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

IMPACTS data

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 right now.

“Are museums perceived as experts – and are they trusted? To what extent?” These are the questions that I hoped to shine a light upon when I requested a topic-specific data cut on cultural organizations from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study. The NAAU is an ongoing study regarding market perceptions of visitor-serving organizations and it currently quantifies feedback from over 108,000 respondents. The resulting data reveal important takeaways for museums today – and specifically underscore an important role that the market expects museums to play. As a heads-up, the data below is cut for the United States market and not only high-propensity visitors. In other words, this isn’t simply “what people who believe in climate change” think about museums.

The data and analysis in this article contribute to several debates taking place in the visitor-serving industry right now from crowd-curated exhibits and the “education vs. entertainment” debate, to implications regarding participation in last week’s March for Science. Knowing how much people trust museums is important information for developing relevant and sustainable organizations. But data reveal that being trusted comes with the responsibility to communicate action and recommend mission-driven behaviors.

Hey museums, you have the superpower of public trust. Like your superpower of being facilitators of shared experiences, you may not even realize the importance of this superpower. Remember: Your organization may declare importance, but the market determines relevance. Here’s what the market thinks about cultural organizations when it comes to credibility, trust, and their duty to the communities they serve.

 

Museums are highly credible sources of information

Aquariums, art museums, history museums, science centers/museums, natural history museums, and zoos are highly credible sources of information. And, as the data indicate, these values aren’t merely “good,” they’re rather fantastic! With values in the upper-seventies, there is a strong level of agreement with the statement “[Entity type] is a highly credible source of information.”

While the strength of the sentiment may or may not surprise you, what is notable are the perceptions of museums as credible sources when compared to NGOs, federal agencies, and even the daily newspaper. Yes, folks, museums are trusted more than the daily newspaper.

The NGO category includes non-governmental organizations that are not museums. The mean values at 64.2 for NGOs and 61.3 for state agencies indicate a relative level of credibility – with perceptions largely influenced by the degree to which the respective NGO or agency conforms to the respondent’s worldview.  For example, no matter what the integrity of the information published by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an avowed climate change denier is unlikely to find the NRDC unassailably credible. Federal agencies (with a mean value of 51.4), represent an even more bifurcated public view – which makes sense in our current partisan condition.

These data tie into the never-ending “education vs. entertainment” priority debate within visitor-serving organizations. It’s a never-ending debate because there isn’t a clear winner. Data suggest that cultural organizations need to be both entertaining and educational in order to succeed, though they play different roles in the visitor experience. It’s also a never-ending debate because – although the two may be unstoppable when they team up – the topic has become stupidly polarizing among some industry professionals. It’s divided within some organizations (e.g. education vs. marketing departments) and outside of them (e.g. topic-experts vs. museum consultants). Again, they play different roles, but we really should write a ‘thank you’ note to whomever invented that silly/awesome word “edu-tainment.” (Anybody know his or her address?)

Entertainment value is critical for an organization’s solvency and success, but organizations that veer too far on the “entertainment” side of things risk losing the reputational equity of credibility. And it’s an area in which museums shine.

 

Museums are trusted

Not only are museums viewed as highly credible sources of information, they are also trusted entities overall. This type of trust is not to be taken lightly, and it’s a testament to organizations that stand by their missions to educate and inspire audiences.

This is important information for all museums contemplated in these data, and it is especially worthy of an extra look for zoos and aquariums. Zoos and aquariums are trusted by the market at-large…and rather significantly so. I point this out because it lends context to some of the debates taking place in the zoo and aquarium world regarding captive animals. Certainly, IMPACTS data reveal stark trend lines regarding perceptions of exhibits such as dolphin shows, but the market at large still largely trusts zoos and aquariums to evolve and make value-based decisions driven by their missions. This is not an excuse for zoos and aquariums not to listen up and evolve alongside market perceptions of “right” and “wrong” (to the extent that they may/may not be evolving). It’s the opposite. It’s a reminder not to let people down.

It may be argued that museums are trusted because they employ and/or consult topic experts and thus provide expert content. That might be it, friends! Regardless: Trusted, they are.

