Fads vs Trends: How Organizations Can Tell The Difference (And Why it Matters)

Mixing up fads and trends often leaves executives frustrated, confused, and - worst of all - fearing innovation. Here's Read more

Why Donors Stop Giving Money to Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Why do some people make a donation (or a few) to a cultural organization and then simply stop giving? Read more

The Phrase That Effective Leaders Never Say

Hint: It’s not “This is how we’ve always done it!” But it is another poor excuse for avoiding necessary Read more

Schedule Drives Visitation to Cultural Organizations And Nobody Is Talking About It (DATA)

 Organizations often overlook the single biggest factor influencing attendance. Here's the data that nobody's talking about.  The schedule of a Read more

The Simple Reminder that Significantly Increases the Likelihood of a Successful Nonprofit Initiative

Want to increase the chances that your organization’s initiative will inspire action on behalf of your mission? Don’t forget Read more

Three Tips To Help Nonprofits Increase Success When Pursuing For-Profit Partnerships

Let's stop telling companies that it’s their privilege to work with us for free – and, instead, show them Read more

Nonprofit Leadership Has Evolved: Why Executives Should Be More Like Conductors

Nearly everything has changed in today’s digital world – including the most important duties of executive leaders in successful organizations.

Check out today’s KYOB “Fast Facts” video for three key insights that leaders need to effectively lead in today’s connected, evolving world.

Because I love metaphors and because this post deserves a revival…

Today’s evolved world demands that executives play the role of symphony conductor rather than first chair of an instrument within their organizations. In other words, the days of the executive as expert practitioner have past. It’s more important than ever that executives “conduct the symphony” rather than getting lost in the weeds (a place that – let’s be real – some executives have been known to camp out)!

In this bad metaphor of executives as conductors, the role of the CEO is to make sure that all of these departmental orchestras develop a cohesive symphony that is consistent with the organization’s overall values and objectives.

Today, organizations need conductors because even the most renowned first chair requires a maestro. Indeed, many of the most successful executives have long been playing the role of “conductor” – and this skill has never been more valuable or in-demand. The world moves too quickly for executives to be “expert” at everything in their department or organizations – and successful executives benefit by orchestrating the collective talents of their entire team to achieve success.

Here are three reasons why the need for conducting skills has never been greater (Again, check out the video for an overview):

 1) We are in the midst of a revolution

The Digital Revolution is so named for a reason – nearly everything has changed. To ignore this unassailable fact is to actively refuse to evolve an organization to keep pace with the surrounding world. Further compounding the challenge of the revolution is that fact that it’s still happening. For example, Facebook algorithms change and the very tactic that works best one month can hurt your organization’s success the next. New technologies create new advertising efficiencies.

It’s several full-time jobs just keeping up with the various aspects that go into a department. For instance, at IMPACTS, we are increasingly observing smart, forward-thinking organizations “outsourcing” aspects of their advertising strategy to more expert practitioners. This is not a knock on internal expertise – it is a compliment to the self-awareness of organizations that recognize the functional impossibility of maintaining expertise in an increasingly esoteric, evolving space. The advertising world is incredibly dynamic – it takes true experts who live and breathe it every day – to work with maximum efficacy. Increasingly, it’s simply too much for an individual working for one organization (without a grasp on the broader industry and without devoting significant resources to keeping up with day-to-day changes) to optimize an advertising plan.

Organizations increasingly need real experts. And organizations need executives to hire these experts and trust them. Executives and directors may benefit by realizing that – as awesome as they may be – it is unrealistic to think that they need to be more expert than the experts they’ve hired when it comes to today’s constantly-changing details.

When a leader plays the popular, “Now explain every aspect of this new thing to me while I fire back with actually-irrelevant, pre-digital revolution logic” game, the organization loses. If you’ve hired a good person, the only things a leader needs to consider are: “Will this work?” and “Does this fit with our organizational values?” and “Does this bring us closer to achieving our goals?”

 

2) Someone needs to preach to the choir

Sounds counter-productive, doesn’t it? In today’s world, though, it’s increasingly necessary. One of the most important roles of a good executive is managing successful internal communications.

