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

The Three Most Overlooked Marketing Realities For Cultural Organizations

These three marketing realities for cultural organizations may be the most urgent – and also the most overlooked. This Read more

Are Mobile Apps Worth It For Cultural Organizations? (DATA)

The short answer: No. Mobile applications have been a hot topic for a long while within the visitor-serving industry. Read more

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 Read more

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

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

data

Leisure Activity Motivation: How People Decide to Attend Your Museum or Visitor Serving Organization (DATA)

MET museum

When it comes to motivating attendance, data suggest that offerings outside of your visitor-serving organization’s walls often play a greater role than what is inside.

Wondering why you’re not getting more people through the door of your museum or performing arts event? It could be due to many factors – both internal and external. Often, visitor-serving organizations (VSOs) get wrapped up in their own content and confuse the role that these offerings play in motivating visitation. Namely, they think that their own content or visitor experience plays the primary motivational role. However, data indicate that an organization’s own, internal offerings generally matter less to visitors than does the market’s perceptions of the surrounding macro-environment when it comes to motivating leisure visitation.

The chart below (featuring data collected by IMPACTS) illustrates findings related to leisure activity motivation. In other words, it demonstrates the primary motivators that determine how the market decides what to do with its leisure time. (The x-axis demonstrates the percent of respondents identifying that aspect/activity as a primary motivator. Respondents with multiple primary motivators are also represented.)

IMPACTS leisure activity motivation

This data features several, key takeaways for visitor-serving organizations:

 

1) “Critical mass” plays an important role in motivating leisure activity

“Yeah, yeah – VSOs in bigger cities have more people around and thus usually get more people to come through the door,” you’re probably thinking…but there’s more at play here than one might initially think. Major metro markets contain a density of attributes and experiences such as the ones indicated on this list. However, data suggest that in terms of motivating leisure activities, some markets have stronger, “standalone” motivators than others and merely being a major metro market can be a less enticing draw than possessing a mix of other attributes. A certain way to ensure that your organization is being considered as a viable destination is to be surrounded by a core, critical mass of other leisure opportunities. Consider the Monterey Bay Aquarium (to mention a frequent example for me): Monterey itself is not a major metro market, but the aquarium’s proximity to the waterfront, unique dining, golfing, and other specific opportunities create a density of experience that makes the location a viable leisure destination. In other words, the combination of these attributes – coupled with the appeal of the aquarium – are enough to motivate people to travel 2.5 hours from a major metro market (San Francisco) to visit the aquarium.

 

2) More than ninety percent of people need external motivators in order to attend your museum or performing arts event

Visitor-serving organizations may overestimate the motivational qualities or singularity of their own offerings in driving activity motivation. The modest influence that visiting a museum (9.9%), a zoo, aquarium, or science center (8.9%), or a performing arts event (4.2%) has on the leisure decision-making process is relatively low when compared to the influence of other visitor experiences or destination attributes. This means that more than 90% of people need additional, external motivators to enter your marketplace. A museum could put a visit to a destination over the top, but it’s generally not a primary motivator. This makes sense when contemplating the opportunity trade-offs attendant to leisure decisions: Visiting Aunt Janet sounds great – but if you could visit a major metro with unique shopping near the water – and visit a museum – you might make a different decision (and maybe even bring Aunt Janet)!

 

3) Who people are with still often beats what they are doing

The highest primary motivator of leisure activity is visiting friends or family (70.4%). This mirrors other data supporting the finding that who visitors are with often means more than what visitors see when they go to a museum or other type of visitor-serving organization. This is worth extra attention, as the greatest motivator according to the market is not tied specifically to a physical aspect or feature of a destination, but rather the draw of being with loved ones.

 

4) What is good for your city in terms of increasing critical mass is also good for your organization

This is the essence of the “rising tide lifts all ships” theory of visitor engagement. Organizations that see other activities or experiences as competition for their potential audience’s time may be missing the mark. It may go without saying, but communicating the availability of unique shopping and dining, celebrating historic assets within your community, and highlighting hiking, swimming, golfing, or other activities that take place outside your walls also helps you better engage your own visitors.

Occasionally, museums and other visitor-serving organizations want to “silo” their organization as a more influential, standalone experience – a perspective that may be incongruent with the way that the market contemplates its leisure investments. Organizations should be careful to not forget that before a visitor can engage with your content they must first choose to visit your destination. Your visitors’ experience is often connected to the other experiences around you that make up their day. Promoting the robustness and vitality of neighboring organizations and the macro community is increasingly a wise strategy to maximize visitor engagement.

