Why Donors Stop Giving to Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Here’s why some people make a few donations to a cultural organization and then stop giving, according to the Read more

A Month In My Life Working With Cultural Organizations

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Cultural Organizations: People (Not Things) Matter Most

This may be the most important sentence for the evolution of visitor-serving organizations. This post is a short one, but Read more

Four Lessons For Cultural Organizations From The 2016 Presidential Election

This election has provided significant thought-fuel for cultural organizations. Before it comes time to “never look back” on this Read more

What Annoys High-Level Members at Cultural Organizations? (DATA)

Here are the top-five things that visitor-serving organizations do that annoy high level members the most... And the interesting Read more

Six Concepts that Visitor-Serving Organizations Confuse at Their Own Risk

For the sake of the future of cultural organizations, let's stop mixing up these terms.  There’s a good amount of Read more

On Museum Layoffs: The Data-Informed Importance of Marketing and Engagement Departments

The data-informed importance of marketing and engagement staff

Need to increase support for your cultural organization during tough times? It is counterproductive to instinctively cut marketing and engagement experts.

I write about market data-informed tips for financial solvency for museums and cultural centers. That’s what I do. My job is to help keep cultural organizations alive and thriving. Considering this, it’s difficult to see some important museums buckling their belts and laying off staff members right now. It’s also a prime moment to provide an important reminder for the industry in general: Sometimes laying off staff members is an unfortunate reality, but cutting marketing and engagement professionals first is more likely to lead to suicide than it is to salvation.

When times are tight for operations budgets we often keep going back to the never-successful plan of trying to “save our way to prosperity.” This often involves cutting budgets or staff – and that can help to balance finances, provided that you have a plan to also increase revenues in the long-term. If you don’t have a plan to increase your revenues (regardless of why you are laying off staff), then your organization is sacrificing hard-working people in vain. The layoffs won’t better the organization. The layoffs are human payment for bad choices that probably weren’t made by the people who are being sacrificed. Again, though, sometimes organizations really do need to balance finances and do this – but it’s shortsighted to sacrifice jobs without also having a plan to increase revenues. And we know from research that the most effective and realistic ways to do this involve marketing and/or engagement professionals. It hinders the growth of our entire industry when we cut marketing and engagement professionals first.

When we go through rough times, it’s our AUDIENCES that are most important to our survival. After all, they pay admission, become members, spread word-of-mouth endorsements, and make donations. Thus, it can be counterproductive to immediately cut marketing (the people who hold that relationship and keep you relevant) and keep esoteric specialists who work in functions that audiences might consider irrelevant. (A museum philosopher question for the ages: If a specialized curator leads an educating and inspiring program but nobody is there to take part in it, did it educate and inspire?)

My purpose is not to point fingers at organizations that have chosen to lay off these – or any – staff members. Rather, I’m taking this timely opportunity to encourage a re-thinking of who we cut first when we make staff cuts. I talk about marketing a lot in this article because that tends to be the area where thoughtless cuts are made first, and have been made first in the past. But when I say “engagement,” I’m not only referring to marketing. It includes fundraising, floor staff, education leaders, program directors, and people who manage the connection between a cultural organization and living human beings.

While understanding that any layoffs stink and that organizations often do everything in their power to avoid them, here are four reasons why we need to think twice about cutting marketing and engagement professionals – and especially knock it off with our instinct to cut them first. These are arguably the folks who can play the biggest role in preventing further layoffs.

 

1) Marketing is the way to INCREASE revenues

This very obvious fact alone should make our industry kick – or simply rethink – the “cut marketing first” habit. Data suggest that over 70% of cultural organizations aren’t investing the necessary funds to optimize visitation – and this doesn’t even include salaries. Let me rephrase: Over 70% of cultural organizations are not securing as much visitation and support as data suggest that they could. Data suggest that many cultural organizations could earn more revenues, but they choose not to. (This is usually due to outdated and bad business practices that view marketing as an expense as opposed to an investment.) The investment equation for optimizing audience acquisition is shared below. It’s not guessing – it’s math.

Marketing is the only department that involves a tested, data-informed equation for actually MAKING MONEY for cultural organizations. (Though fundraising has rough best practice guidelines and obviously also helps raise funds.) Certainly, an organization can overspend on marketing, and that’s something that should rightfully be cut back if it is out of line with optimal spending. Also, it’s important to make sure that organizations are focusing on engagement strategies rather than gimmicks or carrying out social media for social media’s sake. Marketing funds need to be well spent in order to be effective… but if they aren’t spent, they cannot be effective. For cultural organizations, it costs (some) money to make (more) money. Heck, that’s generally true for all industries!

Marketing also plays an extremely important role in fundraising and building affinities for an organization that lead to memberships and donations. In a way, cutting marketing is also cutting fundraising capabilities in today’s world. And that’s a problem because for most organizations, that is the only other department that can be directly relied upon to help get them out of a financial funk.

 

2) Knowing your audience and community is critical for success

Marketing and engagement professionals are masters of kick-starting relationships with audiences and also –thanks to the connected world in which we now live – maintaining them! Personalization trends are affecting absolutely everything within organizations right now and marketing and engagement professionals are on the front lines. In order to create meaningful connection, today’s marketing and engagement folks need to be listeners first. They see what their online audiences are responding to and, at higher levels in the chain, they can see the entirety of the tapestry of engagement. No other department leader is positioned to do this – not even fundraising. A good marketing department considers its strategy and knows the relevance behind every ad it places or post that it promulgates. Our entire existence is dependent upon effectively connecting with people externally, but it is difficult to attract audiences to our brains (exhibits, programs, etc.) if we are missing a mouth, ears, and eyes. That’s what we do when we cut the marketing department first. I’m not saying that the brain is unimportant. It’s critical! But without professional listeners and strategic communicators, it’s difficult to get folks to CARE about what is happening in the brain. And we need to communicate to audiences on their terms, not ours.

We may be cutting marketing first because we still think of this department as a service department rather that what it is today: a strategic collaborator. Marketing is not a service department. Of the 224 cultural organizations that IMPACTS monitors, the ones that are the most financially solvent very clearly prioritize marketing and audience engagement. They include those experts in the room when initiatives are being formed rather than “tasking” them to market something once it has already been set in stone.

 

3) Reputation drives visitation and support

I write about this a lot because it’s a big deal: What people say about your organization is 12.85 times more important in driving your reputation than things that you pay to say about yourself. When people think of “marketing” they often only think of marketing of the past – or, advertising. Today, marketing is much more dynamic and real-time. It can be more accurately called “engagement” rather than “marketing” for many roles that are currently in that department. Today, marketing teams run not only the messages that the organization puts out, but they also manage the organization’s community. This plays a huge role in driving an organization’s reputation.

Reputation decision-making utility- IMPACTS

Reputation is a top motivator for visitation, and organizations that are cutting back budgets and laying off workers generally need more visitation and support. And, again, your reputation is made up of what people say about you and what you say about yourself – both of which are regularly managed and monitored by marketing departments. Organizations tend to underestimate the role that social media and digital engagement play in driving the gate. Again, yes, sometimes layoffs happen. But is it best to immediately cut people from a department with very direct ties to visitation?

