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

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

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

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

MoMA Sees Reputation Boost After Displaying Muslim Artists (DATA)

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

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

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

Data Reveals The Worst Thing About Visiting Cultural Organizations

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

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

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

attendance

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

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

Examining Schedule- the top influencer for visitation

 Organizations often overlook the single biggest factor influencing attendance. Here’s the data that nobody’s talking about. 

The schedule of a potential visitor plays a leading role in a visitor’s decision to attend a cultural organization, but many organizations don’t think twice about schedule (focusing instead on items such as cost of admission, special events, or the content of a program or exhibit). These items are not unimportant, but the data on the importance of considering audience schedule is unassailable. Want more people to visit? It’s time to understand the leading roles that schedule and hours of operation play in the decision-making process.  

Let’s use data to bust some popular myths about visitor motivations, and take a look at four misunderstood bits of information regarding the role of “schedule” in the visitation decision-making process:

 

1) Schedule is the single biggest factor contributing to visitation (not cost or specific content)

It makes perfect sense: If a visitor-serving organization is not operating when people can or want to visit, then those people aren’t going to visit. In Western Europe, folks are more willing to schedule their work and personal lives around visiting a cultural organization that has a good reputation. (Of course, a shorter work week and more generous vacation time allowances in Western Europe help create more schedule flexibility!) In the United States, that’s just not happening.

IMPACTS- Discretionary decision making utility model 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. These are the people who are most likely to visit our organizations, and they are “where our bread is buttered” in terms of visitation. People in the United States – including high-propensity visitors – do not generally reorganize their lives in significant ways in order to visit cultural organizations if their operating hours are inconvenient or conflict with work (or school) commitments.

Notice also that schedule is a significantly more important factor in the decision-making process than is cost for high-propensity visitors. Keep in mind that many “minority majorities” and (especially) millennials qualify as high-propensity visitors – and that high-propensity visitors are not necessarily the same as historic visitors. (There seems to be this weird idea that millennials and “minority majorities” are the same as affordable access audiences and are unwilling or unable to support cultural organizations…but there’s abundant data demonstrating that this is not the case – though we do desperately need to get better at attracting these emerging audiences.) The key to meaningful engagement for people who are interested in your content may not be cutting admission by $5 (which data suggest doesn’t work), but, instead, may be establishing hours of operation that better conform to our audience’s preferences.

 

2) Take a close look at when you are open and when audiences are easily available to visit (because they often are not the same)

Take a look at this data from the National Attitudes, Awareness and Usage Study of 98,000 adults and counting. You’ll notice from the last four bars that folks generally do want to visit cultural organizations! You’ll also notice from the first two bars that although folks indicate an interest in visiting, fewer actually do visit. What gives?

IMPACTS - Visitor Attitudes

We dug in a little bit deeper as to why people who report interest in visiting cultural organizations may not actually visit: For people who would like to visit a cultural organization but haven’t visited, schedule conflicts (including ill-suited hours of operation) are the primary barrier. Take a look at how these schedule conflicts stack up:

 IMPACTS - Visitation Barriers

Work schedule conflicts make perfect sense as the leading barrier to visitation for folks who may be otherwise interested in attending an organization. Think about it: Most of the time, cultural organizations with operating hours are generally only operating when people are at work! And some potential visitors have professions that keep them busy working during the weekends as well.

Weekend activities are precious. For potential visitors who do not work on the weekends, there’s steep leisure activity competition – including simply staying home and binge watching Netflix. And when folks can take a holiday (as seen in the data above), there are often other commitments to tend to that take precedent – such as visiting family. Moreover, students tend to be in classes during traditional weekday hours of operation.

When we add all of these things up, it begs the question: How do cultural organizations determine their hours of operation? Do we have these hours because that’s how we’ve always done it? And, knowing what we know about today’s connected, real-time world, would we still choose to be the most inaccessible in the early mornings before folks head to work and in the evening when they have their most discretionary leisure time?

Of course, this issue may require an industry evolution (revolution?) to resolve. We’ve spent years training audiences to visit us during holidays and weekends (a tacit acknowledgment that 9a-6p schedules may suit no one but our staff). Retraining audiences is hard to do…but changing the public perceptions of cultural organizations and better serving our missions may necessitate a good, hard look at how we approach our hours of operation.

 

3) Organizations are unlikely to move visitation to a shoulder season without risking overall attendance

Perhaps the biggest industry misconception about schedule as a motivator for visitation may be that many organizations think that they can change it. This is a difficult – if not impossible task – and more often than not, results in a very poor reallocation of resources.

Take a look at this 10-year analysis of attendance by month to 78 US visitor-serving cultural organizations. The analysis indicates clear “peak” and “off-peak” seasons. This data indicates the time periods when people want to visit cultural organizations (given the current schedules that cultural organizations keep) – clearly illustrated by the fact that these are the times when people are, in fact, actually visiting.

IMPACTS -Monthly attendance to VSOs

The chart below organizes the monthly attendance data by season. The summer season accounts for nearly 37% of total attendance. Also, the spring season, driven by the traditional spring break holiday from school, accounts for approximately 27% of an organization’s total annual attendance.