These data also provide aid for thinking about crowd-curated exhibits. The market views museums as expert sources of information. While crowd-curated exhibits certainly can be an effective way to engage the public depending on how they are administrated and actualized, they also risk perceptually undermining a museum’s own hard-earned trust and credibility. Engagement is super great! Engagement that results in a greater loss of equity than the payoff (especially when there are other avenues for engagement) is not super great.

 

Museums are not seen as having political agendas

Here’s how these data fit in with the rest: They underscore that museums are seen as factual and impartial – more so than government agencies and the daily newspaper.

Are museums trusted because they are not seen as having political agendas? Maybe, but you can only stick the landing there if you jump to some conclusions. While I am sharing this alongside trust and credibility metrics, I’m not yet certain of the exact nature of the relationship between being political and being trustworthy as it relates to visitor-serving organizations – and neither are you. (If you don’t have data, then you have an opinion. That’s cool, but it doesn’t count here. Mine doesn’t, either.) There’s more to these values – and they are interesting and worth putting on our thinking caps to explore.

“Political” may understandably correlate with having connection to or trying to influence policy. This may be the reason why aquariums and zoos indicate a higher level of agreement with the statement, despite having lower levels of government funding and more earned revenue imperative than other visitor-serving entities. Some zoos and aquariums encourage audiences to vote in a certain direction (e.g. in favor of plastic bag bans). It makes sense that NGOs may have the strongest perception of having a political agenda – they openly do things like encourage people to fight global warming and feed the homeless. Federal and state agencies being perceived as having a political agenda seems to make good sense, too, from where I stand.

Confidence in cultural organizations took a plunge after the presidential election, and it remains low. The New York Times reports that we are divided in terms of consumer optimism: Some of us have great confidence in the economy, and some of us don’t. Unfortunately, those who profile as high-propensity visitors to cultural organizations largely fall in the “don’t” category. The reason for this dip seems to be concern that organizations are not standing by their missions (e.g. science museums remaining oddly quiet when confronted with “alternative facts” concerning climate change, or concern about board members that don’t support an organization’s mission running the show). In sum, this may not be a matter of “being political,” but rather one of integrity.

Indeed, taking a political stand for the sake of taking a political stand seems like it may be mission drift for most organizations. However, recent happenings suggest that when your mission is pinned against a “politicized” topic, standing up for your mission wins. This is illustrated by the data-informed success seen at MoMA when they highlighted artwork by artists from countries impacted by the original Muslim-majority nation travel ban.

Museums are viewed as impartial entities, and this may be because they are trusted to present the facts with expertise. Where things get messy is when an organization’s very mission becomes politicized. Or perhaps more simply: when facts become politicized.

 

People believe that museums should recommend action

This data set is probably the most important. People believe that museums should suggest or recommend certain behaviors or ways for the general public to support their causes and missions. Got that? People think that it’s the job of museums to recommend behaviors. That’s huge, and it’s likely tied to the combined force of the high levels of trust and credibility that these organizations possess.

Consider that recommending action is not the same as “being political.” Recommending things like cutting down on single use plastics (as a zoo or aquarium may advise) or contributing funding for art programs that an organization carries out (as an art museum may recommend), may not be seen as necessarily “political” to the market, but rather seen as an organization walking its talk in terms of supporting its mission. The data doesn’t specifically support museums recommending protesting (for instance). The data support organizations leveraging the trust that the market has in them to suggest behaviors that underscore their missions – which the market perceives not to be innately political.

Museums are becoming forums for community engagement on important issues related to their missions, and that may be a terrific thing. Museums are heroes for their missions, and there’s incredible potential to lead the charge in helping to actualize these missions. That’s an important superpower – and it’s an enormously humbling responsibility.

Museums, zoos, and aquariums are highly trusted to produce and output content and information. They are viewed as expert, factual, and impartial – more so than government agencies and even daily newspapers. The market – which generally doesn’t like to be told what to do in today’s connected world – is even willing to accept prescriptive recommendations from museums.

Museums are experts. Museums can make expert recommendations, and people believe that they should do just that. To shirk this market-determined capability for influence may be the greatest blow to an organization’s mission of all. Data suggest that museums may play a role in leading us all toward a more educated, connected, and inspired world…if they are willing to take up the calling.