 

4) Millennials are underserved and they are the most connected audiences

Of all of the points, this one may be the most important. Cultural organizations have a big millennial problem. These folks make up the majority of our visitors, but they are still our most underserved demographic. And they are underserved in a very big way. Millennials are the single most important demographic for our industry to engage in order to have a future. (I know, I know. I’m sick of talking about millennials, too, and I’m one of them! But we talk about them so much for a good, important reason. We are in a unique situation with this audience.)

Moreover, millennials are our most connected visitors. In fact, all high-propensity visitors to cultural organizations are “super-connected” with access to the web at home, at work, and on a mobile device. These numbers are not going down. In a world where a bunch of numbers are going down for museums (or not keeping pace with population growth), the number of people who qualify as “super-connected” is going up. When we consider this, cutting marketing teams first manages to be even more of a bad move.

 

Layoffs stink. There are no two-ways about it. I’m not arguing that ANY particular department should be cut in hard times. Indeed, other departments also fall under “engagement.” Fundraising helps summon support and education departments help organizations walk their talk – a thing that also pays off financially. Floor staff are particularly important for increasing visitor satisfaction.  And again, not all marketing professionals are super great by virtue of the simple fact that they work in engagement. This topic is a messy one, but my point is this: We need to stop instinctively cutting people who work in engagement (in any capacity) first. It’s a bad practice. It’s outdated. It’s holding us back and it’s making our organizations weaker.

We need more engagement with audiences when things get tight, not less.

 

And this indeed takes expertise. If we know that it is only our audiences that can reliably help us when we hit hard times, why do we immediately cut off our connections to them and the people who manage our precious communities? Marketing and engagement are not “extra” – they are particularly necessary for support and visitation. Let’s evolve and realize that our financial futures are dependent upon people and connections to our missions. 

 

Like this post? Please check out Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel for more insights. 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, Fundraising, Millennials, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution Leave a comment

What Wealthy Donors Consider Before Making a Gift Greater Than One Million Dollars (DATA)

It isn’t necessarily your organization’s mission that matters most to ultra-wealthy donors…

Some data sets are worth going over twice and making a video about them so that they sink in. This week’s Fast Facts video is one of those data sets. After all, what organization couldn’t benefit by better understanding what factors inform and motivate a gift of more than one million dollars to a nonprofit organization?

The results of this study are worth blazing into our brains. While you may have guessed that the items topping the charts would be on the list, you may not have guessed that they would be the MOST important factors when high net worth donors considering making a gift.

SO, how can organizations engage high net worth donors? To get to the bottom of this million-dollar question, we asked these individuals themselves. The answers might not be what you think.

We define an Ultra High Net Worth Individual as someone with net assets greater than $50 million. 38,000 such individuals reside in the US, and that’s the greatest number of UHNWIs in the world. The study below collected responses from 112 ultra high net worth individualsFor the study, undertaken by IMPACTS, individuals were asked open-ended questions to identify their most important considerations with regard to making a gift greater than one million dollars to a nonprofit organization. Individuals were then asked to rank considerations from 1-10 in terms of their importance.

Here’s what we found:

UHNWI donor considerations

There’s a tie for the first place consideration. Who else has given to an organization and how much other major donors have given are the most important factors when these folks consider making a major gift. Who is on the board is the next consideration, followed by the how much those board members have contributed, round out the most important factors informing ultra high net worth individual giving.

Interestingly, it isn’t until the fifth, sixth, and seventh considerations that the impact of a major gift, mission, and the organization’s commitment to that mission make an appearance.

To whom an organization’s mission matters, matters most when it comes to making a large gift.

These findings are not altogether surprising. Successful fundraisers know that money often follows money, and that social connections play a big role in securing gifts from very large donors. But what’s interesting is that simply being good at your mission often isn’t enough. You need to have demonstrated that your mission is worthy of investment among high-impact individuals.

These data also demonstrate the importance of having a connected board that is willing to put its money where its mouth is. After all, if the folks on an organization’s board don’t care enough about an organization’s mission to support it in a meaningful way, then why should someone else?

Mission and impacts are important. After all, data suggest that the mission and purpose of the organization play important roles in securing quality board members in the first place. That said, once the board is complete and it comes time to look for high net worth donors, having wealthy evangelists (or a group of them!) advocating for your organization may be critical for success when it comes to fundraising.

This information may be seen as a call to action for board members – the data underscores why organizations need them most. And, interestingly, studies reveal that board members often misunderstand their role as financial supporters within cultural organizations. It’s time for all of us on boards to step up. Again, if we’re not giving or championing the cause of our institutions, how can we reasonably expect someone else to do so?

It’s also a wake up call for staff members. The identity of donors and board members and their giving fuel major gift decisions. Certainly, staff may play a role in facilitating and supporting connections between board members and potential donors, but what matters most to donors are the philanthropic commitments of their peers. If board members don’t step up, then it is difficult for organizations to overcome this internal giving deficiency. And that’s exactly what board members who do not give adequately create – a deficiency.

For all of us on boards, let’s rise to the occasion. We’re in the most target-rich country for ultra high net worth individuals in the world. Our development staff can do great things, but they need our support when it comes to our most potentially impactful donors.

And nonprofit organizations: When you get a big donation from a key player, milk it. Shine lights on it. Celebrate it. Leverage it. Knowing what motivates giving for ultra high net worth individuals can only help us better reach our goals.

 

Like this post? Please check out my YouTube channel for more video fast facts! Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Sector Evolution 2 Comments

Attracting Diverse Visitors: Cultural Organizations Overlook The Most Important Factor (DATA)

Attracting Diverse Visitors to Cultural Organizations- Know Your Own Bone

Organizations mistakenly identify underserved audiences based more on ethnicity and race than what these audiences consider their most distinctive attribute – age. 

Cultural organizations (i.e. museums, performing arts organizations, aquariums, historic sites, etc.) are experiencing a phenomenon known as negative substitution of their historic visitors. Simply put, more people who share qualities with historic visitors are leaving the market than are being replaced. In essence, the US market is running lower and lower on older, white people. This means that organizations need to update and broaden the profiles of our typical visitors now in order to thrive in the future.

We need to engage new audiences and make them our regular audiences. Specifically, we need to get better at reaching two broad “types” of people: millennials and “minority-majorities.” Really, though, we need to reach millennials – because the “minority-majorities” that aren’t representatively visiting cultural organizations are overwhelmingly millennials.

There has been an increasing amount of talk about so-called “minority-majority” populations in the US. In general, the phrase “minority-majority” describes a population cohort that has traditionally comprised a minority of the US population, but has recently grown to represent an emerging majority of the US population. An example on a national level are children under the age five – of whom 50.2% (i.e. the majority) represent historic ethnic and racial minorities (e.g. Hispanic, African American, Asian, etc.)

Today, four states (California, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Texas) and the District of Columbia are minority-majority. Additionally, 13 of the 40 largest US metropolitan areas are minority-majority.

Even the connotation of the phrase “minority-majority” risks further confusing the matter.  In the past, minority populations were defined primarily by race. As the US grows ever more ethnically and racially diverse, emerging minority-majority populations are increasingly defined by age.  

