Data Reveals The Worst Thing About Visiting Cultural Organizations

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

People, Planet, Profit: Checks and Balances for Cultural Organizations

It’s a time of change and evaluation for cultural organizations – and that’s a good thing. The societal current Read more

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

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

The Visitor Engagement Cycle for Cultural Organizations

Securing visitation comes down to increasing reputation offsite and satisfaction onsite. Here’s how it works. If your organization aims to Read more

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

Fewer and fewer people look, act, and think like "historic" attendees to visitor-serving organizations. Here’s how many fewer. As we Read more

How Imaginary Lines Drawn by Cultural Organizations Hold Them Back

We can make “rules” about what applies to our industry - but our potential visitors and supporters don’t have Read more

visitation

Data Reveals The Worst Thing About Visiting Cultural Organizations

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

What about performance-based visitor-serving organizations?

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Trends Leave a comment

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

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

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

 

Negative substitution is urgent

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

How negative substitution is affecting organization types

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Negative substitution correlates with attitude affinities

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Growing Competitor for Visitation to Cultural Organizations: The Couch (DATA)

During their free time, would people rather go out or stay in? Here’s what cultural organizations need to know about the growing “couch contingent” audience.

Organizations tend to believe that other cultural organizations and destinations are their primary forms of competition for visitation. For folks who want to go out in the first place, this is often the case. But what about those folks who would rather not get out of their PJs?

Data suggests that even people who profile as high-propensity visitors are increasingly preferring to stay home as opposed to going out. High-propensity visitors are folks who demonstrate the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood of visiting a cultural organization – such as a museum, zoo, aquarium, botanic garden, or performing arts entity, for instance. The first requirement for somebody to visit an organization, however, is that they leave the house. Let’s break down some of what we know about the people who do – and don’t – want to do that.

 

How do people prefer to spend their free time during a week off of work or school?

This data is from IMPACTS and the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study, which consists of now over 106,000 individuals residing in the United States. “HPV” stands for “high-propensity visitor” and is cut for those who would be likely organization attendees. Depending on where your organization is located and if you tend to attract a majority of local audiences or tourists may influence your immediate reactions to the data.

You’ll notice that about half of the US composite market wants to stay in or around their home (‘staycation’ and ‘stay home’ preferences.), but that ‘stay home’ contingent isn’t going to visit you. Or at least, they would prefer not to. And – remember – just because people are traveling doesn’t necessarily mean that they are going to visit the museum (or symphony, theater, zoo, aquarium, or another type of cultural organization).

For organizations trying to engage locals – a particularly fickle audience for most cultural organizations regardless of city – this “staycation” number is good to see. The “travel and stay overnight with friends and family” number is also important as it relates to local audiences. Word of mouth endorsements and reviews from trusted resources play a big role in visitation. Engaging local supporters means that there may be a higher likelihood that those friends and family members will bring their visitors to your organization.

For those organizations that depend heavily on local audiences, the nearly 50% of folks that prefer to travel out of the area may be of interest. After all, if they are leaving your market, they aren’t visiting.

For all of us, that “stay home” number isn’t great. Simply put, 24.4% of the US composite would simply prefer to stay home than go out. Yikes!

 

How do people prefer to spend a free weekend?

But Americans don’t tend to have (or take) tons of vacation time. What about how people prefer to spend their weekend? There’s a little bit of good news here for cultural organizations when it comes to ‘staycation’ preference, but mostly it’s a point for Netflix…

Almost HALF of the US composite prefers to stay home rather than travel or explore their city. Of course, the ‘staycation’ numbers go up, and this is a good thing for many organizations – but those ‘stay home’ numbers are alarming!

For those wondering, “How are high-propensity visitors a part of the couch contingent?! I thought they profile as likely visitors!” They do profile as folks who would be interesting in visiting. They simply prefer the couch. (To be a likely visitor does not mean that the thing that you want to do most is necessarily visit a museum, for instance. And having propensity to visit doesn’t mean that they even will visit – it means that there’s potential to be motivated to visit. Simply, an organization may not have hit the right chord yet.) High-propensity visitors in the ‘stay home’ category are still potential visitors – but they need to be made aware of the opportunity and better motivated to go out in the first place. These individuals may know, for instance, that they’d like to binge watch Stranger Things. They may NOT yet know of what is going on at your organization. High-propensity visitors in this category are a marketing and communications opportunity. (We’ll talk about this more a bit later when we discuss what folks are actually doing when they stay home.)

