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free admission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

1) Time is more valuable than money

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

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

 

2) Free admission does not significantly affect intent to visit

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

4) People value what they pay for

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Audience Access: The Reality For Cultural Organizations To Embrace for Solvency

Audience Access - what cultural organizations must embrace - Know Your Own Bone

The first step in the evolution toward more sustainable cultural organizations is embracing the reality of “access” and reviewing the basics.  

We talk a lot about “access” within cultural organizations. For the sake of discussion on this topic, let’s strip this to its bare bones: Access is a means of approaching or entering a place. When cultural organizations talk about access, they often refer simply to something like affordable access. This narrow concept of “access” sets these types of organizations back, and prevents us from having more informed discussions about visitation, engagement, and financial solvency.

Every single person that makes their way through our doors has an access point and is part of “access” strategy discussions. “Access” in cultural organizations is not a conversation about minority majorities, or millennials, or folks making less than $25,000/year, or people with purple hair, or folks in wheelchairs, or people who like French fries, or pet owners with a dog named Rufus. Even high-propensity visitors must be considered in access discussions because access is a thing for every single person who sets foot in our institution. Access is not a topic about “underserved audiences” and it’s strange that we immediately assume this is so. Visitors, non-visitors, members, and donors all achieve access somehow. Why don’t we consider the entire, baseline topic of access for a change? And, if we do, can we learn something to strengthen BOTH mission execution and financial sustainability for cultural organizations? You bet.

This overview is oversimplified – and there are countless avenues for discussion embedded within this topic, but for the sake of improving the future of visitor-serving organizations, I’d like to provide a data-informed concept for a BETTER discussion about the hot topic of “access.” It’s only by considering how all avenues of access work together that we can optimize any part of the system – and cultivate healthier institutions.

The points below may seem very simple when you read them, but I haven’t encountered many organizations that regularly consider how these points of access work together and feed off of one another. Often, organizations tinker around with these different access points. When we meld these access audiences together – which we so often do – we get all of those bad business practices that hold us back. For instance, when we meld admission and affordable access programs, we get devalued brands, local visitor dissatisfaction, and we “leave money on the table” that we need in order to both survive and also to carry out our missions. When we meld admission with membership, we get transaction-based members that don’t much care about our missions and are less likely to renew, and we risk losing our most important supporters when we treat them like simple visitors.  Again, this framework is simplified, but my hope is that it brings about food for thought. If I’m lucky, it might even make you uncomfortable – and the best (good) data makes leaders uncomfortable enough to create change.

KYOB access drawing

For a broad overview, let’s dive into these three, primary access audiences one-by-one. (You know that I mean back-to-basics business when I add a doodle.) While you may skim these access audiences thinking that they are painfully obvious (they are), consider all the ways that we confuse them, conflate them, and ultimately threaten our own organizations. It’s simple (hence the doodle), but perhaps that’s why it is all the more important that we return to the basics and get this right.

 

Access visitor

1) LIKELY VISITORS:

Pay your data-informed optimal admission price

Likely visitors are called high-propensity visitors in my data world, and they are the people who have the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood of visiting a cultural organization. These are the people who are most likely to respond, “Sure!” when someone asks “Do you want to visit a cultural organization today?” They are, essentially, where our bread is buttered. They are the people who choose to pay to visit cultural organizations – and they are also the people who go to free organizations and understand their value. At IMPACTS, we have a lot of data about these folks, and they are critical audiences to engage in order to stay alive. In short, they are your visitors. (Keep in mind: High-propensity visitors are not exactly the same as historic visitors. High-propensity visitors are LIKELY visitors and not necessarily past visitors. They are our potential!) Bottom line: a very vast majority of the people who go to museums, zoos, aquariums, symphonies, theaters, botanic gardens (and the like…) are obviously LIKELY VISITORS… because they are visiting… and thus actively choosing to visit.

Admission pricing is a science, not an art. When an organization’s admission price is too low, it “leaves money on the table” and is not securing optimal funds to aid in sustaining itself. When it’s too high, it means that your organization will need to invest even more in access programing to fill the gap (which is much more costly than we think because most organizations are doing “access programming” wrong – more on that in a moment).