It’s difficult for conductors to successfully conduct when the sheet music hasn’t been distributed to the musicians. Worse yet, it’s even more difficult to sound like a brilliant symphony without hours of practice. Yet, in a rush to engage external audiences in our fast-paced world, organizations regularly underestimate the critical importance of taking a moment to get everyone on the same page. This is increasingly glossed over, and yet this is arguably more important than ever given our real-time, digital world!

Reputation plays an important role in an organization’s success when it comes to garnering support, and managing reputation is a duty that every department – and the CEO and Board, of course – must work to carry out in concert. A good executive communicates purpose and reinforces the “why” of the organization within their respective department and organization. Without this, nobody plays the same song at the same pace. Without first aligning internal messages – a function of relentless communication – it’s impossible for staff to successfully communicate externally.

 

3) You cannot rule from the mountaintop while stuck in the weeds

And today’s weeds are thicker and taller than ever before. Our world demands that leaders develop a wider view of the institution and how it is perceived in order to develop strategy and confidently maintain an agile organization. If a leader is spending a disproportionate amount of time on one aspect of the organization (or one department), then they may miss the larger, more important, “big picture” aspects of the overall performance that they are supposed to be conducting.

More constantly-evolving areas of expertise (as we have in today’s world) mean more details with which executives may unknowingly distract themselves. Real leaders don’t hide in the weeds – especially when their organizations need them most.

The opportunity here isn’t to simply encourage leaders to stop micromanaging. The opportunity is to clarify structures and roles to meet the opportunity of an evolved world. 

 

Today, successful leaders are conductors – they bring talented musicians together, communicate the song for everyone to play, and work hard to create beautiful music.

 

Like this video? You can check out more on my YouTube channel. Here are a few Fast Fact post 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 updates and information, follow me on Twitter

 

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Fast Facts Video, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

If you build it, they will come

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

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

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

 

I'll have what she's having

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

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

 

You had me at hello

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

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

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

 

Love means never having to say you're sorry

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

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

 

You can't handle the truth

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

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

 

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

Remember folks. It’s just a movie.

 

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

 

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

 

Photo credit to gobeyondseo.com

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

Cultural Organizations Highlighting Mission Outperform Those Marketing as Attractions (Video)

Being good at your mission matters – both to your community and to your organization’s financial health. Check out today’s “Fast Facts” video to learn more about how organizations that highlight their mission consistently outperform organizations that market themselves primarily as attractions.

This data supports several critical trends regarding cultural organizations right now including our increasing focus on being social spaces and our abilities to reach new and diverse audiences.

IMPACTS has been tracking the relationship between perceptions of mission execution and financial performance for several years, and the findings have remained consistent. We’ve found that the best way to show the data is using two, composite metrics:

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

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

IMPACTS- Museums revenue and reputation correlation

 

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

In the interest of maintaining appropriate confidences, you can see that I’ve anonymized the organizations represented in this chart. Each letter represents one of 13 notable US cultural organizations – the types of organizations that most any observer would recognize. In other words, this data isn’t a “stacked deck” – it’s representative of an overall trend. In fact, of the 48 visitor-serving organizations in the US for which IMPACTS tracks these metrics, 47 of the organizations (98%) indicate this compelling correlation. We have found from our tracking of this metric over time that reputational equities tend to reliably predict revenue efficiency.

Tell everyone that the data is clear: Being good at your mission is good business.

 

Like this video? You can check out more on my YouTube channel. Here are a few Fast Fact post 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 updates and information, follow me on Twitter

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

Hubs for Human Connection: The Social Role of Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Hubs for Human Connection: The Social Role of Cultural Organizations

Heartbreaking tragedy has dominated the recent news. Monuments around the world shine brightly with the colors of the French flag, and conversations about the roles of cultural organizations to create common ground in diverse societies are in full swing.

Sometimes several data sets come together to highlight an overwhelming trend – like how personalization is affecting everything about the market’s experiences with cultural organizations. Another data-supported reality that resonates as all the more profound in light of the recent tragedy is this one: Successful cultural organizations today are actually all about connections to and between people.

