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cost

Breaking Down Data-Informed Barriers to Visitation for Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Here’s a round-up of the primary reasons why people with an interest in visiting cultural organizations do not actually end up visiting…and what your organization needs to know to overcome these barriers.

I frequently dig into data about barriers to visitation among likely visitors to cultural organizations – and a round-up article is calling my name. Data suggest that over 30% of folks who report interest in visiting a cultural organization (such as a museum, zoo, aquarium, symphony, ballet, theater, or other visitor-serving organization) still haven’t visited one of these entities within the past two years. Many of the folks who report interest in visiting cultural organizations are high-propensity visitors. These are the people who possess the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood of attending a visitor-serving organization. Simply put, they are the people most likely to attend our organizations.

While data suggest that the specific barriers to visitation vary slightly among different visitor-serving organization types (e.g. a history museum vs. a symphony), we don’t observe generally massive differences – a barrier to visitation is a barrier to visitation. In other words, regardless of organization type or relative “rank” of the barrier, visitation barriers have the same outcome: They stop people from coming. A person who did not attend a cultural organization within the last two years because they had a schedule conflict and a person who did not visit because they had a negative experience with that organization both still did not visit.

IMPACTS consulted the trusty National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study, and we dug into why those 30% of folks with reported interest in visiting cultural organizations hadn’t actually visited one within the past two years. You can see the outcomes at the top of this article. These data are indicated as index values. Index values are a means of quantifying proportionality and relativity between assessed conditions, and they are a helpful way to benchmark and measure differences. Typically, a base measure (e.g. an average) is expressed as a value of 100, and all other data points are quantified in relation to the base measure.

I have conducted entire workshops on data related to overcoming these visitation barriers – and there’s quite a bit to dig into and discuss here. I encourage you and your organization to take a look and challenge yourselves to ask hard questions about your audiences. When leaders “That doesn’t apply to me” data, nobody wins (least of all the organization). Instead, I encourage organizations to consider these barriers and ask themselves, “To what extent is this a barrier to visitation for my organization, and what can I learn from this?”

Let’s jump in!

 

A) Preferred alternative leisure activity (Index 147.3)

With an index value of 147.3, this barrier to visitation is the strongest among cultural organizations. While it may sound obvious, despite having a general interest, those who do not visit may prefer to do something else. Of those folks who reported interest in visiting a cultural organization – but hadn’t done so within the past two years – the top reason is because they prefer an alternative activity. This may include an activity such as seeing a movie or sporting event, going jogging, bowling, or even enjoying trivia at a bar with friends. Simply put, for a good number of people interested in visiting a cultural organization, there are many other things that compete for their precious time. And, it seems, some of these other things take precedent. Yes, they are interested in visiting…but they would still rather do something else.

Compounding matters is the growing competition with the couch. In fact, the number of people who have expressed a preference to stay home during a week off from school or work has increased by 17.3% in the past five years. The amount of people who express a preference to stay home over the weekend has increased by 19.4%. Here’s a deeper dive into data on the couch contingent, and what your organization needs to know. Need a quick hit to communicate this trend with others? Here’s a Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video on the topic:

 

B) Access challenges (Index 132.2)

This barrier is perhaps as obvious as it is overlooked. When organizations consider why folks don’t attend, we often forget to consider some of the technicalities associated with getting to our front door. This barrier metric includes traffic, travel time and distance, construction along the way, etc.

These data are collected by way of lexical analysis, meaning that respondents identified barriers in their own words and they are quantified here as index values based on frequency of mention and strength of conviction. We didn’t ask folks to choose from a list of barriers and, as such, this category includes the perception of access as well. (Because humans.) For instance, if someone lives in the suburbs and the cultural organization is in the city, there may be a perceptual barrier associated with that trip (e.g. “It’s a hassle.”)

This barrier is a bit of a frustrating one, because until we can sponsor potential visitor teleportation, most organizations are stuck without control over traffic or travel time. The way to overcome this barrier often depends upon demonstrating that your organization’s unique experience is worthy of facing down access challenges. In this way, aiming to overcome the primary barrier to visitation of preferring another activity also may serve to aid in overcoming access challenges. There are also things that an organization can do to ease perceptions such as providing tips for traveling to your destination. Highlighting ease of access from popular destinations in the city may also play a small role in easing perceptions because data suggest that high-propensity visitors do not generally head into the city, for instance, only to visit a cultural organization.