Admission pricing is NOT to be confused with affordable access programming. Interestingly, bad things happen to good organizations when they deny their optimal admission price in favor of “being more affordable.” Likely visitors should be admitted based upon an optimal, data-driven price point. This money is required in order to fulfill our missions of being open and of reaching unlikely visitors (see below).

 

Access unlikely visitor

2) UNLIKELY VISITORS:

Visit through targeted programs that actually reach them

IMPACTS has a lot of depressing data about the cultural organization industry. (BUT we have great leaders with the will to evolve, and we’ve totally got this! Cultural leading people are the best people. That’s why I write and that’s why you’re here.) Large-scale data about how much we stink at creating access programs for unlikely visitors that actually work is among the hardest to swallow. In reality, free days attract visitors with higher household incomes and education levels than paid-admission days (Here’s that data). Generally, our entire industry’s affordable access programming is not reaching low-income audiences (And there’s that data).

We mess things up when we conflate affordable access programming with admission pricing, thinking that we’re doing everyone a favor (Here’s the data on that). Another problem that we willfully ignore is the reality that we don’t actually know who our underserved audiences are or what they want. And we sabotage the success of our access programs because we inadvertently market the programs to rich people. (This is a huge, overlooked problem.) In many cases, we simply aren’t investing enough (or intelligently enough) for access programs to be effective.

It doesn’t help that many organizations mistakenly believe that price is a primary barrier to engagement. It’s not. Admission cost is not a key barrier to engagement and it’s certainly NOT a cure-all. This is mostly true for high-propensity visitors, but it’s also naive to believe that all folks will flock to something simply because it is free. In order to create effective access programs for any underserved audience (low-income or otherwise), organizations need to get a better grip on why that audience truly isn’t coming.

Unless we have a data-informed, optimal price point, it’s difficult to get the funds to create access programs in the first place. And if we don’t have those funds, we cannot create access programs that effectively reach new audiences OR low-income audiences. (Both fall under “unlikely visitors,” but they aren’t the same. For instance, minority majority audiences are underserved, but they aren’t necessarily low-income. Both need types of access/engagement programs in order to become regular visitors – but sometimes for different reasons.) When we charge our optimal price-point, it makes effective programming for underserved audiences more important – and also possible in the first place.

 

Access member

3) SUPPORTERS:

Become your members and donors

Your supporters become your members and donors – and they are an important part of the “access” conversation as well. In fact, they may be the most important. These are the folks who care about why you exist. They promulgate your “so what?” They provide ongoing support by being your next level of likely visitors. That said, this is another area of “access” that confuses many visitor-serving organizations. Membership programs need to evolve, and many organizations –in reality – have at least two types of members: mission-based members and transaction-based members. Transaction-based members are often the result of organizations conflating “likely visitor” and “evangelist” audiences, but mission-based members are where it’s at. Transaction-based members think of membership more like an annual pass and less like being a part of a mission-driven community. Mission-based members are more satisfied with their memberships and they are more likely to pay more for their memberships in order to support the organization. (Here’s the data on this.)

Another way in which organizations regularly fail this important audience- thanks to a broader misunderstanding of different avenues of access and institutional priorities – is by simply failing to manage the relationship or treating these awesome supporters in not-great ways. Lack of relationship management is a key reason why many donors discontinue their support. Arguably, a reason why organizations may be not-the-best at membership communication may be because we treat all of our audiences the same way. Namely, we confuse them with regular visitors.

 

Organizations have at least three types of audiences and these three audiences have different access points. When we confuse these three audiences and their avenues of access, we threaten the sustainability of our organizations. They must be managed in different ways in order to be activated to choose behaviors that are in the best interests of our organizations and our missions. It’s arguably because we misunderstand this that we commit several crimes against our own futures.

We live in an increasingly personalized world. In order to thrive, organizations may benefit by realizing that these three spheres are distinct and separate, but that it’s important to have a plan to carry constituents from an unlikely/likely visitor into the evangelist category. We need to change our business model. This is very, very different than conflating these categories. Thinking harder about access in regard to our business strategies may be the first step in creating more sustainable futures.

 

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, Fundraising, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Audience Access: The Reality For Cultural Organizations To Embrace for Solvency

Mission Motivated vs. Transaction Motivated Members: What Your Cultural Organization Needs To Know (DATA)

Data suggest that members to cultural organizations often fall into one of two categories – and the categories tell a lot about how to engage these members.

