How Annual Timeframes Hurt Cultural Organizations

Some cultural executives still aim for short-term attendance spikes at the expense of long-term financial solvency – and they Read more

Special Exhibits vs. Permanent Collections (DATA)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Top Seven Macro Trends Impacting Cultural Organizations

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

data

How Annual Timeframes Hurt Cultural Organizations

Some cultural executives still aim for short-term attendance spikes at the expense of long-term financial solvency – and they may not even know it.

Annualized calendars reward short-term attendance “quick hits,” and risk making us blind to opportunities for long-term sustainability. It’s a big problem – and it’s one that may keep plaguing us until we get it right…or at least start emphasizing appropriate timeframes that better enable visitor-serving organizations to best achieve financial goals.

It’s an issue of short-term, low stakes vs. long-term payoff for cultural organizations. Annualized timeframes make it very difficult to achieve long-term success because the timeframe is too short to understand market behaviors for most organizations. They may help visitor-serving organizations measure short-term successes insofar as they relate to seasonal attendance, but they aren’t generally aligned with market behaviors beyond seasonality. In short, they are driven by calendars rather than by people and behavior.

Annualized timeframes are calendar-driven timeframes rather than behavior-based timeframes. In order to identify true business successes, we need to understand the most appropriate timeframes within which to measure them. Although annual attendance imperatives may not be going away anytime soon (another “It’s how we’ve always done it!”), it’s critical that visitor-serving organizations contemplate the damage caused by evaluating goals, successes, missteps, and business practices based entirely – or even predominately – on a simple calendar year.

Here are three, critical ways in which prioritizing annual timeframes may be making visitor-serving organizations blind to market behaviors, outcomes related to their own business practices, and opportunities for securing support:

 

1) Annualized timeframes do not reflect market behaviors

Let’s start here. Due to annualized budgets, organizations consider a visit in November or December in one year as distinct from a visit in January or February of the following year. From the market’s perspective, there is no functional difference. However, organizations regularly pat themselves on the back for “closing strong” at the end of one year, and then reliably panic when 1Q attendance is down the following year. From a visitor’s perspective, we don’t often consider that there may not be a major difference between visiting on December 19 or January 19.

Contemplating market potential and performance in a 12-month cycle doesn’t remotely conform to actual visitation patterns for visitor-serving organizations such as museums, zoos, aquariums, symphonies, theaters, and the like. The average re-visitation cycle for US visitor-serving organizations approximates 21 months. In other words, 21 months – closer to two years than one – is the average duration between visits to US visitor-serving organizations for non-members. (Keep in mind that this is the average amongst visitor-serving organizations. The visitation cycle for your own organization may be more or less than this timeframe.) Here’s the kicker: Many organizations still don’t even know the duration of their own re-visitation cycle.

Just think about that for a moment. Many organizations are still so inside-perspective driven that they don’t even know enough about their visitors to consider how often they are coming back. This is extremely baseline information for spotting visitation trends and measuring the effectiveness of various audience engagement strategies. We almost exclusively abide by annual timeframes because “that’s how we’ve always done it” (when we didn’t know better). But we should know better by now – the market is the arbiter of our success.

Certainly, seasonal visitation during peak attendance periods provides some year-over-year insight into overall attendance performance – which makes sense given how important schedule is to the visitation decision-making process. However, this doesn’t simply mean that success can be measured entirely by comparing this year’s spring break attendance to last year’s spring break attendance. Year-over-year comparisons provide insights – they’re not necessarily overall performance indicators. In order to accurately assess performance, visitor-serving budget and planning processes should reconcile with the market’s behaviors. Similarly, our key performance indicators should more completely contemplate the market. Year-over-year performance is important – to be sure – but it may be less relevant than considering performance in 21-month intervals (or, your organization’s own visitation cycle).

