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visitation

Three Survival Questions That Cultural Organizations Avoid Asking (Because We Do Not Like The Answers)

Three critical questions that cultural organizations are not asking because he do not like the answers - Know Your Own Bone

Visitor-serving organizations are not asking the right questions – or perhaps we would rather ignore the answers…

I bust myths with market data and analysis from my work with IMPACTS here on Know Your Own Bone. At its core, my job is to be curious. It is to ask questions about visitation to cultural organizations and seek answers – even (if not especially) difficult answers. At our best, though, it’s the job of all people working within cultural organizations (museums, performing arts organizations, aquariums, zoos, botanic gardens, historic sites, etc.) to be curious. Our institutions are places for learning and inspiration and we are – I like to think – curious by nature. I feel this shared passion among nearly everyone that I meet who works at a cultural organization and yet I am constantly reminded of the limitations of our curiosities. It seems that we retreat when we are on the brink of an answer that challenges “the way things are done.”

We folks within cultural organizations are armed with defenses for findings that we don’t like. But I still think that, at their core, these leaders also glow with curiousity. Indeed, I believe that it is because Know Your Own Bone challenges our thought processes that this website receives nearly 90,000 visits each month. Maybe we want our outdated notions to be busted – we are just looking for some support.

Instead of sharing traditional, Frequently Asked Questions from cultural organizations received by myself and/or the IMPACTS team, I’d like to share three, macro-level Should-Be Asked Questions. It seems that we avoid the answers to these questions because they are hard – and because we don’t know everything about all of the answers yet. They represent uncharted territory in today’s connected world. But that’s why I like them and why you should, too.

 

ASK: What do people really value about our organization?

(NOT: What do we want people to value about our organization?)

It’s easier to consider what we want people to value about our organizations – we can make that up! We get to decide what’s important in that case! The problem is that while we can declare importance, we need our supporters (visitors, donors, members) more than they need us – and they determine the relevance of what we’ve deemed important.

This confusion is a primary indicator of a serious growing pain for cultural organizations: We are used to thinking about things from the inside out (“We are the experts and we decide what matters!”), but we are still pretty crummy at thinking about things from the outside in. This is more than considering what we think our audiences want from us – it’s about actually finding out what audiences want from us. Asking the question that we need to know – What do people really value about us? – necessitates market research and that generally freaks us out. We tend to have audience research covered and can tell you a whole lot about people who are already visiting us, but we aren’t so awesome yet about learning more about who is not coming and why.

When we change our shift from inside-out to outside-in thinking, we can focus on what our supporters truly like about us. We can focus on relevance over importance. We can learn more about the power of our mission. We can embrace that organizations that highlight those missions financially outperform those marketing primarily as attractions, and we can better understand the roles that education and entertainment play in the visitor experience and motivation process (not the roles that we want them to play). Most importantly, we can come to terms with the unassailable fact that visitor-serving organizations are – at their best – facilitators of shared experiences. When we realize that, we reap both mission-based and financial benefits. But we cannot truly embrace any of this data-informed information until we get more organizations asking the hard question (“What do people really value about us?”) instead of asking questions where we can make up answers that keep us stuck in a rut (“What do we want people to value about us?”)

 

ASK: Why are some people not visiting or supporting us?

(NOT: Why do we think some people are not visiting us?)

We are making things up and we seem not to know what we are talking about. We create programs, offer discounts, hand out free admission, and make excuses based upon assumptions that actually make it harder for us to be financially stable and execute our missions. Nothing changes and we just keep “programming” and “excusing” harder. Not actually uncovering why people (general audiences or subset groups) are not visiting us and making guesses instead is probably the dumbest thing that we do – and we do it so regularly that we forget to step back and look at the bigger picture.

Most of the myth busts on Know Your Own Bone are not challenging tried and true practices, but wild, stab-in-the-dark guesses that we continually perpetuate within the industry – even when they are directly at-odds with well known rules of economics or pricing psychology. Free admission is not a cure-all for engagement. In fact, it’s generally a bad idea in many ways. Discounts devalue your brand and actually keep people from coming back and blockbuster exhibits do the same thing.

Interestingly, we aren’t creating many programs that tackle what data suggest are the actual issues. We undervalue the role of reputation and the importance of social media in driving visitation and support (and we do it in many ways). Moreover, schedule is the top barrier to visitation and we don’t talk about it. We host cultural days and treat them like huge accomplishments because we misunderstand our underserved audiences and think that just because WE consider their ethnicity to be a primary identifier, they must think that is their primary identifier as well. We need to reach millennials, and instead of integrating a mindset of transparency, connectivity, and personalization – we are creating one-off evening programs with alcohol and calling it a day.

When we know our true barriers to visitation, we can crate programs that effectively overcome those barriers.

 

ASK: How can we shift to a more sustainable business model?

(NOT: What programs can we add to help make our current model sustainable?)

We often focus on “add on” solutions instead of asking ourselves hard questions about how we operate and stay in business. Yes – I used the word “business.” I know that we nonprofiteers dislike that word, but when we talk about being sustainable and “staying in business” it’s important to remember that if we aren’t “in business,” we cannot educate and inspire. If we cannot keep our doors open, we cannot execute our missions. “Business” has been viewed as a dirty word in the industry, but I vote that we use it more often. Being good at your mission is good for your organization’s solvency and “business.” 

We often act as though the proper model is to continue promoting ourselves as attractions to get folks in the door while treating potential donors as bottomless wells of potential cash. ….Okay, that’s over-the-top glib, but it’s not altogether untrue. In order to thrive, it’s time for us to take a hard look at our revenues and get smarter about our pricing strategies. We need to invest in affordable access programs that actually work in order to reach goals in attracting these audiences – and we need to put a wee bit more effort in actually attracting them. It’s time to consider who is actually visiting our organizations and who is not. It’s time to get smarter about our membership opportunities and the untapped opportunities for engagement. We need to realize that free days don’t work and, again, discounts and free admission may be bigger curses for long-term survival than blessings.

 

The world is changing and we need to change, too. We need to get smarter about everything that we are doing and I think that the best place to start is taking a look at the questions that we are asking. Certainly, there are many more questions to ask beyond these three, but I think that they highlight some of our biggest challenges, especially this one:

What the heck are we doing on many fronts? Guessing. That’s what we’re doing. The good news is that we don’t need to guess anymore. Now we CAN ask these Should-Ask questions and we can find out the real answers. Without the answers, we can only do more of the same. For the sake of the institutions that we love, let’s agree to get in this game together and be fearlessly and fiercely curious. Let’s ask hard questions – even if we don’t like the answers. It is only by doing that that we can all work together to bust myths and help make cultural organizations thrive.

 

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

 

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

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

The Value of Shared Experiences Within Cultural Organizations (DATA)

The value of shared experiences at cultural organizations - KNOW YOUR OWN BONE

Exhibit and program content is important, but visitors who have the best experience aren’t the ones that come for the content.

At cultural organizations (museums, performing arts organizations, aquariums, botanic gardens, historic sites, zoos, etc.), we tend to really value our content experts – and for good reason! Without great content, what stories could we tell? How could we educate and inspire visitors? Certainly, the “what” of visiting a cultural organization is important (the program, the exhibit, the performance), but organizations often overlook the fact that who people are “with” is often more important.

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the nuance of our content that we forget why people visit us and why they most value us: Cultural organizations are facilitators of shared experiences.

I have previously documented the best attributes of a visit to a cultural organization, and sharing time with family and friends massively trumps anything exhibit or content related. Here’s a look at this important data. As you can see, spending time with friends and family is more than twice as important as the content of the exhibit, program, or performance. This data comes from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study of over 98,000 US adults.

IMPACTS - The best thing about a visit to a cultural organization

WITH > WHAT – and it’s not even close. This finding is a big deal and it turns the way that internal experts think on its head. According to our visitors, the best thing that we do is connect them to one another. At cultural organizations, interacting with people matters. Take a look at “interacting with staff/volunteers/performers.” It’s (comparatively) trailing “seeing/interacting with exhibits/performance.” Connecting with people onsite is important – and deploying engaging frontline staff may be the most straightforward and reliable way to increase visitor satisfaction.