Let’s dive into some data that can help us better reach young people, and in doing so, engage people of more diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds:

 

1) Minority-majority audiences are young

According to July 2014 US Census Bureau data, there were 148.6 million people in the US under the age of 35 – or, 46.6% of the total US population! If you further organize these data and exclude more elderly populations, there were 299 million persons in the US under the age of 75…and half of them were aged 34 or younger.

Millennials and minority-majorities are a huge part of the same audience. Data indicate that nearly 22% of adult millennials have visited a cultural organization in the US within the past year. However, as millennials comprise approximately 30% of the US adult population, the data suggest that millennials are representatively underserved as a cultural audience.

Millennials are clearly an emerging audience, yet, all too often, conversations concerning emerging audiences seem to focus less on age and more on race as an indicator of underserved populations. When we talk about millennials, we are also talking about the 47.35% of millennials that are NOT White non-Hispanic.

Why do organizations seem to think of white millennials as millennials, and distinguish millennials of other ethnic or racial backgrounds primarily as minority-majorities? 

Kind of weird, right?

US adult millennial population

The Hispanic population of the United States as of July 2014 totaled 55.4 million, making people of Hispanic origin the nation’s largest ethnic or racial minority. In addition, Census Bureau data indicate that Hispanics, with a median age of 29 years, are younger than most other racial or ethnic groups. By comparison, the median age for non-Hispanic Whites in 43. (The median age for non-Hispanic Blacks is 34, and the median age for Asians is 36.)

Because Generation X is such a relatively small generational cohort, youth has only recently started to demographically prevail.  One could argue that young people are the emerging minority-majority population in the US.

 

2) Millennial audiences are generally underserved by cultural organizations regardless of race

Representative visitation is an issue for nearly all millennial audiences, not only minority-majorities. These data suggest that perhaps the notion of “underserved audiences” has less to do with historic definitions based on ethnicity and race, and much more to do with a generational disengagement.

 IMPACTS - millennial cultural attendance by ethnicity

The above chart indicates that most US adult millennials are underserved in terms of representative cultural participation…regardless of race or ethnicity.  Excepting the relatively modest number of adult millennial Pacific Islanders, Native Alaskans, and American Indians, only adult millennial Asians representatively participate in US cultural organizations.  The three largest racial cohorts (i.e. White non-Hispanic, Black or African American, and Hispanic) – comprising nearly 90% of the US adult millennial population – are all massively underserved. 

Why is this the case?  I posit that it is because organizations observe that they’re not representatively engaging these audiences and think of it as a matter of race and not a generational disconnect.  If it were solely a matter of race, then White non-Hispanics would be representatively participating…but they’re not.

 

3) Millennials generally do not consider race to be a primary defining attribute 

Perhaps one of the reasons that cultural organizations are not representatively engaging minority-majority audiences is because we are developing engagement strategies and programming based on assumptions concerning culture and heritage. We miss the mark when we decide that ethnicity matters most to this audience. We would be better served to understand that we need strategies based on the psychographic and behavioral attributes of a generation that does not consider ethnicity as a primary differentiator. After all, this generation is nearly 50% not “white!”

Take a look at this data from the National Awareness, Attitudes & Usage Study of more than 98,000 persons (including more than 24,000 millennials):

IMPACTS US adult millennial indentifiers by ethnic background

When asked to describe themselves, millennials generally did not self-describe based on ethnic or racial criteria. (The sole exception were Black or African American millennials, and even in this example, racial identity was not their most frequent self-descriptor. Black or African American millennials identify with being young more frequently than they self-describe based on race.)

To more representatively engage young Hispanics as an emerging audience, for instance, significantly more attention should be focused on the “young” part of the equation and less attention on the “Hispanic” descriptor (which doesn’t show up as a frequent self-description by Hispanic millennials). In order to better connect with emerging audiences, organizations need to see these audiences as these audiences see themselves. Otherwise, organizations risk a massive disconnect with the very audiences with whom they are trying to engage.

Interestingly, most every other word that these groups use to describe themselves could apply to other generations.  Youth is their self-described unique attribute.

Also, adult millennial audiences self-identify as “young” before they generally identify by their gender!  (Perhaps this also helps to explain the rise of the transgender rights movement at this moment in US history.  Transgender persons have always existed…why is it that now the movement finds increasing acceptance and salience?  It may be because millennials – the largest generation in US history – identify as “tolerant” and “friendly” and “kind” and “hopeful” ahead of their own gender!)

Millennial cohorts identifying themselves as “friendly” and “kind” is great for cultural organizations! It underscores much of what we know: To millennials (and, increasingly, to all audiences), your organization’s mission matters! This finding also aligns with millennial wants for membership programs.

 

4) There is no meaningful difference in visitor satisfaction based upon race

The data below indicate overall satisfaction for adult millennials segmented by race – and shows that there is no meaningful distinction in overall satisfaction based on race. These data, too, come from the National Awareness, Attitudes & Usage Study.

US millennial overall satisfaction by race

Regardless of race, millennials visiting cultural organizations are generally satisfied.  So our engagement challenge is not one of content – millennials of all races enjoy the experience once they have been engaged.  This finding suggests that the improvement opportunity lies more at the top of the engagement funnel.

In other words, having special Cinco de Mayo programming (i.e. content) may not necessarily better engage Hispanic millennial audiences.  Having programming that appeals to millennials – regardless of race – is perhaps a better means of engaging with Hispanic millennial audiences.  Basically, from an engagement perspective, the operative word in the “Hispanic Millennial” descriptor is “Millennial” and not necessarily “Hispanic.”

 

I have been party to many conversations with cultural leaders asking, “How do we more representatively engage the African American population of Washington DC?” and “How do we better connect with the Hispanic population in Los Angeles?”  These conversations belie the sense that many organizations believe race to be the key differentiator in terms of representative engagement.  Instead, these same leaders should be asking themselves, “How do we engage young people in Washington DC?” and “How do we engage young people in Los Angeles?”

If organizations representatively engage young people – members of the most diverse generation in US history – then organizations will also do a much better job of representatively engaging more racially diverse audiences.  Again, the median age for Hispanics in the US is 29.  The median age for non-Hispanic Whites in the US is 43.  Developing strategies to representatively engage young people is a “two birds, one stone” move: Representatively engaging young people concurrently means representatively engaging more racially diverse audiences. 

All of this is NOT to say that ethnicity and racial background are unimportant. Cultural and heritage awareness and sensitivity are important considerations for all organizations.  And, from an engagement and programming perspective, emerging personalization trends recognize the uniqueness of more diverse audiences.  However, the data does suggest that the way we think of our audiences isn’t necessarily the way that they think of themselves. The data suggest that America has never been more of a melting pot…yet too many organizations seem to silo audiences based on increasingly less relevant segmentation criteria such as ethnicity and race. Cultural organizations need to get better at attracting millennials of all races and ethnicities.

In the end, this is good news. It suggests that efforts to representatively engage millennial audiences should reach all millennial audiences. It’s another drop in the bucket for forward-facing organizations prioritizing transparency, social good, connectivity, communication, personalization, and digital engagement.