 

2) Annualized timeframes hide damaging practices

When we measure success annually, we tend to prioritize attendance-increasing “quick hit” practices that may risk detrimental long-term consequences. For instance, when we look only at annual attendance, we’re looking at too short of a period of time to see the long-term risks associated with getting caught up in a cycle of hosting blockbuster exhibits, or even realistically considering the possible consequence of cycling special exhibits on the whole. We may see attendance temporarily spike that year, but this short-term, isolated view neglects to reveal the ways that a blockbuster exhibit strategy may negatively impact visitation cycles the following years. Annual timeframes also mask the damage of discounting admission pricing – a cycle that, once deployed, can take years to correct for organizations.

(Remember: Discounting is a different practice than targeted promotions, and has nothing to do with affordable access programming. Affordable access programming is completely different than discounting.)

Annualized calendars risk hiding bad business practices that would be easily spotted were we to consider their impacts in a more appropriate timeframe (i.e. one aligned to actual visitation cycles). Worse yet, being beholden to a calendar year invites boards and leaders to favor the short-term payoff at the expense of potentially more sustainable, long-term strategies.

 

3) Annualized timeframes may hinder major donor cultivation

This negative impact may be the most obvious: Chasing short-term development goals – such as year-end annual fund contributions – may come at the potential expense of cultivating major gifts. When development staff are incentivized to meet annual fund goals, they may be encouraged to repeatedly “go to the well” with mid/major donors instead of cultivating them for even more meaningful (and more impactful) major gifts.

Certainly, cultivating donations year-over-year can serve as a beneficial build-up that may help keep some donors engaged over time, but a lot has changed with regard to fundraising in the connected world in which we live. It may be time to be as donor-driven in our philanthropic goals as we need to be market-driven in our visitation goals. “Going to the well” may work for select donors with certain giving capacities, but it may be time to realize that this approach might not work for everyone – and it may be a false measure of end-all-be-all success for development staff.

The United States has more Ultra-High Net Worth Individuals (net assets greater than US$50 million) than any other country. These folks are motivated to give based upon who else is giving and how much they are giving. Here’s the data. Bigger gifts are more dependent upon board cultivation by peers than phone calls from relentless development staff (which, by the way, don’t work for these donors unless you are aiming for much smaller gifts). Building donor relationships can take time. Those relationships that link up potential donors with board members who can impact giving may especially take time – and we tend to give board members the time needed to successfully cultivate these relationships. Why don’t we also allow development staff suitable timeframes that reward them not only for securing year-over-year donations, but also for taking the time and energy to appropriately build more significant donor relationships?

I’m not saying that annual goals are necessarily a bad idea for securing donations. I’m saying that some organizations may be sacrificing more substantial gifts in the long-run by emphasizing rewards for smaller, year-over-year gifts. Again, it’s an inside-out practice that may need to evolve. Relationships with organizations matter to potential donors – and even to potential members. The “going to the well” strategy is self-oriented and may be less thoughtful and ultimately less beneficial than also realizing that our annualized donor cultivation timeframes may cheat us out of the very thing we’re after: Meaningful relationships with key supporters.

 

We aren’t likely to suddenly scrap annual goals – and perhaps we shouldn’t. Certainly, year-over-year performance offers some diagnostic insight into the health and effectiveness of our organizations. But using the calendar year as a lazy excuse not to align our organizational measures of success with a more appropriate chronology is a bad business practice. Annual timeframes are still most important to our internal budget and planning processes – but they don’t necessarily conform to the external, market-driven realities that make or break our organizations.

Prioritizing annual timeframes may be making us blind to some of our industry’s most beneficial and detrimental business practices alike. Ultimately, a reliance on the calendar year panders to inside-out thinking and disproportionately emphasizes measurements that tell but one aspect of a bigger story of institutional vitality. Successful organizations consider their businesses from the outside-in and, thus, plan their behaviors in like chronology with the behaviors of the market.

A 365 day calendar is a terrific way to quantify the Earth’s orbit around the sun. It may be less suited as a measure of an organization’s performance.