I originally debuted this important data during my keynote at the Pennsylvania Museums Conference this spring. Today, I’m excited to share this information in this week’s Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video. This data may help directly pave the way for the future of membership for cultural organizations. As usual, when I refer to cultural organizations, I am talking about museums, aquariums, botanic gardens, zoos, performing arts organizations, and other mission-driven organizations that welcome visitors.

At cultural organizations, we tend to lump members together as one audience – but data suggest that most folks are driven to become members based upon one of two very different motivating factors. Understanding these motivating factors may allow us to develop more effective membership programs. This data illustrates that what we consider “membership” may actually be two related – but different – programs.

IMPACTS surveyed members of 118 cultural organizations that charge admission. These organizations range from museums to zoos to orchestras. For the study, we collected open-ended responses regarding the primary benefit of membership. We found that people who purchase memberships to cultural organizations do so for six primary benefits: Free admission; belonging to the organization; supporting the organization; contributing to mission impact; exclusive access to events, and member discounts.

Conceptually, these six benefits fall into two groups: transaction-based members and mission-based members. Transaction-based members are those whose answers may not surprise leaders at all, because their reported primary benefits align with the benefits that most organizations market for membership. Transaction-based members value free admission, exclusive access to events, and member discounts. No surprises there for membership teams, most likely. In fact, you may even be thinking, “Thank goodness that those member discounts are being valued!” Indeed, for some folks, they are valued.

Mission-based members (as we will call them) are driven to become members for reasons more directly related to an organization’s mission. Mission-based members value belonging to the organization, supporting the organization, and contributing to mission impact. These folks value the meaning of membership more than the transaction-based benefits.

We found it interesting that the top six benefits reported by members could be divided in this way and we wanted to dig in deeper. Does a member’s primary benefit affect how they perceive and value their membership? As it turns out, it definitely does. We organized responses based upon what members identified as their primary member benefit, and we immediately spotted some noteworthy differences.

 

1) Mission motivated members find greater value in their memberships

People whose primary motivation was to support the organization, belong to the organization, and contribute to mission impact found their membership to be 14.5% more valuable than people who joined primarily for free admission, discounts, or event access.

Value for cost by membership benefit

 

2) Mission motivated members pay more for memberships

Does that mean that these folks might be more likely to buy higher-level memberships? Yes! As it turns out, mission motivated members in the survey were paying 42% more for memberships than transaction motivated members – and, as a reminder, they are still finding their membership to have 14.5% higher value for cost.

membership cost by primary benefit - IMPACTS

 

3) Mission motivated members are more likely to renew their memberships

Members that are primarily mission motivated are also more likely to renew their memberships. In fact, mission motivated members are 14% more likely to annually renew their membership than those whose primary benefit is free admission.

propensity to renew membership by primary benefit - IMPACTS

This data suggest that what we call “membership” to cultural organizations may actually be two, different products: membership and an annual pass benefit. It is certainly a balancing act, as mission motivated members are primarily motivated by mission-based factors, but transaction based benefits may not hurt the deal. Perhaps it is us within the industry who blur the line and discourage mission-based members from being fully cultivated.

Consider this: many cultural organizations tend to believe that free admission is the most important benefit of membership. Indeed, it is a significant motivator for many members– but it’s also the benefit that cultural organizations highlight and market the most – sometimes at the expense of mission-related benefits. When we make our memberships primarily about transactions, we neglect the motivations of our most meaningful members.  Go pull up nearly any membership page to a cultural organization right now and I’ll bet that the primary selling point that you see is free admission, and the concept of supporting mission impact is presented as a “feel good” that is secondary to “the deal.” Again, this isn’t to say that free admission isn’t important to members and an appropriate benefit for member categories, but if you were a truly mission motivated potential member looking for your ideal way to support the organization, you may find that the method of support that you want does not exist. Or rather, it may exist, but you may not feel that optimal “passion match” because your own motivations are secondary to transaction-based benefits.

Members whose primary motivation is mission-related, find greater value in their memberships, are willing to pay more for memberships, and they are most likely to renew their memberships. These are our people and prioritizing them is a smart move. Let’s use this information to create more effective membership programs that optimize support for our organizations and support long-term solvency.