 

(Credit: The header photo on this article comes from the Field Museum’s totally watch-worthy #DayOfFacts video.)

 

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

 

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

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

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. There are mobile applications for all kinds of museums, zoos, aquariums, historic sites, and performing arts entities. But are people using them? And do they increase meaningful performance metrics like visitor satisfaction?

A (rad) museum professional recently tagged me in a Facebook conversation, asking if I had data that I could share regarding cultural audiences and mobile applications. Why didn’t I think about that before? At first I was a bit flummoxed about how to approach this, as IMPACTS has done work with individual client organizations to dig into the real benefits (or lack thereof) deriving from investments in developing mobile applications, but that data is proprietary. Translation: Not for publishing on Know Your Own Bone.

Fear not, friends! The trusty National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study (NAAU) includes information related to mobile applications – and it’s shareable and reveals compelling and important information for visitor-serving entities. As a reminder, the NAAU is an ongoing study of over 108,000 individuals and counting (“and counting” because IMPACTS is constantly in-market collecting data). This study is also the source of much of the data that I share on my website.

The spoiler (consistent with most individual client experiences as well) is simply that a mobile application is an answer to a visitor engagement question that very few people seem to be asking. What many cultural professionals likely know from their own experience (and that the data reaffirm) is this: Not many visitors use mobile applications either prior to their visits or while onsite, and the ones who do use an organization’s app do not experience a significant increase in visitor satisfaction.

This makes mobile applications sound like a potential waste of resources, but it’s worse than that. Other information channels are used more frequently before and during a visit, and they actually do result in higher visitor satisfaction. In addition to being a potential waste of funds, mobile applications may be an expensive distraction from areas wherein modest investments actually do improve reputation and satisfaction.

The chart above shows the percentage of respondents who had used each information source prior to a visit, with the sample taken from folks who had visited a cultural organization in the last year. We are talking about mobile applications here, and that number (5.5% usage) is not abysmal! But when we look at other avenues of engagement that likely already exist for an organization such as web, mobile web, and social media…that 5.5% looks awfully low in comparison. (Quick note: “Peer review web” refers to sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor, and “WOM” stands for “word of mouth.”)

I know the argument: “Not every organization has a mobile app, so of course people aren’t using them if they don’t exist!”  True.  People can’t use something that doesn’t exist.  Along these same lines, not every organization prints brochures, or has a mobile optimized web experience, or publishes information in newspapers or magazines.  That’s not the point.  The point is that a number of information sources broadly exist (including mobile apps), and these data indicate the market’s relative usage of broadly available resources.  Does every organization have a mobile app? No.  But do enough organizations have a mobile app to make them a broadly available information source?  Yes.  Moreover, mobile apps are sufficiently relevant in our overall culture to suggest their broad viability as an information source.  People absolutely use mobile apps in many aspects of  their life – they simply don’t seem to generally apply this usage to planning or visiting a cultural organization.

Take a look at the chart and consider: Mobile applications require an investment of funds to create – and that amount can be significant!

Also consider that information regarding the existence of an organization’s mobile application is likely to come from another source that is already more successful in providing pre-visit information. It is fair to consider that those 5.5% of folks may have already received information from another channel, and that’s how they knew to look for the application in the first place. The point is that even for the 5.5% who consulted a mobile application prior to their visit, they may not be consulting the mobile application alone.

But, then again, not all applications aim to be used pre-visit! Many aim to be used onsite in order to, theoretically, better engage and provide information for visitors! On that note, let’s look at the channels that folks reported having used onsite while attending a visitor-serving organization (museum, zoo, aquarium, theater, symphony, etc.)

There are a lot of interesting and surprising things to note here. The first of which is this: A smaller percentage of people use mobile applications during their visit (4.1%) than they do prior to their visit (5.5%) – and many applications are designed to be used onsite! In order to use a mobile application onsite, folks need to have already been willing to download it, or to take time out of their visit to get WiFi (depending on the size of the application) and download it on the spot. No joke: There are organizations that have invested in mobile applications but don’t have WiFi easily available to download it onsite in the first place. It’s a thing, folks! (As a note: “Web” is folks who bring laptops and use the web. Tablet web use is included in the “mobile web” category.)