This finding brings up an interesting question: Do people feel differently about the visitor experience based upon what they believe to be the best part of the experience?  And, what – if anything – does this portend in terms of optimizing the visitor experience?

Below, we’ve organized the data based upon folks’ “best” visit attribute. For instance, all of the people who think that time with friends and family is the best part of the experience are in one column, everyone who said it was the exhibits or performance are in another, etc. Below are the findings for overall satisfaction, value for cost of admission, and intent to re-visit. For the sake of easy reading and summarization, I’ll call the folks who report “time with friends and family” and/or “interacting with staff/volunteers/performers” as WITH visitors – because to them, WITH>WHAT.  Here’s the value of shared experiences to cultural organizations. 

 

1) WITH visitors report the most visitor satisfaction

IMPACTS - overall satisfaction by best thing

In fact, both types of WITH visitors (“Time with family and friends” and “interacting with staff/volunteers/performers”) are most satisfied with their experiences.

As a conceptual tip (that helps for the sake of comparison): Consider “Day off work/school.” For these folks, the best thing about a visit to a cultural organization isn’t unique to a cultural organization. Rather, it’s simply that they have the day off. This group is still obviously a very important group to watch. After all, schedule is the top motivator for visitation to a cultural organization.

 

 

2) WITH visitors report the greatest bang for their buck when it comes to paying admission

IMPACTS - Value for cost by best attribute of visit

Visitors who find time with family and friends to be the best thing about a visit report the highest value for cost perceptions. This means that they think that paying admission to get in your door was most worth the money. One reason why value for cost perceptions are important because they help inform optimal admission prices.

This finding is important because it tackles a potential, negative internal reaction from some in the industry: the concern that “time with friends and family” could happen anywhere. Certainly, it could. But what this data suggests is that there may be something particularly special about sharing experiences with family and friends within visitor-serving organizations – and it makes our admission prices all the more worth it to have those experiences in these environments.

 

3) WITH visitors are more likely to visit again within one year

 IMPACTS - intent to revisit based on best attribute of visit

Check this out! Not only are WITH visitors most likely to re-visit within one year, but they are significantly more likely to do so!

Visitors who identified sharing time with family and friends as the best attribute of a visit to a cultural organization reported both significantly higher levels of satisfaction and value for cost perceptions than did those reporting content (e.g. exhibits, performances) as the best attribute of a visit to a cultural organization.  Moreover, persons who reported sharing time with family and friends as the best attribute of a visit also indicated a 25.5% greater likelihood of re-visiting the organization within one year when compared to persons who cited exhibits as the best attribute of their visit!

(Don’t be too discouraged about the low values of “learning something new” folks. We know that our education missions don’t play the hugest role in motivating visitation and they play only a small role in visitor satisfaction, but they play an important role in justifying visitation after the visit is over. Here’s that data.)

 

These data reaffirm the role of cultural organizations as facilitators of social interaction. More than connecting people to content, cultural organizations connect people to people.  Given this information, it may seem odd that so many resources are focused on the content aspect of an experience (think exhibits and galleries and theaters) and seemingly less energy on the aspects of an experience that support social interchange. (What if we valued our floor staff as much as we value our exhibits teams?!) We need our content. Our content allows us to tell the stories that make people want to come through our doors to be inspired. We know that content is important. I don’t know that all cultural organizations are aware that being facilitators of shared experiences is even more important to visitors. At cultural organizations, our content becomes the bridge that connects people to one another.

I’ve seen this news (the fact that WITH is so much more important than WHAT) create anger within cultural organizations. In the face of this information, I’ve seen leaders say that one phrase that effective, successful leaders never say: That this doesn’t apply to them and there’s nothing for them to learn from this overwhelmingly unassailable data.  This reaction is a mistake.   In our digital age, we want folks to be engaged and make real connections – to our stories and to one another! In that sense, this data is incredibly uplifting. This data does challenge our ivory towers. Indeed, we are educators and inspirers…. but we are also facilitators of connection and community – and THAT is what our audiences love about us most. 

 

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, Sector Evolution, Trends 1 Comment

Attracting Diverse Visitors: Cultural Organizations Overlook The Most Important Factor (DATA)

Attracting Diverse Visitors to Cultural Organizations- Know Your Own Bone

Organizations mistakenly identify underserved audiences based more on ethnicity and race than what these audiences consider their most distinctive attribute – age. 

Cultural organizations (i.e. museums, performing arts organizations, aquariums, historic sites, etc.) are experiencing a phenomenon known as negative substitution of their historic visitors. Simply put, more people who share qualities with historic visitors are leaving the market than are being replaced. In essence, the US market is running lower and lower on older, white people. This means that organizations need to update and broaden the profiles of our typical visitors now in order to thrive in the future.

We need to engage new audiences and make them our regular audiences. Specifically, we need to get better at reaching two broad “types” of people: millennials and “minority-majorities.” Really, though, we need to reach millennials – because the “minority-majorities” that aren’t representatively visiting cultural organizations are overwhelmingly millennials.

There has been an increasing amount of talk about so-called “minority-majority” populations in the US. In general, the phrase “minority-majority” describes a population cohort that has traditionally comprised a minority of the US population, but has recently grown to represent an emerging majority of the US population. An example on a national level are children under the age five – of whom 50.2% (i.e. the majority) represent historic ethnic and racial minorities (e.g. Hispanic, African American, Asian, etc.)

Today, four states (California, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Texas) and the District of Columbia are minority-majority. Additionally, 13 of the 40 largest US metropolitan areas are minority-majority.

Even the connotation of the phrase “minority-majority” risks further confusing the matter.  In the past, minority populations were defined primarily by race. As the US grows ever more ethnically and racially diverse, emerging minority-majority populations are increasingly defined by age.  

Let’s dive into some data that can help us better reach young people, and in doing so, engage people of more diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds:

 

1) Minority-majority audiences are young

According to July 2014 US Census Bureau data, there were 148.6 million people in the US under the age of 35 – or, 46.6% of the total US population! If you further organize these data and exclude more elderly populations, there were 299 million persons in the US under the age of 75…and half of them were aged 34 or younger.

Millennials and minority-majorities are a huge part of the same audience. Data indicate that nearly 22% of adult millennials have visited a cultural organization in the US within the past year. However, as millennials comprise approximately 30% of the US adult population, the data suggest that millennials are representatively underserved as a cultural audience.

Millennials are clearly an emerging audience, yet, all too often, conversations concerning emerging audiences seem to focus less on age and more on race as an indicator of underserved populations. When we talk about millennials, we are also talking about the 47.35% of millennials that are NOT White non-Hispanic.

Why do organizations seem to think of white millennials as millennials, and distinguish millennials of other ethnic or racial backgrounds primarily as minority-majorities? 

Kind of weird, right?

US adult millennial population

The Hispanic population of the United States as of July 2014 totaled 55.4 million, making people of Hispanic origin the nation’s largest ethnic or racial minority. In addition, Census Bureau data indicate that Hispanics, with a median age of 29 years, are younger than most other racial or ethnic groups. By comparison, the median age for non-Hispanic Whites in 43. (The median age for non-Hispanic Blacks is 34, and the median age for Asians is 36.)

Because Generation X is such a relatively small generational cohort, youth has only recently started to demographically prevail.  One could argue that young people are the emerging minority-majority population in the US.

 

2) Millennial audiences are generally underserved by cultural organizations regardless of race

Representative visitation is an issue for nearly all millennial audiences, not only minority-majorities. These data suggest that perhaps the notion of “underserved audiences” has less to do with historic definitions based on ethnicity and race, and much more to do with a generational disengagement.

 IMPACTS - millennial cultural attendance by ethnicity

The above chart indicates that most US adult millennials are underserved in terms of representative cultural participation…regardless of race or ethnicity.  Excepting the relatively modest number of adult millennial Pacific Islanders, Native Alaskans, and American Indians, only adult millennial Asians representatively participate in US cultural organizations.  The three largest racial cohorts (i.e. White non-Hispanic, Black or African American, and Hispanic) – comprising nearly 90% of the US adult millennial population – are all massively underserved. 