Audience diversity for cultural organizations is increasingly a function of representatively engaging young people – not necessarily trying to target specific racial or ethnic groups with one-off, race-based programming.  If organizations representatively engage young people, in turn, they will engage more racially diverse audiences.

 

 

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

 

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

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

Audience vs. Market Research: A Critical Distinction for Cultural Organizations

An overreliance on audience research may be the very thing holding back even the smartest of cultural organizations.

With so many cultural organizations nowadays boasting audience research capabilities, why is the industry struggling so severely in terms of engaging new and emerging audiences? We’re confusing audience research and market research – and that difference is the topic of this week’s Know Your Own Bone – Fast Facts video.

Not a video person? No problem. This information is important, so here’s a summary:

 

Most cultural organizations collect and focus on AUDIENCE research

Audience research is any research conducted on specific audience segments to gather information about their attitudes, knowledge, interests, preferences, or behaviors. For cultural organizations, audience research is often conducted on current visitors and past visitors. It often comes in the form of exit surveys, zip code collecting, and reaching out to members and visitors through email lists or online communities (to name a few sources of these types of data).

Audience research is the most common type of research carried out by cultural organizations by a long shot – and some organizations even have their own audience research departments! These data help us uncover information related to who is visiting, why they are visiting, and what the people who are already engaging with the organization think.

 

Organizations often struggle with collecting MARKET research

Market research, on the other hand, is any organized effort to gather information about target markets – including the folks who may NOT be visiting an organization.

Market research can be tricky, though, because someone who is not visiting your organization cannot fill out an exit survey. They may not be a part of your online community, and they aren’t likely on your email lists. Simply put, they aren’t a part of your audience yet. The industry’s inability to reach underserved audiences relates directly to our lack of market research and a general overreliance on audience research.

 

Organizations need both types of research, but our lack of MARKET research risks big sustainability issues

Audience research has tremendous value for perfecting programming, but that’s not where the industry needs the most help right now. In order to remain solvent and relevant in today’s world, cultural organizations desperately need to engage new audiences.

Unlike audience research, market research helps organizations find out who is NOT visiting and why they aren’t visiting. This is a big deal because organizations are doing a really not-awesome job reaching new and emerging audiences! Not to mention, cultural organizations (museums, performing arts organizations, aquariums, etc.) are experiencing a phenomenon called the negative substitution of the historic visitor. This means that for every one person who profiles as a historic visitor who leaves the market, they are being replaced by less than one person. Millennials are not visiting cultural organizations at representative rates, and engaging people of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds – who make up more and more of the US population each year – is perhaps our greatest opportunity to secure our futures. In other words, the demographic makeup of the US is changing and we really need to get better at reaching new audiences and making them our new regular audiences.

 

It is impossible to fully understand market perceptions of your organization and reach new audiences if you only study the people who are already in your community.

To succeed, organizations need both types of research.

 

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

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

Think Twice Before Saying These Three Things to the Marketing Department

Think Twice Before Saying These Three Things to the Marketing Department

These three sentences may indicate that your organization is having a hard time coming to grips with 21st century realities.

I specialize in market trends affecting the cultural, visitor-serving sector. The topics that I write about range from admission pricing to onsite experiences to fundraising. That said, I am most frequently asked about millennials (that huge generation symbolically forcing sector evolution) and marketing (the department that is seemingly most affected by this evolution). Interestingly, it often seems like the entire concept of sector evolution is inappropriately isolated as relating mostly to matters of millennials and marketing.

First, millennial changes are increasingly market changes. For instance, millennials may be the most connected of the generations, but all high-propensity visitors to cultural organizations are super-connected to the web, and all generations are increasingly social conscious consumers. I often wonder if we put “millennial talk” in a corner because it feels safer to place necessary change into a subset category than to call “millennial talk” what it actually is: Discussion about our urgent need to become more business-savvy, social-good serving, relevant, and agile right now.Millennial talk” may be our way of diminishing urgency and compartmentalizing necessary changes regarding external audiences and supporters.

Second, what we think are primarily changes in how the marketing department operates may actually be hints for changes that need to infiltrate our organizations on the whole. Similarly, “marketing talk” may be our way of diminishing urgency and compartmentalizing necessary changes regarding broader internal strategies and operations. It is astounding how much “marketing talk” these days has less to do with marketing, and more to do with shifting cultures, embracing changes, and developing a deeper need to understand and respond to our constituencies.

Here are three, common phrases that I often hear said to leaders of marketing departments by other executives that may be indicative of a misunderstanding of the changed environment in which visitor-serving organizations operate:

 

Here is what we need you to market

This is the biggest change and the best place to start. In today’s world, marketing is primarily a strategic department – not primarily a service department. Folks within institutions may be used to thinking of this department as the one that simply goes forth and communicates messages to the public. This is no longer true – if it ever was in the first place. The most successful organizations with whom IMPACTS works (particularly in terms of financial solvency) involve the marketing department in top-down strategic decision-making rather than the tail-end of the program or product development process.

The marketing department manages your relationship with your audiences, not the volume of your one-way communications. Because the marketing department spends a good amount of time listening to audiences, it also tends to be more attune to audience wants and needs than less outwardly engaged departments. Initiatives have a much greater chance of success if marketing is involved in their development rather than briefed after their finality. Unfortunately, many organizations are still accustomed to thinking of marketing solely as a service department…and they risk doing so at their own slow descent into lessened relevance.

 

You need to increase our yelp and tripadvisor ratings

Alrighty folks. Yes, peer review sites live in the online world and it makes sense that the “task” of increasing ratings on these social websites may fall to the marketing department. Indeed, your organization should sometimes respond to both negative and positive reviews on these sites! But peer review sites rate your organization’s onsite experience (and combined brand perception, mission execution, programs, initiatives, and the like) – not how well your organization “manages” TripAdvisor.

There’s no amount of typing “Thank you for your review, Jessica. We’re sorry to hear that our admission staff was rude to you…” on a computer keyboard that actually makes the onsite admission staff less rude to visitors. Peer review sites generally shine a light on OPERATIONAL issues and those run much deeper than the marketing department. The problem isn’t that you haven’t written a sufficient number of “We’re sorry to hear about your experience” comments – it’s that people may be having a less-than-awesome experience in the first place. The best way to increase ratings on peer review sites is to collectively perform better at our jobs as an entire organization. (And, even then, you are still bound to get a few strange reviews.)

Folks say things like, “Raise our TripAdvisor ratings” to marketing departments when they think that social media is about technology and web platforms, and they forget that it is actually about the experiences of living, breathing, visiting human beings. Like much online feedback in our world today, it may take place on a social media channel, but the messages are important and they are usually messages for the organization at-large and not simply the marketing department. Would feedback about programs and experiences given onsite be directed solely toward the marketing department? No. (Unless the complaint was truly a branding or marketing issue.) So why do we think that feedback that comes from social can be “fixed” solely through responses on social media?

If you want people to report that they are having better experiences, then listen to their feedback and start creating better experiences! Here’s a much better way to increase visitor satisfaction than getting frustrated with the marketing department.