 

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

 

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

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

Special Exhibits vs. Permanent Collections (DATA)

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

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

A whole bunch, actually.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

4) Effective organizations prioritize the perspectives of the market.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

7) Aim to collect signals rather than noise.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Here are some ways that your organization can obtain data:

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Nearly 25% of potential attendees to visitor-serving organizations fall into one, ten-year age bracket.

Which generation has the greatest percentage of folks who profile as likely visitors to cultural organizations? That’s the focus of this week’s Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video. The answer might surprise you.

…Or, maybe the answer WON’T surprise you, given all the recent talk about the importance of engaging millennials for visitor-serving organizations such as museums, zoos, aquariums, science centers, performing arts entities, and even national and state parks. Certainly, a subset of millennials cannot possibly take the cake as having the most people who are likely visitors! Au contraire. As it turns out, we millennials really do our best to be ever worthy of attention.

A high-propensity visitor is a person who has the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood to visit a cultural organization. In other words, these are the people who are most likely to actually walk through our doors. It’s may be challenging for some of us to believe, but not everybody who hears the word “history museum” or “ballet” thinks, “Yes! Let’s go!” (or even a less enthusiastic variation of this statement). However, there are folks who are more likely to think this way, and these people are our high-propensity visitors. They are the people who are most likely to visit cultural organizations.

Remember: High-propensity visitors are not the same as historic visitors. People who profile as historic visitors are those with the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that match those who traditionally visit cultural organizations. Simply, all historic visitors (traditional, actual visitors) are generally included in the high-propensity visitor group (potential visitors), but not all high-propensity visitors profile as historic visitors. To be overly glib, not all likely visitors to cultural organizations are wealthy and white. (Again, that’s an extreme over-simplification, but my hope is that it gives you a sense of the distinction.) In fact, it’s quite the opposite…

Historic visitors – people who look and act like the people that cultural organizations have had success engaging in the past – are exiting the market (e.g. due death, relocation, etc.) at a faster rate than they are being replaced (e.g. via birth, immigration, etc). This phenomenon is called negative substitution. If organizations do not do a better job of engaging emerging audiences with an interest in visiting, it will continue to be a challenge for visitation to keep pace with population growth. We need to get better at engaging new audiences.

In the chart below, the red bar on the left shows the percentage of the US adult market by age cohort as per the US Census Bureau. The blue bar on the right indicates the percentage of adult high-propensity visitors to visitor-serving organizations (VSOs) as informed by the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study.

This chart is segmented by age rather than by more broad generational cohorts, and that allows us to dig deeper and better understand the particular dynamics of each age group.

Almost a quarter (24.3%) of adult high-propensity visitors in the US were millennials between the ages of 25-34 in year 2016. That is so much millennial potential! And it’s not surprising, really, as I’ve written a great deal about the cultural industry’s millennial engagement opportunity before.

The fact that the greatest percentage of potential visitors falls into a millennial age cohort is a big deal because cultural organizations are not adequately securing millennial visitation. In fact, it’s a bit more of a unique and attention-worthy situation than that…

Simply put, data suggest that millennials are both the most frequent visitors to cultural organizations and also comprise their greatest percentage of overall attendance potential. At the same time, millennials are also the most under-represented generational cohort in terms of visitation. There are simply so many of us that we’re both the cultural industry’s most frequent current visitors that need to be kept happy – and ALSO the generation that organizations must do a better job of attracting. Here’s the data on millennial visitation and the extent to which millennials make up our greatest volume of visitation and yet still are not visiting at representative rates.

Moreover, data suggest that there are other “millennial characteristics” that make this age group a critical target audience for cultural organizations.

Before opening this article, you may have already been thinking something like, “Jeez! It feels like we are slaves to the millennial generation!”  I think that sentiment makes sense. We talk about millennials a lot. (Even I get a bit tired of talking about us and I’m a millennial!) Here are some important things to remember if you’re getting fed up with millennial talk. Most importantly, “millennial talk” is code for “everybody talk.” Perhaps as a result of living in our super-connected world, other age groups increasingly share “millennial characteristics.” Think about it: Millennials are far from the only generation that utilizes the web and values brand transparency and personalization.