Parking challenges are their own, separately identified barrier that were cited on their own (index value 88.8). Transportation issues – such as not having a car or easy means to get to the organization in the first place – also came up as uniquely differentiated from access challenges.

 

C) They have already visited (Index 118.4)

This barrier is our own dang fault, and if we want to overcome it, we’re going to have to do it together as a sector by developing smarter, more sustainable business practices. Not visiting because there’s “nothing new to see or do” is the outcome of decades of bigger organizations practicing the phenomenon of death by curation. Death by curation (also known as “blockbuster suicide”) is the unfortunate practice of sabotaging long-term solvency by dedicating a disproportionate level of resources in the pursuit of blockbuster, special exhibits at the expense of the everyday awesomeness of your permanent collections. Here’s data on the terrible cycle of death by curation and what it is doing to the cultural organizations that rely upon it as a business practice.

This is a barrier because, as a sector, we’ve trained audiences to come only when we’re doing something “special” (as opposed to underscoring our kick-butt permanent collections). As a rule, I do not call out bad practices of individual organizations with IMPACTS’s data (that’s not my place), but if you take a moment to think about many of the organizations that have fallen on hard times, chances are blockbuster suicide played a role. This is especially true for the kinds of organizations that have hosted our industry’s most well-known blockbusters (Body Worlds, Titanic, etc.) – though it doesn’t affect these types of organizations exclusively by any means. A fun fact that’s too strange for me to make up: There’s even a Jurassic World blockbuster exhibit making the rounds right now and I use the movie Jurassic World to illustrate the very deleterious cycle of death by curation.

 

You’ve likely heard an exchange that goes something like this:

Person 1: Let’s go to [X awesome organization]!

Person 2: What’s their special exhibit right now?

When a temporary exhibit becomes the decision-making qualifier to visitation, your organization suffers severely from the industry-driven phenomenon of death by curation. Unless your organization is solely an empty space for the passing through of exhibits, what’s coolest about your organization should be your organization. Special exhibits can motivate visitation, but when the allure of the exhibit trumps the allure of your brand, there’s a problem.

Is it a bad idea to have special exhibits? Not at all! Is it a bad idea to make them the primary reason to visit you? Yes. Very much so.

 

D) Schedule conflicts (Index 105.3 to 95.5)

Schedule is the leading motivator for visitation to cultural organizations, so it makes sense that work, school, and holiday conflicts are separate, leading barriers to visitation. The chart below is from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study, and “schedule” is – quite simply – being open during the dates and times that people want to attend your organization.

One of the biggest lies that we cultural organization folks tell ourselves is that we can lucratively impact and influence a visitor’s schedule. Frustratingly, the importance of schedule as a leading decision-making utility is the reason why cultural organizations generally cannot cost-effectively move visitation to shoulder seasons to distribute annual attendance.

Schedule is the leading barrier to visitation that we don’t seem to talk about. To overcome this barrier, we’ll have to start talking about it.

 

E) Negative precedent experience (Index 83.7)

Satisfaction and reputation drive visitor engagement, and having a negative precedent experience negatively influences both aspects of the engagement cycle. In short, those who have had a bad experience risk providing negative reviews (via word of mouth, social media, etc.) of the organization. This stinks, because likely visitors to cultural organizations qualify as “super-connected” – they have access to the web at home, at work, and on a mobile device.

These are the biggest onsite dissatisfiers for visitor-serving experiences, broken out by exhibit-based and performance-based organizations. (Spoiler alert: The worst thing about a visit to a cultural organization is the same for both organization types. According to visitors, negative interactions with staff members or volunteers is the worst thing about a visit to a cultural organization. Interestingly, positive interactions with staff and volunteers can have the most significant positive impact on visitor satisfaction as well.)

 

F) Not for adults (Index 76.7)

As you can see, being perceived as “not for adults” and also “not suitable for children” both make the barrier list. However, an important distinction is that organizations perceived as not suitable for children generally do not aim to primarily attract children (i.e. orchestras), while some organizations that aim to regularly attract adults and children alike (i.e. science museums) are perceived as not for adults. That’s a big problem. In fact, for science museums and science centers, being perceived as “not for adults” is the second strongest barrier to visitation. This is also a particularly big problem for aquariums and zoos.

I’ve previously shared a data-informed hack for overcoming this barrier, informed by data from IMPACTS clients. Here’s how to overcome the barrier of being viewed as “not for adults” if your organization does, in fact, aim to attract audiences beyond children and families.