Why is this the case?  I posit that it is because organizations observe that they’re not representatively engaging these audiences and think of it as a matter of race and not a generational disconnect.  If it were solely a matter of race, then White non-Hispanics would be representatively participating…but they’re not.

 

3) Millennials generally do not consider race to be a primary defining attribute 

Perhaps one of the reasons that cultural organizations are not representatively engaging minority-majority audiences is because we are developing engagement strategies and programming based on assumptions concerning culture and heritage. We miss the mark when we decide that ethnicity matters most to this audience. We would be better served to understand that we need strategies based on the psychographic and behavioral attributes of a generation that does not consider ethnicity as a primary differentiator. After all, this generation is nearly 50% not “white!”

Take a look at this data from the National Awareness, Attitudes & Usage Study of more than 98,000 persons (including more than 24,000 millennials):

IMPACTS US adult millennial indentifiers by ethnic background

When asked to describe themselves, millennials generally did not self-describe based on ethnic or racial criteria. (The sole exception were Black or African American millennials, and even in this example, racial identity was not their most frequent self-descriptor. Black or African American millennials identify with being young more frequently than they self-describe based on race.)

To more representatively engage young Hispanics as an emerging audience, for instance, significantly more attention should be focused on the “young” part of the equation and less attention on the “Hispanic” descriptor (which doesn’t show up as a frequent self-description by Hispanic millennials). In order to better connect with emerging audiences, organizations need to see these audiences as these audiences see themselves. Otherwise, organizations risk a massive disconnect with the very audiences with whom they are trying to engage.

Interestingly, most every other word that these groups use to describe themselves could apply to other generations.  Youth is their self-described unique attribute.

Also, adult millennial audiences self-identify as “young” before they generally identify by their gender!  (Perhaps this also helps to explain the rise of the transgender rights movement at this moment in US history.  Transgender persons have always existed…why is it that now the movement finds increasing acceptance and salience?  It may be because millennials – the largest generation in US history – identify as “tolerant” and “friendly” and “kind” and “hopeful” ahead of their own gender!)

Millennial cohorts identifying themselves as “friendly” and “kind” is great for cultural organizations! It underscores much of what we know: To millennials (and, increasingly, to all audiences), your organization’s mission matters! This finding also aligns with millennial wants for membership programs.

 

4) There is no meaningful difference in visitor satisfaction based upon race

The data below indicate overall satisfaction for adult millennials segmented by race – and shows that there is no meaningful distinction in overall satisfaction based on race. These data, too, come from the National Awareness, Attitudes & Usage Study.

US millennial overall satisfaction by race

Regardless of race, millennials visiting cultural organizations are generally satisfied.  So our engagement challenge is not one of content – millennials of all races enjoy the experience once they have been engaged.  This finding suggests that the improvement opportunity lies more at the top of the engagement funnel.

In other words, having special Cinco de Mayo programming (i.e. content) may not necessarily better engage Hispanic millennial audiences.  Having programming that appeals to millennials – regardless of race – is perhaps a better means of engaging with Hispanic millennial audiences.  Basically, from an engagement perspective, the operative word in the “Hispanic Millennial” descriptor is “Millennial” and not necessarily “Hispanic.”

 

I have been party to many conversations with cultural leaders asking, “How do we more representatively engage the African American population of Washington DC?” and “How do we better connect with the Hispanic population in Los Angeles?”  These conversations belie the sense that many organizations believe race to be the key differentiator in terms of representative engagement.  Instead, these same leaders should be asking themselves, “How do we engage young people in Washington DC?” and “How do we engage young people in Los Angeles?”

If organizations representatively engage young people – members of the most diverse generation in US history – then organizations will also do a much better job of representatively engaging more racially diverse audiences.  Again, the median age for Hispanics in the US is 29.  The median age for non-Hispanic Whites in the US is 43.  Developing strategies to representatively engage young people is a “two birds, one stone” move: Representatively engaging young people concurrently means representatively engaging more racially diverse audiences. 

All of this is NOT to say that ethnicity and racial background are unimportant. Cultural and heritage awareness and sensitivity are important considerations for all organizations.  And, from an engagement and programming perspective, emerging personalization trends recognize the uniqueness of more diverse audiences.  However, the data does suggest that the way we think of our audiences isn’t necessarily the way that they think of themselves. The data suggest that America has never been more of a melting pot…yet too many organizations seem to silo audiences based on increasingly less relevant segmentation criteria such as ethnicity and race. Cultural organizations need to get better at attracting millennials of all races and ethnicities.

In the end, this is good news. It suggests that efforts to representatively engage millennial audiences should reach all millennial audiences. It’s another drop in the bucket for forward-facing organizations prioritizing transparency, social good, connectivity, communication, personalization, and digital engagement.

Audience diversity for cultural organizations is increasingly a function of representatively engaging young people – not necessarily trying to target specific racial or ethnic groups with one-off, race-based programming.  If organizations representatively engage young people, in turn, they will engage more racially diverse audiences.

 

 

Like this post? Please check out Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel for more insights. 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 Leave a comment

Local Audiences Have Skewed Perceptions of Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Regardless of region or cultural organization type, local audiences are the hardest to please.

As cultural organizations, we tend to love our local audiences. We provide them with all sorts of benefits, believing that local audiences are our best audiences. But, interestingly, data suggest that some of that love may be unrequited.

This week’s Fast Facts video features data that may be tough for organizations to swallow, but may prove important in improving their respective understanding of their audiences. Knowing how local audiences perceive organizations will help them develop more effective strategies for successfully engaging these visitors. As it turns out, local audiences have a skewed perception of the organizations that are closest to them – and it’s not good.

IMPACTS tracked perceptions among 118 visitor-serving organizations in the United States that charge admission. This study comprised multiple types of cultural organizations, including museums (e.g. art, history, science, children’s), zoos, aquariums, botanic gardens, theaters, and symphonies. All organizations were located within the United States, but from different cities and states throughout the country – including both major metro markets and less populated regions. The data ALSO includes both large organizations that are recognized nationally AND more community-based museums that singularly pride themselves on serving locals. In other words, you “This doesn’t apply to me” this data at your organization’s own risk.

For this particular data set, we wanted to know the value for cost perceptions of people attending cultural organizations – or, how good of a value these audiences thought that they received with regard to their visitation experience. (Know Your Own Bone readers have seen this type of perception metric used before.) Take a look at what we found when we cut the data by travel distance.

 IMPACTS value for cost by distance

Local audiences believe that the value of the visitor experience is less worthy of the organization’s admission cost than non-local visitors to the same institution. On average, people living within 25 miles of the organization (or, locals) indicate value for cost perceptions that are 14% lower than those of regional visitors!

But so many organizations offer discounts for locals. Are these folks even paying full admission? No. On average, the locals in this data reported paying 20% less than regional visitors – and they still report that the value wasn’t as worthy of the cost as non-local audiences paying full admission!

Okay. But local audiences are probably more satisfied with their experience, right? After all, the organization is right there strengthening the reputation of their own city, and, again, many are getting in at a reduced cost.

Nope again. Take a look at the data cut for overall satisfaction in regard to distance traveled. Locals report satisfaction levels that are 11% lower than regional visitors who had the same visitor experience.

IMPACTS local satisfaction

This probably seems nuts to many people. What is going on?! Three important things are happening here, and recognizing them may help us create programs for locals that provide a more satisfying and valuable experience.

 

1) People value what they pay for.

These findings support the well-known tenet of pricing psychology that people value what they pay for. Personally disagree in a statement of defense? I didn’t make up this fact – it’s well known by economists and takes place in many situations. And this reality is obvious in the data here. The locals reporting the lowest levels of satisfaction were generally the ones visiting at the most deeply discounted cost basis.

 

2) Folks believe that good things are far away.

We reliably uncover the misconception among locals that if something is that great, it probably isn’t in their backyard. That’s a false premise, but it tends to permeate local perception. Amazingly (to me), this is even true in New York City. But the finding makes sense. Ask someone about the greatest cultural experiences and they are more likely to cite famous entities overseas or across the country than an organization nationally perceived as equally satisfying and successful that is located in the respondent’s community.

