Special Exhibits vs. Permanent Collections (DATA)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Top Seven Macro Trends Impacting Cultural Organizations

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

The Three Most Overlooked Marketing Realities For Cultural Organizations

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

Community Engagement

Special Exhibits vs. Permanent Collections (DATA)

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

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

A whole bunch, actually.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

4) Effective organizations prioritize the perspectives of the market.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

7) Aim to collect signals rather than noise.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Here are some ways that your organization can obtain data:

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Museums are highly credible sources of information

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

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

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

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

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

 

Museums are trusted

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

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

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

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

 

Museums are not seen as having political agendas

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

People believe that museums should recommend action

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

The Top Seven Macro Trends Impacting Cultural Organizations

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Personalization

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

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

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

 

Social connectivity

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

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

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

 

Social mission

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

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

 

Entertainment vs. education

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

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

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

 

Real-time and authentic

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

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

 

Consumer control

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

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

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

 

Integrity

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

The Three Most Overlooked Marketing Realities For Cultural Organizations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

1) Meet audiences where they are

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

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

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

 

2) Target the people and not the place

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

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

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

 

3) Adequate marketing investments matter

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

The short answer: No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visitors to cultural organizations are competitive audiences.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Why Those With Reported Interest Do Not Visit Cultural Organizations (DATA)

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 by the original travel ban.

Here’s the scene: In early February, The Museum of Modern Art in New York rehung parts of its permanent collection with works by artists from the majority-Muslim nations whose citizens were blocked from entering the United States as a result of the end-of-January travel ban. The action received a lot of press.

Data suggest that high-propensity visitor confidence in cultural organizations is at a low point right now, as it was when MoMA made this highly-visible decision in support of its mission. With some cultural organizations taking stands (e.g. MoMA), some doing what they can to avoid political conversations, and some having the priorities of their board leadership called into question as being at-odds with an organization’s mission, it makes sense that people may be wondering what we stand for – and how committed we really are to the missions that we espouse as our raisons d’être. When folks visit a museum, what are they supporting? Who are they supporting? It is in this prevailing context of low visitor confidence that MoMA prioritized the display of these components of their permanent collection.

Cue: Me. Calling up our IMPACTS founder to tag data on how the market responds to MoMA’s action.

At IMPACTS, we collect a lot of data. The data that I share here on KYOB is mostly nonproprietary data informed by the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study (NAAU) that is constantly in-market and has responses from over 108,000 adults. In addition to the NAAU, IMPACTS tracks audience perceptions and behaviors as they relate to 224 visitor-serving organizations in the US (and several overseas as well). These 224 organizations include museums of all kinds, zoos, aquariums, symphonies, theaters, science centers, botanic gardens, and other visitor-serving organizations. Tracking perceptions of these organizations helps us inform our client organizations, alert us to trends, and spot case studies that are actually effective. One of those 224 organizations is MoMA.

MoMA is not a client organization…but at least one client organization considers MoMA amongst its comparative set and has asked IMPACTS to quantify numerous criteria concerning MoMA (and other organizations) as a means of contextualizing their performance against that of their peers. As far as I know, MoMA is not aware that IMPACTS has been collecting this data (…until now. HI THERE, MoMA!)

(Note: Although I’ve revealed myself as an even deeper industry spy in this post, I will not call out not-awesome practices by specific organizations with IMPACTS data here on KYOB. Our industry desperately needs to discuss its failures in order to evolve. Perhaps we even need a whistleblower. I, friends, am not that person. I’m sharing this data because it’s positive, informative, and may be particularly helpful for the cultural industry during a time when we may need market data most.)

Here’s the data and an analysis of what these findings mean for cultural organizations.

 

What affect did this action have on the reputation of MoMA?

A very big one. Here are some select metrics for which MoMA experienced a notable change in their recently observed performance. The data are examples of scalar variables that quantify a level of agreement to a statement within a continuum ranging from strong disagreement to strong agreement. These types of metrics inform an organization’s reputational equities, which, in turn, inform the market’s perceptions of latent constructs such as trust, value, authority, etc. These particular data derive from a tracking study that quantifies the perceptions and behaviors of approximately 800 Tri-State area residents per assessment period. For MoMA, baseline reputational equities recently increased big time (“big time” obviously being a sophisticated math term).