 

G) Cost (is not a primary barrier to visitation for likely visitors)

Cost is simply not a primary barrier to visitation for likely visitors. This isn’t to say that it’s not a barrier at all, but it’s not anywhere near the barrier that cultural organizations pretend that it is.

In order to discuss cost at all, we need to underscore that admission pricing is not an affordable access program. They are not the same thing. Likely visitors are people who want to visit you, and data suggest that they will pay to do that. Axiomatically, unlikely visitors generally do not want to visit you at all, and, thus, are not likely to pay to do so. Affordable access programs should be targeted for those who truly do want to visit but cannot afford to do so. (This is different than not being willing to do so.) Effective affordable access programming is an investment, and understanding the basics of audience access makes these types of programs possible. A misunderstanding of what truly fuels audience access motivations is the reason why many organizations do not have effective access programming.

Data suggest that cost is simply not a primary barrier to visitation for people who want to visit – and free admission is not a cure-all for engagement. When it comes to measuring free admission as a barrier to visitation, things often get difficult because “free admission” is both a lazy person’s response to why they aren’t attending, and a lazy organization’s excuse for not reaching more audiences. Namely, when asked why people didn’t do something, cost generally comes up first for anything. Why didn’t I buy the daisies from the flower store? They were too expensive! The key to understanding the reality of cost as a barrier to visitation is to get to the end of this sentence, “Admission cost is too expensive for…”

…For missing an afternoon that I could spend doing something else with my friends? For taking the financial hit of taking off a day of work? For missing quality time with my kids? For spending an hour on the bus? For navigating through traffic to get there? For something that I’m not interested in seeing or doing? When it comes to removing barriers to visitation for folks who are not affordable access audiences, getting to the end of that sentence is important.

But lack of free admission is also the lazy cultural organization’s excuse for lack of engagement. It’s a thing that we can blame on the world, or on the board, or on the government, or on higher-ups. Of all of the primary barriers to visitation, it’s the one that causes us to question our own organizational practices the least. It’s the safest excuse for lack of evolution and time spent donning our thinking caps. But it’s a terrible excuse, as it doesn’t have a strong basis in reality.

Embedded below is a data-slam video about some of the reasons why we need to stop distracting ourselves with the idea of cost being a primary barrier to visitation for likely visitors. The economics don’t support it. (Want to read about the data and explore more links on this topic? Click here.)

 

Understanding barriers to visitation play a big role in the solvency and long-term sustainability of cultural organizations. For weekly data-informed analysis regarding best practices for cultural executives, don’t forget to subscribe to Know Your Own Bone.

 

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

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, IMPACTS Data, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution Comments Off on Breaking Down Data-Informed Barriers to Visitation for Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Distraction: Blaming Admission Cost for Cultural Center Attendance (DATA)

Yes, it’s nice to get things for free – but it’s not why people aren’t visiting cultural organizations.

This week’s KYOB Fast Facts video is a bit of an experiment for the Fast Facts series. It’s a kind of IMPACTS “data attack” regarding cost as the primary barrier to visitation for cultural organizations. I’ve left out some of the more well-known economics that indicate that admission is not a primary barrier to visitation, and kept this to IMPACTS data.

This post does not say that cost is never a primary barrier, but rather that the true behaviors of the market indicate that our treating cost as the “go to” barrier may be serving as a self-sacrificing distraction. This post also does not suggest that access programs for low-income audiences are not important, but rather that they are a totally different thing than admission price. (Got it? Good.)

Simply put, stable cultural organizations have three, general means of access: 1) A data-based admission price based on what the market can and will pay to visit them; 2) Targeted (key word) access programs to allow for visitation of specific audiences without means to pay admission; and 3) Affinity-based programs (i.e. membership or donor societies) to engage and cultivate key supporters.

Access programs that reach low-income audiences are often central to an organization’s mission (or grant funding opportunities), and they are important. However, admission price is not an affordable access program. 

When cultural organizations convince themselves that cost is the primary barrier to visitation for likely visitors, we miss out on opportunities to remove the actual barriers to visitation that are keeping people from coming through our doors. Barriers to visitation that are generally more significant than cost include items such as schedule, negative attitude affinities (“Not for someone like me”), reputation misses, and simply lack of content interest/preferring another activity (as we’ll discuss below). This data is important for those organizations that avoid tackling true barriers by making sacrificial assumptions that “if we build it (or create this program) and make it free, they will come.”