 

3) Cultural organizations have created local entitlement

This point is by far the most important: Many organizations have trained locals to feel entitled to free or reduced admission, perpetuating this whole cycle of low satisfaction and low value for cost perceptions. In essence, we created and keep on promulgating this very problem…and we have spread it around like a plague. And it’s a nasty one, lowering our perceived value, devaluing our missions, reducing satisfaction in our experiences, and promulgating not-so-great reviews and word of mouth endorsement.

Locals are obviously incredibly important to our organizations, but there’s an opportunity to design better access programming opportunities for local audiences that are not unintentionally perceived as entitlements. This may mean focusing more on promotional strategies and unique events than everyday discounts.

 

This is the kind of data that I get a chance to share that is likely to make organizations angry. And I can write about it and we can elevate ourselves as a sector and get smarter about our engagement strategies, or this powerful finding could remain private for IMPACTS clients. Keeping it private doesn’t help anyone. The data that makes leaders angry is often the most valuable data. It makes us angry because it challenges something that we thought was “safe.” It makes us think harder. And I believe that thinking harder is always good.

Knowing the true challenges attendant to engaging local audiences means that we are one step closer to overcoming them. Locals may not always be the best audiences for cultural organizations – and it’s largely because of organizations overlooking basic economics and training our audiences into self-sabotaging practices.

 

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

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting 1 Comment

Schedule Drives Visitation to Cultural Organizations And Nobody Is Talking About It (DATA)

Examining Schedule- the top influencer for visitation

 Organizations often overlook the single biggest factor influencing attendance. Here’s the data that nobody’s talking about. 

The schedule of a potential visitor plays a leading role in a visitor’s decision to attend a cultural organization, but many organizations don’t think twice about schedule (focusing instead on items such as cost of admission, special events, or the content of a program or exhibit). These items are not unimportant, but the data on the importance of considering audience schedule is unassailable. Want more people to visit? It’s time to understand the leading roles that schedule and hours of operation play in the decision-making process.  

Let’s use data to bust some popular myths about visitor motivations, and take a look at four misunderstood bits of information regarding the role of “schedule” in the visitation decision-making process:

 

1) Schedule is the single biggest factor contributing to visitation (not cost or specific content)

It makes perfect sense: If a visitor-serving organization is not operating when people can or want to visit, then those people aren’t going to visit. In Western Europe, folks are more willing to schedule their work and personal lives around visiting a cultural organization that has a good reputation. (Of course, a shorter work week and more generous vacation time allowances in Western Europe help create more schedule flexibility!) In the United States, that’s just not happening.

IMPACTS- Discretionary decision making utility model A high-propensity visitor is a person who demonstrates the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood of visiting a cultural organization. These are the people who are most likely to visit our organizations, and they are “where our bread is buttered” in terms of visitation. People in the United States – including high-propensity visitors – do not generally reorganize their lives in significant ways in order to visit cultural organizations if their operating hours are inconvenient or conflict with work (or school) commitments.

Notice also that schedule is a significantly more important factor in the decision-making process than is cost for high-propensity visitors. Keep in mind that many “minority majorities” and (especially) millennials qualify as high-propensity visitors – and that high-propensity visitors are not necessarily the same as historic visitors. (There seems to be this weird idea that millennials and “minority majorities” are the same as affordable access audiences and are unwilling or unable to support cultural organizations…but there’s abundant data demonstrating that this is not the case – though we do desperately need to get better at attracting these emerging audiences.) The key to meaningful engagement for people who are interested in your content may not be cutting admission by $5 (which data suggest doesn’t work), but, instead, may be establishing hours of operation that better conform to our audience’s preferences.

 

2) Take a close look at when you are open and when audiences are easily available to visit (because they often are not the same)

Take a look at this data from the National Attitudes, Awareness and Usage Study of 98,000 adults and counting. You’ll notice from the last four bars that folks generally do want to visit cultural organizations! You’ll also notice from the first two bars that although folks indicate an interest in visiting, fewer actually do visit. What gives?

IMPACTS - Visitor Attitudes

We dug in a little bit deeper as to why people who report interest in visiting cultural organizations may not actually visit: For people who would like to visit a cultural organization but haven’t visited, schedule conflicts (including ill-suited hours of operation) are the primary barrier. Take a look at how these schedule conflicts stack up:

 IMPACTS - Visitation Barriers

Work schedule conflicts make perfect sense as the leading barrier to visitation for folks who may be otherwise interested in attending an organization. Think about it: Most of the time, cultural organizations with operating hours are generally only operating when people are at work! And some potential visitors have professions that keep them busy working during the weekends as well.

Weekend activities are precious. For potential visitors who do not work on the weekends, there’s steep leisure activity competition – including simply staying home and binge watching Netflix. And when folks can take a holiday (as seen in the data above), there are often other commitments to tend to that take precedent – such as visiting family. Moreover, students tend to be in classes during traditional weekday hours of operation.

When we add all of these things up, it begs the question: How do cultural organizations determine their hours of operation? Do we have these hours because that’s how we’ve always done it? And, knowing what we know about today’s connected, real-time world, would we still choose to be the most inaccessible in the early mornings before folks head to work and in the evening when they have their most discretionary leisure time?

Of course, this issue may require an industry evolution (revolution?) to resolve. We’ve spent years training audiences to visit us during holidays and weekends (a tacit acknowledgment that 9a-6p schedules may suit no one but our staff). Retraining audiences is hard to do…but changing the public perceptions of cultural organizations and better serving our missions may necessitate a good, hard look at how we approach our hours of operation.

 

3) Organizations are unlikely to move visitation to a shoulder season without risking overall attendance

Perhaps the biggest industry misconception about schedule as a motivator for visitation may be that many organizations think that they can change it. This is a difficult – if not impossible task – and more often than not, results in a very poor reallocation of resources.

Take a look at this 10-year analysis of attendance by month to 78 US visitor-serving cultural organizations. The analysis indicates clear “peak” and “off-peak” seasons. This data indicates the time periods when people want to visit cultural organizations (given the current schedules that cultural organizations keep) – clearly illustrated by the fact that these are the times when people are, in fact, actually visiting.

IMPACTS -Monthly attendance to VSOs

The chart below organizes the monthly attendance data by season. The summer season accounts for nearly 37% of total attendance. Also, the spring season, driven by the traditional spring break holiday from school, accounts for approximately 27% of an organization’s total annual attendance.

IMPACTS Seasonal attendance to VSOs

Now that we’ve established that the market obviously has clear seasonal visitation preferences, let’s bust some backward thinking. It is a myth to believe that efforts during off-peak seasons can easily “make up” for poor performance during the peak spring and summer months. Think of it this way: If your organization welcomes 200,000 visitors per year, and 14% of them are visiting in July, an emphasis on increasing attendance during the month of October (when only 6% of visitors historically attend) is not going to produce the total visitation impact as would maximizing peak season attendance. This is especially true in our world of finite resources. Increasing an investment in an off-peak season often means reallocating investments from peak seasons. This alternative use of funds is very unlikely to produce a net benefit for the organization.

Q: What if an organization reallocates some of its resources from peak season to off-peak season? A: It’s not usually a wise financial move. Here’s a case study from my work at IMPACTS that clearly demonstrates the point. Consider the recent example of a large visitor-serving organization (annual attendance >1,000,000) that developed a strategy to increase year-end visitation during the holiday season by reallocating some audience acquisition investments that had been traditionally deployed during the peak season. As a heads-up, this was a relatively modest reallocation of investments and the organization was still investing at a considerable level during the peak season…just not as much as it had in the past. Let’s call this reallocation of resources in an attempt to alter visitation the organization’s “shoulder strategy.”

IMPACTS Shoulder season investment case study

Attendance during the holiday season did improve by 1.17% – but at the expense of attendance during the peak season (which declined by 4.00%). More importantly, a 1.17% increase in attendance during the holiday season only equated to an additional 3,306 visitors…while the 4.00% decrease in peak season performance cost the organization 108,840 visitors. In other words, it proved impossible for the organization to “make up” peak season attendance during an off-peak period by reallocating peak-season resources to the off-peak period. Here’s a look at this information another way.