 

Why isn't social media fixing this problem for us

We’ve all heard it, haven’t we? And yet it still happens in the most important of conversations. It might be said during a conversation with staff, executive leaders, or even among board members. An organization will finally be in the midst of having a serious, “We need to get real about fundraising and look at our strategies” talk and someone (usually someone high up on the ladder and who is generally unfamiliar with social media…which is a problem in and of itself) will totally pull this move in real life and say, “Why isn’t social media fixing this problem for us?”

This is usually code for, “I would like to blame my lack of time strategically thinking about this huge issue until this very moment on something that I totally don’t understand and yet fiercely believe should have magical powers that shall overcome my own inability to handle this topic.”

Social media is absolutely critical for organizations in terms of building an organization’s reputation – which meaningfully contributes to attendance and support. The problem here’s isn’t about using social media for fundraising purposes (or anything else – smart social media can help an organization do great things), but that social media is often used as a scapegoat for thinking critically about more integrated strategies. This sentence can be used to avoid ‘fessing up that board contributions need to increase, that staff need to take a time out and rethink their overall strategy, or that departments need to stop “not my job-ing” connective communications.

It’s like needing to build a house and saying, “Why isn’t the hammer fixing everything for us?!” Perhaps it’s because the hammer is a tool, not a strategy. You can use social media to help your organization do a whole host of things, but only if you have the blueprint for the role it should play. Also, building a house usually requires more than a hammer. You might need a wrench and a screwdriver, too. Like all other tools, social media can stand on its own for specific tasks. If you’re talking big things, though, it’s best to put on your thinking cap and create an integrated game plan and decide the size of the role that you need social media to play and what can realistically be achieved.

 

A lot of big changes are taking place in the world today – and, for better or worse, much of that change management is being tasked to marketing departments. Visitor-serving organizations tend to have hierarchical structures that lend themselves more easily to “tacking on” responsibilities to single departments than integrating deeper cultural changes throughout organizations. Perhaps by holding onto these old ways of doing things, we’re letting the tail wag the dog.

Sometimes, when organizations think they are talking about marketing, they are actually talking about sector evolution that needs to be fully embraced throughout the organization. This may mean that our organizational structures will need to evolve to lend themselves more easily to the real-time, dynamic world in which we now live. Our hierarchical houses are not performing very well anymore, and we don’t always get to decide how we live in this world. Our ability or inability to meet market needs will decide for us, so perhaps it’s best that we pick up our tools and get to work building structures that work better for the 21st century.

 

Like this post? Please check out my YouTube channel for video fast facts! 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, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

Millennials Spend More Than Others On Food and Retail at Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Here’s what your organization needs to know about why this is happening.

This week’s Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video takes a look at the onsite food, beverage, and retail purchasing habits of different generations at cultural organizations. You may be surprised by the findings….

Check out this chart from IMPACTS that is based on data from the ongoing National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study of 98,000 adults and counting. The chart indicates the respective percentages of visitors who make an onsite retail or food and beverage (F&B) purchase while visiting a cultural organization in the U.S.

IMPACTS consumer behaviors at VSOc

Millennials spend more money than previous generations on retail and food while attending cultural organizations. As you can see, millennials are nearly 22% more likely to make an onsite retail purchase than are Baby Boomers, and they are 10% more likely to make a retail purchase than members of Generation X. Not only that, millennials are 32% more likely to eat on site while visiting than Baby Boomers, and 11% more likely to eat on site than members of Generation X. Per capita millennial spending is 28% greater than that of Baby Boomers. That’s a big difference!

This information may be added to the important list of reasons why millennials are particularly awesome visitors to cultural organizations and why it’s incredibly important that organizations start reaching them at representative rates. The case for millennials being worth their bang for an organization’s-sustained-investment buck is growing stronger and stronger.

Why are millennials spending most and how can organizations utilize this information?

What we are seeing here is simply the applicability of broad trends affecting the cultural sector. Here are a few data-based factors that may be at play:

 

1) Millennials go out to eat more often than do other generations.

There are quite a few studies on this. And when we do go out to eat, we generally spend more money.

 

2) Millennials are more socially conscious consumers.

That said, this trend is also increasingly affecting all generations. This is relevant because most cultural organizations tend to be at least somewhat considerate about their food and beverage offerings. Think about the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, and other organizations with food options or initiatives focusing local, sustainably sourced food in their cafes. In fact, food offerings with supporting narratives that underscore food ethics (and then put signs on the table, notes on the menu to help tell that story) tend to result in more sales than food options without a narrative.

 

3) Millennials were raised in an aggregated experience environment.

Instead of an individual store, we went to malls growing up…and some of these malls had movie theaters, restaurants, bowling alleys and climbing walls. “One stop consuming” may be a concept that makes sense to this generation in this situation – and may be why some studies have even uncovered that millennials may prefer brick-and-mortor store shopping to online shopping when they can go. Not to mention, an aggregate environment makes things a whole lot easier for folks with small children.

 

Millennial trends are affecting our retail and food and beverage sales in a big way. Let’s harness the factors fueling this opportunity so that we can provide the best possible experiences for our visitors. Not to mention, let’s make the most of these opportunities so that we can secure additional funds to support our missions and operations.

 

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

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Trends Leave a comment

Why Cultural Organizations Are Not Reaching Low-Income Visitors (DATA)

Why Programming for Low-Income Audiences are Unsuccessful

Data suggest that some types of cultural organizations are perceived as more welcoming than others. Here’s how we could do better.

With missions to educate and inspire audiences, many visitor-serving cultural organizations (e.g. museums, zoos, aquariums, theaters, symphonies, etc.) aim to serve low-income audiences in addition to their high-propensity visitors. So, just how good of a job are organizations doing when it comes to engaging lower-income audiences, and how can we make it even better?

Attitude affinities are a way of quantifying how the market perceives an organization in terms of its hospitableness and attitudes towards certain types of visitors. In summary, attitude affinities inform responses to visitor questions such as, “Is this type of organization for people like me? Do people like me ‘fit-in’ at this type of organization? Are people like me made to feel welcome and comfortable at this type of organization?” Extant data indicate a strong correlation between attitudes affinities and intentions to visit an organization. If people don’t feel welcome at an organization, then they are less likely to visit that organization.

IMPACTS quantifies attitude affinities on a 1-100 continuum, whereby the higher the value, the more welcoming (or greater affinity) a visitor perceives the organization. Data indicate that intentions to visit decline when attitude affinity-related metrics drop below 63 on this 100 point continuum. Due to this observed decline in intentions to visit, persons reporting attitude affinities ≤62 are generally not considered to be likely visitors because they do not feel welcomed by the organization.

Certain types of organizations seem to struggle more with negative attitude affinities as a barrier to onsite engagement than do others. Before we dive into the data, it is worth noting the attitude affinities have nothing to do with content – these are not measures of if people prefer animals to art. These are measures of peoples’ perceptions of feeling welcome at any organization. In other words, some organizations may defensively blame these numbers on a phenomenon innate to their content, but that’s generally not the case. After the data, I’ll discuss this a bit more. For now, let’s dive in!