 

 

This kind of bump is a statistically big deal. I included data that dates back to January 2014 so that the magnitude of this bump can be seen in context. The thing to note is the change that was observed concerning MoMA in 2017. This data does not suggest that MoMA is – or is not – the best or most admired art museum. (I haven’t included that context.) Rather, what’s notable here is the significant bump that screams, “something big just happened – and the market likes it a lot!”

This observed increase in reputational equities correlates with MoMA gaining major attention for its decision to highlight artwork by artists from countries affected by the original travel ban. To be clear: These data do not intend to infer causality between the curatorial decision and reputational outcome. These data simply quantify a positive perceptual shift among the US public concerning MoMA. However, one might reasonably wonder: What else could have taken place in the same duration to cause the greatest increase in reputational equities in the last three years for MoMA? In my time working with IMPACTS and tracking metrics, I’ve not seen anything near a bump this big take place “just ‘cuz.”

MoMA’s reputational equities increased in early 2017 while visitor confidence in cultural organizations on the whole was in a general state of decline. Why does reputation matter? As it turns out, when it comes to motivating onsite visitation, reputation matters a lot. This said, take a look at MoMA’s “intent to visit” metrics below. Intent to visit is a different metric than interest in visitation. Intent means that these folks state an intention to visit MoMA. Interest often conceptually removes true barriers to visitation. (“Yes, if I ever get to New York, I am interested in visiting the Statue of Liberty!”) Intent is a more reliable signal than mere interest of actual attendance. These data indicate the visitation intention of people profiling as high-propensity visitors to visitor-serving organizations (Heads-up: Those are the folks who have the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood of attending a cultural organization).

 

How does this inform other cultural organizations?

Do we know the durability of these increases in reputational equities and intentions to visits? Nope. Indeed, in our fickle, competitive, news cycle-driven world, these attitudes may prove fleeting. (I will keep on eye on it to see how lasting these changes sustain.) However, these data are important because they shine a light on what the market may want and expect from cultural organizations during a time when elements of the market risk divisions on matters of cultural, political, and social opinion.

These data represent the market. They’re not about “only people who already like MoMA” or “only people who are against a travel ban” think of MoMA. Assuming that the increase in reputational equities that MoMA has experienced is (at least in part) due to its recent curatorial decision and attendant press, we could have just as easily observed that perceptions remained consistent – or, even, that people disapproved of MoMA’s position. These data point to a potential conclusion that may make some cultural organizations uncomfortable: Perhaps the market wants us to take a stand. More than that, the data may underscore something more fundamental for cultural organizations: Standing up for your mission matters.

What was important about what MoMA did may not be that it was responsive to a timely matter of broad concern, but that it proved that the organization walks its mission-talk. Parts of the mission statement of The Museum of Modern Art read that “…The Museum of Modern Art recognizes that modern and contemporary art transcend national boundaries and…seeks to create a dialogue between the established and the experimental, the past and the present, in an environment that is responsive to the issues of modern and contemporary art, while being accessible to a public that ranges from scholars to young children.” As I wrote a few weeks agoCultural organizations are not political organizations – but they are social organizations – and they exist in the prevailing context of the United States right now regardless of political preference. When we aim to completely avoid the reality of the world in which we live, we please nobody. Worst of all, we risk alienating the very people who support our missions in the first place!

Keep in mind: In the last three years contemplated in the data, several other campaigns, announcements, and programs likely took place for MoMA. This is nowhere near the only thing they’ve actively done to promote their reputation as an admired entity in the last three years! It may not be the bump alone – but also the bump in the context of the last three years – that is deserving of attention. It strikes me as a distinct possibility that the cumulative efforts of MoMA in knowing themselves may have created an institutional preparedness that was prerequisite to seizing on this moment. At a time when many organizations might have divided or stalled or gone silent (even when making a decision around their mission), MoMA moved forward rather loudly and proudly. MoMA’s relatively quick decision likely required a keen internal knowledge of the institution, its priorities, and what it stands for.

I’m not saying that the key for our sector to overcome low visitor confidence is to “get political.” Certainly, being political may prove unnecessarily divisive or inappropriate – and that could potentially result in negative reputational equities. It’s time for some organizations to make their own, appropriate moves to prove that we actually stand for the things that we’ve claimed to value for decades. I’m not talking about curatorial activism or political advocacy – I am talking about being unapologetic for honoring your organizational values and mission. Your mission is the very reason for your existence! It’s incumbent upon cultural organizations to do three things that were a whole heck of a lot easier last year than they seem to be right now: 1) Know yourselves; 2) Know your audiences (or, your own bones); and 3) Remain relevant by connecting the first two items.