Here’s another important finding: More than half of visitors use social media onsite. That finding alone is worth calling out. Social media is extremely important for cultural organizations for many reasons and plays an important role in increasing visitation.

With 31.5% of folks using mobile web onsite (looking up something on the web while on a mobile device or tablet that is not social media or a peer review site), it’s clear that there’s more of an inclination to use the web rather than a mobile application to gather information or engage onsite. This may underscore the opportunity to invest in website experiences that are mobile optimized instead of investing in a mobile application.

This chart is the arguably the most telling and important. Here’s how to read it: The red bar shows the overall visitor satisfaction level of people who report using a particular information source onsite (e.g. a mobile app). The blue bar shows the overall visitor satisfaction level of people who report not using that same information source (e.g. people who did not use a mobile app during their visit.)

As a reminder: Having high onsite satisfaction levels is critical for the solvency of visitor-serving organizations. Higher overall satisfaction correlates with greater reputation, more financial support, and increased likelihood for positive endorsements. In sum, high satisfaction is a major goal.

People who use mobile applications onsite do not report significantly higher satisfaction rates than those who do not. So, what was the point of that mobile application again? If it was to better engage audiences, the data is in and mobile applications – on the whole – don’t do that in meaningful manner. That finding in itself is significant.

Look at this: People who use social media or mobile web while they visit a cultural organization have a more satisfying overall experience than people who don’t use social media or mobile web during their visit. How interesting is that?! If your organization scoffs at folks on their mobile devices and considers them to be distracted or disengaged, stop it. Social media and mobile web make visitor experiences better (by good measure), not worse.

Regular Know Your Own Bone readers won’t be surprised by the onsite communication source that increases visitor satisfaction most: Talking to other humans. The overlooked superpower of visitor-serving organizations is that we are hubs of human connection. Reliably, interacting with other people is more important than the content that folks visit an organization to see – and interacting with frontline staff can make or break a visitor experience.

“But our mobile application is unique! It can be used to do X and Y and Z!” That’s great! The thing is: The market isn’t generally using mobile applications onsite and when they do, apps aren’t contributing to a significantly more satisfying experience…so your organization is singlehandedly attempting to “re-train” the market. Mobile applications have been used by cultural organizations for years now, and your organization may be looking to try and convert somebody who used one for another organization in the past (or your own first version) and felt it was “eh.” That’s a different starting point than where most organizations believe that they are: Developing a cool, new thing that tons of people will want to use out of the gate! Turns out, that’s not reality. Developing a mobile app comes with some embedded perceptual challenges.

More often than not, organizations that develop mobile applications are carrying out “technology for technology’s sake” when they haven’t tested its viability with the market, evaluated the related investment compared to alternative tools, or considered their goals or expectations. Simply, cultural organizations do it because they think they should or it makes them sound cool – nevermind if nobody uses it or it only makes the organization seem cool to staff or others in the industry. (Note: Others in the industry are not our important audiences).

With mobile applications dramatically underperforming the opportunity compared to other sources of information or avenues of engagement, a responsible organization should ask itself: Is investment in a mobile application the best possible use of funds? If there’s money in the budget, perhaps it ought to go to areas that audiences actually use and that make their experiences better. This includes investments in social media and also in frontline staff. (In fact, modest investments in frontline staff have yielded higher satisfaction rates for some client organizations than new exhibits and building expansions!)

This isn’t to say that no mobile application can be successful. No doubt, a select few gain notable usage – but these are exceptions, not expectations. If your organization is considering an investment in a mobile application because “I think we need one,” then you should probably consider the opportunity from the market’s perspective. Of course, organizations with good ideas should pursue them! Market test new concepts! Thinking caps are the best kind of caps, if you ask me. “Perhaps the kind of mobile app that we need to engage audiences hasn’t made it big or doesn’t largely exist yet!” Maybe you’re right.

It’s important to go into any initiative with an awareness of what visitors to cultural organizations are actually doing in the market and how mobile applications currently affect the visitor experience. (In general, they don’t.) Only then can an organization make an informed decision. That decision probably isn’t “to create a mobile application because everyone has one,” as many organizations may think.  Instead, the decision may be “to fight the existing market perceptions of mobile applications by doing something new.”