IMPACTS Seasonal attendance to VSOs

Now that we’ve established that the market obviously has clear seasonal visitation preferences, let’s bust some backward thinking. It is a myth to believe that efforts during off-peak seasons can easily “make up” for poor performance during the peak spring and summer months. Think of it this way: If your organization welcomes 200,000 visitors per year, and 14% of them are visiting in July, an emphasis on increasing attendance during the month of October (when only 6% of visitors historically attend) is not going to produce the total visitation impact as would maximizing peak season attendance. This is especially true in our world of finite resources. Increasing an investment in an off-peak season often means reallocating investments from peak seasons. This alternative use of funds is very unlikely to produce a net benefit for the organization.

Q: What if an organization reallocates some of its resources from peak season to off-peak season? A: It’s not usually a wise financial move. Here’s a case study from my work at IMPACTS that clearly demonstrates the point. Consider the recent example of a large visitor-serving organization (annual attendance >1,000,000) that developed a strategy to increase year-end visitation during the holiday season by reallocating some audience acquisition investments that had been traditionally deployed during the peak season. As a heads-up, this was a relatively modest reallocation of investments and the organization was still investing at a considerable level during the peak season…just not as much as it had in the past. Let’s call this reallocation of resources in an attempt to alter visitation the organization’s “shoulder strategy.”

IMPACTS Shoulder season investment case study

Attendance during the holiday season did improve by 1.17% – but at the expense of attendance during the peak season (which declined by 4.00%). More importantly, a 1.17% increase in attendance during the holiday season only equated to an additional 3,306 visitors…while the 4.00% decrease in peak season performance cost the organization 108,840 visitors. In other words, it proved impossible for the organization to “make up” peak season attendance during an off-peak period by reallocating peak-season resources to the off-peak period. Here’s a look at this information another way.

IMPACTS Shoulder season strategy outcome chart 

There are few meaningful ways to fully compensate for underperformance during a peak season by emphasizing the off-peak season, nor is it likely that a significant investment in the off-peak season will return significant attendance benefits to the organization when compared to the potential of that same investment deployed during a peak season. Schedule is simply too important of a factor to our audiences for them to alter their behaviors to suit our preferences – after all, we don’t define our peak seasons, our audiences do!

Certainly, there are things that an organization can do to try and encourage attendance during less popular months – but don’t rob from peak seasons to pay for an off-peak opportunity. Your organization needs to make its hay when the sun is shining.

When trying to encourage greater visitation during off-peak seasons (hopefully through additional investment rather than taking from peak season resources), remember that discounts artificially increase visitation and change visitation cycles. In fact, discounts do a whole host of not-awesome things for your long-term bottom line. When you discount, you are simply displacing visitation from another season, decreasing visitor satisfaction, devaluing your brand and – perhaps most importantly – decreasing the likelihood of any return visitation at all.

 

4) Attendance loss from unexpected closures is greater than most organizations realize (and it is not generally replaced)

We are often wrong about the impacts of an unforeseen closure for two, big reasons that are important to understand beyond the framework of attendance and revenue projections. When an organization is closed at a time that it might otherwise be open, visitation generally is NOT displaced to other times of the year. And, to top it off, we lose more people than simply those who had planned to attend the organization that day. I wrote a separate post about this earlier this year when snow was hitting the East coast, and it’s worth revisiting here.

Take a look at the math and see just how much we underestimate the lost annual attendance due to unplanned, short-term facility closings. The chart below illustrates data from 13 organizations over a three-year analysis and includes a range of cultural, visitor-serving organizations (each represented by letter). The “Expected Decline” value indicates the number of visitors as a percentage of annual market potential that were expected to be lost by an unforeseen facility closure. If an organization’s market potential analysis suggested attendance of 1,000 visitors on a given Tuesday, and the organization was instead closed that day, then the expected decline in annual market potential would be 1,000. Pretty logical, right? The “Actual Decline” value indicates the actual, observed percentage decline relative to an organization’s annual market potential.

IMPACTS- Immitative value applied analysis

 

 Every organization quantified in the study indicated an actual decline greater than the expected decline. There are two, important reasons why expected and actual decline do not align in commensurate measure.

First, organizations underestimate attendance loss during these days because they do not understand the role that schedule plays in visitation. When people plan to visit an organization, but those plans fall through, visitors are not likely to simply “come back next month.” Those visits are generally lost.

Second, when we close for any reason, we don’t merely lose the people who were going to visit. We lose the recommendations, social media posts, and shared stories of all of the people who were going to visit that day – and the impact of the loss of earned media can be huge. In fact, for every one visit lost due to an unplanned closure, the net annual impact on market potential averages a decline of 1.25 visitors. Thus, if a sustained interruption to your operation results in 20,000 fewer visits, then the annual impact of this business disruption is likely to be lost attendance of 25,000 when compared to your organization’s market potential. Again, you can read more about this here.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that organizations never have unexpected closures! Things happen for which we cannot always plan – and sometimes situations arise which simply make it unsafe for staff or visitors to make it to our institutions. What I am saying is that we consistently underestimate the “now or not-anytime-soon” nature of schedule as a primary influencer of visitation decisions.