 

Quick note: I am pleased to be bouncing into Salt Lake City on October 12th to deliver a WestMusing: 10 Minute Museum Talk at the Western Museums Association Annual Meeting closing ceremony before hopping on the plane back to London! I’m thrilled to be delivering the talk alongside four great brains. If you’ll be there, come say hi or connect via one of my social channels!

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

 

*Top photo credit to nypress.com

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

Non-Nuclear Proliferation: Who is REALLY Visiting Museums Nowadays?

family visiting museum

Is your nonprofit or museum still operating under the assumption that most of the folks visiting zoos, aquariums, museums, and performing arts venues are doing so with their nuclear families? Think again. Data concerning visitor-serving organizations (VSOs) reveals that travel party constructs have evolved. While only seven years ago a majority of visitors attended VSOs with their nuclear families, the majority are now visiting with significant others.

Why does this matter? Well, if you don’t know who your audience is, then it is more difficult to target them or retain their support. And keep in mind: Your “audience” is a dynamic group comprised of both online and onsite persons, as well as would-be and actual visitors alike. In other words, just because you are marketing your nonprofit to families and households with children doesn’t necessarily mean that they comprise the majority of your audience.

In fact, my colleagues and I at IMPACTS have observed this evolving reality within many of our client VSOs.  Several clients who have been predominantly marketing to their perceived, “traditional” base (i.e. the nuclear family) have had to adapt their engagement strategies to recognize the emergence of persons who visit without children.

To illustrate this change, I’ll present two sets of data: one for the U.S. composite audience (which includes travel party construct data for a representative sample of the total US population), and another for high-propensity visitors (HPVs, or those persons possessing the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that tend to suggest an increased likelihood to visit a VSO). One quick note: The data represent “discretionary consumer behaviors” – that is to say, it does not contemplate educational groups, field trips, and other group-motivated activities.

Let’s start by examining the change in travel party constructs for the overall U.S. population:

IMPACTS US Composite Visiting Party Construct

 

Notice that the dominant travel party construct has changed from “with family” to “with spouse.” Currently, nearly 50% of the overall U.S. population visiting a VSO is doing so without a child (quantified above in the “By self” + “With spouse” + “With friends” categories). This same cohort grew by 11% during the relatively brief tracking period!

Now let’s take a look to see with whom high-propensity visitors (HPVs, or, the folks that largely butter your bread) are attending organizations…

 IMPACTS HPV Visiting Party Construct

For HPVs, we witness a similar decline of people visiting with children…and, keep in mind, this behavior is amongst those persons most likely to visit your organization in the first place! Here are four noteworthy takeaways from the data:

1) The number of families attending VSOs has decreased

During the quantified duration, VSOs experienced a 10% decline in family visitation (from 41.8% in year 2006 to 37.5% in year 2012) and a 13% decline amongst HPV families.  Part of this decline relates to our evolving demography – there is a corresponding decline in “birth over death rate” amongst the educated, affluent populations that have historically comprised many VSOs core audiences.  Fewer children means fewer “traditional” families…so if your VSO’s primary selling point is “great for the kids,” then you may expect to see a fall off in your attendance numbers.

2) The number of folks attending VSOs as couples has increased

Among the overall US population, the percentage of people visiting VSOs with their spouses or significant others increased 14% during the assessed duration.  For the same period, “HPV couple” visitation increased by 10%.

Many organizations are observing this increase in “couples” visiting VSOs and are tailoring their marketing efforts accordingly.  At IMPACTS, we are often tasked by clients to assess the relative “favorability” (i.e. do people “like” the campaign) and “actionability” (i.e. how likely is the campaign to motivate visitation) of potential advertising campaigns, and what we increasingly find is that while “family-centric” advertising may risk engaging adults without children, more couples-focused messaging generally does not alienate family audiences.  Why?  The market has an intrinsic understanding that many VSOs are well-suited for families and children… often the “break-through” market for additional engagement is couples without children.

3) Grandparents are the new babysitters

Grandparents are increasingly important decision-makers when it comes to bringing a child to a VSO.  This may be symptomatic of more dual-income households or of a broader societal trend toward more grandparents raising their grandchildren, but the prominence of grandparents as both heads of households and proxy parents is clear.  Many VSOs have acknowledged this trend by re-imagining their family membership programs to be more contemplative of grandparents.  Other organizations are adjusting their marketing and communication techniques to better engage this growing market segment.