Are mobile applications working to best serve our audiences? Do organizations need them? Do data suggest that mobile applications are generally an effective use of funds? The data-informed answer – to all of these questions – is no.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s jump in!

 

A) Preferred alternative leisure activity (Index 147.3)

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

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

 

B) Access challenges (Index 132.2)

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

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

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

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

 

C) They have already visited (Index 118.4)

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

D) Schedule conflicts (Index 105.3 to 95.5)

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

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

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

 

E) Negative precedent experience (Index 83.7)

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

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

 

F) Not for adults (Index 76.7)

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Visitors to cultural organizations are competitive audiences.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

MoMA Sees Reputation Boost After Displaying Muslim Artists (DATA)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

How does this inform other cultural organizations?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Data Reveals The Worst Thing About Visiting Cultural Organizations

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

What about performance-based visitor-serving organizations?

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The High-Propensity Visitor Confidence Index (HPVCI)

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

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

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

 

Why this decline is alarming

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

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

 

Why the HPVCI may be in decline

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

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

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

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

 

So what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

The Visitor Engagement Cycle for Cultural Organizations

Securing visitation comes down to increasing reputation offsite and satisfaction onsite. Here’s how it works.

If your organization aims to increase onsite visitation (and whose doesn’t?), then it’s important to understand the basics of the visitor engagement cycle. This week’s KYOB Fast Facts video is a brief overview of the cycle. At IMPACTS, we have a lot of data that inform this cycle…and nearly every post on KYOB applies somewhere in the cycle. While I’ve shared aspects of the cycle before, it occurs to me that I have not shared its overview on Know Your Own Bone. With that in mind, here we are!

For those of you who aren’t into videos, I’ve included a brief write up below. That said, I suggest watching the video as it gives an animated overview that I think summarizes the cycle quite nicely.

There are two primary aspects of the engagement cycle: offsite connection and onsite relevance. The cycle is just that – a cycle. Here’s how it goes, folks!

 

1) Offsite connection increases reputation

(which motivates a visit)

We could start anywhere in the cycle, but it seems to make the most sense to start from the point of view of somebody considering a visit to a cultural organization. I’ve written (and even made a video) about this part of the cycle several times before – particularly because it underscores why social media is so dang important for securing visitation.

In order to get someone in the door, then we need to know what motivates the visitation decision-making process. With help from IMPACTS and the discretionary decision-making model informed by the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study, it’s clear to see that reputation is a top-five motivator for visitation. This is true among the US composite market, but also among high-propensity visitors (i.e. those folks who profile as our target audiences). In fact, for high-propensity visitors, reputation is second only to schedule as a factor in their decision-making process.

As a fun fact: In Western Europe, reputation is the top driver of visitation by a long shot. This implies that folks in Western Europe would be willing (and do) make time to visit organizations that they’d like to attend. Here in the US, we’re more likely to take the day off work and then fill it with an activity or two that is of interest rather than taking a day off specifically to visit a cultural organization.

 

Great! Reputation is a top motivator for visitation. Now you may be wondering, “ What goes into reputation?” It’s a good question. According to the model of diffusion, two things feed into reputation: The first is called the coefficient of innovation (or, things that you pay to say about yourself). The second thing that goes into reputation is called the coefficient of imitation (or, things that others say about you). This includes word of mouth endorsements, social media, earned media, and peer review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor.

What others say about you is 12.85x more important in driving your reputation than things that you pay to say about yourself. Yes, organizations need to market, but, more than that, they benefit by communicating and facilitating the sharing of other’s positive experience and perceptions.

When we connect with audiences offsite, we increase our reputation, and, as we now know, reputation is a top motivator for visitation.

 

2) Onsite relevance increases visitor satisfaction

(which motivates endorsement)

Now let’s say that we’ve secured a visit. (Woohoo!) Now what? The goal now is to increase visitor satisfaction. It may seem obvious, but high onsite satisfaction values correlate with a greater intent to revisit within a shorter duration, as you can see in this data from IMPACTS:

If you’re wondering what aspects of the visitor experience contribute to higher levels of satisfaction, there’s a breakdown here. (Yes, we “math”-ed it. Because data.) Hint: Education it not unimportant, but entertainment value matters most when it comes to onsite engagement.