 

Considering the critical role that schedule plays in audience motivations, one would think that we’d talk about our hours of operation at least as often as we discuss our reputations, our special exhibits/programs, and our admission cost. But we don’t. As cultural organizations, we talk a lot about accessibility. However, many of us seem to overlook the most basic foundations of this concept – our schedule and open hours. It’s time to take a hard look at the primary barrier to visitation so that we may more effectively carry out our collective missions of making the world a more educated and inspired place.

 

Like this post? Please check out my YouTube channel for some 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 social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter.

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

Five Data-Informed Fun Facts About Visitors to Cultural Organizations

Visitors to cultural organizations often have certain telltale behaviors.  Here are five of them.

This week’s Fast Facts video is a fun one that shares a few data-informed findings about the kind of people who visit cultural organizations. Thanks to IMPACTS, I’ve got my hands on a whole bunch of trend data and sometimes little fun facts are just…well, fun!

Here are five, data-informed fun facts about high-propensity visitors to cultural organizations. 

 

The introduction, conclusion, and one of the fun facts merit a deeper, written dive. There a few important, extra takeaways worth noting from this video (that are not the five fun facts themselves):

 

1) Not everyone wakes up wanting to visit a cultural organization

Yes, I think that this is a bummer just like you do. If everyone wanted to visit cultural centers, we wouldn’t be having so much trouble engaging more diverse audiences or even attracting millennials at representative rates. Cultural organizations often have a hard time admitting to themselves that their likely audiences aren’t “everyone.” This certainly does not mean that we shouldn’t try to get “unlikely” visitors in the door. We really, really should – and in fact, we need to evolve our business models and better engage these audiences in order to survive. But the reality is that some people are more likely to visit cultural organizations than others.

As much as our industry may appreciate a scapegoat, data and economists alike have been proving to us for years that free admission is not the cure to engagement that many imagine it to be. The sooner that we move on from this, the sooner we can create affordable access programs that actually work (here – read this, too), and the sooner that we can create business models that are more sustainable.  We are so busy fighting to maintain our belief in the myth of free admission curing engagement, attendance, and participation issues that we aren’t moving forward, or even thinking creatively or strategically about how to stay alive and relevant long-term. But I digress…

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 (e.g. museum, aquarium, botanic garden, historic site, symphony, theater, etc). High-propensity visitors are the folks who keep our bread buttered – they are the folks who visit, donate, and reliably engage with our organizations. This video covers five, random fun facts about these people.

 

2) Visitors are extremely connected to the Internet

High-propensity visitors are 2.5x more likely than the average person to qualify as being “super-connected.” This means that they have access to the web at home, at work, and on a mobile device. In fact, these folks acquire information regarding leisure activities almost exclusively via the web, social media, and peer review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor. Visitors to cultural organizations have constant connection to the Internet – meaning that what cultural organizations do online is really, really important.

Interestingly (though unsurprisingly), millennial high-propensity visitors are crazy super-connected. That said, the folks that are going to attend a cultural organization are all looking things up online and using the web and social media, regardless of age.

 

3) Likely visitors are not necessarily rich

“No kidding,” you’re probably thinking if you’re reading this before watching the video. After seeing the five fun facts about high-propensity visitors, though, you may be thinking that high-propensity visitors must be very rich. Being a high-propensity visitor has nothing to do with being “rich.” Plenty of not-super-rich people have a cat or dog, like to hike or ski, enjoy a nice meal with a great glass of wine, and occasionally travel overseas for vacation. This person doesn’t have to be a multi-millionaire. (I mean, they could be, but they don’t have to be to possess these behaviors.)

Being a high-propensity visitor is indicated by how someone chooses to spend the money that they have – not that they have tons of it. How someone chooses to spend thier money is a choice. So is how someone chooses to spend their time. Being a high-propensity visitor isn’t innately about being rich or poor. It’s about how someone chooses to invest his or her leisure time and money.

 

These three items may seem obvious to some, but they are worth extra attention because they tackle a few myths: 1) That likely visitors to museums include everyone (especially when admission is removed); 2) That the web and social media play “supporting” roles in reaching, attracting, and retaining audiences; and 3) That the most likely visitors to cultural organizations are rich. These popular beliefs are false. We know they are false. And yet they permeate too many, critical conversations.

Once we better know our audiences, then we’ll be best able to serve them.

 

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

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Fast Facts Video, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing 1 Comment

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

Know Your Own Bone - Underestimate Attendance During Closures for Cultural Organizations

When cultural organizations experience unforeseen facility closures, they lose more visitors than simply those who were planning to visit that day. Here’s why.

While the following data may be particularly timely after Winter Storm Jonas, cultural organizations (museums, zoos, historic sites, performing arts organizations, etc.) are consistently way off when adjusting annual attendance projections due to closures. This includes closures due to weather, irregular operations, storm damage, fire, utility failure, criminal activity, or anything else.