Adding all of these factors up might make a non-millennial groan, but it doesn’t make them less important: (1) Millennials are already the most frequent attendees to cultural organizations; (2) They are our most under-served age cohort (as they are not visiting at representative population rates); (3) They are sort of a canary in the coalmine for engagement of all audiences today; and (4) Millennials comprise the highest percentage of high-propensity visitors to cultural organizations.

Yikes! How’s that for being deserving of special treatment?

 

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, Millennials 1 Comment

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)

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 why.

I’ve recently written quite a bit about the barriers to visitation for likely visitors to cultural organizations such as museums, zoos, aquariums, science centers, symphonies, ballets, and other mission-driven, visitor-serving entities. Generally, data do not suggest drastic differences in identified barriers among organization types. In other words, critical barriers to visitation – such as schedule conflicts, travel challenges, etc. – tend to be rather similar, regardless of if you are looking at data cut for a history museum or a ballet. When it comes to nailing down and overcoming barriers to visitation, some emerge as more frequent barriers than others (such as preferring an alternative activity), but a barrier is a barrier. If data suggest that something is stopping people who we’d like to welcome from coming in the door to our organization, we generally want to break up that blockage.

So let’s share information today on how to knock down one of those blockages. Namely, the misconception that certain visitor-serving experiences (aside from children’s museums) are “not for adults” or ”only for kids.”

 

Being perceived as a place only for kids is barrier to visitation

One barrier to visitation that reliably emerges in the data is the perception of an organization as being “only for kids,” and, by extension, less suited for adults. While this finding is applicable to many types of visitor-serving organizations, it may prove especially relevant for aquariums, science centers and science museums, and zoos. Here’s why (for science centers and science museums, in this case):

With an index value of 163.7, being perceived as “not for adults” is nearly a 3.5x greater perceptual barrier to visitation to a science center or science museum than is cost. While “not for adults” is a perceptual barrier among many different types of cultural organizations, it’s a biggie for science centers and science museums. It’s also an important barrier for zoos and aquariums. That said, again, it’s still a barrier for many types of organizations and, thus, it’s one that many types of organizations may want to knock down regardless of reported index value.

Being perceived as “not for adults” is also a contributory reason why some organizations are experiencing negative substitution of their historic visitors. It has been well-documented that millennials are having fewer kids and having them later in life. In a nutshell, there’s a massive generation who have grown up and are no longer going to organizations perceived as “not for adults” (because they’re now adults themselves). They also aren’t (re)producing another massive generation to keep the kid-flow going strong for those organizations that are perceived as “only for kids.”

 

How to overcome perceptions of being not for adults

There is hopeful news – organizations can work to overcome this perception. Here’s the hack: Market to couples and other adults visiting without children.

“But our main audiences are families!” Yup. For some organizations, they are and that’s great. And they are going to keep coming – which is also great. IMPACTS has observed that organizations that market to couples and other adults generally manage to sustain their respective levels of family visitation. How is this so? Well, as the data attest, there exists a strong belief that many organizations are innately suitable for children. Marketing to families is a bit like proselytizing the church choir.

The risk of marketing solely or primarily to families is that these messages may serve to promulgate a perceptual barrier to engagement. And, in turn, this barrier may diminish an organization’s overall market potential. Here is the finding of note: The data suggest that appropriate adult-targeted marketing does not generally risk alienating families, but family-targeted marketing risks alienating couples and other adults.

“Prove it.”

Okay!

 

1) Adults without children favor marketing messages that target adults instead of children (but adults with children assess both concepts similarly)

These data come from concept testing that IMPACTS performed on behalf of a client organization. The organization’s advertising agency developed five similar concepts – three targeting families (i.e. adults visiting with children) and two targeting couples and other adults visiting without children. Favorability is a measure of the overall “like-ability” of a concept. If the market does not perceive the campaign concept as favorable, then it is extremely unlikely to respond to its message and call to action.