IMPACTS Shoulder season strategy outcome chart 

There are few meaningful ways to fully compensate for underperformance during a peak season by emphasizing the off-peak season, nor is it likely that a significant investment in the off-peak season will return significant attendance benefits to the organization when compared to the potential of that same investment deployed during a peak season. Schedule is simply too important of a factor to our audiences for them to alter their behaviors to suit our preferences – after all, we don’t define our peak seasons, our audiences do!

Certainly, there are things that an organization can do to try and encourage attendance during less popular months – but don’t rob from peak seasons to pay for an off-peak opportunity. Your organization needs to make its hay when the sun is shining.

When trying to encourage greater visitation during off-peak seasons (hopefully through additional investment rather than taking from peak season resources), remember that discounts artificially increase visitation and change visitation cycles. In fact, discounts do a whole host of not-awesome things for your long-term bottom line. When you discount, you are simply displacing visitation from another season, decreasing visitor satisfaction, devaluing your brand and – perhaps most importantly – decreasing the likelihood of any return visitation at all.

 

4) Attendance loss from unexpected closures is greater than most organizations realize (and it is not generally replaced)

We are often wrong about the impacts of an unforeseen closure for two, big reasons that are important to understand beyond the framework of attendance and revenue projections. When an organization is closed at a time that it might otherwise be open, visitation generally is NOT displaced to other times of the year. And, to top it off, we lose more people than simply those who had planned to attend the organization that day. I wrote a separate post about this earlier this year when snow was hitting the East coast, and it’s worth revisiting here.

Take a look at the math and see just how much we underestimate the lost annual attendance due to unplanned, short-term facility closings. The chart below illustrates data from 13 organizations over a three-year analysis and includes a range of cultural, visitor-serving organizations (each represented by letter). The “Expected Decline” value indicates the number of visitors as a percentage of annual market potential that were expected to be lost by an unforeseen facility closure. If an organization’s market potential analysis suggested attendance of 1,000 visitors on a given Tuesday, and the organization was instead closed that day, then the expected decline in annual market potential would be 1,000. Pretty logical, right? The “Actual Decline” value indicates the actual, observed percentage decline relative to an organization’s annual market potential.

IMPACTS- Immitative value applied analysis

 

 Every organization quantified in the study indicated an actual decline greater than the expected decline. There are two, important reasons why expected and actual decline do not align in commensurate measure.

First, organizations underestimate attendance loss during these days because they do not understand the role that schedule plays in visitation. When people plan to visit an organization, but those plans fall through, visitors are not likely to simply “come back next month.” Those visits are generally lost.

Second, when we close for any reason, we don’t merely lose the people who were going to visit. We lose the recommendations, social media posts, and shared stories of all of the people who were going to visit that day – and the impact of the loss of earned media can be huge. In fact, for every one visit lost due to an unplanned closure, the net annual impact on market potential averages a decline of 1.25 visitors. Thus, if a sustained interruption to your operation results in 20,000 fewer visits, then the annual impact of this business disruption is likely to be lost attendance of 25,000 when compared to your organization’s market potential. Again, you can read more about this here.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that organizations never have unexpected closures! Things happen for which we cannot always plan – and sometimes situations arise which simply make it unsafe for staff or visitors to make it to our institutions. What I am saying is that we consistently underestimate the “now or not-anytime-soon” nature of schedule as a primary influencer of visitation decisions.

 

Considering the critical role that schedule plays in audience motivations, one would think that we’d talk about our hours of operation at least as often as we discuss our reputations, our special exhibits/programs, and our admission cost. But we don’t. As cultural organizations, we talk a lot about accessibility. However, many of us seem to overlook the most basic foundations of this concept – our schedule and open hours. It’s time to take a hard look at the primary barrier to visitation so that we may more effectively carry out our collective missions of making the world a more educated and inspired place.

 

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

 

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

Which Is More Important for Cultural Organizations: Being Educational or Being Entertaining? (DATA)

From a visitor’s perspective, which is more important for cultural organizations: Being entertaining or being educational? Here’s what the data says.

This week’s Fast Facts video briefly outlines a data-informed aspect of the “Entertainment vs. Education” debate.

There seems to be an ongoing tension within organizations regarding the relationship between providing an entertaining experience and an educational experience for visitors. All too often, we seem to act as though the two forces are at-odds with one another.

Sometimes, the entertainment value of a visit to a cultural organization gets an internal bad rap. After all, cultural organizations are mission-driven and one of their goals is often to educate. “Entertaining” occasionally seems to be a sort of dirty word – much like considering visitors as “customers” and the idea of “selling” admission. They are concepts/words that might make some staffers uncomfortable. In the best interests of the organizations that we love, however, we need to at least embrace these ideas or risk less solvent futures.

The truth is that providing education and entertainment are both important to our visitors – and knowing exactly how these elements contribute to the visitor experience may help inform future strategies and conversations. So, let’s take a look at some data from a visitor perspective and get to the bottom of this relationship.

 

1) Entertainment drives visitor satisfaction and re-visitation

To tackle the question regarding the importance of entertainment versus education, let’s start by considering the data that goes into developing a visitor satisfaction metric.

Individual evaluation criteria – such as entertainment and education values – aren’t weighted equally because the market is not influenced by them equally. Many organizations aiming to achieve higher overall satisfaction measures mistakenly believe that every aspect of a visitor’s experience is equally important – and that’s just not true. To visitors, some criteria (such as employee courtesy) have more weight than others (such as the quality of the gift shop). With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the weighted attributes that influence overall satisfaction – informed by the market and IMPACTS Research. (These data derive from the National Awareness, Attitudes & Usage Study of more than 98,000 US adults concerning visitor-serving organizations.)

IMPACTS Overall satisfaction weight

Yes, folks. This is indeed a data-informed chart of exactly how much each aspect of the visitor experience contributes to overall satisfaction when visiting a cultural organization such as a museum, zoo, aquarium, historic site, performing arts event, etc.

Entertainment experience is the single greatest contributor to overall satisfaction. Education value influences only about 5% of overall satisfaction, whereas entertainment value influences more than 20% of overall satisfaction. Favorability is the visitor’s perception of how “likeable” the organization and its experiences are – and the entertainment quotient of the experience contributes even more to overall satisfaction than does favorability. That’s saying something.

The fact that entertainment value drives visitor satisfaction is cut-and-dry and non-negotiable. And any company or organization telling you otherwise is likely paid by an entity that really, really doesn’t want to evolve. Providing an entertaining experience is absolutely critical for visitor satisfaction, and, thus, return visitation. In short, cultural organizations need to be at least somewhat entertaining in order to stay alive.

 

2) Education justifies visitation

It’s clear that providing an entertaining experience is more important for satisfying visitors – but education isn’t chopped liver. Data suggest that being educational plays a critical role in justifying a visit to a cultural organization after the visit is over.

Take a look at this data from IMPACTS (again, from the National Awareness, Attitudes & Usage Study):

IMPACTS Primary visit purpose

Learning something new and different, seeing something new and different, and wanting a child to learn something new and different are the top three stated responses regarding the primary purpose of a visit after that visit is over. This is a big deal, because it means that while the educational aspect of an organization’s mission may not necessarily bear extraordinary influence on how satisfied a visitor is during their onsite visit, it is thereafter recalled as a primary factor motivating the visit – and this is good news! It helps to reinforce the purpose of cultural organizations externally, underscoring our drive for social good. (And this has financial benefits, too. Organizations that highlight their mission financially outperform those marketing primarily as attractions!)

 

In sum, entertainment value makes a visit satisfying but education value helps justifies a visit. Successful organizations aim to make education entertaining. It’s not a battle, but a balancing act wherein fun and learning work hand-in-hand to make both visitors and the organization better.

I could have guessed that,” many of you may be saying. Well, that’s good. Now when we enter conversations from either the mission or revenue angle, we can be a bit more informed by visitor-driven, industry-wide data. There may be some hard facts to face here, but they are important: We need to prioritize being both educating and educational – and quit thinking of “entertainment” as a dirty word.

 

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

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

Five Data-Informed Fun Facts About Visitors to Cultural Organizations

Visitors to cultural organizations often have certain telltale behaviors.  Here are five of them.

This week’s Fast Facts video is a fun one that shares a few data-informed findings about the kind of people who visit cultural organizations. Thanks to IMPACTS, I’ve got my hands on a whole bunch of trend data and sometimes little fun facts are just…well, fun!