No matter the reason for the closure, we dramatically underestimate the overall impact on annual attendance. It’s generally a huge bummer when we have to close for unforeseen circumstances and take the attendance (and, for many organizations, revenue) hit. But knowing why we are so frequently wrong in quantifying the total impact of these closures may help us better understand visitors and develop more realistic contingency plans for lost revenue and attendance.

We are often wrong about the impacts of an unforeseen closure for two, big reasons that are important to understand beyond the framework of attendance and revenue projections. When an organization is closed at a time that it might otherwise be open, visitation generally is NOT displaced to other times of the year. And, to top it off, we lose more people than simply those who had planned to attend the organization that day. The reasons for this happening are important for organizations to understand.

Take a look at the math and see just how much we underestimate the lost annual attendance due to unplanned, short-term facility closings. This chart illustrates data from 13 organizations over a three-year analysis and includes a range of cultural, visitor-serving organizations – each represented by letter.

IMPACTS- Immitative value applied analysis

The “Expected Decline” value indicates the number of visitors as a percentage of annual market potential that were expected to be lost by an unforeseen facility closure. If an organization’s market potential analysis suggested attendance of 1,000 visitors on a given Tuesday, and the organization was instead closed that day, then the expected decline in annual market potential would be 1,000. Pretty logical, right?

The “Actual Decline” value indicates the actual, observed percentage decline relative to an organization’s annual market potential.

Every organization quantified in the study indicated an actual decline greater than the expected decline. There are two, important reasons why expected and actual decline do not align in commensurate measure.

 

1) Lost attendance is not usually displaced to another date

“They’ll come back later,” some staff say. Well, most likely they won’t. Not this year, at least. Data suggests that it is incorrect to assume that lost attendance due to an unforeseen closure is somehow magically reallocated to other periods during the calendar year.

IMPACTS- Discretionary decision making utility model

Extant data indicates that schedule has the single greatest influence on a would-be visitor’s decision-making process. This analysis reaffirms that if a scheduled visit is interrupted by an unforeseen closure, then these affected visitors are unlikely to visit the organization in a proximate chronology. In other words, if a snowstorm in February forces a closure that results in a loss of attendance, then these would-be February visitors are unlikely to visit come April or July.

It is a miscalculation for an organization to simply distribute attendance lost due to a closure to the remainder of the year. Those 4,000 visitors who stayed home these past few days while the snowflakes fell during Winter Storm Jonas? They’re likely gone…and annual budgets should be adjusted accordingly.

That’s a bummer, but it makes sense. It accounts for lost annual attendance that at least matches the expected decline. But why do organizations lose more visitors than those who were planning to visit on the date of the closure during the remaining course of the year? It’s a good question with a very important answer.

 

2) Recommendations and social sharing from those who would have visited are lost (and that is a much bigger deal than we realize)

This lost visitation has a sort of “double-whammy” effect for many cultural organizations as they are reliant on word of mouth and other testimonial factors to help engage audience and motivate attendance. (This is particularly true for organizations in those regions where visiting friends and family is a primary driver of tourism and travel. If your plan was to take a visiting friend or family member to a local museum, but a water main break forced the cancellation of that visit, well, that museum lost out on both the organizing party’s visit and also the guest.) When we close for any reason, we don’t just lose the people who were going to visit. We lose the recommendations, social media posts, and shared stories of all of the people who were going to visit that day.

And many organizations do not factor this into their adjustments. Fortunately, thanks to data, today we can. For every one visit lost due to an unplanned closure, the net annual impact on market potential averages a decline of 1.25 visitors. Thus, if a sustained interruption to your operation results in 20,000 fewer visits, then the annual impact of this business disruption is likely to be lost attendance of 25,000 when compared to your organization’s market potential.

Wait! We lose real people because of lost word of mouth endorsement? Yes. It’s not just hot air: Word of mouth endorsements are a BIG factor driving the attendance numbers for cultural organizations – and every year, the attendance to cultural organizations with unforeseen closures prove it. Consider the analysis: Of the 13 organizations quantified in the study, the average attendance decline due to unplanned closures was -4.45% compared to market potential. However, the actual decline in annual market potential was observed to be -5.56%. Again, due to word of mouth and other “imitative behaviors,” the loss of every one visitor equates to a total annual decline of 1.25 visitors. 

It’s important to remember that recommendations and social media posts that would have resulted had the organization not closed that day are no more impactful than recommendations based on experiences that take place on any other day. Word of mouth recommendations and social sharing are always playing a role in a cultural organization’s actual, onsite visitation numbers. This fact right here, folks, is a dang good reason to go hug your social media community manager who facilitates the sharing of experiences and word of mouth endorsements. This is also a good time to remember that millennials – who are most likely to recommend a visit to friends – are largely underserved by cultural organizations.

 

Unforseen closures stink. We’re never excited to learn that our organizations have lost the financial support that would have been gained from onsite visitation. We rely on that support to carry out our missions. And, considered in that light, this data really kicks us when we’re down. (It stinks when data does that.) But this information stands to make us much smarter. Embracing these realities allows us to more properly adjust attendance and revenue numbers so we aren’t down in the dumps later due to unrealistic expectations.