These data (like the balance of the data in this article) 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. When quantifying perceptions such as favorability and actionability, values greater than 100 are good/the aim (with higher values being proportionality more favorable or actionable).

While it’s probably not surprising that folks without kids favor messages without kids, the difference is notable. None of the three concepts targeting families had index values over 100 for adults without children in the household. However, adults with children in the household indicated remarkably similar favorability perceptions of couples-based concepts as did those adults without children in the household! These data affirm that marketing to adults does not necessarily alienate families. The market implicitly understands that many visitor-serving organizations are very effective at serving families.

 

2) Adults without children are more likely to act on marketing messages that target adults instead of families (but adults with children are equally likely to act on either)

As we’ve seen, there’s a difference in how much those with children and those without children favor messages that target families. That makes sense! But does it affect actionability? Actionability is a measure of the market’s likelihood and intention to respond to the campaign’s call to action (e.g. visit). Though the data below generally match the data shared above, favorability and actionability don’t always align. You can like a message and still report that you’re not any more likely to engage with that product, service, or experience based on the message. Think of some Super Bowl commercials! For instance, I’m one of those people who flipping loved PuppyMonkeyBaby in 2016. (I know it’s weird. I cannot explain it.) That said, I’m not any more likely to purchase Mountain Dew Kickstart. (I’m a sample size of one person, though, and that’s not a thing. However, I think this example demonstrates why actionability is an important metric to consider alongside favorability.)

Those without children in the household are simply less likely to act on messaging that targets families. Folks with kids in the household were just as likely to act in response to the concepts that primarily depicting couples as those primarily depiciting families.

 

3) Case Study A: Aquarium

So you’ve seen these data and you – hopefully – understand the value of concept testing. The next, smart question to ask is, “Does this strategy actually work?” Good question. I like the way you think.

To tackle this, I’d like to share three case studies from real life IMPACTS clients. Again, we’re looking at index values. I have expressed annual attendance numbers as index values as a means of both comparing performance and also helping to protect the identities of the organizations. In this usage, index values serve as a means of comparing relative performance across platforms (i.e. different organization types, different attendance volumes, different geographies, etc.).  In other words, it’s a means of standardizing for the sake of comparison. (Math lovers: This index value is determined by taking the average annual attendance of the contemplated years, dividing any one year’s attendance by the average, and then multiplying that value by 100.)

The first case study is from an aquarium client. In the charts, the shaded period indicates years 2006-2011 during which the focus of the organization’s marketing efforts primarily targeted families with children. As indicated, for years 2006-2016, family visitation (i.e. travel parties including children under the age of 18) has remained essentially stable during the assessed duration.

However, commencing in year 2012 when the organization updated its marketing efforts to better engage potential visitors traveling without children, annual adult visitation (i.e. adults visiting without children under the age of 18) increased by an average of 20.0%. And it didn’t negatively affect visitation from those with children in the household.

 

4) Case Study B: Science Museum

These data are from a science museum client. As in the last chart, the shaded region represents the time period during which the organization was promulgating predominately family-related messages. In 2012, this organization shifted to a campaign more contemplative of adult audiences, and attendance from adults without children in the household increased. Again, attendance from visitors with children in their respective households remained stable.

 

5) Case Study C: Zoo

We cannot forget zoos! You know the drill: The shaded region represents the time period during which this organization was primarily focused on targeting families. As you may expect by now, attendance from adults (and, thus, overall attendance) increased when the organization changed its messaging to more effectively target adults. Again, attendance from those with children in the household remained stable.