Here are five, data-informed fun facts about high-propensity visitors to cultural organizations. 

 

The introduction, conclusion, and one of the fun facts merit a deeper, written dive. There a few important, extra takeaways worth noting from this video (that are not the five fun facts themselves):

 

1) Not everyone wakes up wanting to visit a cultural organization

Yes, I think that this is a bummer just like you do. If everyone wanted to visit cultural centers, we wouldn’t be having so much trouble engaging more diverse audiences or even attracting millennials at representative rates. Cultural organizations often have a hard time admitting to themselves that their likely audiences aren’t “everyone.” This certainly does not mean that we shouldn’t try to get “unlikely” visitors in the door. We really, really should – and in fact, we need to evolve our business models and better engage these audiences in order to survive. But the reality is that some people are more likely to visit cultural organizations than others.

As much as our industry may appreciate a scapegoat, data and economists alike have been proving to us for years that free admission is not the cure to engagement that many imagine it to be. The sooner that we move on from this, the sooner we can create affordable access programs that actually work (here – read this, too), and the sooner that we can create business models that are more sustainable.  We are so busy fighting to maintain our belief in the myth of free admission curing engagement, attendance, and participation issues that we aren’t moving forward, or even thinking creatively or strategically about how to stay alive and relevant long-term. But I digress…

A high-propensity visitor is a person who demonstrates the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood of visiting a cultural organization (e.g. museum, aquarium, botanic garden, historic site, symphony, theater, etc). High-propensity visitors are the folks who keep our bread buttered – they are the folks who visit, donate, and reliably engage with our organizations. This video covers five, random fun facts about these people.

 

2) Visitors are extremely connected to the Internet

High-propensity visitors are 2.5x more likely than the average person to qualify as being “super-connected.” This means that they have access to the web at home, at work, and on a mobile device. In fact, these folks acquire information regarding leisure activities almost exclusively via the web, social media, and peer review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor. Visitors to cultural organizations have constant connection to the Internet – meaning that what cultural organizations do online is really, really important.

Interestingly (though unsurprisingly), millennial high-propensity visitors are crazy super-connected. That said, the folks that are going to attend a cultural organization are all looking things up online and using the web and social media, regardless of age.

 

3) Likely visitors are not necessarily rich

“No kidding,” you’re probably thinking if you’re reading this before watching the video. After seeing the five fun facts about high-propensity visitors, though, you may be thinking that high-propensity visitors must be very rich. Being a high-propensity visitor has nothing to do with being “rich.” Plenty of not-super-rich people have a cat or dog, like to hike or ski, enjoy a nice meal with a great glass of wine, and occasionally travel overseas for vacation. This person doesn’t have to be a multi-millionaire. (I mean, they could be, but they don’t have to be to possess these behaviors.)

Being a high-propensity visitor is indicated by how someone chooses to spend the money that they have – not that they have tons of it. How someone chooses to spend thier money is a choice. So is how someone chooses to spend their time. Being a high-propensity visitor isn’t innately about being rich or poor. It’s about how someone chooses to invest his or her leisure time and money.

 

These three items may seem obvious to some, but they are worth extra attention because they tackle a few myths: 1) That likely visitors to museums include everyone (especially when admission is removed); 2) That the web and social media play “supporting” roles in reaching, attracting, and retaining audiences; and 3) That the most likely visitors to cultural organizations are rich. These popular beliefs are false. We know they are false. And yet they permeate too many, critical conversations.

Once we better know our audiences, then we’ll be best able to serve them.

 

Like this post? You can check out more 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, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing 1 Comment

The Surprising Reason Why Organizations Underestimate Attendance Loss During Closures (DATA)

Know Your Own Bone - Underestimate Attendance During Closures for Cultural Organizations

When cultural organizations experience unforeseen facility closures, they lose more visitors than simply those who were planning to visit that day. Here’s why.

While the following data may be particularly timely after Winter Storm Jonas, cultural organizations (museums, zoos, historic sites, performing arts organizations, etc.) are consistently way off when adjusting annual attendance projections due to closures. This includes closures due to weather, irregular operations, storm damage, fire, utility failure, criminal activity, or anything else.

No matter the reason for the closure, we dramatically underestimate the overall impact on annual attendance. It’s generally a huge bummer when we have to close for unforeseen circumstances and take the attendance (and, for many organizations, revenue) hit. But knowing why we are so frequently wrong in quantifying the total impact of these closures may help us better understand visitors and develop more realistic contingency plans for lost revenue and attendance.

We are often wrong about the impacts of an unforeseen closure for two, big reasons that are important to understand beyond the framework of attendance and revenue projections. When an organization is closed at a time that it might otherwise be open, visitation generally is NOT displaced to other times of the year. And, to top it off, we lose more people than simply those who had planned to attend the organization that day. The reasons for this happening are important for organizations to understand.

Take a look at the math and see just how much we underestimate the lost annual attendance due to unplanned, short-term facility closings. This chart illustrates data from 13 organizations over a three-year analysis and includes a range of cultural, visitor-serving organizations – each represented by letter.

IMPACTS- Immitative value applied analysis

The “Expected Decline” value indicates the number of visitors as a percentage of annual market potential that were expected to be lost by an unforeseen facility closure. If an organization’s market potential analysis suggested attendance of 1,000 visitors on a given Tuesday, and the organization was instead closed that day, then the expected decline in annual market potential would be 1,000. Pretty logical, right?

The “Actual Decline” value indicates the actual, observed percentage decline relative to an organization’s annual market potential.

Every organization quantified in the study indicated an actual decline greater than the expected decline. There are two, important reasons why expected and actual decline do not align in commensurate measure.

 

1) Lost attendance is not usually displaced to another date

“They’ll come back later,” some staff say. Well, most likely they won’t. Not this year, at least. Data suggests that it is incorrect to assume that lost attendance due to an unforeseen closure is somehow magically reallocated to other periods during the calendar year.

IMPACTS- Discretionary decision making utility model

Extant data indicates that schedule has the single greatest influence on a would-be visitor’s decision-making process. This analysis reaffirms that if a scheduled visit is interrupted by an unforeseen closure, then these affected visitors are unlikely to visit the organization in a proximate chronology. In other words, if a snowstorm in February forces a closure that results in a loss of attendance, then these would-be February visitors are unlikely to visit come April or July.

It is a miscalculation for an organization to simply distribute attendance lost due to a closure to the remainder of the year. Those 4,000 visitors who stayed home these past few days while the snowflakes fell during Winter Storm Jonas? They’re likely gone…and annual budgets should be adjusted accordingly.

That’s a bummer, but it makes sense. It accounts for lost annual attendance that at least matches the expected decline. But why do organizations lose more visitors than those who were planning to visit on the date of the closure during the remaining course of the year? It’s a good question with a very important answer.

 

2) Recommendations and social sharing from those who would have visited are lost (and that is a much bigger deal than we realize)

This lost visitation has a sort of “double-whammy” effect for many cultural organizations as they are reliant on word of mouth and other testimonial factors to help engage audience and motivate attendance. (This is particularly true for organizations in those regions where visiting friends and family is a primary driver of tourism and travel. If your plan was to take a visiting friend or family member to a local museum, but a water main break forced the cancellation of that visit, well, that museum lost out on both the organizing party’s visit and also the guest.) When we close for any reason, we don’t just lose the people who were going to visit. We lose the recommendations, social media posts, and shared stories of all of the people who were going to visit that day.

And many organizations do not factor this into their adjustments. Fortunately, thanks to data, today we can. For every one visit lost due to an unplanned closure, the net annual impact on market potential averages a decline of 1.25 visitors. Thus, if a sustained interruption to your operation results in 20,000 fewer visits, then the annual impact of this business disruption is likely to be lost attendance of 25,000 when compared to your organization’s market potential.

Wait! We lose real people because of lost word of mouth endorsement? Yes. It’s not just hot air: Word of mouth endorsements are a BIG factor driving the attendance numbers for cultural organizations – and every year, the attendance to cultural organizations with unforeseen closures prove it. Consider the analysis: Of the 13 organizations quantified in the study, the average attendance decline due to unplanned closures was -4.45% compared to market potential. However, the actual decline in annual market potential was observed to be -5.56%. Again, due to word of mouth and other “imitative behaviors,” the loss of every one visitor equates to a total annual decline of 1.25 visitors. 