Data suggest that at our best, cultural organizations are social and facilitate human connection. 

I’m not (only) talking about social media, or re-considering reverential silence policies in galleries or at concerts. I’m also talking about what people consider to be the best thing about a visit to a cultural organization (i.e. who they are with), and the most effective way to increase visitor satisfaction (i.e. more human connection).

Our collections, programs, and performances are important, but they are only important insofar as they inspire, educate and connect people. Here are five, data-informed reasons for cultural organizations (museums, aquariums, performing arts organizations, historic sites, botanic gardens, etc.) to take going social seriously and consider integrating it into everything that they do.

Side: I love it when data reveals positive things about human beings and human nature, so I share these types of data a lot. For those of you who are regular KYOB readers, you might consider this post a sort of “KYOB’s Greatest Hits.”

 

Human connectivity, folks…

 

1) It is the best thing about visiting a cultural organization

Data suggest that who visitors are with is often more important than what people see when they visit a cultural organization. Check out my Fast Facts video from last week for the quick run-down.

When it comes to visiting a cultural organization, with > what.

What is so compelling isn’t so much that visitors believe that spending time with friends and family is the best thing about a visit to a cultural organization. Indeed, what is so striking is the fact that who people are with is more than twice as important as what people see. That’s a whole heck of a difference. This data underscores the role of cultural organizations as facilitators of shared experience – a role that many organizations may overlook in favor of more object-centric programming that overvalue the isolated experience of a visitor. (You can read more about this data here).

IMPACTS- With over what data

 

2) It is how we want to experience cultural programming

I was with the IMPACTS team in a meeting with Stanford University discussing the engagement of students and community members alike in classical music. The group began discussing opportunities around “shaking up” the way that audiences experience classical music, and the merits of making the concert-going experience more “social.” One of the University’s leaders suddenly exclaimed, “It’s getting back to performing Handel in the same, social way that the music was experienced in Handel’s time!”

We all stopped in our tracks. We thought being social in this environment was more of a new idea. Lifting the demand for silence at certain programs? Serving food (chewing while listening)? World-class musicians performing important, inspiring, and moving pieces while mingling with listeners? Many might consider that sacrilegious! One can well imagine avowed classicists muttering under their breaths, “These uncultured young people are destroying classical music!”

In reality, the concept of orchestrating isolated cultural experiences in shared spaces is the relatively new idea. In Handel’s time, music was enjoyed socially – audiences ate, drank, and generally partook in all sorts of merriment while musicians filled the concert hall with beautiful melodies. Why is being social in shared spaces considered “new” when it is the very way that many types of art were intended to be enjoyed, discussed, and explored?

Perhaps it’s a classic case of “the more things change, the more that they stay the same.” Why would the idea of going social (at least in some contexts) be perceived as an attack on the arts?

After all (and for example), dedicated listening to classical music only accounts for 20.9% of all classical music listening activity – and the behavior doesn’t vary as dramatically between students (i.e. “young people”) and non-students as some might suspect. Some organizations may choose to focus their programmatic offerings to try to fit into that 20.9% of their audiences’ dedicated listening time…but why not create programs to include the other 79.1%?

The data below represents the classical music listening behaviors of 915 undergraduate students, and 2,115 non-student adults living in the San Francisco Designated Market Area. The commonality of behavior is particularly interesting as students and non-students spend 79.1% and 82.8% of their time (respectively) listening to classical music while also doing something else.

IMPACTS- classical music listening behaviors

These data are particularly interesting because they indicate self-selected cultural behaviors – classical music listeners (arguably among the most “traditional” of contemporary cultural participants) report that only about 1/3 of their time spent engaging with content is experienced in a state of solitude (e.g. dedicated listening or while reading). The balance of their engagement invites connection and a public context – while traveling, while dining, while cooking, while exercising. For the vast majority of time for its listeners, classical music accompanies another activity or supports a social context…it is not a dedicated activity.