 

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, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution 1 Comment

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

Why Programming for Low-Income Audiences are Unsuccessful

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

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

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

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

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

 

IMPACTS - Art museum attitude affinities

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

 

IMPACTS - History museum attitude affinities

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

 

IMPACTS - Science museum attitude affinities

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

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

 

IMPACTS - Aquariums attitude affinities

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

 

IMPACTS - Zoos attitude affinities

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

 

Orchastra and symphony attitude afffinities

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

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

 

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

IMPACTS - Negative attitude affinities

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

 

A) Attitude affinities do not generally correlate with admission price

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

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

IMPACTS - Average admission price paid

 

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

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

IMPACTS - Access programming awareness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 6 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B) Admission pricing is NOT related to affordable access.

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

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

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

D) Not everyone wants to visit cultural organizations.

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

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

 

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

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

IMPACTS - value for cost of experiences

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

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

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

 

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

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

IMPACTS - Free vs paid admission satisfaction

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

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

 

3) Cost is not a primary barrier to visitation

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

IMPACTS - Barriers to repeat visitation

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Admission Price is NOT a Primary Barrier for Cultural Center Visitation (DATA)

Free Admission Days Do Not Actually Attract Underserved Visitors to Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Free Days Do Not Reach Underserved Audiences

In reality, free days often do the very opposite of mission work. Here’s the data.

This post is going to make people angry. And that’s a good thing. Get angry. Being challenged helps us think critically and evolve our strategies to more effectively serve our missions and audiences.

I made some folks angry when I shared data and pointed out the compelling economic research behind why free admission is not a cure-all for getting folks to visit cultural organizations. How much does free admission really affect attendance? Turns out, not all that much. I’ve also pointed out that admission pricing is a science (not an art), and how admission pricing is such an emotional topic for cultural organizations is because we confuse admission with affordable access programming. As a sector, we cultural organizations often really mess that up.

Today I’d like to share another data-based finding that should turn our traditional business strategies upside down: Free admission days do not usually engage affordable access audiences. In fact, data suggest that free days often accomplish the very opposite of their intended purpose for many cultural organizations.

Here are four, data-informed realities regarding free days for cultural organizations. (This includes museums, aquariums, zoos, theaters, symphonies, historic sites, etc.) It’s time to face some realities and put on our collective thinking caps…

 

1) Admission price is not usually the primary barrier to visitation

When contemplating a free program or event, many organizations mistakenly believe that, “If we build it, they will come.” It is a line from a great movie, but it’s an ineffective business practice. Admission price usually isn’t the primary barrier to engagement for non-visiting audiences. It just happens to be our most convenient excuse.

True primary barriers for non-visiting audiences usually revolve around other factors than simply cost. These often include things like reputation (i.e. they just aren’t interested in the content and programs), transportation and parking (“How are we going to get everyone together and get there?”), or schedule (“That’s awesome that you have a free day on Tuesday. I have to work on Tuesday.”) When the primary barrier to visitation is anything other than admission price, then having a free day becomes relatively irrelevant. An admission fee is straightforward, but for many potential visitors, other barriers are the most challenging part of the visitation equation.

When we think that making something free means that everyone will come, then we are assuming that visiting us is the most important thing in every potential visitor’s life after cost savings. We all know that’s not true… and, somehow, we still resist thinking critically about primary barriers to entry. We aren’t taking the time to do the necessary market research that enables us to be more responsive to audience needs. Sometimes admission really is a big barrier to entry. Yes – money is precious. Many organizations seem to know this. But time is precious, too. Too many organizations seem to forget this.

 

2) Free days attract higher earning and higher educated audiences than paid attendance days

This is a hard pill to swallow: For most organizations, data suggest that people who visit on free days actually have higher household incomes and educational attainment than people who visit on non-free days. For many organizations, free days are reaching a relatively small number of true affordable access audiences – and a whole heck of a lot of people who could pay to support your organization through regular admission or membership instead.

Check out this data from IMPACTS that is collected from 48 cultural organizations that offer regular, scheduled free days in an effort to reach affordable access audiences. The sample represents museums, performing arts organizations, and other visitor-serving organizations.