It’s important to remember that recommendations and social media posts that would have resulted had the organization not closed that day are no more impactful than recommendations based on experiences that take place on any other day. Word of mouth recommendations and social sharing are always playing a role in a cultural organization’s actual, onsite visitation numbers. This fact right here, folks, is a dang good reason to go hug your social media community manager who facilitates the sharing of experiences and word of mouth endorsements. This is also a good time to remember that millennials – who are most likely to recommend a visit to friends – are largely underserved by cultural organizations.

 

Unforseen closures stink. We’re never excited to learn that our organizations have lost the financial support that would have been gained from onsite visitation. We rely on that support to carry out our missions. And, considered in that light, this data really kicks us when we’re down. (It stinks when data does that.) But this information stands to make us much smarter. Embracing these realities allows us to more properly adjust attendance and revenue numbers so we aren’t down in the dumps later due to unrealistic expectations.

Perhaps most importantly, these findings underscore the importance – and the numbers of real, flesh-and-blood visitors – affected by the important role that word of mouth endorsements and shared stories have in helping us to share our experiences with more people. And in the end, that’s kind of cool, right?

When we educate and inspire people, it really does bring in more people to educate and inspire.

 

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

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or 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 2 Comments

Nonprofit Recognition: What Matters More To Visitors Than Your Tax Status (DATA)

Do visitors know that museums  and other cultural organizations are nonprofits? Data says: Nope. Here’s what really matters to audiences about your organization.

This week’s Fast Facts video covers a big misconception that folks working within cultural organizations (often unknowingly) promulgate: That being a nonprofit is a key differentiating factor to their audiences. As it turns out, data suggest that your organization’s tax status is relatively unknown among visitors and non-visitors alike.

This video explores the data. Not a video person? (That’s cool. You do you.) Here’s what you need to know:

 

1) The majority of people in the US do NOT think cultural organizations are nonprofits

Check out this data from IMPACTS that uncovers the percentage of the US adult population that believes that cultural organizations such as museums (e.g. art, science, history), zoos, performing arts centers, botanic gardens, and aquariums are nonprofit organizations. Like much of the non-proprietary data that I am able to share on Know Your Own Bone, the findings informing this analysis come from the ongoing National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study of 98,000 adults (and counting).

KYOB- Nonprofit recognition data

The findings may be a tad alarming to some. I’ve personally heard the “but we’re a nonprofit” excuse for not keeping up with financial realities (among other things) more times that I can count. This data flips the popular excuse for lack of evolution on its head. Not only are most non-visitors to these institutions not aware that cultural organizations are nonprofit organizations, but over half of the people who do visit these types of organizations are unaware that they are nonprofit organizations.

Take a look at history museums, for instance. Only 47.2% of visitors to history museums know that they are nonprofit organizations. The other 52.8% of visitors (over half) are unaware that they are reliant on philanthropic support: They believe that the organizations are for-profit entities, or government-funded operations that are otherwise provided for by their taxes.

Regardless of the reason for the misperceptions, more than half of visitors to ALL cultural organizations do not believe that they play any role in keeping these organizations healthy or alive after walking in the door. Beyond paying admission (to what they consider a business) or paying their taxes (to an organization with free admission because their taxes fund a government-operated entity), the majority of visitors risk believing that there is no further need for their support.

 

2) The market is sector agnostic

The misconception that these types of cultural organizations do not need support as nonprofit organizations is a problem – but how big of a problem? We’ve created a situation wherein people think admission to cultural organizations is largely either a pre-paid entitlement (thanks to taxes), or a fee paid to a for-profit company. Admission to most cultural organizations are neither of these things.

Tied to the misconceptions regarding the need to support cultural organizations is another market-based truth: Today’s audiences are generally sector agnostic. This means that they don’t much care about an organization’s tax status. They care about how well your company or organization does what it claims to be expert at doing. Loyal Know Your Own Bone readers (you guys rock) know that I’ve shared this nonprofit recognition data before in a post about how, today, for-profit and nonprofit organizations compete against one another. At IMPACTS, we continue to find evidence supporting this fact nearly every day.

Let’s be honest: Market confusion makes sense in the case of many nonprofit, visitor-serving organizations. We’re nonprofit, but our operations often follow a traditional economic utility curve. In other words, unlike giving to a charity that supports the homeless, people are “paying” for the personal experience of visiting our organizations. But unlike SeaWorld (for instance), those revenues cycle exclusively back into our social missions to educate and inspire…because that’s what 501(c)3 organizations do. And that brings up another potential point of confusion: Disney World, SeaWorld, and Universal Studios are for-profit companies – and SeaWorld hits the “we’re mission-driven” button hard (or rather, it tries to). It makes sense that the market might give up on differentiating visitor-serving nonprofits from for-profits! And until recently, most nonprofit, visitor-serving organizations were marketing themselves primarily as attractions – NOT mission driven organizations. Some laggard nonprofit visitor-serving organizations still do…

 

3) The tax status of cultural organizations is not their differentiating factor

So far this is looking bad. Our audiences largely don’t know that we rely on their support in order to stay alive and they are sector agnostic so they, in a sense, don’t even care that we are nonprofit. So what do our audiences care about? How well we carry out our missions.

But nonprofits don’t “own” social good, and that’s a big reason for evidence of the market’s sector agnosticism. Corporate social responsibility is a necessity for companies today. There are countless articles on the importance of for-profit companies “doing good.” It is a key tactic for gaining more customers. And that’s interesting because there are still some cultural organizations that do this weird, outdated thing where they try to overlook their social advantage and exclusively promulgate “visit us today!” messages (and even offer discounts that devalue their brand and cause even more sector confusion for cultural organizations). It’s like some of them are trying to be like Disney World…

Being good at your mission is good business. Data demonstrate that organizations highlighting their missions outperform organizations marketing primarily as attractions. Perhaps, in all of our “But we are a nonprofit” excuse making, we missed the true differentiator that has provided us that tax status in the first place: Our bottom line of making a difference.

Our key differentiator is not our tax status, but that our dedication to making a difference is embedded in the very structure of how we operate. There’s a thought that we need to run “more like for-profit companies” (and in some ways we do, but the blanket directive is an ignorant miss). But look around. For-profit companies are actually trying to be more like us in the sense that they want audiences to know that they stand for something that makes the world a better place.

 

4) Communicating nonprofit status is critical in order to make the case for support (but it is a secondary communications goal)

When people don’t know that we are nonprofit organizations, it is a lot more difficult to secure members and donors. For that reason, we do need to better communicate our need for support. But perhaps before we ask for support, we need to do a better job showing the world what supporting us means. In other words, the lack of knowledge about our need for support may be indicative of a long-term communication and programmatic failure.

We educate. We inspire. We connect. We conserve. We teach. We change the world, one mind at a time. But perhaps the misconception about the need for support stems from our own communications focused not around how we change the world, but how we don’t change the world: “Visit!” “Discount!” “New exhibit!” Those messages are important, but are they most important? After all, can we blame the market for not knowing that we are nonprofit organizations if we bury the missions and ideals that are the foundation for our existence in more commercial messages and programs?

 

Fewer than half of U.S. audiences are aware of the nonprofit status of cultural organizations. That’s a big deal, because it makes it harder to secure support. But it’s also a good reminder that audiences are increasingly sector-agnostic, and our competitive advantage may not be our tax status, but what our tax status means: That we are here to change the world.

 

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

 

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

Real Talk: Why Cultural Organizations Must Better Engage Millennials (DATA)

Why Cultural Organizations Must Better Engage Millennials (Know Your Own Bone)

Millennials are cultural organizations’ most frequent and loyal visitors…but this audience remains underserved.  Here’s why that’s a big problem for the future well-being of the industry.

“We need to be better at engaging millennials!” You’ve heard this before. Likely, you’ve heard it more times than you can count. Even if you are a millennial working within a cultural institution, you’re still probably sick of the sentiment. You’re probably sick of it even if you know that data suggest that millennial audiences are cultural centers’ best audiences.