4) The evolution of the travel party construct is not a museum phenomenon, but a reflection of the overall market

When you consider all of the data, the shifts that we’re observing in terms of travel party construct aren’t at all surprising.  Rich, white folks – who still make up a substantial number of HPVs  – are having fewer children. From a societal point of view, the traditional “family” has undeniably evolved. Baby boomers – another demographic that has a high percentage of traditional HPVs – are bringing their grandchildren to their favorite museums, operas, and botanical gardens.  And, of course, the Baby Boomers are a huge generation – so a corresponding increase in people visiting with grandchildren makes chronological sense. Generation Y – the largest generation of all  – is taking over the market, having children later in life (and, thus, are more likely to visit with friends or significant others), and also having children out of wedlock (and, thus, are more likely to visit without a spouse).

 

At IMPACTS, we develop specific data for our VSO partners and it yields very similar findings across the board. In nearly every case, the organization is a tad surprised to learn that while they had their noses to the grindstone, the world turned. These changes affect not only how VSOs target audiences for marketing purposes, but also how they cultivate members, gather financial supporters, create appropriate programs, and engage with online and onsite audiences.

Still not a believer? Though the percentage of movement may seem small, it is indicative of a significant trend. If you can, take a moment to visually survey your current visitors. Suddenly, you may realize that the world is changing and it’s taking your museum with it.

 

*Top image photo credit belongs to Margaret Middleton’s On Exhibit

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Non-Nuclear Proliferation: Who is REALLY Visiting Museums Nowadays?

Generation Y and Inheritance (It’s Time to Have a Talk)


Every once and a while, I get permission to share a terrific set of IMPACTS data that makes me absolutely giddy. Usually, this kind of data drives home a point that I’ve been seeing over and over again in my work with zoos, aquariums, and museums.

…but, sometimes, that “wow factor” data is a little bit more out-of-left-field. This is a series of such data.  It ties into my last post highlighting how millennials are optimistic about their financial futures.  And it may be alarming.

Now I’m no parent myself, folks, but if you have an adult child under 35 years old, you may want to talk to him or her about their inheritance – which may well help explain their remarkable optimism about their financial futures! Data suggests that there’s a rather significant expectation delta between millennials and their parents on this front. Here’s what we asked, and here’s what we found:

1) Do your parents plan to leave you a significant inheritance?

We asked several thousand millennials if they thought that their parents would leave them a “significant inheritance.” A majority of members of Generation Y reported, “Yes.” 

2) Do you actually plan to leave your child a significant inheritance?

Then we asked a similar question to parents of millennials. When comparing this to the above data, the discrepancy is astounding. A vast majority of parents with millennial children do NOT plan to leave their child a significant inheritance.

3) There’s an average difference of $359,970 between what parents plan to give their children in inheritance, and what their children expect to receive.

We asked millennials who believed that their parents would indeed leave them an inheritance to go one step deeper: How much did they think that their parents were going to leave them? An average of $403,845 it turns out!

We also asked parents who reported that they plan to leave their children an inheritance to quantify the amount of their planned monetary legacy.  The result?  An average inheritance of $43,875 – 9.2 times LESS than millennial children expected.

We millennials are indeed a financially optimistic group! One thing’s for sure: Generation Y is going to face some harsh realities in the coming decades that will no doubt alter the way that nonprofits need to build relationships with these folks. In the meantime, as organizations adjust their nonprofit PR strategy to target millennials, (and if you’re a parent), perhaps consider heading down to the basement living space of your millennial child and having “the talk” with them. Data suggests that we just may need a little snap back to reality.

 

Photo credit: LifeInc

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in IMPACTS Data, Millennials Comments Off on Generation Y and Inheritance (It’s Time to Have a Talk)

Two Critical Reasons To Target Your Fundraising & Nonprofit PR Strategy Toward Millennials (DATA)

It seems as if everyday I’m seeing another “best-in-class” organization announce a smart, new nonprofit PR strategy designed to better engage millennials. Millennials are the largest generation in human history, and represent the second-largest demographic in terms of buying power. Millennials also think and communicate very differently than their generational predecessors – and, accordingly, require different marketing and communication strategies.

There has never been a better time to have a public service mission because millennials are (relatively speaking) optimistic about their financial futures, and they consider themselves to be particularly generous. Data concerning millennial perceptions point toward two, informative reasons to target Gen Y with marketing and fundraising efforts:

 

1) Millennials are less worried about their families’ financial futures than are older generations, making them beneficial comparative targets for fundraising and marketing efforts.