I’ll keep reporting back on data as I’m cleared to share it. After all, that’s my mission and that’s what I stand for.

 

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

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, IMPACTS Data, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on MoMA Sees Reputation Boost After Displaying Muslim Artists (DATA)

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 worst thing about a visit to a cultural organization? That’s the topic of today’s Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video. The data is in and there’s a clear leader…by a long shot.

Increasing visitation to cultural organizations comes down to mastering the relationship between two things: reputation and satisfaction. While both of these feed into one another and have a somewhat dependent relationship, reputation is primarily established offsite while satisfaction is established onsite within the walls of your organization. Here’s more on the visitor engagement cycle, if you want to take a deeper dive. For cultural organizations, higher satisfaction rates result in a better reputation, more visitation, a greater intent to revisit, and an increased likelihood to support an organization. Making sure that visitors have a satisfying experience onsite is critical. We’ve quantified the weighted aspects that contribute to onsite satisfaction, but a big part of providing a satisfying experience is, well…not providing a dissatisfying experience.

So, what’s the most dissatisfying thing about a visit to a cultural organization? In order to get to the bottom of this question, we consulted the National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study. I wanted to look into exhibit-based and performance-based cultural organization types separately. After all, “broken exhibits” (a category that I’ve seen show up in data before, and a thing that several individual clients have been concerned about in the past) is not likely to be a major dissatisfier for, say, an evening at the ballet. The data shown below was collected by a process called a lexical analysis. That is, we didn’t ask folks to “rank” predetermined responses. We asked them open-ended queries about the most dissatisfying aspects of a visit, and then – in a nutshell – used fancy computers to group responses together by weighted value based on frequency of mention and strength of conviction. You can read more about the NAAU study here. The bottom line: respondents populated these answers on their own. These are what they decided were the most dissatisfying aspects of a visit.

 

Let us look at exhibit-based visitor-serving organizations first.

This includes various museums, science centers, botanic gardens, zoos, aquariums, and other types of visitor-serving entities that have ongoing hours of operation and display collections. When folks reported an overall satisfaction value below 60, we asked them which factors contributed to their having a less-than-satisfactory experience. Take a look:

Customer service issues – including rude staff, volunteers, and guards – are by far the most dissatisfying things about a visit. This chart indicates rankings as index values – a way of quantifying proportionality between considerations. With an index value of a whopping 173.6, customer service issues are a huge opportunity. (In consultant speak, the word “opportunity” is a euphemism for “issue” –  if you want to try out some consultant speak at your next staff meeting.) In fact, “customer service issues” is the only response with an index value over 100 at all, indicating that this is an important opportunity to tackle. Trailing a long way behind customer service issues are cleanliness issues, inconvenient hours of operation, closed off exhibits, broken exhibits, and parking issues, to name the big ones. Rude staff (index value 173.6) is over twice as dissatisfying as having whole exhibits closed off or shut down (82.1). Yikes! Rude staff is 4.34x more dissatisfying than admission cost for exhibit-based visitor-serving organizations.

 

What about performance-based visitor-serving organizations?

This includes theaters, symphonies, orchestras, ballets, and other performance-based entities. While there are more items with index values above 100 for performance-based organizations than for exhibit-based organizations, there remains a clear leader:

Interesting, right?! Customer service issues – such as rude staff, and including volunteers and ushers – is still the top dissatisfier! Rude patrons are the runner-up for this subset of organizations. As it turns out, rude people really are the worst on all fronts. The “rude guests” finding may be frustrating for performance-based organizations, as this is a high index value for an aspect of the experience upon which the organization may generally have little control. It raises an interesting question (for which I don’t yet have a data-informed answer): If an organization prioritizes staff friendliness, might it affect the “vibe” of the experience enough to encourage patrons to be friendly and polite as well? In other words, do organization representatives exhibiting less-than-friendly behavior (a notably bigger issue) contribute to an atmosphere that excuses patrons for also being less-than-friendly?

 

Positive, face-to-face interactions between representatives and visitors are critical for cultural organization success.

While rude staff are the most dissatisfying thing about a visit to a cultural organization, positive interactions with staff have the greatest influence on increasing satisfaction. Encouraging meaningful interaction between people is one of the strongest superpowers of visitor-serving organizations. When we consider what folks report to be the best thing about a visit to a cultural organization, it’s not surprising that the worst thing might be the very opposite. When we misunderstand the important role that our staff, volunteers, and folks on the floor play in contributing to this superpower, we risk visitor satisfaction and, perhaps in turn, our long-term solvency.