Can admission price be too high? You bet. But it’s just not the primary barrier to entry that we keep on defensively thinking that it is within the industry. While it’s often easier to blame pricing than to examine more deeply-rooted issues for lack of sky-high engagement, it’s often a shortcut to even less earned revenue and a devalued brand.  I’ve written about this data and more in this post (Admission Price is Not a Primary Barrier for Cultural Center Visitation) and in this post (How Free Admission Really Affects Museum Attendance). There’s enough information on this topic to fill a dozen videos, but let’s power through some basics:

 

1) Time is more valuable than money

First, both high-propensity visitors and the composite market report that their time is more valuable than their money. A bigger barrier to visitation, then, is being considered worthy of someone’s time. If cost were the biggest barrier, these bars might be reversed. This finding is not surprising at all, as cost generally pales in comparison to schedule and reputation when it comes to factors influencing discretionary leisure activities.

When we blame admission price first, we are building this assumption on a simple fallacy: that one’s money is the most valuable thing that cultural organizations are asking for. Cultural organizations are asking for visitors’ time – and that’s often a more important thing to them than money.

 

2) Free admission does not significantly affect intent to visit

(And to the extent that it does, it’s the opposite of the “free is best” assumption.) If free admission were a cure-all for engagement, then folks would have higher intent to visit those organizations. Those would be the organizations that they want to and plan to visit! This is not the case. In fact, in most instances, audiences indicate greater intentions to visit organizations that charge more than $20 rather than those that are free.

I’m certainly not suggesting a specific admission price, but this data does fly in the face of arguments suggesting that people might not want to visit an organization that charges admission simply because it charges admission. It’s often the opposite. The popular tenant of pricing psychology is true: people value what they pay for. Organizations that offer free admission often unwittingly devalue their brands, and without a best-in-class reputation to afford wiggle room, their public perceptions often take a a bit of a pricing psychology hit.

 

 

3) Cultural organizations are generally perceived as worthy of their admission price

Organizations charging admission have similar value for cost perceptions as other activities. This data – like most data that I make accessible here on KYOB – is from IMPACTS and the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study. Sometimes it seems that professionals within cultural organizations have an inferiority complex when it comes to comparing their experiences to others. (Although, yes, there are plenty of museum professionals on the other side of the spectrum and that’s a problem, too.) But the idea that cultural organizations might be less worthy of having an admission basis than other activities is make believe. In fact, in many cases, cultural organizations are considered even more worthy of their admission price – when they have one- than a baseball game, football game, basketball game, or a rock concert. We really do, generally, give visitors bang for their buck.

 

4) People value what they pay for

This chart shows the overall satisfaction levels of visitors to paid vs. free admission organizations. It includes classical concerts, live theater, history museums, art museums, zoos, aquariums, and science museums. Notice anything? It’s true. People value what they pay for.

 

5) Admission pricing is not the primary barrier to visitation for those with interest

Finally, for folks interested in visiting cultural organizations but who haven’t in the last two years, cost is the 14th ranked reason why they haven’t visited. The top reasons are preferring another kind of activity, it being hard to travel to the organization, feeling that there’s nothing new to do or see at the organization, a conflict with holiday, work, or school schedules, and parking challenges. When we focus on admission cost as a primary barrier – especially for these audiences who have already reported interest in visiting – we deliver a hit to our own financial solvency. To reach these audiences, there is often a different barrier to be removed.

When it comes to targeting low-income audiences, access programs are often a necessity. That said, low-income audiences are not generally the audience segments that we rely upon to keep our doors open and our “mission execution” game strong. To support access programs for low-income audiences, it’s necessary for many organizations to have an optimal admission price for the people who can and will attend the organization. For those people – the people who keep us alive if we aren’t a government funded entity –  pricing is not the primary barrier to visitation.

On the whole, the kind of people who want to go to cultural organizations are willing to pay to visit them. The argument for free admission is often an emotional one.  It may feel warm a fuzzy to offer free admission, but for many organizations, it comes with financial and perceptual consequences – and much of the science just doesn’t support it. It’s often better to charge your optimal admission price, and then create effective, targeted affordable access programs for specific audiences. When we focus on admission cost as the primary barrier to engagement, we miss out on the opportunity to remove true barriers.

 

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

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Distraction: Blaming Admission Cost for Cultural Center Attendance (DATA)

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