too often, nonprofits generally misunderstand the role of the public as the ultimate arbiters of an organization’s relevance…and how much they need supporters and diversified revenue streams simply to stay afloat.

When we forget this, we get caught up and sidetracked by things like Judith Dobrzynski’s recent “High Culture Goes Hands-On” article in the New York Times. We forget that at the end of the day, we need to attract attendees, members, donors, and supporters…and that a museum that is closed cannot serve its social mission.

Due to the speedy share rate of vast amounts of information, we now live in a time when irrelevant messages are easily drowned out by other priorities – and even more-relevant “noise!” This may possibly expedite financial woe for organizations unwilling to consider the wants and needs of their audiences.

We must keep up or get left behind. We must evolve (like every other being, entity, or industry that has ever existed) or risk extinction. Increasingly, a big part of our evolution is discontinuing old habits of marketing from the inside-out, and instead keeping tabs on the market so that we may contemplate the best ways to operate from the outside-in.

 

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, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 5 Comments