Chalk it up to unique characteristics of Gen Y or the general optimism of youth, but millennials are not only less worried about the financial futures of their families than older individuals, but they are less worried than they were in 2008. Older individuals, however, are more worried. This suggests that there’s an opportunity to cultivate affinity with this demographic, as they may perceive themselves as being able to support your nonprofit in the future if they cannot support you right now.

While millennials certainly are feeling the effects of being the “screwed generation,” data suggests that we remain optimistic about our long-term futures…even more so than folks who could be considered “less screwed.” And, while millennials are spending more than they earn, they are still spending (and, thus, could be supporting nonprofit charitable causes if engaged adequately).

Regardless of whether members of this demographic have the money right now to make up your major donors (some do!), they believe that they will – and they are rather confident about it. Engage this demographic now so that the payoff will be there later. When they get the money (if they don’t have it already), make sure that your organization is top-of-mind and a quality relationship is already intact.

 

 2) Millennials consider themselves to be particularly generous compared to the self-perception of older individuals, presenting a potential opportunity for organizations to tap into Gen Y’s sense of self.

When IMPACTS pulled this data, the company CEO called me and asked, “On a scale of one-to-ten, how generous do you consider yourself to be?” I said eight. He burst out laughing and said, “and so do all of your buddies!”

Perhaps I should be embarrassed, but I’ll own up to the truth behind that finding! The self-perceived generosity of “my buddies” has been stable over the last few years – and it’s rather high! It is especially high compared to the dip in self-perceived generosity that older individuals have experienced.

This is good news for museums and nonprofit organizations because this data suggests that generosity is built into our own self-perception. We think of ourselves as “giving” people.  Conceptually, giving to nonprofit organizations fits nicely with our own personal brands. It’s our job as nonprofiteers to match up the desire to be generous with social missions. Marketing your nonprofit and targeting engagement initiatives toward members of Gen Y will pay off in the future (if it hasn’t already) – but engagement needs to start now. Increasingly, nonprofit organizations’ “bread is buttered” by this new, enormous demographic.

 

Given this (and other compelling) data, doesn’t it seem silly that any organization would continue to exclusively target their efforts toward individuals who are more financially “worried” and consider themselves to be less generous than those who make up a significantly larger, more optimistic generation?

 

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, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Two Critical Reasons To Target Your Fundraising & Nonprofit PR Strategy Toward Millennials (DATA)

How Generation Y is Changing Museum and Nonprofit Membership Structures (DATA)

Looking for a copy of the address that I delivered at the Iowa Museum Association Conference last week? You can find it here.

Millennials (folks roughly between the ages of 18 and 33) are the largest generational segment of the U.S. population. This generation has different values and mindsets than those of the generations that preceded them – and they are far too large in number for museums and nonprofit organizations to ignore. Organizations that are not marketing to millennials are not only missing an opportunity to reach a new audience, but failing to engage the audience that will increasingly dictate their organization’s operations for the next 40 years (at least).

But it isn’t just marketing departments that have begun incorporating changes to appeal to Millennials. The changes must be incorporated into a larger community relations and nonprofit PR strategy. Because online engagement is increasingly critical for buy-in among all generations, it must be applied not only to marketing, but also to fundraising. Membership teams, in particular, will need to re-work their operations and offerings in order to sustain and grow their number of supporters. In fact, IMPACTS has already uncovered the need for museums to revise how they tell the story of membership benefits.

While conducting research on behalf of a prominent visitor serving organization (VSO) with a conservation-related mission, IMPACTS uncovered an interesting finding. We asked respondents a series of questions related to identifying what they consider to be the primary benefits of membership to the organization.  Once compiled, we found that sorting frequency of mention and strength of conviction information uncovered a telling divide between potential members above and below age 35.

Free admission was the pronounced, primary benefit of membership for both age groups. However, benefits two–through–five on the lists do not have any additional commonalities. Moreover, the type of benefits are very different.

Extant data indicate that members of Generation Y are public service motivated and appreciate a feeling of belonging and connectedness with one another and with a cause. This is consistent with the responses gathered from millennials in the data above. Instead of being interested in the more “transactional perks” of membership, this generation desires a feeling of connectedness with a broader social good.