Supporting childhood education is a big part of many-an-organization’s mission, and organizations that highlight their missions outperform those marketing primarily as attractions. However, shifting demographics suggest a need for cultural organizations to rethink the means and messages that they use to engage their audiences. Being considered a place “only for kids” is completely different than being considered a place that “plays a role in supporting childhood education.” Places that are perceived as for children need not be the only types of organizations that support children. According to those who profile as likely visitors, a place that’s fun for adults may still be fun for kids. However, the reverse may not perceptually hold true.

On a personal note, this finding always reminds me of what was undoubtedly the worst job interview I’ve ever had. I was trying to line up a full-time gig after college graduation and was granted an interview to be a floor staff manager at a children’s museum. For the interview, I had to be observed interacting with children while wearing a laminated sign around my neck that read, “UNACCOMPANIED ADULT.” Though children’s museums are a different situation, I cannot say that it was a feel-good experience. It’s creepy to be that person. Loud, laminated sign or not, it’s probably not a feeling for which likely adult visitors to cultural organizations would sign up – let alone pay admission.

And, chances are, adults can and do have fun visiting your organization! This data isn’t to say that it’s necessarily a good idea to cease all messaging related to families. Simply, there’s visitation to be gained and audiences to be welcomed by taking on another approach and not only promulgating messages about and around family groups. If we want more than family groups to come through our doors, it’s time to underscore more directly that other individuals and group types are every bit as welcome.

 

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

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing 3 Comments

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

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

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

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

Visitors to cultural organizations are competitive audiences.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Why Those With Reported Interest Do Not Visit Cultural Organizations (DATA)

MoMA Sees Reputation Boost After Displaying Muslim Artists (DATA)

Here’s what market research reveals about MoMA’s decision to display artwork from artists hailing from the Muslim-majority nations affected by the original travel ban.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

How does this inform other cultural organizations?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Data Reveals The Worst Thing About Visiting Cultural Organizations

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

What about performance-based visitor-serving organizations?

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Visitor Confidence Is In Decline For US Cultural Organizations (DATA)

An index specifically measuring confidence of likely visitors to cultural organizations? We’ve got that and, all things considered, it’s probably time to share it.

Alright, folks. Things are about to get particularly “math-y” up in here. Follow me, fellow nerds (or people who care at all about visitation to cultural organizations), because I’ve got some good news (a new metric), and some not-great news (what that metric indicates right now).

The Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) is a measure of US consumer confidence, which, in turn, is a measure of how the market perceives both the US economy and their personal finances. The metric is a pretty big deal. The process of quantifying consumer confidence involves querying members of the market about their current and near-term savings and spending intentions. In general, if market members are confident about the state of both the overall economy and their personal finances, then they tend to spend more (and, thus, save less). If persons are less confident about the economy and their finances, then they tend to indicate intentions to save more and spend less. The Consumer Confidence Index has become an important economic indicator, and has shown general alignment to actual economic performance. For example, consumer confidence often increases as the economy grows.

Several years ago, a client that operates several prominent visitor-serving organizations tasked IMPACTS to develop a similar metric as a measure of visitor confidence with a specific emphasis on high-propensity visitors. For not-regular KYOB readers: High-propensity visitors are those market members with the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood of visiting cultural organizations. Not only are these people the lifeblood of our organizations in terms of visitation, they are also critical to the sustained vitality of our organizations as they are the trusted sources who promulgate word-of-mouth endorsements to other potential visitors. Because likely visitors drive the cultural market, the attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors of likely visitors provide early insight into the overall “cultural economy.”

Technically, the metric isn’t “new” as we’ve been collecting data related to it since the start of 2012, but this is the first time that I’ve had the opportunity to write about it – or even felt a compelling urge to do so because it ebbs and flows with limited volatility. At least until the fall of 2016 it was trending upward. Until November 2016, there wasn’t much to report in terms of this metric except that visitor confidence was generally observed to be in a steady ascent over time.