We also uncovered the single most reliable way to increase onsite visitor satisfaction – and it has nothing to do with fancy new wings. Within cultural organizations, we often forget our greatest superpower: The power of “with.”  Who people are with is often more important than what they see (with > what). After all, cultural organizations really are all about people. I could keep going on data-informed ways to increase onsite satisfaction, but my point here is that increasing satisfaction is the goal of onsite engagement.

When visitors have an onsite experience that feels relevant to them, it increases satisfaction, and, thus, their likelihood to provide positive endorsements. And we just covered the importance of positive endorsements! They fuel offsite connection, which increases reputation and leads to a visit, which increases satisfaction and leads to endorsement.

 

3) Offsite connection increases reputation again

(which motivates revisitation and/or a visit from a friend)

 

It’s a lovely cycle and it looks like the above image. To get the cycle right, organizations must aim for connective communications that increase their reputations, and relevant onsite experiences that increase satisfaction.

 

Offsite connection is every bit as important as onsite relevance – and we need them both to feed the fire for ongoing visitation. It’s difficult – if not impossible – to discuss getting people in the door without acknowledging the realities of this cycle. This concept is a critical driver of conversations for me and my colleagues at IMPACTS – and I hope that it is helpful to you and your organization as well.

 

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

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution 4 Comments

Negative Substitution: Why Cultural Organizations Must Better Engage New Audiences FAST (DATA)

Fewer and fewer people look, act, and think like “historic” attendees to visitor-serving organizations. Here’s how many fewer.

As we dive more fully into 2017, I wanted to take a moment to discuss negative substitution and take a deeper dive into how it is affecting cultural organizations. The bad news is that negative substitution of historic visitors is taking place for mission-driven, visitor-serving organizations (museums, theaters, symphonies and orchestras, science centers, botanic gardens, etc.). The good news is that the first step to evolution may be acknowledging our changing market. On that note, let’s do this…

 

Negative substitution is urgent

Negative substitution is a phenomenon occurring globally wherein the number of people who profile as historic visitors leaving the market outpaces the number of people who profile as historic visitors entering the market. It’s the driving reason for the decline in attendance to museums, zoos, aquariums, performing arts entities, and other visitor-serving organizations. Negative substitution is taking place because the market is growing more diverse, while perceptions of cultural organizations as being places for a certain kind of person have remained largely static. Simply, when there are fewer people in the market who profile as historic visitors year-over-year, and also growth in the number people who profile as “nontraditional audiences” year-over-year, the market potential risks fewer-and-fewer visitors over time.

The data below is an aggregate of all museum types that we monitor at IMPACTS (224 of them) crossed with visitation information from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study of (currently) over 108,000 people. It includes museums related to art, history, and science, children’s museums, historic sites, performing art organizations, zoos, aquariums, and botanic gardens. The negative substitution rate for museums shows that for every one historic visitor who leaves the US market (by way of death, relocation, or migration), they are being replaced by only 0.948 of a person (by way of birth, relocation, or immigration). This may not sound impressive – but this is actually a huge difference.

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

 

In order to overcome negative substitution, we need to do a better job at attracting two, general audiences that do not visit cultural organizations at representative rates relative to their market size: millennials and not-white people (bluntly). Keep in mind, these are not entirely different audiences as millennials are the largest generation in human history and nearly half of us are of different racial and ethnic backgrounds than traditional historic visitors. Moreover, as sick as we may be of discussing it, data suggest that organizations must do a much better job at attracting and retaining millennial audiences. Negative substitution rates for different types of visitor-serving organizations generally correlate with attitude affinities – or to what degree the public perceives that an organization is “for people like me.” Though I will be referencing them later, you can learn more about different attitude affinities for different organization types in this post.