Annual household income on free days- IMPACTS

Educational attainment on free days- IMPACTS

The common, defensive response to this data is to make an excuse and say that this data does not apply to your organization’s free days. After all, you may have attended your organization’s free day and you saw a lot of folks who seemed like they might be affordable access audiences. Indeed, you probably did – but you probably didn’t truly see as many affordable access audience members as you would see on a paid admission day when you weren’t looking for affordable access audiences. This topic may be our industry’s best example of confirmation bias.  Free days engaging higher earning households instead of affordable access audiences is the rule – not the exception. At IMPACTS, we are asked to supply this kind of information to many grant-making entities. So please, instead of making excuses, do your organization a favor and actually look into this situation. Increasingly, smart grant-making entities are catching onto these things and are aching to see programs that actually engage the targeted audience segments.

 

3) Free days engender less trial from new audiences than paid admission days

Why do folks visiting on free days have higher household income levels? One of the reasons is because data suggest that the folks actually attending free days are more likely to be repeat visitors than on paid attendance days- and repeat visitors often profile as higher-income high propensity visitors. The people who attend free days for cultural organizations have usually visited the organization before, and the free day is simply accelerating their pace of re-visitation.

Repeat visitors on free days- IMPACTS

“Great!” you may say. “We are getting folks to come back!” But now think about this: These people are coming back for free and they are higher earners who could have been converted into members. “Free” actually provides an incentive for your most likely and loyal audiences to visit you again. These are the very same people who – with proper cultivation – likely profile as potential members. Free days directly cannibalize membership opportunities and do not engender increased trial from underserved audiences. 

You may notice a few audience members that you believe to represent your organization’s underserved audiences roaming your halls on a free day. But keep in mind, you’re likely looking for these types of people on these days. (There likely are some affordable access audience members- just fewer than there are on paid admission days.) Instead of offering proof of the efficacy of your initiative, these sightings are more likely a classic case of confirmation bias (i.e. the tendency to search for data that confirms one’s hopes or preconceptions). When considered in the relative context of total attendance, many free days don’t engage a higher percentage of first-time visitors than do non-free days.

 

4) Cultural organizations do not generally target affordable access audiences for free days

This fact is basic, overlooked, and often a driving reason for the last two conditions: A majority of organizations don’t even reach out to affordable access audiences regarding their free days. Instead, we tend to target high-propensity visitors- the people we know how to target. Here’s an entire article on the data behind why cultural organizations have such a hard time attracting low-income visitors on free and reduced admission days. 

In a nutshell: Underserved audiences are not in your database. These audience members are not likely on your email list (they are underserved!), in direct mailings (you don’t know their names!), or following you on social media (they don’t visit you!). Many of them also may not be subscribers to the local newspaper (depending on the demographic subscribed to that newspaper). When we use our traditional communication channels to spread messages about free days, we are often primarily connecting with high-propensity visitors instead of underserved audiences.

But we don’t make affordable access promotions available primarily to upper middle-class, educated people because we’re stupid. We often use these channels because we don’t want to lose even more money. Reaching real affordable access audiences is a true investment. It often involves buying advertising that specifically targets those audiences who do not generally engage with your earned and social media programming. It occasionally requires creating programs that do not interest traditional audiences. It means spending money so that audiences who are not likely to provide any significant financial support can engage with your organization and not contribute admission revenue on top of it.

Many organizations may be relatively comfortable with the notion of needing to spend money to make money. But affordable access programs often require spending money to better achieve our missions… and lots more money than a loss of a day of revenue.

 

In a way, many organizations unknowingly do free days to feel better about themselves and their missions – not because they work.

This doesn’t mean that free days are always a bad idea. Sometimes the situation is complicated and that’s when having a free day could logically be on the table as a smart move. For instance, a government entity may request access for locals in order to provide significant support.

We will only create effective programs that reach underserved audiences when we realize that many past practices have been largely inadequate at achieving the very outcomes that they are created to achieve. The fact that underserved audiences exist at all means that, well, we haven’t been effectively engaging all of our potential audiences – even when we’re free.

 

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

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 21 Comments

How Free Admission Really Affects Museum Attendance (DATA)

Free Admission is not a Driver of Museum Attendance or Engaging New Audiences (DATA)

Spoiler alert: It doesn’t much…and misunderstanding this engagement tactic may jeopardize industry sustainability.