The data point toward an opportunity for both appropriately training and valuing frontline staff. Guards, for instance, need not be trained to be grim folks whose job it is to reprimand, but rather to engage and aid in missions to inspire and educate audiences. Similarly, volunteers need not be considered “extras” to the visitation experience. They are our very drivers of satisfaction – and our frontline champions of shared experiences.

On that note, now is probably a good time to go hug your favorite, friendly volunteer or member of the floor staff. They deserve it.

 

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

 

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

 

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Trends 2 Comments

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 condition in the United States is bringing to light several challenging – and likely incredibly beneficial – fundamental questions about cultural organizations, including who we are and what we stand for. Are these necessarily the same questions that we would have chosen to confront at this moment of our own accord? Probably not…but, confronting these (perhaps inconvenient) challenges may be long overdue for many cultural executives and board members.

As I wrote last week: We’re not political organizations – but we are social and cultural organizations – and we exist in the prevailing context of what is happening in the world around us. Negative substitution of the historic visitor is taking its slow toll on attendance numbers, and visitor confidence is low right now. (I know, I know: Select organizations are experiencing modest upticks in attendance – but, in general, these modest increases are not keeping pace with population growth. Adjusting for population growth can be a bummer that can turn our “increased attendance party” into a “pity party.”)

It’s time for a check-up. It’s time to ask ourselves some difficult questions in order to make sure that our organizations are prepared to tackle strategic issues that may or may not confront our organizations during periods of change. It’s time to make sure that we are prepared.

Enter: Colleen (hi there) and some brief thought-fuel informed from conversations with colleagues over the last few weeks as we revisit visitor-serving organization basics, explore strategic plans, and challenge fundamental questions at a moment in time when knowing who your organization is and what it stands for is critical.

 

The triple bottom lines for cultural organizations

In order for us visitor-serving organizations to “work,” we generally need to master three, key areas that serve as our triple bottom lines as nonprofit organizations: People (community), Planet (mission), and Profit (or, more accurately, revenues). Our success depends upon all three of these core areas of people, planet, and profit, and we’re only as strong as our weakest core area. Each “bottom line” category may spawn some interesting – and likely beneficial – strategic conversations:

 

 

Profit (Revenue)

Revenue aids your organization in cultivating visitation and building community, and is necessary for investments in your mission. Hold the cringe, mission-focused folks! If we cannot keep our doors open and be financially sustainable, then we cannot fulfill our purpose. Revenues make it possible for us to pursue our missions. We need to care about solvency. Some organizations are more dependent on the gate while others are more dependent on grants and government funding. Regardless of how your organization keeps its lights on, less money usually means less mission delivery.

Questions to consider: What if grants and government funding become less available? Does your organization have enough market appeal and business strategy to exist on its own? After all, the market determines our success, regardless of how we keep our doors open. Are we approaching access opportunities in a way that is most beneficial to our solvency? It’s an important time for organizations to understand access basics and reconsider their engagement funnels. In a simplified nutshell: Likely visitors attend your organization by paying your optimal admission price; likely supporters visit by way of membership or donor groups; and lower-income and other under-served audiences visit by virtue of your organization’s investment in targeted access programs.

Relevant context: Contemplating these opportunities and how they relate to your organization (for starters), can help channel discussions about how your organization keeps itself afloat. While nothing has happened yet, funding from NEA, NEH and other government-supported sources may be in peril. Additionally, US-based institutions may benefit by remembering the difficult situation recently faced by many museums in Europe when austerity measures reduced government funding. While we may not ultimately lose significant funding and government support as a sector, it would be irresponsible to not consider these possibilities and what they would mean for our organizations. No matter how your organization keeps its doors open (admission revenues, donations, government or foundation funding, endowment dividends, etc.), now is a good time to do a check-in and play the “what if?” game.

 

People (Community)

People keep our doors open and also make our missions possible, as many organizations have missions that revolve around people and communities. The need to be welcoming has never been greater for cultural organizations because our historic audiences are leaving the market at a higher rate than they are being replaced (a phenomenon called negative substitution of the historic visitor). Many organization types are confronting challenging negative attitude affinities, meaning that people don’t feel that these types of organizations may be “places for people like them.”