The need for cultural organizations (e.g. museums, zoos, aquariums, symphonies, theaters, botanic gardens, orchestras, etc.) to reach millennial audiences is deeper and more complicated than we may realize.

I’d like to ask you a favor.

Indeed, I’m going to land here at the end of this post: “We need to be better at engaging millennials.” Instead of closing this tab before you dig in and saying, “yeah, yeah, yeah…” I hope that you’ll stop and consider why we need to reach millennial audiences…why it’s a big deal, what it means for our solvency, and why its so hard for some of our executive leaders to do.

Here are four things that all cultural organizations should know about millennial visitors and our efforts to engage them:

 

1) Millennials are the most frequent attendees to cultural organizations

 

Bet some of you didn’t see that coming! Check out this data from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study that represents a sample population of more than 98,000 respondents. These particular data compare millennial and Baby Boomer visitors in terms of the composition of attendance to the 224 visitor-serving cultural organizations contemplated in the study during the past five years

IMPACTS- Millennial vs Boomer visitation 

Millennials make up the largest share of visitors to cultural organizations and the observed trend indicates growing percentages year over year. Millennials aren’t coming. Millennials are here and they are already the largest realized audience visiting cultural organizations. This means that the “We need to cultivate millennials while satisfying our current, baby boomer audience” sentence is baseless. And you want it to be baseless. If baby boomers still actually make up the majority of your visitors, then you’re behind. 

This means that programs and initiatives that engage millennials should be in full force right now and integrated into operations. Programs that engage millennials should be recognized as your new way of life. And, please, don’t worry too much about engaging, interactive, authentic, trustworthy, dynamic, participatory, expert, real-time programs alienating members of Generation X and some Baby Boomers. The market at large increasingly has these things ingrained into how they evaluate brands and organizations as well.

Don’t forget that the “white space” here isn’t simply Generation X. It also includes Traditionalists (the generation before the Baby Boomers) and Generation Z (the generation after Generation X). And thank goodness that millennials are the most frequent visitors to cultural organizations! Millennials represent the largest generation in human history, so if they weren’t attending organizations more than their other, large-generation (Baby Boomer) buddies, it would be a huge problem. Cultural organizations as a whole engaging anything smaller than the data-informed expectation for audience engagement relative to their cohort size is very bad news…

 

2) But millennials remain underserved as organizations underperform the business opportunity 

 

…See, but that’s the problem: Millennials ARE NOT attending at the minimum expected levels. To evaluate this, we need to step back and look at visitation to our organizations in the context of the US population. In 2015, there were 322 million people in the United States. Adult baby boomers made up 23.6% of the U.S. population and adult millennials made up 27.1% of the U.S. population.

IMPACTS- Millennials are underserved

According to the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study, only 21.9% of adult millennials visited a cultural organization in 2015. To be merely representative, 27.1% of visitation should be adult millennials. The simple fact of the matter is that cultural organizations are underserving millennials when compared to the U.S. population. (“Underserved” means that participation – be it attendance, enrollment, etc. is less than the representative population.) In other words, cultural organizations are underserving millennial audiences by a factor of 19%.

To those of you thinking, “Yeah! But at least we’re getting them!” …I like you, because you are a glass-is-half-full person…but maybe it’s time to strap on your thinking cap a little tighter. Serving representative audiences is one of the top grantmaking considerations for many audience engagement initiatives that are seeking support. Not only that, underperforming the opportunity by 19% with this particular audience puts us in a doubly bad place because of this generation’s attributes and its word-of-mouth-informed visitation cycles.

 

3) Millennials are the most loyal audiences with the highest lifetime value

 

According to the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study, 23.8% of boomers said they visited a cultural organization (any cultural organization) in 2015. But Boomers only comprise 22.5% of cultural attendance. Meanwhile, only 21.9% of adult millennials visited a cultural organization, but they comprise 30.9% of total US cultural visitation. What does this mean? Millenials are far more likely to revisit within the year than other generations. They are the most loyal. It proves that millennial “intent to visit” is manifesting itself as actual visits.

IMPACTS- Millennial visitation loyalty

Combine this good news data with the bad news data on how much we are underserving millennial audiences, though, and the picture isn’t a pretty one: For every one millennial that we fail to engage as a sector, we miss out on 1.411 visits to cultural organizations.

If 30% of cultural visitors are millennials, are 30% of organizations’ resources allocated to engaging them? Probably not. We should be representatively engaging this audience because, well, that makes cut-and-dry business sense. Our missions may depend on it.

This is a big deal! Any organization that continues to underserve its best, most frequent, and most loyal customers – that also make up the majority of the country’s population – in the way that cultural organizations are doing risks going out of business. 

 

4) Why this change may be understandably hard for Baby Boomers in cultural organizations

 

Boomers know better than anyone that not all audiences are created equal. They know that because they’ve been by far the most valuable audience for a very long time.

Why is it so hard for Baby Boomers to grasp the necessity of engaging millennials and do more than talk about this audience in conference rooms? Why do they say, “We need to engage millennials,” only to move forward with frozen mindsets?

I’m no psychologist here and I may be going out on a limb, but I work predominantly with Baby Boomers that I have the honor of seeing in action every day, so I’ll give this an outsider shot: Baby Boomers may still think of themselves as primary target audiences (despite data indicating otherwise) because they were trained to think of themselves that way. They’ve have been the apple of every marketer’s eye for decades. For at least 25 years, the Baby Boomers that succeeded most were the ones who were best at marketing and creating programs for themselves. They were trained to successfully engage themselves and they were rewarded for successfully engaging themselves. Most boomers were appropriately predisposed and actively incentivized to reaffirm their generation’s own importance. Thus, it would make sense that there would be a want for boomers to keep doing what they do best: creating programs for themselves. That’s where they’re expert- and being expert at targeting Baby Boomers is why they are successful.

Basically, this same issue is likely to arise with us millennials if a large generation steps up to the plate in our own future. (And when it does, will one of you kindly forward this post to me from your 4D interactive teleportation wrist watch thingy to remind me that I knew it would be equally difficult for us to pass the baton?)

And things get even more difficult yet for Boomers. They may have imagined that they’d pass the baton in more conventional, chronologically successive terms to Generation X. Instead, they need to make a symbolically bigger leap and pass it (largely) to Millennials. It’s got to be hard to (kind of) skip a generation. Certainly, there’d be a conceptual belief that Traditionalists might pass an equal amount of influence to Boomers, who might pass an equal amount of influence to Generation X, who might pass an equal amount of influence to Generation Y…but data doesn’t demonstrate that that’s a smart move.

(Generation X, the always-impossibly-cool-in-my-mind, autonomous, and unlucky generation sandwiched between large and needy millennials and baby boomers, is roughly half the size of Generation Y. So if Generation X and Generation Y combined to form Generation XY, millennials would compose nearly 2/3 of that generation. This is also makes Generation X an often untapped resource to help bridge the generation gap because they seem to see all the crazy that’s above them and that’s below them with clarity in some cases. But I digress…)

 

 

All organizations have finite resources. In today’s world of hyper-targeting, every dollar we spend chasing one demographic is a dollar that we cannot spend chasing another demographic. The data is clear that cultural organizations are underserving millennial audiences. On top of that, millennials are our audiences with the greatest likelihood of re-visitation. Now, I don’t know if we’re the best audiences for post-it notes or patio furniture or tea pots – but millennials (which obviously include the 44.2% of us that are from “minority race” backgrounds) are definitely the most critical audience for cultural organizations to engage right now.

This does NOT mean that Baby Boomers and Generation X are not important targets. But it does mean that the percentage of energy, effort, and investment should be allocated representatively to the percentage of each age cohort’s market potential. Three factors should influence how your organization prioritizes its investments and dedicates its energy: 1) the size of the cohort; 2) the buying power of cohort; and 3) the cohort’s propensities to participate. Millennials represent the largest opportunity on all three fronts and, thus, create a compelling case for where to allocate representatively significant investments of resources.

I’ll end where I promised, but I hope that the sentence carries more meaning and understanding than it did at your last staff meeting: We need to get better at engaging millennials.

 

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

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or 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 Leave a comment