 

Overcoming negative substitution means changing the profile of the historic visitor to cultural organizations

Or rather, we need to evolve to be perceived as more welcoming to different types of people than our “traditional” visitor. Negative substitution suggests that, if we keep on keeping on attracting people that look and behave like our current audiences, we’ll slowly decline in visitation over time. Sure, we need to evolve to meet the changing expectations of historic audiences by honoring market trends of personalization, connectivity, and transparency. More than that, we need to do a better job at attracting different types of people and making them our regular attendees. (And not simply our “super special one-off-program” attendees.) We need to change up the very profile of the type of person who wants to visit a cultural organization.

Isn’t it funny that many museums are only now realizing the importance of data-informed decision-making…all the while focusing primarily on audience research that risks yielding deleterious long-term consequences by emphasizing the very programs and budget allocations that support negative substitution in the first place? To reach new audiences, we need to get smarter about market research and attracting the people who we want to visit but don’t yet attend. The people who we need to start attracting are not yet on our email lists and, by definition, aren’t onsite to fill out surveys. (Yes, Colleen. It’s… hilarious.)

The change that we need to carry out is a big deal – and we are (however slowly) progressing on the whole! In the history of museums and cultural organizations, this kind of shift has never been so urgent. Today, with evolving demographics and imperiled government funding, engaging emerging audiences matters more to our missions and financial solvency than ever before. And, indeed, many organizations are implementing new strategies to cultivate and attract new audiences. Successful organizations are changing up how we approach change.

 

How negative substitution is affecting organization types

While the overall negative substitution rate for museums is 0.948 people entering for every one person who leaves the market, we are able to further parse the negative substitution rates of specific types of cultural organizations. Here’s a sample of them and some notes that may contribute to the negative substitution rates of each visitor-serving type. Let’s go backward from those with the lowest negative substitution rates to those with the biggest opportunity.

Zoos: Among visitor-serving organizations, zoos are suffering least from negative substitution. This is true even amidst increasing discussions about animal care and welfare. Like aquariums (discussed next), zoos may more easily deliver on the promise of awe and wonder without facing some of the perceived intellectual intimidation that may be attendant to a science or art museum visit. Moreover (and interestingly), lexical analysis of data reveals that being outside may play a role in reducing negative attitude affinities for zoos. Conceptually, it makes sense: Being outside may feel more like a park or public area than being within the walls of an institution. Also, like aquariums, having the added “so what?” of conservation and the protection of animals provides an added level of reputational equity that works in this type of organization’s favor.

Aquariums: Aquariums are also suffering notably less than the museum industry average. That said, negative substitution is never a good thing – and there’s still important work to be done. A reason for these higher (comparatively) values may be that aquariums are among the types of visitor-serving organizations that are most dependent upon the market. Relatively speaking, as a sector, aquariums generally have the lowest levels of government support, the smallest endowments, and many have also emphasized their nonprofit-y conservation mission that engenders additional support. (Generally, this helps aquariums – and any organization that particularly highlights its mission.) Aquariums also may be able to capture awe and wonder without as big a risk of the perceived intimidation factor that may burden other content types.

History museums: History museums are a wee bit above the museum negative substitution average of 0.948:1.000. History organizations tend to rely most heavily on stories (or, talking about history) than other types of organizations that are perceived to revolve around specific, individual artworks or exhibits. While visitor-serving organizations are increasingly understanding the importance of creative storytelling in an effort to create relevance and resonance with visitors, history organizations may have storytelling most definitionally embedded within their reputational DNA. Storytelling and providing relevant, personalized connections are critical today – and this is also an area where history organizations have the ability to shine.

Art museums: Art museums fall just below the industry negative substitution average. Like science museums (discussed next), art museums may have distinct, perceived reputational barriers that may contribute to negative attitude affinities – or, people thinking they simply “aren’t places for people like me.” As the stern forefathers of “don’t touch,” “stay behind the line,” and “quiet, please” cultural engagement, it’s worth noting that art museums may have been starting from a rather uninviting place. With that in mind, this number still isn’t “good,” but it does show hope and acknowledge that there has likely been meaningful progress made by art museums in responding to these new market realities.