The debate about whether museums should be free is a big one right now. It’s the source of a lot of discussion in the popular press and nonprofit boardrooms alike. What seems to be lost in this discussion are due consideration of two very important factors: First, does eliminating the cost of admission actually help engage underserved audiences? And, second, in a time marked by increasing austerity measures that threaten traditional cultural funding, is eliminating a key earned revenue source sustainable as a long-term business model? The truth is that free admission comes with a cost. Free admission is far from the engagement cure-all that some of its supporters believe it to be.

Am I suggesting that free admission to museums and other cultural organizations is an altogether bad idea? Of course not. For those organizations whose financial models depend less on earned revenues (i.e. those with mega endowments or significant public funding), free admission may prove viable. However, for those organizations whose mission delivery depends on their business viability, then the issue of free admission is a far more complex topic.

Certainly, varying perspectives and important considerations inform this broader conversation, but I’m going to stick to the facts regarding only one aspect of this big issue. For the sake of facilitating intelligent, data-informed conversation about an emotional topic, let’s acknowledge some established facts regarding admission pricing and attendance: 

 

1) Not everyone is interested in visiting museums- and admission price is NOT the primary barrier to engagement

This is a fact that data folks know well, but it’s one that we often overlook as an industry. At IMPACTS, we gather a lot of information on the general public, but we focus particularly on high-propensity visitors (those people who demonstrate the demographic, psychographic and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood of visiting a cultural organization). These are the people who actually go to museums and cultural organizations. They are the people who say, “Yeah! I’d like to do that!” when the suggestion of visiting a museum emerges. Not everyone is a high-propensity visitor – not by a long shot. In spite of all of our best engagement and marketing efforts, some people simply aren’t going to visit our organizations for several different reasons. As it turns out, admission fees are generally not a major factor in their lack of inclination to visit a museum.

Volker Kirchberg’s landmark analysis, “Entrance Fees as a Subjective Barrier to Visiting Museums,” published in the Journal of Cultural Economics, found that admission cost is a secondary factor when considering a museum visit. A lack of time (i.e. schedule considerations) or a simple lack of interest (i.e. relevance) were far more important factors in one’s decision not to visit a museum than were admission fees. In other words, a decision not to visit a museum is often more a function of lifestyle than finances.

When we consider the population subset of high-propensity visitors (HPVs) – our most likely audiences – cost absolutely pales in comparison to schedule and reputation when it comes to factors influencing their discretionary leisure activities. A big contributor to this often-overlooked fact is that, for both the general public and high-propensity visitors in particular, their time is more important than their money. This data from IMPACTS shows this well:

IMPACTS HPV time verses money

Need even more supporting analysis? According to national survey of museum visitors in New Zealand (Ministry for Culture and Heritage, New Zealand, A Measure of Culture: Cultural experiences and cultural spending in New Zealand), convenience and time are more important factors than cost when it comes to considering a cultural experience. The study further revealed that for those persons who visit museums but are unable to visit more often, the main barriers are lack of time (54%), travel distance (30%), and a lack of transportation (15%). For those who had not visited at all, the main barriers were lack of time (49%), travel distance (29%), and a lack of transport (18%). In fact, for both visitors and non-visitors, cost was only cited as a factor 11% of the time – again, this finding doesn’t diminish cost as a factor…but it does lend perspective to its relative importance in the public’s decision-making process.

Similar results were found in the Visitors to Museums and Galleries Study published in the UK by The Council for Museums, Libraries, and Archives. 32% cited a lack of time as a primary barrier, 22% a lack of interest, 19% a lack of anything they want to see, and 11% noted difficulties simply getting to the site of the organization. Only 8% of those sampled cited admission charges as a negative factor.

In sum: Admission fees are generally not a primary visitation barrier.

 

2) Free admission does not significantly affect long-term attendance.

Admission price doesn’t significantly change intentions to visit for first-time visitors – further reaffirming that if an audience isn’t interested or doesn’t have the time, then “free” won’t get them in the door. There seems to be a sort of thought that free admission means that attendance numbers will go through the roof…and, if an organization does experience a short-term “novelty” spike, then this increase will be sustained. Again, data suggest the contrary. Check out this data from the National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study of Visitor-Serving Organizations (which is updated annually and has tracked the opinions, perceptions, and behaviors of a sample population totaling 98,000 US adults):

IMPACTS intent to visit by admission price

The data indicate that intentions to visit within any duration do not significantly increase as the price of admission decreases or is even eliminated. In fact, in most instances, audiences indicate greater intentions to visit organizations that charge more than $20 for an adult admission than those that are free.