 

The High-Propensity Visitor Confidence Index (HPVCI)

The HPVCI is a measure of high-propensity visitors’ sentiment concerning their participation in the cultural economy. Similar to the Consumer Confidence Index, IMPACTS developed a survey to quantify measures of broad market perceptions of the cultural sector and also individual prospective visitor intentions. These measures contemplated both immediate and near-term perceptions and intentions. Inputs informing the overall metric include macro measures relating to sector perceptions (e.g. attitudes about the overall perceived value of museums, zoos, aquariums, and the performing arts), and more specific measures concerning intentions to visit a cultural organization within a defined duration. The High-Propensity Visitor Confidence Index (HPVCI) quantifies these measures as a composite value, whereby the measure of January 2012 equals 100.0. (In other words, January 2012 was set as the index benchmark, and consequent months measure performance relative to the benchmark.) As a point of comparative reference, the chart below indicates both the monthly CCI and HPVCI for the three-year duration spanning January 2014 through January 2017. The CCI for January 2017 was 111.8, and the HPVCI was 92.8. During the indicated three-year duration, the average monthly CCI was 95.2 and the average monthly HPVCI was 103.0.

This chart is shared above, but let’s put it here again to avoid a “scroll up” situation:

What is interesting – and potentially alarming – for cultural organizations is the recent trend line indicating a 15.9% decline in HPVCI in the last four months (from 110.4 in September 2016 to 92.8 in January 2017). Indeed, the January HPVCI of 92.8 is the lowest observed HPVCI since the metric’s inception in January 2012.

 

Why this decline is alarming

Any measure that suggests a decline in usage or perceptions amongst our most key audiences is troubling. Also, the severity of the decline seems notable. During the analyzed three-year duration, the HPVCI has been largely stable with only modest observed peaks and valleys…until most recently. While the CCI includes representative market members from all demographic cohorts, high-propensity visitors tend to have higher educational attainment levels and higher household income levels than the overall US population. They are a more homogeneous, generally stable population, and, as such, may be less susceptible to short-term economic volatility. This makes it all the more concerning that this highly educated, financially secure audience has recently signaled declining confidence in terms of their intentions to visit cultural organizations. (Note: The CCI went down in January, too.)

Another reason why we should be concerned is because there is a lack of unique visitation to cultural organizations right now. We are especially dependent upon the “historic visitor” subset of the high-propensity visitor audience – and that subset tends to be the most educated and/or earning the highest incomes of this group. In general – and in spite of overall US population growth – the number of unique visitors to US cultural organizations has remained relatively stable over the past decade, which is a symptom of negative substitution of the historic visitor. “Unique visitation” is the measure of the number of individual persons who annually visit an organization, and differs from total annual visitation as individuals may visit more than once. For example, 100,000 unique visitors each visiting an organization two times would result in a total visitation of 200,000. In many instances, attendance to cultural organizations is not keeping pace with overall US population growth. This places an increasing burden on a finite number of people (i.e. the people in this metric) to “keep up the numbers.”

 

Why the HPVCI may be in decline

It’s time to acknowledge the elephant in the website article: There was a presidential election that coincides with the observed decline in the HPVCI. Like the CCI, the HPVCI measures perceptions related to the present situation and expectations. These data suggest that people with higher educational attainment levels have relatively low visitor confidence right now. During the election, news sources touted that education wars have replaced the culture wars and it’s worth noting that highly educated folks tend to be liberal. TIME even suggests that the newly inaugurated President has declared war on science. When we organize the HPVCI numbers by educational attainment, it’s clear to see that those high-propensity visitors with the most education are reporting the lowest confidence values. While all educational attainment cohorts indicated lower HPVCI from December 2016 to January 2017, the steepest declines were reported among the most educated persons.

This finding suggests that high-propensity visitors aren’t feeling so warm and fuzzy about a future visiting cultural organizations right now. In fact, people don’t seem to be feeling very warm and fuzzy in general. The American Psychological Association recently published a study indicating that the majority of Americans – both Democrats and Republicans alike – reported that the 2016 US presidential election was a very or somewhat significant source of stress. The study reveals that election-related stress is bipartisan, and bridges ethnic, racial, and age gaps. Moreover, it indicates that social media – the increasingly dominant means by which our HPVs are acquiring information – is a contributor to the observed election season stresses and anxieties.