Because members of Generation Y want different things from museum membership than generations before them, museums will need to adapt how they are selling memberships – or at least work to increase connectivity-to-a-cause vibes. Would a person considering membership to your organization feel that they are “making a positive impact” more than simply receiving “advance notice of upcoming activities?” Museums and visitor serving organizations must sell memberships by focusing more on their public services and social responsibilities than the traditional, more transactional benefits that motivated membership in the past.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, Millennials, Sector Evolution, Trends 7 Comments

The Millennials Are Here: 5 Facts Nonprofits and Businesses Need to Know

Ever since it became irrefutably clear that Generation Y (or Millennials, commonly defined as those born between roughly 1980 and late 1990s) would outnumber the vaunted baby boomer generation, nonprofits and for-profit businesses alike have been talking about the need to prepare their respective organizations for this massive population bubble. When data emerged that members of Gen Y might think and communicate differently than the generations that preceded them, organizations kept talking. “The millennials will be coming soon,” they said. Indeed, many less-prepared organizations are still saying it…

The fact is: The millennials aren’t coming.  They’re here now.  And the time has finally come when organizations will start to sink or swim based on how effectively they engage this demographic.

I am a Millennial. For better or worse, my colleagues at IMPACTS will quickly confess that I embody nearly all of the general characteristics that define my generation (I’m an over-educated, hierarchy-denying, collaborative, public service motivated, “super special,” connected, social media addicted, perhaps-a-bit-professionally-high-maintenance, optimistic, parent-loving, digital native). Despite all this, I seem to have slipped into a rare space: I’m a member of Gen Y who works almost exclusively with the baby boomer leadership of multiple organizations. In this way, I like to think of myself as an ambassador for my species.

And I think it’s a strange place to be. Though it’s in me as well, I cringe when I see members of Gen Y break the chain of command and grab the CEO of a large organization in the hallway just to bowl him over with handfuls of underdeveloped ideas. By the same token, I feel uneasy when boomer leaders dismiss those same Gen Y “idea nuggets.” Or worse, when they imply that millennials “are just like my kids. And my kids don’t run my organization.”

Take it from a millennial: Gen Y can be insufferable at times. But, yes, they do and will run your organization.  It’s not necessarily because they are smarter, faster, better or wiser than other generations. It’s simply because they are bigger. Much bigger.

Here are five fast facts that nonprofit and business leaders must embrace in order to effectively manage, market and operate their organizations:

 

1) Millennials represent the single largest generation in human history.

Until Gen Y came along, baby boomers represented the largest generational demographic in the United States. However, millennials aren’t nicknamed the “Echo Boomers” for nothing. At nearly 90 million strong, millennials have baby boomers outnumbered by an estimated 20 million people. As boomers age, the divide will continue to grow. This statistic alone should be more than enough to make executive leaders pause to consider the future of their organizations, but there’s more to this quick fact that should inform organizational development and a marketing or PR strategy: Millennials are not only the largest, but also the most educated, underemployed, optimistic, plugged-in, nonreligious, and democratic generation in human history. These characteristics will meld to affect how your organization engages constituents, donors, and customers.

 

2) Millennials are the first-ever generation that will run America for at least 40 years straight.

Millennials who have children are not having as many of them as their baby boomer parents. Moreover, Gen X (which is only roughly half the size of Gen Y) has neither the volume nor is actively having enough children to indicate the coming of another large generation. Simply put, America’s birth-over-death rate is not increasing. What this means is that – unlike the position of the baby boomers who had more children and at a younger age – millennials will remain the largest generational demographic in the United States for a much longer period of time than the baby boomers. Due to their size and the current birth-over-death rate, IMPACTS data indicates that Gen Y will remain the largest generation in existence for the next 40 years (at minimum).

This is significant information from the standpoint of an executive leader. Nonprofit organizations and businesses may be tempted to invest resources in cultivating members of other generations (or even in learning the values of Generation Z as they come of age) – and this may be a good idea at times – but no generation within the next four decades will have the size and potential buying power to influence your organization more than Gen Y.

 

3) There are more millennials in the U.S. than any other age group.

Though many organizations still prefer to consider millennials to be a demographic that will “someday” affect them, millennials already make up the largest living population cohort in the United States. If you want to generally aim marketing efforts to engage only one demographic, Gen Y has the most targets. Moreover, the youngest of this age group are forming personal consumer habits as individuals. The oldest of this generation are having children and shaping the consumer behaviors of their families. In other words, right now is a good time to pay attention to these folks.

 

4) Millennials will have the largest buying power in the U.S. by 2017.