Questions to consider: Who and what matters most to our organizations? Whose opinion do we care about: Emerging audiences upon whom our future depends, or the sensitivities of unlikely visitors who might be put-off by science or culture? How do we mobilize people and communities to serve our missions – and, when it comes to cultivating communities during periods of conflict and social division, what roles do we play? At our core, cultural organizations are hubs of human connection. That is our superpower. To what extent do we nurture our community and provide a space for discussion, and to what extent do we avoid this very role for fear of polarization? Is inaction also an action? It appears to be. Do we truly welcome all, or do we welcome only certain audiences? It’s time to be honest about this.

Relevant US context: It’s been reported that we are currently a nation divided and hate crimes have increased. Now may be a time when cultural organizations are called upon to stand up for emerging audiences, and, in the process, cultivate them as attendees and supporters. Some organizations are already defending communities, though those are still tending to be the organizations whose participation is logical (i.e. the Holocaust Museum). If social polarization continues, it may be likely that all kinds of visitor-serving organizations will need to fight harder against appearing unwelcoming.

Ours has perhaps become a Protest-of-the-Day society where a pithy hashtag defines the movement of the moment as folks figure out how to organize to make their stances known. This risks reaction – or, even worse, inaction – from cultural organizations frightened by the perceived risks of audience alienation. However, what we sometimes fail to recognize is that our efforts to remain impartial may be discordant with our missions – and may risk alienating the very people most likely to engage with our organizations. Consider the below data from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study that organizes the US public’s intent to visit a cultural organization by their belief that climate change is mostly due to man made activities.:

What these data suggest is that a person who strongly believes in the science indicating man’s role in climate change is 1.76x more likely to visit a cultural organization in the relative near-term than someone who denies man’s role as a primary contributor to climate change. In fact, the data suggest that persons who don’t believe that man is responsible for climate change are generally less likely visitors to cultural enterprise – which makes sense: If one doesn’t believe in man’s role in climate change – or even in the science of climate change – then why would one waste their time and money visiting a natural history museum, aquarium, zoo, science center, or science museum where science plays a central role in the organization’s mission and programming?

We live in an era of incredible personalization, and this increasingly means self-selection. Significant portions of the public choose to engage with activities and information sources that conform to their existing worldview. As the public becomes less omnivorous in its consumptions, organizations risk becoming unappetizing to people by choosing the bland middle ground.

 

Planet (Mission)

Our missions are the reason for our existence. They motivate people to visit and support, and they also bring people together. Nearly all cultural organizations have missions that revolve around people (educate, inspire), and some also go beyond this to include messages of conservation or preservation. Having a mission doesn’t just make us feel good. Organizations that highlight their missions financially outperform those marketing primarily as attractions. An organization being perceived as “walking its talk” is critical for success.

Questions to consider: What are we doing to make the world better? How? Will we have the courage to take a stand for our missions? To what extent are we willing to honor our missions, and what trade-offs are we willing to accept to defend our missions? Will we have trouble with our board? Will would-be donors be upset if we pursue our missions? Will our board members support our mission even if it contravenes their personal or professional preferences? (Which, of course, begs the question of if we should have board members who disagree with our mission in the first place?) Do we have any conflicts of interest that fly in the face of our mission? How can we resolve these conflicts?

Relevant US context: Science and culture are being politicized. Though we are not political organizations, there are choices to be made that may risk politicization. Some things that we protect and cherish as part of our missions may be threatened by government actions, including access to the arts, climate, oceans, animal species extinction, and even fundamental aspects of education. Nonprofit organizations have missions, and it will be important for organizations to have honest conversations at a board and leadership level about dedication to the mission.

 

For organizations to thrive, they need to have all three elements of people, planet, and profit in-check. Much of the change that could be triggered by possible policy changes would have been inevitable. Cultural organizations need to reach new audiences. In an increasingly transparent world, we need to be asking hard questions. These challenges and changes may not be “bad” at all! To the contrary, if anything, these changes may simply speed up the necessary evolution of the visitor-serving industry.

Again, it all comes back to people, planet, and profit. To quote School House Rock talking about our three-ring government, “Everybody’s act is part of the show and no one’s job is more important. The audience is kinda like the country, you know, keeping an eye on their performance.” Regardless of your political leanings and policy preferences, now is a good time to take a look at how your organization manages its people, planet, and profit – the checks and balances that ensure your future vitality.

 

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

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 1 Comment
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 ... 20 21   Next »