 

IMPACTS - Art museum attitude affinities

As represented in the above chart, 552 of the 1,385 person sample population (39.86%) indicate attitude affinities ≤62 – suggesting that for four of 10 adults, a perception of not feeling welcome at an art museum poses a significant barrier to their onsite engagement. Remember: these metrics don’t even begin to contemplate other barriers like content interest/relevance, transportation, or schedule (a key barrier for general audiences). Out of the gate, four of 10 members of the US market don’t feel welcome in an art museum. But, hey, it’s not just art museums…

 

IMPACTS - History museum attitude affinities

510 of the 1,372 person sample population (37.17%) indicate attitude affinities ≤62. The data indicate that history museums are perceived to be slightly more welcoming to lower income audiences than are art museums.

 

IMPACTS - Science museum attitude affinities

448 of the 1,390 person sample population (32.23%) indicate attitude affinities ≤62 – suggesting that for approximately three of 10 adults, a perception of not being welcome at a science museum or science center poses a significant barrier to their onsite engagement.

We have combined science centers and science museums because the market generally does not differentiate between these two types of organizations. This lack of differentiation may sound like blasphemy for folks working in a science center or science museum, but the market doesn’t parse the nuance that may differentiate these types of organizations. (Preempting a question: No – the data is not meaningfully different when science centers and science museums are separately distinguished for this type of analysis.)

 

IMPACTS - Aquariums attitude affinities

300 of the sample size of 1,335 persons (22.47%) indicate attitude affinities ≤62 – suggesting that for approximately two of 10 adults, a perception of not being welcome at an aquarium poses a significant barrier to their onsite engagement. Comparatively, this is excellent news for aquariums “walking their talk” in terms of being seen as welcoming places! Loyal KYOB readers know that aquariums serve a bit like crystal balls for the future of cultural organizations because they tend to be both the most for-profit and nonprofit among their visitor-serving brethren. Market forces dictate that aquariums, as a simple means of business survival, often need to address changing attitudes, behaviors, and engagement strategies years before other types of organizations that may rely on large endowments and government support.

 

IMPACTS - Zoos attitude affinities

277 of the 1,512 persons sampled (18.32%) indicate attitude affinities ≤62 – suggesting that for less than two of 10 adults, a perception of not being welcome at a zoo poses a significant barrier to engagement. Good work, zoos!

 

Orchastra and symphony attitude afffinities

703 of the 1,540 persons sampled (45.65%) indicate attitude affinities ≤62 – suggesting that for nearly half of the sampled adults, a perception of not being welcome at an orchestra or symphony poses a significant barrier to their onsite engagement. Yikes!

However, for several orchestras and symphonies, this data would hardly qualify as surprising. Many orchestras and symphonies have been challenged by dwindling audiences and are experimenting with creative engagement strategies to better cultivate new constituencies. These data may suggest that overcoming the barrier to engagement may have less to do with promoting a new artist or performance, and more to do with promoting effective access programming.

 

In sum, what do these negative attitude affinities look like among the cultural organizations discussed here? At the risk of inserting one of the most glass-is-half-empty charts to ever grace KYOB (but in the spirit of “real talk”) here’s a summarized analysis: (Don’t worry! There’s a lesson here for improvement so we can move toward beating this! More after the chart…)

IMPACTS - Negative attitude affinities

Why are attitude affinities better for some organizations than for others? There’s a possible, data-informed reason. But first, I need to myth-bust the immediate go-to reason that is probably popping into many-a-reader’s head right now:

 

A) Attitude affinities do not generally correlate with admission price

It was my first thought, too. (Or I guess it would have been if I didn’t do so much data-driven work with regard to admission pricing). Data suggest no correlation between admission cost and attitude affinities. The average visitor to an aquarium reported paying approximately 52% more to visit than did a visitor to an art museum, and also reported 73% lower negative attitude affinities. In other words, persons who don’t feel welcome at an organization don’t necessarily do so because of cost-related factors.

It is important to remember that admission price is not an affordable access program. These things are different. Admission pricing enables successful affordable access programming by supplying the funding required to actually serve low-income audiences – a thing that many organizations (even free ones) aren’t doing very well.

IMPACTS - Average admission price paid

 

B) Attitude affinities DO correlate with lack of awareness of access programming

Interestingly, when it comes to tactics to mitigate cost as a factor to visitor engagement, households reporting annual incomes >$250,000 are significantly more likely to be aware of an organization’s affordable access programming than are households with annual incomes <$25,000. In other words, there are more people annually earning $250,000 receiving messaging about access programming than the people that actually need the access programming! In the case of orchestras and symphonies, high-income households are 3.35x more likely to be aware of an organization’s affordable access programming than are low-income households for which these programs are created!

IMPACTS - Access programming awareness

Low-income audiences that most need access support or assistance are comparatively unaware of access programming opportunities from these types of organizations. BUT that doesn’t mean that those organizations aren’t offering them (as evidenced by the relatively high awareness of these access programs among households with annual incomes >$250,000).

The reason why this is happening is that same reason why “free days” to cultural organizations attract people with higher average annual incomes than do non-free days: Organizations market access programs to high-propensity visitors and historic audiences because those are the folks that they know how to reach. This is happening because organizations generally neglect making meaningful, sustained investments in promoting these programs to the audiences whom they most intend to serve.

Underserved audiences are by their very definition not currently engaging with our organizations. They are not onsite to complete audience research surveys. They are not on our email lists. They are not following us on Facebook. They don’t like our Instagram posts or retweet our messages. So when we boast of our affordable access programs using these channels, we are mostly speaking with our current constituencies.

Engaging underserved audiences requires a sincere and sustained investment. We can create the greatest access programming possible, but if the people who need it aren’t made aware of it, they are unlikely to engage with our organizations.

In order to reach these audiences, we need to have a different messaging strategy than we do to reach other types of visitors. This means building relationships with leaders in lower-income communities to help spread the word, partnering with organizations that already serve these audiences (e.g. churches, schools, libraries, etc.), and actually thinking about how these hopeful audience members make decisions. It is completely different than the marketing and PR that you are already doing in order to reach non-affordable access audiences (i.e. the people that you need to engage in order to keep your lights on and make that messaging to lower-income audiences possible).

Lack of access programming awareness is not the only barrier to engagement for low-income audiences. There are a whole host of barriers to access that cultural organizations should work to overcome (including schedule, relevance, content disinterest, transportation, etc.). These data focus on attitude affinities and do not aim to resolve other barriers to engagement. That said, it stands to reason that access may be the key issue on the critical path to engagement. After all, if audiences are not aware that you offer an access program for them, then, well, they aren’t aware that you offer an access program for them. These folks may not know that you are doing anything to reach them in the first place!

On the surface, these data may look like bad news – but they’re not. This is potentially good news because we can see something that is happening and how it may be unknowingly sabotaging our access programming. More importantly, we can fix it! This information allows us to stop spinning our wheels and focus on where our access programming may be getting stuck – in our messaging.

 

Like this post? Please check out my YouTube channel for video fast facts! 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 6 Comments

Local Audiences Have Skewed Perceptions of Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Regardless of region or cultural organization type, local audiences are the hardest to please.