Millennials are predicted to surpass baby boomers in buying power by 2017. If your organization is not already strong in the habit of marketing to millennials, you may be operating at a loss until this new way of thinking becomes ingrained in your strategy.

While knowing that Gen Y will reign supreme in buying power by 2017 is critical, organizations may also benefit to pause and consider that, right now, millennials are a very close second to baby boomers in current buying power. Organizations often get misled and mistakenly focus their engagement efforts on the “next generation” of buying power in purely chronological terms (i.e. Generation X). But because Gen Y is twice the size of Gen X, its sheer numbers dwarf the market potential of its nearest elders. When considering your organization’s programs and audiences with regard to resource allocation, this may be important to keep in mind right now.

 

5) After the 2012 election, millennials will largely determine the outcomes of the following six presidential elections and the public policy priorities that will affect your organization.

If you’re not a millennial, the 2012 presidential election will be an important one for you – whether you realize it or not.  Again, due to Gen Y’s size and the ever-dwindling numbers of traditionalists and boomers, millennials will largely determine the outcomes of the following six presidential elections. Will all other generations still have an equal vote? Of course. But because they make up the largest generational demographic within the population by such a large measure, the outcomes will be determined by millennials. Or rather, it will become impossible for a candidate to win an election without appealing to millennial values.

Think about that for a moment: If you’re operating an aquarium or a zoo, might evolving generational sentiments concerning captive animals pose an existential threat to your current business should new legislation restrict the capture and/or breeding of certain species?  How would a significant overhaul of the tax code – one that dramatically limits or eliminates the tax-related benefits of charitable contributions – impact your organization’s business model?  For an already platform agnostic generation used to consuming content on their iPads, how would the deregulation of broadcast airwaves and bandwidth affect the viability of a live audience-supported performing arts venue?  Yes – Millennials will elect Presidents…but, perhaps more importantly, they will set the legislative agendas and public policies for the next many decades.

 

Many folks – millennials included – may find these facts terrifying, but they are true and inevitable. Though how we react to them is up to us, one thing is for sure: organizations that do not work to appeal to and engage with millennials may have a difficult time not only remaining relevant, but, indeed, surviving. Your more traditional consumers just won’t be calling all the shots anymore.

In fact, they already aren’t.

 

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

Death by Curation: Why the Special Exhibit Isn’t So Special Anymore (CASE STUDY)

Museums often develop a cycle wherein they rely heavily on visitation from special exhibits – rather than their permanent collections – in order to meet their basic, annual goals. This is a case of “death by curation” – bringing in bigger and bigger exhibits in order to keep the lights on. Museums often fail to recognize that the best part of the museum experience, according to visitors and substantial data, is who folks visit and interact with instead of what they see. Understanding that a museum visit is more about people than it is about objects can help museums break the vicious cycle of “death by curation,” and help them develop more sustainable business practices.

 

The Myth of the Special Exhibit Strategy

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.

We know the story well: a museum decides to host an exhibit and develops exhibit-related messaging to promote visitation to the exhibit. The museum sees a spike in attendance, which dips when the exhibit closes. The museum wants to hit these high numbers again so it hosts a “bigger” exhibit and hopes for the same visitation spike.

This is the beginning of a costly, ineffective cycle. Here are two misbeliefs that perpetuate this less-than-sustainable practice:

1. The museum comes to believe that it cannot motivate visitation without rotating increasingly “blockbuster” exhibits. And, by doing this, museums train their audiences only to visit when there is a new exhibit. Thus, they risk curating themselves into unsustainable business practices.

2. If the museum is successful with this strategy of rotating blockbuster exhibits, then the exhibits grow grander (it’s hard to keep improving on a “blockbuster” – have you ever known a sequel to cost less than the original?), and the attendant costs grow at unsustainable rates…but become conceptually necessary for the museum to keep their lights on.

What of the hopeful thought that visitors to blockbuster exhibits will become regular museum-goers? It is largely a myth. An IMPACTS study of five art museums – each hosting a “blockbuster” exhibit between years 2007-2010, found that only 21.8% of visitors to the exhibit saw the “majority or entirety” of the museum experience. And, of those persons visiting the sampled art museums during the same time period, 50.5% indicated experiencing “only” the special exhibition. This data indicates that these special exhibit visitors are not seeing your permanent collections and, thus, are missing an opportunity to connect with your museum and become true evangelists.