Perhaps most importantly, these findings underscore the importance – and the numbers of real, flesh-and-blood visitors – affected by the important role that word of mouth endorsements and shared stories have in helping us to share our experiences with more people. And in the end, that’s kind of cool, right?

When we educate and inspire people, it really does bring in more people to educate and inspire.

 

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 3 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

I’d like to ask you a favor.

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

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

 

1) Millennials are the most frequent attendees to cultural organizations

 

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

IMPACTS- Millennial vs Boomer visitation 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

IMPACTS- Millennials are underserved

According to the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study, only 21.9% of adult millennials visited a cultural organization in 2015. To be merely representative, 27.1% of visitation should be adult millennials. The simple fact of the matter is that cultural organizations are underserving millennials when compared to the U.S. population. (“Underserved” means that participation – be it attendance, enrollment, etc. is less than the representative population.) In other words, cultural organizations are underserving millennial audiences by a factor of nearly 24%.

To those of you thinking, “Yeah! But at least we’re getting them!” …I like you, because you are a glass-is-half-full person…but maybe it’s time to strap on your thinking cap a little tighter. Serving representative audiences is one of the top grantmaking considerations for many audience engagement initiatives that are seeking support. Not only that, underperforming the opportunity by 24% with this particular audience puts us in a doubly bad place because of this generation’s attributes and its word-of-mouth-informed visitation cycles.

 

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

 

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

IMPACTS- Millennial visitation loyalty

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 2 Comments

Visitation to Increase if Cultural Organizations Evolve Engagement Models (DATA)

Tipping pointAttendance to cultural centers is on the decline, but data suggest that forward-facing organizations may see improvements by 2020. Here’s why.

Overall, data suggest that attendance to visitor-serving organizations is in a general state of decline relative to population growth – and this may suggest a problem with the current visitor-serving organization business model. For organizations that fail to adapt their engagement strategies to respond to emerging audiences, there’s abundant reason to believe that their attendance levels may continue to stagnate or decline. However, data suggest that those organizations willing to evolve their thinking about emerging audiences and access programming stand to benefit by overcoming the negative substitution trends that are currently depressing attendance. There is a reasonable expectation that evolutionary, agile organizations will experience sustained increases in attendance as this century enters its second decade.

Here’s what your organization needs to know about negative substitution, acculturation, and access programming opportunities…and how they are shaping the future of visitor engagement:

1) Negative substitution of audiences is affecting attendance (and it is happening NOW)

While the US population continues to grow, the historic audiences of visitor-serving organizations (i.e. those audiences with the demographic, psychographic and behavioral attributes that indicate a propensity to visit) have been in a state of general decline. One of the reasons for this circumstance is the negative substitution of audiences. Negative substitution is quantified by a deficiency of “replacements” for the historic visitors who exit our markets. For every one person who exits the market, there is fewer than one person to replace him/her.

Currently, for every one high-propensity visitor to visitor-serving enterprise that leaves the market (through death, relocation, or migration), only 0.948 similar high-propensity visitors are entering the market (typically via birth or relocation). When people leave the market without a sufficient number of “replacements,” we have negative substitution.

Why is this happening? For one, affluent, educated white people (i.e. historic audiences) are having fewer children and/or getting older and/or relocating to emerging markets, and visitor-serving organizations on the whole have yet to sufficiently cultivate the engagement of a newer kind of high-propensity visitor. In other words, on the whole, we’ve done a relatively poor job becoming places where emerging audiences (e.g. millennials, Latinos, etc.) feel comfortable declaring “This place is for people like me.” We refer to this as attitude affinity – a perceptual measurement of if a particular market segment believes that an organization is welcoming to them.

Incidentally, emerging audiences (most commonly Latino and other historically underserved populations) are playing a major role in population growth. Historically “underserved” audiences are increasingly the mainstream audiences of the future…and failure to cultivate their engagement may risk a generational alienation from our organizations.

Ultimately, this downward trend demonstrates the failure of access programming within visitor-serving organizations. If the past few decades of access-motivated initiatives had been successful, then we would not be experiencing negative substitution. Instead, we would have cultivated these audience members to become our current visitors. Demographers and researchers have been writing about this inevitability for some time.  If our programming had proven responsive to this opportunity, then we would be experiencing audience visitation that increases alongside population growth. That’s not what’s happening.

 

2) Misunderstanding access programming jeopardizes long-term sustainability

Many organizations incorrectly consider “access” primarily in terms of affordability.  If simply offering a reduced admission was a cure-all to access issues, then very few organizations would still have underserved audiences at all.  The presence of a continually underserved audience indicates the failure of an organization’s access programming.  In the past, organizations could perhaps put access issues on the back burner and get it away with it – there were enough traditional high-propensity visitors to support the organization.  However, as the traditional market shrinks and historically underserved audiences grow to become an increasing majority, the issue of access can’t be de-prioritized any longer.  The future well-being of many visitor-serving organizations hinges on their ability to connect with these audiences. The reality is that effective access programming engenders trial and usage by cultivating new audiences as eventual regular visitors – an organization’s lifeblood.  Access isn’t primarily about price. It’s about eliminating every barrier to engagement.