Yet, too many organizations that present classical music create environments focused solely on dedicated listening, and, indeed, actively dissuade a social context. And these organizations are not alone – there seems to exist a false dogma in some organizations that dedicated, solitary experiences are the preferred way to engage with a cultural experience. The data suggest otherwise. Perhaps the audiences of Handel’s time had it right – culture may be a component of a greater, social experience.

 

3) It is the most effective way to increase satisfaction

This data is a KYOB classic and I have made a Fast Facts video on the related findings that you may find of interest. Don’t have two minutes and thirty-five seconds? Here’s a brief summary:

Supporting interactions between a staff and a visitors significantly increases visitor satisfaction. These interactions (we call them personal facilitated experiences (PFEs)) also increase perceived admission value, employee courtesy, entertainment value, and education value.

A PFE is a one-to-one or one-to-few experience and a prime example of personalization. It is a staff member or volunteer essentially saying, “I see you. I would like to share my knowledge and passion with you.”

PFEs are so successful at increasing visitor satisfaction because they involve humans connecting with other humans. Check out the first chart in this article about the best thing about a visit to a cultural organization. Interacting with staff is just behind seeing/interacting with exhibits or performances. This further underscores the incredible importance of with>what.

Personal facilitated experiences are so effective at increasing visitor satisfaction that they can be used to increase visitor satisfaction by daypart. (Again, for more on this data, click here.) Human connection is where it’s at, folks.

PFE satisfaction by daypart

 

4) It is how we determine reputation and make visitation decisions

This is probably the tidbit of information that I go through or reference most in my work at IMPACTS. I find myself referring to it several times a week in meetings and it’s the driving reason behind the need for many organizations to evolve. See my Fast Facts video – How Social Media Drives Reputation – for more information.

Reputation is absolutely critical for driving visitation. Reputation is the second most important decision making utility when it comes to driving high-propensity visitors to cultural organizations. In today’s world, reputation creation and management (and sometimes demise) is overwhelmingly a social function.

What people say to one another about your organization is 12.85 times more important in driving your organization’s reputation than things that your organization says about itself. In our connected world, reputations are determined by what you put out and what folks say about you on social media, earned media, peer review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, and what people say to their friends and family.

“Social” (and not just social media) represents how we make visitation decisions.

Diffusion of messaging- IMPACTS

 

5) Is a reliable indicator of successful organizations

Here’s another set of data that I’ve presented and written about recently – and that IMPACTS continues to monitor over time. (Stay tuned! I have a video summary of this data hitting my YouTube channel next week.)

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

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

Reputational equities contemplate visitor perceptions such as reputation, trust, authority, credibility, and satisfaction. Basically, it is the market’s opinion of how well an organization delivers its mission and experiences. In the interest of maintaining appropriate confidences, I’ve anonymized the organizations represented. You’ll still get a good sense of the trend. Each letter represents one of 13 notable US museums.

We reliably observe that those organizations that the market perceives as most effectively delivering on their mission are the same organizations that achieve the greatest revenue efficiencies. Since IMPACTS commenced tracking this metric several years ago, the data continue to evidence a strong correlation between reputational equities and revenue efficiency.

IMPACTS- Museums revenue and reputation correlation

 

“Going social” isn’t new. It’s one of the oldest natural behaviors that we know as human beings. Especially during this difficult time, let’s be places where people can come to connect to one another – and to the past and the future.

Yes, it’s a smart business move. I have put all of these “greatest hits” together so that folks interested in putting social connectivity at the heart of their organizations have the data that they need to support the important conversations taking place right now. The math is there. Let’s get our hearts on board.

We are connected. We long to be connected. And we reward places that connect us.

 

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

 

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

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

Data Reveals the Best Thing About Visiting a Cultural Organization (Fast Fact Video)


Hint: It’s not seeing exhibits or performances. (That is a distant second.)

In our attempt to provide educational and inspiring programs, organizations may be overlooking their role as facilitators of shared experiences. Check out this “Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts” video for the run-down.

As it turns out, with > what.

This doesn’t mean that our exhibits, programs, and performances are unimportant! But it does mean that organizations may be better able to engage audiences by realizing that who people are with is often more important that what they see when they visit a cultural organization such as a museum, performing arts organization, science center, historic site, aquarium, zoo, etc.