Even members, whom museums often assume are more connected to their permanent collections than the general public, have been trained to respond almost exclusively to “blockbuster” stimuli. To wit: The National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study recently completed in April 2011 indicates that of lapsed museum members with an intent to renew their memberships, 88.6% state that they will renew their memberships “when they next visit.” Of these same lapsed members, 62.5% indicate that they will defer their next visit “until there is a new exhibit.” In other words, museums have trained even their closest constituents to wait for these expensive exhibits in order to justify their return visit.

 

Case Study

I like to think of this as a sort of “Pavlov for the museum world” – except instead of inspiring behavior with a bell, we’ve decided to provide Monet, Mondrian and Picasso as stimuli. This is all perhaps well and good…but it isn’t sustainable.

Consider the 20-year attendance history of a museum client of IMPACTS (the company for which I work). Can you spot the “blockbuster” year?

In this example (which I selected because it is representative of the experience of many museums), the “blockbuster” exhibit of year 2004 resulted in a 47.6% spike in visitation. But, what is perhaps most telling is how quickly – post-blockbuster – the client’s annual visitation returned to its average level. Does this suggest that the client shouldn’t pursue another blockbuster? Well, they did. But, not with the expected results.

Let’s consider the same chart again – this time with the special exhibits costs by year also indicated:

Still drunk with success from their blockbuster exhibit in year 2004, this museum went to the “tried” (but, not necessarily, “true”) blockbuster formula in year 2009. As you can see, in terms of visitation, history decidedly did NOT repeat itself. This where it becomes additionally important to acknowledge that “expensive does not a blockbuster make.”(See the domestic box office receipts of “John Carter” for recent proof).

Another fun fact that will surprise absolutely no one in the museum world – audiences are fickle! Their preferences shift quickly and they become increasingly hard to please. In fact, first-time-ever museum visitors rate their overall satisfaction 19.1% higher than persons who have previously visited any other museum. In my business, we call this “point of reference sensitivity” – the market’s expectations, perceptions and tolerances are constantly shifting and being re-framed by its experiences. Think about it yourself: The FIRST kiss goodnight – a forever memory! The hundredth kiss goodnight – (still sweet, but) been there, done that.

 

Break the Cycle: Invest in People and Interactions

Knowing that who a visitor comes with is the best part of visiting a museum provides power for museums to break this cycle.

Instead of relying on the rotation of expensive exhibits, many successful museums instead invest in their frontline people and provide them with the tools to facilitate interactions that dramatically improve the visitor experience. Improving the visitor experience increases positive word of mouth that, in turn, brings more people through the door. Importantly, reviews from trusted resources (e.g. WOM) tend to not only inspire visitation, they also have the positive benefit of decreasing the amount of time between visits. In other words, people who have a better experience are more likely to come back again sooner.

The power of with > what has other positive financial implications for museums. If the institution focuses on increasing the overall experience (which, again, is a motivator in and of itself – as opposed to the “one-off effect” of gaining a single visit with a new exhibit), then the museum’s value-for-cost perception increases. In other words, it allows the museum to charge more money for admission without alienating audiences because these audiences are willing to pay a premium for a positive experience.

(For you mission-driven folks shaking your head about how this potentially excludes underserved audiences, this is where your accessibility programs will shine. It allows them to be more effective and increases their perceptual value as well.)

This isn’t to say that new content and engaging exhibits are not critical to a museum’s success. It is to say, though, that times are changing. To sustain both in terms of economics and relevance, museums must evolve from organizations that are mostly about “us” (what we have is special and you’re lucky to see it), to organizations that are primarily concerned about “them” – the visitors.

Like it or not, the market is the ultimate arbiter of a museum’s success. Those of us with academic pedigree, years of experience, and technical expertise may well be in a position to declare “importance,” but it is the market that reserves the absolute right to determine relevance. In other words, while curators still largely design the ballots, it is the general public who cast the votes. And, in the race to sustain a relationship with the museum-going public, the returns are in and the special exhibit isn’t so special anymore.

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

Web & Social Media Play Leading Role in Public’s Decision to Visit a Museum (STUDY)

Potential museum visitors access information about the organization and decide if they want to visit by using web-based sites such as a museum’s website, social media platforms, and peer-review sites over more “traditional” forms of advertising. In fact, when comparing how folks get their information about leisure activities, it’s not even close: web and mobile platforms (including social media) are disproportionately influencing your museum’s visitation and attendance.