It doesn’t stop there. The definitive work on the (negligible) impact of admission price on sustained museum visitation was published by noted economists William Luksetich and Mark Partridge in Applied Economics in their analysis, “Demand Functions for Museums Services.” Their study suggests that the adverse effects of admission charges on attendance are small and ”relatively easy to alleviate.”

That, “If it’s not free, people won’t go” argument? The data has spoken. It’s not a thing.

 

3) Free admission accelerates re-visitation- but for audiences who are already visiting

Free admission does accelerate the re-visitation process – but mostly from existing audience members. This finding is from a study by the UK’s Department of Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) – whose members instituted free admission in year 2001. The DCMS study found that attendance increases frequently attributed to removing admission fees were often due to the same audiences visiting more frequently – NOT necessarily from engaging new audiences.

Basically, to the degree that organizations consider an attendance increase as a successful outcome of eliminating admission pricing, the key visitor count to examine isn’t total visitation – it’s unique visitation. For example: Let’s say that a museum with an admission fee receives 400,000 annual visits from 300,000 unique visitors (1.33 visits per unique visitor).  Then, the same museum decides to “go free” and annual attendance increases by 15% to 460,000 visitors – but from the same 300,000 unique visitors (1.53 visitors per unique visitors). In this hypothetical example, annual attendance went up…but unique visitation remained the same.

Again, data from the National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study of Visitor-Serving Organizations reaffirms this finding:

IMPACTS intent to revisit by admission price

Whereas free admission does not impact intentions to visit for first-time visitors, it does increase intentions to re-visit for existing audiences. The implication? It may not be wholly accurate for an organization to declare success by citing raw attendance numbers as proof of the efficacy of a free admission policy. There isn’t evidence that free admission generally cultivates increased visitation from new audiences. 

 

4) We need to engage emerging audiences- and free admission is not a cure-all for greater industry challenges

Data suggest that cultural organizations need to be reaching new audiences right now if we want these types of organizations to be around in the future. Offering free admission in an attempt to appeal to emerging audiences isn’t a complete solution to a more complex problem. We need to reevaluate our strategy for engaging new audiences because the “free admission” fix may not prove sustainable. Moreover, focusing on free general admission may be distracting organizations from cultivating more effective engagement strategies and programs for reaching new audiences.

Consider that Smithsonian Institute museums – without admission fees – saw total attendance decline by nearly 7% from 30 million visitors in years 2012 and 2013 to 28 million visitors in year 2014. In the same duration, the US population increased from 314 million (2012) to 319 million (2014). Also, in the same duration, overseas visits to the US increased from 29.8 million in 2012 to 34.4 million in 2014. Visitation to many museums – even world-famous, free museums – is not keeping pace with population growth.

Our industry is rife with examples of how even organizations with free admission are unable to cultivate increased (or, in many cases, even stable) attendance levels – particularly when considered in the prevailing context of overall population growth and travel to the United States. Free admission does not serve as engagement panacea. For example, In 1997, attendance at the Baltimore Museum of Art – then with an admission basis – approximated 320,000 annually. In 2006, the Baltimore Museum of Art eliminated admission charges. Today, onsite annual attendance is down 44% to 180,000. The organization attributes this decrease in attendance to the BMA’s recent renovation project. There are many factors that affect attendance and admission pricing is hardly the cure-all that many imagine it to be.

 

This data simply scratches the surface of this controversial debate. There are other, incredibly important factors to consider: individual business models, the impacts of increased reliance on contributed revenues and government funding, opportunities to develop more agile operations so as to allow museums to be more audience-focused, and even the reputational equities attendant to being a “free” organization versus one with an admission fee.

One thing is for sure: Critical conversations are taking place and organizations are realizing that it’s time to evolve both their engagement models and their financial plans. We have too much to lose not to move forward in the most fully-informed manner possible. If we want to keep museums alive, we need to think about engagement, audience motivations and barriers, and actual economics.

 

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

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 27 Comments