Check out this data from IMPACTS. This information comes form the National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study, which is an ongoing data set with 98,000 responses and counting.

IMPACTS- With over what data

You’ll notice that “time with friends and family” is more than twice as valued as the best thing about a visit to a cultural organization than is “seeing/interacting with exhibits/programs.” In the data world, that is a huge difference. Heck, in any comparative world, that is a huge difference! And, in fact, “interacting with staff/volunteers/performers” is just behind seeing exhibits and performances…further underscoring the importance of interaction and connection with people.

In today’s world, cultural organizations are especially valuable hubs for connection and interaction – not only with onsite content – but with one another.

Our “stuff” is important. Knowing that we are places of connection may be just as – if not more – important. When armed with this information, cultural organizations may be better able to create programs that harness the power of with > what.

Isn’t it interesting that in our age of glowing screens and new technologies, it is the areas of the visitation experience that underscore “real life connection” that are increasingly the most important?

 

Like this video? You can check out more on my YouTube channel. Here are a few Fast Fact post 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 updates and information, follow me on Twitter

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

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

Free Days Do Not Reach Underserved Audiences

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Annual household income on free days- IMPACTS

Educational attainment on free days- IMPACTS

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

 

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

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

Repeat visitors on free days- IMPACTS

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 20 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

 

1) Relevance

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

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

 

2) Resonance

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

Ask: Is this organization walking its talk?

 

3) Reputation

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

So, what comprises an organization’s reputation? Good question. Regular KYOB readers know that I talk about this…a lot. The answer is a little bit of paid media (e.g. promotions and advertising) and a lot bit of reviews from trusted sources (particularly word of mouth and earned media – both of which are often facilitated by social media). In fact, reviews from trusted resources are 12.85 times more influential in terms of your organization’s reputation than is the advertising and promotions that likely make up the lion’s share of your media budget. If you’re really good, other people will talk about you…and the things that other people say about you (i.e. reviews from trusted sources) play a bigger role in enhancing reputation than does anything that an organization pays to say about itself. In order to achieve favorable reviews, an organization will benefit by first aiming to be relevant and resonate with audiences.

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

 

4) Responsiveness

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Devastating Defenses: Five Common Excuses Sabotaging Cultural Organizations

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

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

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

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

 

1) “That does not apply to me!”

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

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

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

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

 

2) “But we are a nonprofit!”

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

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

IMPACTS perception of VSOs as nonprofit

 

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

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

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

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

Speaking of conferences…

 

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

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

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

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

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

KYOB IMPACTS - Trust of sources for cultural leaders

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

KYOB IMPACTS - influence of sources for cultural leaders

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Please subscribe over on the right hand column to get KYOB posts delivered right into your email inbox. Interested in getting tips and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Photo credit goes to TravelPod member Eundel

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

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

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

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

Discounting Is Bad Business For Cultural Organizations

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

3) You are not necessarily capturing new visitation with discounts

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

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

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

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

 

4) Discounts actually decrease the likelihood of re-vistation

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

Hey. You started it.

IMPACTS-Revisitation and discounts

 

5) Your organization becomes addicted to discounting

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

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

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

 

Promotions are a better strategy

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 Please subscribe over on the right hand column to get KYOB posts delivered right into your email inbox. Interested in getting tips and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

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

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

How to engage new audiences in cultural institutions

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

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

 

Why cultural organizations need to reach new audiences

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

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

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

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

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

IMPACTS VSO US attendance vs HPVs

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

IMPACTS VSO attendance performance vs expectation

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

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

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

IMPACTS negative substitution

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

MAPS a framework for engaging emerging audiences

1) (Underscore your) MISSION

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

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

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

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

IMPACTS- Museums revenue and reputation correlation

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

 

2) (Understand your) ACCESS OPPORTUNITIES/BARRIERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

3) (Create) PERSONALIZED PROGRAMS

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

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

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

 

4) (Facilitate) SHARED EXPERIENCES

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

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

IMPACTS with over what

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Sector Evolution, Trends 5 Comments