As cultural organizations, we tend to love our local audiences. We provide them with all sorts of benefits, believing that local audiences are our best audiences. But, interestingly, data suggest that some of that love may be unrequited.

This week’s Fast Facts video features data that may be tough for organizations to swallow, but may prove important in improving their respective understanding of their audiences. Knowing how local audiences perceive organizations will help them develop more effective strategies for successfully engaging these visitors. As it turns out, local audiences have a skewed perception of the organizations that are closest to them – and it’s not good.

IMPACTS tracked perceptions among 118 visitor-serving organizations in the United States that charge admission. This study comprised multiple types of cultural organizations, including museums (e.g. art, history, science, children’s), zoos, aquariums, botanic gardens, theaters, and symphonies. All organizations were located within the United States, but from different cities and states throughout the country – including both major metro markets and less populated regions. The data ALSO includes both large organizations that are recognized nationally AND more community-based museums that singularly pride themselves on serving locals. In other words, you “This doesn’t apply to me” this data at your organization’s own risk.

For this particular data set, we wanted to know the value for cost perceptions of people attending cultural organizations – or, how good of a value these audiences thought that they received with regard to their visitation experience. (Know Your Own Bone readers have seen this type of perception metric used before.) Take a look at what we found when we cut the data by travel distance.

 IMPACTS value for cost by distance

Local audiences believe that the value of the visitor experience is less worthy of the organization’s admission cost than non-local visitors to the same institution. On average, people living within 25 miles of the organization (or, locals) indicate value for cost perceptions that are 14% lower than those of regional visitors!

But so many organizations offer discounts for locals. Are these folks even paying full admission? No. On average, the locals in this data reported paying 20% less than regional visitors – and they still report that the value wasn’t as worthy of the cost as non-local audiences paying full admission!

Okay. But local audiences are probably more satisfied with their experience, right? After all, the organization is right there strengthening the reputation of their own city, and, again, many are getting in at a reduced cost.

Nope again. Take a look at the data cut for overall satisfaction in regard to distance traveled. Locals report satisfaction levels that are 11% lower than regional visitors who had the same visitor experience.

IMPACTS local satisfaction

This probably seems nuts to many people. What is going on?! Three important things are happening here, and recognizing them may help us create programs for locals that provide a more satisfying and valuable experience.

 

1) People value what they pay for.

These findings support the well-known tenet of pricing psychology that people value what they pay for. Personally disagree in a statement of defense? I didn’t make up this fact – it’s well known by economists and takes place in many situations. And this reality is obvious in the data here. The locals reporting the lowest levels of satisfaction were generally the ones visiting at the most deeply discounted cost basis.

 

2) Folks believe that good things are far away.

We reliably uncover the misconception among locals that if something is that great, it probably isn’t in their backyard. That’s a false premise, but it tends to permeate local perception. Amazingly (to me), this is even true in New York City. But the finding makes sense. Ask someone about the greatest cultural experiences and they are more likely to cite famous entities overseas or across the country than an organization nationally perceived as equally satisfying and successful that is located in the respondent’s community.

 

3) Cultural organizations have created local entitlement

This point is by far the most important: Many organizations have trained locals to feel entitled to free or reduced admission, perpetuating this whole cycle of low satisfaction and low value for cost perceptions. In essence, we created and keep on promulgating this very problem…and we have spread it around like a plague. And it’s a nasty one, lowering our perceived value, devaluing our missions, reducing satisfaction in our experiences, and promulgating not-so-great reviews and word of mouth endorsement.

Locals are obviously incredibly important to our organizations, but there’s an opportunity to design better access programming opportunities for local audiences that are not unintentionally perceived as entitlements. This may mean focusing more on promotional strategies and unique events than everyday discounts.

 

This is the kind of data that I get a chance to share that is likely to make organizations angry. And I can write about it and we can elevate ourselves as a sector and get smarter about our engagement strategies, or this powerful finding could remain private for IMPACTS clients. Keeping it private doesn’t help anyone. The data that makes leaders angry is often the most valuable data. It makes us angry because it challenges something that we thought was “safe.” It makes us think harder. And I believe that thinking harder is always good.

Knowing the true challenges attendant to engaging local audiences means that we are one step closer to overcoming them. Locals may not always be the best audiences for cultural organizations – and it’s largely because of organizations overlooking basic economics and training our audiences into self-sabotaging practices.

 

Like this post? Please check out my YouTube channel for more fast facts! 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 1 Comment

Admission Price is NOT a Primary Barrier for Cultural Center Visitation (DATA)

Cost is not a primary barrier to visitation Know Your Own Bone

It’s time to get real about why many people aren’t visiting cultural organizations. Generally, price is not the biggest barrier. 

Cultural organizations have their work cut out for them today. These visitor-serving organizations (museums, historic sites, aquariums, zoos, theaters, symphonies, etc.) are experiencing negative substitution of their historic visitors, often resulting in decreased attendance – at least until organizations get better at reaching underserved audiences such as millennials and “minority majorities”.

It’s a big challenge…and the best way to overcome this challenge is to identify and remove the true barriers to visitation for likely visitors. In order to do this, we need to get smarter about which barriers are real and which are excuses for organizations to avoid the need to think critically about their audiences.

We need to knock it off with the excuse that folks aren’t visiting cultural organizations primarily because of admission pricing.  The simple fact is that scant data exist to suggest that admission cost is the primary culprit when it comes to barriers to visitation. When we mistakenly blame price as the primary culprit for lack of engagement, it holds organizations back from providing better access opportunities and more relevant content. Before we dive deeper into the data, here are four important reminders regarding admission pricing:

A) Admission pricing is a science, not an art.

Determining your admission price should involve neither looking around at other institutions nor sitting around a table of executives and saying, “I guess $20 sounds right…”

B) Admission pricing is NOT related to affordable access.

In other words, organizations that charge admission should charge admission and also have intelligent, targeted access programming for low-income audiences if this is part of their mission. Data suggest free days are not a magical elixir when it comes to attracting low-income and other types of underserved audience. Subsidizing admission prices as an affordable access strategy is neither effective nor sustainable because admission pricing is binary – people can either afford it or they cannot. When organizations subjectively lower their data-informed admission price, they hurt themselves AND they are still unable to better engage underserved audiences.

C) Free admission is not a cure-all for engagement.

In fact, data suggest that free admission has relatively little sustained impact on attendance. It is difficult to find a single celebrated economist who denies this fact.

D) Not everyone wants to visit cultural organizations.

The people who want to visit cultural organizations (i.e. they have the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood of visiting an organization), are NOT generally low-income audiences. Not everyone wakes up thinking that it would be fun to visit a museum…but the kinds of people who are so inclined do have some things in common. The reality is that the majority of the people who actually visit cultural organizations are able and willing to pay to do so.