The following data indicates how the American public accesses information in order to make visitation decisions regarding leisure activities – such as the decision to go to a visitor-serving organization. This data has been compiled by IMPACTS Research & Development (the company for which I work) based on information from the National Awareness, Attitudes & Usage Study  – the largest survey of the American public concerning visitor-serving organizations heretofore conducted in the United States. HPV stands for “high propensity visitor” and indicates persons in the United States with the demographic, psychographic and behavioral attributes typically suggestive of a likely visitor to a zoo, aquarium, museum, botanic garden, historic site, or other VSO.  In short, HPVs are high-potential museum-goers.

The categories above were determined by how the American public itself identified information channels and categories. Here’s an explanation of what they mean:

Web + mobile: This category refers not only to the organization’s web and mobile platforms (its “sovereign” content) but also information found on other websites – including mobile websites – that pertain to the information being sought regarding the VSO. For example, this would include information found on nytimes.com – but exclude the print edition of The New York Times as this information channel has been separately quantified within the “Newspapers (print)” category.

WOM: This stands for “word of mouth” and represents person-to-person testimonials and social media. Here, we are acceding to the market’s definition of WOM. The data indicates that they believe that social media functions as a form of testimony and/or endorsement (potentially both positive and negative). Since the market regards social media as a form of WOM, it has been so categorized accordingly.

Peer review web + mobile: This refers to TripAdvisor and Yelp (and the respective mobile web/apps for each), and other platforms with similar peer-reviewed content. “Peer review web + mobile” is considered separately from WOM because, again, this is consistent with the market’s perception and use of the informational channel. The market separately distinguishes social media and WOM from peer review sites because the former is perceived as “point-to-point/person-to-person” while the latter is perceived as a repository/aggregator. In other words, for people seeking information, WOM is a review meant for “my” consideration, while a peer review is meant for general consideration. One is personal; one is general.

For this very reason, strong WOM will generally outweigh a peer review on Yelp, TripAdvisor, or a similar peer review site. In other words, a person will generally be more likely to give consideration to a positive recommendation from a friend on Facebook than a one-star review from someone that they do not know on TripAdvisor. However, the reach of a peer review makes it functionally impossible to counter every negative peer review with a positive, first-person endorsement. It takes both attention to word of mouth marketing/social media AND peer review sites in order for an organization to maximize its endorsement opportunity.

Implications:

Museums must prioritize web and social media…  and make sure they have adequate resources and support to manage online communities. When it comes to annual budgeting for marketing, many museums allocate “last year’s budget plus five percent” to the effort without assessing how methods of communication and accessing information have changed. Time and time again, organizations say, “we cannot afford to hire a full-time social media person.” All too often, these are the same organizations that think nothing of spending $40,000 per year for glossy brochures and collateral materials…which, data indicates, have 11.5x LESS value as an information channel than does word of mouth marketing and social media to high propensity visitors– and 7.8x LESS value as an information channel than peer review sites. Increasingly, organizations that experience visitor growth will be those that have social media and online community management support… Stunning how growth flatlines when nothing changes, isn’t it? (said with a smile). We see this all the time. Growth depends upon adjustment according to timely awareness, attitude, and usage data.

Museums cannot “buy” their way to prosperity (as they may have once thought more brochures meant more business). According to the Bass Model, the initial sale of something depends upon the number of people interested in a product (called the coefficient of innovation, or “P”). Advertising represents “P.” However, all other sales are based upon the number of folks drawn to the product after seeing friends use the product (Coefficient of imitation, or “Q”). Word of mouth marketing represents “Q.” According to IMPACTS data, “Q” (Word of mouth) is 12.85x that of “P”(Advertising). In other words, word of mouth marketing has 12.85x more power than traditional advertising. So, while who a person visits with matters more than what they visit, so too does word of mouth matter more than advertising. Of course, both advertising and WOM work together to maximize marketing opportunity. Advertising is not unimportant. However, no pragmatic amount of advertising can reliably overcome lousy WOM and not-so-great peer reviews.

Two points of clarity on the data so that it is not “used for wrong”: 1) The slide above is not intended to be an all-inclusive means of indicating information channels. Instead, it quantifies the relative proportion and influence of the indicated information channels when compared to one another. 2) The data indicates how HPVs and the total American population access information about VSOs and leisure activities in order to make visitation decisions. It does NOT intend to make budgeting recommendations or take into account how much money should mathematically be spent in each category (i.e.- 3.8x more for Travel magazines than printed brochures), though a good application of this data may be in considering an organization’s marketing and communications investment by media channel.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, IMPACTS Data, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 11 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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