Science museums and science centers: Science museums and science centers are put together in this data because the market largely does not distinguish between science centers and science museums. I could (and likely will) write an entire post with more data on why the science museum/center market has higher negative substitution rates than the museum average and some possible superpowers for combating it, but here’s a very brief run-down:

Interestingly, among visitor-serving organizations, science centers/museums tend to be viewed comparatively as places to visit with children. While this was probably a good thing when millennials – the largest generation in US history – were the kids, it’s not great news now that millennial women are reproducing at the slowest rate in US history. Simply put, millennials are having fewer children (or no children), and they are having their children later in their lives – when they are more advanced in their careers and leisure time is particularly precious. If you’re an organization that has the public perception of being a place primarily for children, your market size is likely shrinking.

Moreover, like art museums, “science” content may be viewed as intimidating for nontraditional visitors. There may be a perceived content “language barrier” that contributes to folks thinking that science museums/centers “aren’t for people like me.” Science is a big topic with a lot of specialties! One can see how someone who doesn’t know much about the accessibility of science centers/museums might be intimidated. (Heck, even folks who DO know about the accessibility of science centers/museums may feel this way!) Combine this with the perception that these are places where you take your kids, and potential visitors may fear a “Dad looks dumb” situation.

Orchestras: Exhibit-based cultural organizations are far from the only cultural organization type in the market or included in the mentioned overall “museum” negative substitution number. Performance-based organizations are every bit as critical for a robust and vibrant cultural community. Unfortunately, orchestras (and symphonies, which have similar negative substitution rates) may be facing particular challenges in today’s world where folks can do many things at once. In fact, data suggest that multi-tasking is how many people like to enjoy music as well. But don’t write this high negative substitution rate off immediately on content disinterest or the menace of the modern world! Some performance-based organizations simply have not yet evolved to meet the desires of millennials (a critical audience!), and have instead chosen to “age” alongside their historic visitors.

Some symphonies and orchestras are mixing things up and trying out new programs – and that may be the key to their future. Certainly, among the visitor-serving organizations shown here, orchestras have the greatest need to reach new audiences – and fast. That doesn’t mean that they (or any other organization type) can’t do it. It means that some may have a longer ways to go.

Remember: Though 0.948 is the industry average, it’s still bad news.  There are no “winners” or “losers” here – but rather a look into the reality of the mission-driven, visitor-serving sector and some of the challenges facing both individual organization types, and also our industry as a whole. To change up these perceptions, we need all hands on deck. Our long-term vitality and relevance may be on the line.

 

Negative substitution correlates with attitude affinities

Interestingly – and unsurprisingly – negative substitution rates correlate with negative attitude affinities. Attitude affinities quantify how welcome and comfortable people feel at an organization. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the “ranking” of negative attitude affinities among the organization types mentioned (shown below) is a similar “ranking” as is the severity of negative substitution – with the exception of science centers and science museums. Being perceived as places “for kids” plays a large role in driving negative substitution for science museums and science centers, but it benefits these types of organizations as being perceived as relatively welcoming. There’s simply less perceived incentive to visit a science center/science museum if you don’t have small children – and fewer people do.

The data below comes from IMPACTS and the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study – and it is a summary of this data previously discussed on Know Your Own Bone. In short, it shows what percentage of people in the U.S. market do not feel like an organization type is a place for someone “like them.” How that is interpreted is in the eyes of the respondent. While data suggest that it may correlate with educational attainment (and, relatedly, with household income), it certainly does not correlate with an organization’s admission price.

Nearly four out of 10 people don’t feel like art museums or history museums are “places for people like me.” Just over three out of 10 people feel this way about science museums and science centers. Only about two in 10 people feel that an aquarium or zoo is “not for someone like me,” and almost five out of 10 people feel this way about orchestras. Again, you can read more about this data and attitude affinities here.

 

Within our industry, some tend to think of targeting “historic” audiences as the safe bet and cultivating new audiences as a secondary goal to be pursued “when funding becomes available.” This is short-sighted step on a long, slow march into obsolescence. The market is crawling with potential visitors – and they are ripe for cultivation if and when we decide to think outside of our outdated box.

The need to cultivate new audiences as regular attendees is critical for our long-term survival. The first step to overcoming negative substitution may be acknowledging this. Let’s take this information and welcome new folks through the door – not only because our world needs it right now, but because we do, too.

 

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

 

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

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

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)