Certainly, this is not to say that organizations can charge anything they’d like! But it is to say that this price issue that causes anxiety among the sector isn’t quite the issue that we make it out to be. Now that these baseline conversations are out of the way, here are three items to consider that underscore the fact that cost is often hardly the visitation barrier that many organizations believe it to be:

 

1) Cultural organizations charging admission have similar value for cost perceptions as other experiences

Consider this data from the National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study of Visitor-Serving Organizations (an ongoing study with a sample size that recently surpassed 100,000 US adults) that quantifies the value for cost perceptions of various leisure activities that charge admission. This is a measurement of how valuable an attendee believes the experience to be relative to the price of admission. (Or, how much bang that a visitor believes that they got for their buck.)

IMPACTS - value for cost of experiences

Cultural organizations that charge admission generally have very favorable cost perceptions – especially when compared to other admission-charging, leisure activities. In fact, folks paying admission to attend a museum, zoo, aquarium, live theater, classical concert, or ballet report – on average – getting better bang for their buck when compared to attending a rock concert or a sporting event (e.g. MLB, NBA, NFL)!

For some reason, it seems that even some cultural leaders who fiercely believe in the value of their organizations worry that people may be feeling ripped off by having to pay to visit a cultural organization. This is not the case. It’s not even close to the case. I don’t know why even our own industry leaders seem to think this, but it is a myth and we need to bust it.

Cultural organizations provide value to people – and this isn’t some inter-industry pep talk! Data demonstrate that cultural experiences are generally worth paying for. Period.

 

2) Organizations that charge admission generally have higher satisfaction ratings than organizations that do not charge admission

The data below measures overall satisfaction as reported by 1,639 individuals who attended these seven types of cultural organizations as both paying and non-paying visitors. In other words, each respondent attended the same type of organization (e.g. science museum) within the past two years, and had at least one experience in which they were charged admission, and at least one in which they were not – either because a similar organization of the same type offers free admission or they attended on a “free day.”

IMPACTS - Free vs paid admission satisfaction

The basic tenant of pricing psychology holds true that people value what they pay for. Organizations that charge admission do not have lower satisfaction metrics than organizations that do not charge admission. In fact, the opposite is true: Organizations that do not charge admission tend to have lower visitor satisfaction rates!

Long story short: Free admission is neither a cure-all for satisfaction nor for increased visitation.

 

3) Cost is not a primary barrier to visitation

This data also derives from the ongoing National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study of Visitor-Serving Organizations. We wanted to know why folks who reported having an interest in visiting a cultural organization hadn’t actually visited within the past two years. The results are probably not what some might imagine:

IMPACTS - Barriers to repeat visitation

With an index value far less than 100, cost (i.e. being “too expensive”) is hardly a significant barrier at all! True barriers to visitation revolve around relevant content (i.e. preferred alternate activity), access challenges, and schedule. Schedule issues are a very big deal – and they are among the most prominent barriers to engagement that cultural organizations of every kind prefer not to address.

 

There are many reasons why visitors may not be attending cultural organizations, but for those who are likely to attend, cost is not a primary barrier. We need to move this conversation forward, and in order to do so, we need to retire untrue assumptions and excuses about our barriers to engagement. Sure, people like free stuff. But what cultural organizations offer is valuable and people are willing to pay for it.

Let’s put cost to rest as the immediate “go to” excuse for lower visitation and start focusing on real ways to increase access and create programs that truly fulfill our missions of educating and inspiring audiences. There’s work to be done and we are delaying progress with this excuse that allows us to overlook our biggest opportunities for engagement.

 

Like this post? Please check out my YouTube channel for video fast facts! 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, Sector Evolution, Trends Leave a comment

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 how to spot the difference. 

Understanding the difference between fads and trends is critical for all organizations. However, many leaders seem to be unaware of their important differences. Today’s Fast Facts video aims to differentiate these critical concepts, and also provides a quick tip for how to spot the difference.

Both fads and trends can play an important role in an organization’s success – but they must be treated differently. If they are not, leaders risk burning out adapting to every fad, and critical trends required for an organizations’ survival may be missed. Let’s start by looking into fads and trends individually.

 

Fads come fast and fade away

A fad is any form of behavior that is intensely followed by a population for a short period of time. The behavior will rise relatively quickly and fall relatively quickly once the perception of novelty is gone.

There are some great fads out there! Collecting beanie babies was a fad, so were pet rocks, sending spam, #followfriday, Ouiji boards, troll dolls, water beds…the list goes on. We can thank fads for basically everything that we wore in the 80’s (or 90’s, or 2000’s…) And there are a lot of fads going on right now that may bring us a laugh twenty years from now. 

Fads certainly have value and they can profoundly change organizations- consider the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge! Utilizing fads in marketing and programs can increase top-of-mind awareness, demonstrate the timeliness of your organization, and serve as a gateway for new audiences.

This is all great and important stuff but – remember – fads don’t stick around.

 

Trends solve problems and get stronger over time

A trend, on the other hand, gets stronger over time and does stick around. Trends have identifiable and explainable rises that are driven by audience needs. They help solve a problem for people. In the words of the forever-awesome Seth Godin, “A trend gains power over time, because it’s not merely part of a moment, it’s a tool, a connector that will become more valuable as other people commit to engaging in it.”

The increasing use of social networks is a trend (that connects us to one another). So is quitting smoking (which lengthens our lives), evidence-based medicine (that removes the guesswork in medical-related situations), and the use of mobile devices (that allow us to look up information in real time). These are things that have grown – and continue to grow – in market penetration. They solve problems. They represent new ways of life.

Organizations ignore trends at their own risk. Ignoring trends means that they will either be forced to adapt later and will necessarily be behind, or the organization will fade away.

 

Confusing fads and trends causes big problems

Trends inform your organization’s successful evolution. When organizations write off things like web-based engagement or data-informed management (for instance) as fads instead of trends, evolution stops. Things get held back.

However, if we approach passing fads as trends, we cry wolf on organizational change. We burn out believing that every week, we need to change our organizations structure based on “what’s hot right now.” Treating fads like trends can lead organizations to become overwhelmed, give up on following along, and, again, stop evolution.

 

A trick for telling the difference between fads and trends

So how can your organization figure out if something is a fad or a trend? A helpful trick may be to consider that trends inevitably affect some form of the organization’s engagement strategy, but fads usually influence tactics. This isn’t a fool-proof trick, but it can help your organization think strategically about the differences between both fads and trends.

For instance, social media use is a trend and that affects your engagement strategy, but selfies affect how you can carry out that strategy. Screaming “YOLO” and going gluten-free are things that folks may be doing these days – and, in order to remain relevant, your organization may benefit by embracing them for now. But these fads affect your organization’s tactics (and messages and programs), not its strategy. Data-informed management affects your strategy. Embracing transparency affects your strategy. The trend toward personalized interactions and programs thanks to our increasingly individually-tailored world is a trend and also deeply affects our strategies.

If there is growing, multi-year data demonstrating that something affects the market, then you know it’s a trend. But sometimes we need to know when and how far we should move and embrace change before there’s multi-year data telling us that something is sticking around.

Both fads and trends have real value for cultural organizations, but understanding the difference may be necessary for survival. Fads can inform your tactics and help you to maintain the perception of being “current,” but ignoring trends can lead to irrelevance and create a divide between organizations and their audiences.

 

Like this post? Please check out my YouTube channel for more fast facts! 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, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends Leave a comment