Do the data suggest letting everyone visit for free?  No.  Of course not.  The data indicate that time is more valued than money for the vast majority of audiences.  A person thinking about visiting a zoo on a Saturday in June is very unlikely to delay their visit until a Tuesday in November simply because of cost.

Access programming is significantly less about affordability than strategic sustainability. This is where organizations are being inappropriately emotional about business matters, and misguided ideas about “affordability” are lessening the solvency of some organizations. Today, there exists compelling, data-informed science that suggest that cost is overstated as the primary barrier to engagement (schedule reliably trumps cost). Think of it this way: If $34.95 proves unaffordable to select audiences, so will $24.95 or $29.95…or any other realistic “discount” from the general admission basis. In terms of true affordability, nearly any price diminishes the visitation potential for our most affordability challenged audiences.

Price is not panacea when it comes to affordability. And affordability is not antidote for access. Price is a revenue optimization tool that provides organizations with the resources to support access programming that, in turn, cultivates the engagement of future audiences.

If you want to be relevant to the audience of tomorrow, you better be working to engage them today.

 

3) Acculturation improves future outlook (provided organizations update engagement models)

IMPACTS- HPV substitution ratios

But there’s hope! Check out this graph from IMPACTS. It demonstrates substitution ratios derived from a predictive modeling process for US visitor-serving organizations. The Y-axis indicates the antecedent term (the first value) in the substitution ratio.  Thus, an antecedent term <1.00 indicates negative substitution – for every one person exiting the market, there is less than one person to replace them.

Why does the trend improve in the future?  Acculturation. Emerging audiences tend to adopt “mainstream” behaviors over time – including, potentially, engaging with visitor-serving organizations such as museums, zoos, aquariums, performing arts centers, etc.

Think of the observed differences between first, second, and third generation immigrants to the US. For example, the first generation of immigrants may not speak the language, may have gone to school overseas, may tend to live in clusters of like ethnicities, etc. The next generation was born and raised in the United States – and may be more acculturated than their parents…but still retain certain behaviors due to household customs (English as Second Language, etc.). However, the third generation tends to be even more acculturated, with fewer traces of “old country” behaviors.

Because population growth is being driven by births of second and third generation Americans, acculturation represents a tremendous opportunity to engage these emerging audiences – provided, of course, that organizations have cultivated a relationship with these audiences before they enter the mainstream. Significant research indicates that relationships with brands are often cast during a person’s early, formative years – a failure to cultivate the engagement of a less acculturated first or second generation audience member may effectively preclude the future engagement of a fully acculturated third generation audience member.

The good news about this data? Organizations that intelligently and diligently evolve their engagement models during this critical time stand to benefit from the positive impacts of acculturation in the near future. The perhaps challenging news? Organizations will need to be thoughtful and actively evolving before 2020 (i.e. the predicted “tipping point” in the audience acculturation projections) so as to cultivate the support of these future audiences before they enter the mainstream market.

This isn’t a “Let’s just wait until 2020 to get serious” situation. This is a “If you start thinking strategically and work hard now, then you’ll see a payoff in 2020” situation.

Interestingly (and unsurprisingly), technology accelerates acculturation. This means, of course, that utilizing digital platforms and cultivating real-time communications with emerging audiences is critical for organizations. This is also another compelling reason for leaders to listen to PR and social media staff members throwing around the word “innovation.” In many ways, the industry doesn’t need to “pivot” (that mindset created many of the challenges that visitor-serving organizations are facing today) – it needs to reset.

Organizations that invest in cultivating more strategic “access” models today will be able to take advantage of the engagement benefits suggested by the predicted acculturation trends. Yet again, the time-proven lesson proves true: You reap what you sow.

 

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 3 Comments

Signs of Trouble For The Museum Industry (DATA)

Main Hall and Stairs Mational Museum Warsaw

As the US population grows, the number of people attending visitor-serving organizations is (still) in general decline. And this is a very big problem for sustainability without a digital-age shift in our business model.  It’s not just museums. Many visitor-serving organizations – science centers, historical sites, aquariums, zoos, symphonies, etc. – are failing to keep pace with population growth.

Consider: In the five-year duration spanning 2009-2013, the US population increased by 3.5% from 305.5 million to 316.1 million. The majority of this growth occurred in major metropolitan areas – the very population dense regions where many visitor-serving organizations are located. Indeed, nearly one in seven Americans live in the metropolitan areas of the country’s three largest cities – New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

However, during the same duration, data indicate that attendance at many nonprofit, visitor-serving organizations has declined. In fact, of the 224 visitor-serving organizations contemplated in the 2014 National Awareness, Attitudes & Usage Study of Visitor-Serving Organizations (NAAU), 186 organizations (83.0%) reported flat or declining attendance. And this is neither a regional nor curatorial content-specific finding – the study representatively contemplates visitor-serving organizations of every size, type, and area.