So, it should come as no surprise that our high-propensity visitors – who are 1.43x more likely to vote than the average eligible voter, and who are relying on social media as an information source at a rate 1.45x greater than the balance of the US population – are stressed. And this, of course, stands to impact their outlook right now.

Also, there has been a lot of recent press concerning possible funding cuts to the arts that have the likely impact of negatively affecting perceptions of the “state of our state.” These types of doomsday stories may support lessened views on the outlook for our cultural economy. If the market believes that the cultural world is imperiled, it is not a huge leap to consider that some might instead choose to invest their discretionary time and dollars in competing enterprise or imagine doing something else – other than visiting – in the future.

 

So what?

The data suggest that the recent events have shaken the confidence of our most likely visitors – and we have an obligation to both acknowledge and respond to our surroundings to provide comfort, assurance, and a non-partisan sanctuary for the same values and ideals that underpin our missions. Organizations that highlight their missions perform the best financially. Last week, The Museum of Modern Art highlighted works by artists from Muslim-majority nations.  Parts of the mission statement of The Museum of Modern Art read that “…The Museum of Modern Art recognizes that modern and contemporary art transcend national boundaries and…seeks to create a dialogue between the established and the experimental, the past and the present, in an environment that is responsive to the issues of modern and contemporary art, while being accessible to a public that ranges from scholars to young children.”

Displaying art from Muslim-majority nations is not in itself a political statement – it is making good on the promise of MoMA’s mission statement.  Keeping promises builds confidence. MoMA is practicing its mission, not engaging in activism. We’re not political organizations – but we are social and cultural organizations – and we exist in the prevailing context of the United States right now regardless of political preference.

A possible “So what?” may be to stop pretending to be impartial observers and live up to our missions. Confidence may be in decline because we’ve been less responsive to opportunity. We may not be serving as the gathering spaces and treasured places of connectivity that our likely visitors need us to be right now. Where museums stand on issues, what they support, and who runs them (and what those people stand for) can be confusing during this divided time. While some organizations are taking stands when called upon (too many to link to, but not enough to carry sector perception), others are going above and beyond to avoid the conversation. For every MoMA making headlines in The New York Times about honoring their mission, there seems to be another organization also making the New York Times headlines that begs more questions about trust and who makes important decisions within cultural organizations. Sure, we can be places of sanctuary – but are simply being places of sanctuary and institutional (increasingly contrived) silence good enough right now? I’m not sure. We’re being called upon to know ourselves right now – the trouble is that many organizations simply don’t. That’s a big issue, and for many organizations, it’s a board issue.

Standing for absolutely nothing when called upon to take a position isn’t exactly confidence-inspiring. I’m not suggesting that all visitor-serving organizations turn to curatorial activism – nor do these data claim (let alone does the US tax code) support such a stand. I’m also not suggesting that organizations stand on a specific side of the political divide! That’s not necessary and that’s not what this is about. These data simply show that our most likely supporters aren’t feeling confident about participating in our cultural economy right now. That’s a problem – but it also calls upon us to be heroes and shine when our visitors need us most. It’s our time to flex our superpower muscles and serve as hubs of human connection, education, and inspiration for our communities and our neighbors. THAT could be where we stand, if we make the decision to do so – and that’s not political. It’s mission-serving. Let’s up the integrity ante in the way that works best for each organization. The market is demanding it of us.

To lovers of science, culture, and informal learning who are reading this not because you run a cultural organization, but because you love one: Now is truly the time to do what you do – to visit and support those organizations and special places that inspire you most during times of potential anxiety, stress, and transition.

In the words of the Avett Brothers, it may be time for organizations to decide what to be and go be it. 

 

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

 

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

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