Many organizations are hesitant to acknowledge attendance challenges…especially when they have historically cited being the “most visited” as an indicator of their expertise and effectiveness. I sense that pressure from governing boards also plays a role – particularly as many organizations have been tasked to maximize earned revenues (often inevitably linked to visitation). Perhaps most concerning of all are attempts to blunt the challenge by proposing half-measures as remedy – you’ll no doubt recognize the “don’t worry, we’re going digital!” excuse and the related practice of sending mid-level staff to innovation conferences as attempted evidence of progress. (This last excuse may be especially worrisome as it seems that many staff members tasked to “innovate” may not actually be empowered to carryout their plans for advancement.)

But, regardless of the excuse, the numbers suggest that our industry risks becoming less relevant to future audiences. What does this mean to visitor-serving organizations? Let’s look at a few examples. (Note: To keep this from being a huge, overwhelming chart, I pulled out major metro markets and a few areas cited as “up and coming.”)

KYOB VSO attendance - IMPACTS

To illustrate, the population of the Atlanta, GA Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) has increased in the past five years by 9.4%. During the same duration, visitation to the Atlanta-area organizations contemplated in the NAAU study indicates an attendance decline of 4.6%. Think about that – if engagement were keeping pace with population growth, an organization with an annual attendance of 1,000,000 in year 2009 would reasonably expect to welcome 1,094,000 visitors in year 2013. Instead, on average, the studied organizations saw attendance decline from the theoretical 1,000,000 visitor level in year 2009 to 954,000 visitors in year 2013. Measured against the expectations of population growth, visitor engagement underperformed by 140,000 visitors!

The expectation would be for attendance to increase alongside population growth – otherwise, it is indicative of underperforming the opportunity.  Again, the findings are stark and concerning for organizations in the engagement business:

KYOB VSO Performance against expectations - IMPACTS

In most any other business, if you saw the market steadily increasing in size and your product’s usage in steady retreat alongside it, you’d likely think, “This business model sucks.”

Well, our business model sucks.

Confronted with this evidence, I’ve heard leaders recycle tired strategies of securing larger donations from an aging donor base, and plans to gain more grant funding from governments and foundations. Generally, they aim to “pivot” from a reliance on earned revenues to (hopefully…fingers crossed!) additional contributed revenues. Except no. The visitor-serving industry doesn’t need to pivot. It needs to reset.

Here are three behaviors we need to adapt to reset our current condition:

 

1) Stop citing poor previous efforts as evidence that something will not work

Some visitor-serving organizations will declare that they “already tried” something after investing only the most minimal of resources necessary to claim effort. This is a surefire recipe for failure …yet, it happens all of the time. Here’s a quick example: Many organizations will offer options to buy tickets online and simply invest enough to create a webpage for it. Then when nobody uses that method to buy tickets they say, “Look! We tried that and nobody bought tickets that way!” Actually, nobody bought tickets that way because your site wasn’t mobile friendly, it takes 10 different screens to buy a ticket, it requires several pages of personal information, it’s confusing and time consuming, and it costs more. Often it’s an organization’s own fault when data-informed things don’t work, but organizations frequently take a half (or maybe a one-tenth) approach to something and basically (knowingly or unknowingly) set it up for certain failure. This is just one, basic example.

“Our crummy product failed, ergo everything related to this project won’t work” justifies stagnancy by masking it with false wisdom. Organizations think that they are cutting-edge for trying something without any conviction, and that the wisdom they received from their inevitable failure justifies closing the book on really big things like digital engagement. How does this even make sense? This type of excuse-making is a shortcut to irrelevance. Just stop doing it.

 

2) Stop defending past decisions

This seems to be a particularly hard one for many leaders to embrace. After all, it may be human nature to defend one’s past decisions as “right” and “good.” And, at the time when they were made, they probably were. But times change. Today, we are witnessing incredible changes – many borne of technological advancement – accelerating progress at a revolutionary pace. By what rightful reason do we think that we’re exempted from the prevailing changes affecting the rest of the world?

Just because you spent thousands and thousands of dollars on print material doesn’t spare you from the necessity of hiring an online community manager. On a more substantial investment scale, those millions of dollars that you invested in a new entrance to facilitate faster put-through times doesn’t exempt you from developing a mobile ticketing platform that may make ticket counters increasingly obsolete. This is a lesson to learn in real-time (as opposed to retrospectively): Repairing and updating past decisions is often more time-consuming and, ultimately, more expensive in the long run than starting anew. It’s OK – heck, even encouraged – to approach the current condition untethered to the past. That was then, this is now.

 

3) Embrace the inevitable path of progress

Max Anderson, CEO of the Dallas Museum of Art, gave a short ignite talk at the most recent Museum Computer Network conference. The topic of his talk was how to “persuade your museum director to help you” (i.e. how to get him/her to invest in “innovation”). From the beginning of the video it’s easy to see one of the biggest, most glaring problems in our industry: He begins his talk by asking how many museum directors are at the conference. Very short awkward silence ensues…followed by laughter. Really?! Are even our conferences about innovation and new ideas attended primarily by middle managers?!

The reason for the lack of executive decision-makers at many conferences is not necessarily the fault of museum CEOs (as the conferences aren’t always adequately geared toward Directors). But it’s not wholly the task of middle managers to communicate and justify the imperative to remain relevant to CEOs either. There’s a messed up barrier to betterment here, and it has more to do with a flawed structure than simple lexicon within an antiquated museum hierarchy. His talk is absolutely true, probably staggeringly helpful, and thus amazingly messed up at the same time.

We’ve developed this detrimental idea that “digital” has to do with “tech” (not people), and “innovation” isn’t necessary for survival. Max Anderson’s “primer on the psychology of museum directors” underscores that the status quo (and, of course, legacy!) is what museum directors are primarily interested in…but the status quo isn’t working to bring in more people by creating crowds OR buzz. Efforts to abide the current condition fundamentally ignore the challenges imposed by a broken model. Changing lexicon is a pivot. Pivots sound pretty. Pivots sound agile. After pivoting, however, you may be facing in a different direction but you’re still standing in the same place.

Millennials – the largest generation in human history – may necessitate an update to the visitor-serving model in the information age. These “kids” will soon have kids, who will eventually have more kids, and if we continue to ignore the reality of negative substitution in our attendance, then we may soon have no museums, aquariums, or symphonies for those “kids” to go to at all. (OK – perhaps some hyperbole. We likely won’t have zero museums. Just more empty ones.)

 

The forces of change that propel the world forward are not going away. If we don’t change our model to one that is more sustainable, then we risk going away. This is a moment when our biggest barrier to engaging emerging audiences is holding dear to our increasingly irrelevant plans and practices. We need a reset. And it’s up to all of us to put our heads together and make it happen.

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 11 Comments

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

seafood watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KYOB aquariums reputation and revenue

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

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

KYOB zoos reputation and revenues

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

KYOB museums reputation and revenues

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Aquarium cleaning debris

National Aquarium

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

According to Visitors, THIS is the Best Part About Going to a Museum (Hint: It’s Not The Exhibits)

When it comes to “the best thing about visiting a zoo, aquarium or museum,” visitors indicate that having a shared experience with friends and family is most important.

I’m pleased to have the opportunity to share a tidbit of data uncovered by IMPACTS Research & Development (the company for which I work, folks)! The data below was first published by the National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study (NAAU) and, since April 2011, it has been re-confirmed in six, separate, proprietary studies on behalf of various visitor-serving organizations with which we work. The image below shows unprompted responses to the question and are displayed with the index value for each response. The bottom line? People don’t go to a museum to see the newest exhibit… people go to a museum to see the newest exhibit with people they care about.

Of course, museum marketers are selling an experience, but the trick may be for museum marketers to understand that they are selling a personal experience.

The “with > what” mentality may turn the museum industry’s self-perception on its head. Traditionally, museums (especially certain kinds, such as art and history museums, for example) may be perceived as quiet places preserved in the past and shielded by silence and white walls.  Museums have been seen as intellectual spaces with curators serving as great academic gatekeepers. The ‘museum experience,’ to those of us involved in creating and shaping it, often revolves around the exhibits, the artifacts, the collection…and it is about those things. For visitors, however, the experience is more than an intellectual quest; it revolves around the entirety of the experience and the company attending with the visitor.

This does not mean that the “what” isn’t important. I frequently write about the evolving role of the curator; how in the information age, everyone is a curator and how – particularly for engaging Millennials – highlighting your curator is less important than ever. Although accessibility and self-curation are becoming increasingly important, having and promoting these artifacts and collections can certainly  inspire visitation. They are the things (“whats”)  that people come with their loved ones to see. In other words, the  “with” here may not be as strong without the existence of the  museum’s “what.” (…Did you follow me there?)

Take a look at a visitor serving organization that has shared the love…  To be a museum marketer and miss this critical half of the equation for visitor motivation is a major loss. In fact, institutions that miss this will be limited, especially as the information age continues to reveal increased communication based on public sharing and online brand identity. So who is already onto this information?  To name an example that I’ve referenced before, Monterey Bay Aquarium used the “with” to promote their “what” in their extremely successful Share the Love campaign. The aquarium  got creative and pulled out all the stops with this campaign, and their concept of “sharing the love” – or sharing the experience of visiting the aquarium –  was a hit.  (Notice the  silhouettes, which allow viewers to place themselves into the pictures and videos for the campaign!)

Moreover, there’s empirical evidence that members of Generation Y may be particularly receptive to marketing messages that promote sharing visitor experiences. In particular, Millennials seek existential experiences.  Sometimes this young demographic gets a bad rep for moving conversation online (“Get off of Facebook and go hang out outside”), but this demographic is actually upping the demand when it comes to in-person experiences as well.

In my line of work, this kind of data on visitor motivation  informs significant decisions regarding discounts, exhibit cycles,  reaching new audiences, and long-term planning (to name a few broad areas…). I look forward to delving further into some of the the implications of these findings in the upcoming weeks. Be sure to check back!

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