 

How has the preference for staying home grown over time?

Has the ‘stay home’ group consistently made up the same percentage of the population in recent years? In other words, how has the percentage of folks who prefer to stay home changed over time? Let’s look at the change for free time preference during a week off of school or work.

It’s increased. In fact, it’s increased quite a bit since 2011! There has been a 17.3% increase in the desire to stay home vs. go out for the US composite! Yes, if given a week of vacation time, there’s been growth in the number of people who don’t want to “go on” vacation! They would rather stay home!

What about the change in people who would rather stay home over the weekend?

Yikes! Those with the preference to stay home over the weekend has grown 19.4% for the US composite since 2011.

There are a couple of reasons for the increased desire to stay home. The first is rather obvious: home is comfortable – and you can be more “connected” to others while staying home than ever before. In the past, it wasn’t as easy to be home and still be social – and chat, text, message, tweet, and snap with others.

The second reason is more compelling: There simply are fewer reasons to change out of your pajamas in the first place. In the past, we had to leave home to do our banking, grocery shopping, visit the pharmacy, go get the movies that we wanted to stay home and watch, and purchase gifts. Today, we can do all of that from home. If the only reason to get out of the house is to go to the science museum, for instance, than the science museum needs to be a more compelling reason to put on pants than it was in the past. People may go out less because there’s less reason to go out – and thus the motivations to leave one’s cozy living room must be more compelling.

 

 

What do people do when they stay home? (The good news)

What are these people doing when they stay home?! We asked the folks who reported preferring to stay home what they actually report doing when they stay home.  Here are the percentages of respondents who reported doing each of these activities when they last stayed home.

How is this good news, you ask? People who stay home are still connected to the world and thus, visitor-serving organizations can (and should) aim to reach them. Those who prefer to stay home browse the web, watch TV and sporting events, have friends over, host parties… There are still opportunities to reach these audiences via social media, advertisements, and word of mouth endorsements. (Social media and word of mouth endorsements are particularly powerful in motivating visitation).

There’s an opportunity to “reach this market where they are,” as 33.4% of high-propensity visitors profile as having visitation potential over the weekend, but need stronger motivation. While organizations that highlight their missions outperform those marketing primarily as attractions, there’s a critical opportunity to use ad servers to make sure that targeted audience members get compelling place-based messages. Ads to these audience members still need a “so what?” take-away, but entertainment value is the biggest driver of overall satisfaction, and the goal of reaching this, particular behavioral demographic is to let folks know that they need to have this fun, unique experience in person.

 

The “couch contingent” is growing more and more powerful, and that may strengthen the superpower of cultural organizations as facilitators of shared experiences. We live in a connected world. It may be easy to look at this data and think, “Stay home to watch TV and browse the web?! What is the world coming to?!” However, it’s also important to realize the power of the in-person that exists within this same world. The path forward is not in scoffing at change, but in realizing that it may give our experiences new meaning. Smart organizations can use this information to better target and determine messaging and adapt to our changing world.

 

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

 

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

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

A Simple Framework For Cultivating New Audiences For Cultural Organizations

Because it is difficult to “one-off program” ourselves into long-term solvency.

This week’s fast fact video (A Simple, Guiding Framework for Cultivating New Audiences) aims to cover a big, important topic in a simple, straightforward way. It provides a data-informed framework for how to approach the task of reaching new audiences and cultivating them into regular attendees.

Cultural organizations need to turn new and emerging audiences into regular attendees – and fast. Negative substitution of the historic visitor has created a situation wherein we are losing visitors faster than we are cultivating new ones. Specifically, we have a rather serious millennial engagement problem and – on a related note  – we need to get better at welcoming folks of different racial and ethnic backgrounds than the historic visitor. These problems are urgent and, if we haven’t started cultivating these audiences yet, it’s already going to be difficult to catch up.

So, how can we best approach this important task of engaging new audiences and cultivating them as regular attendees? Well, it’s certainly going to take more effort than slowly chipping away at the issue with one-off engagement programs. It will involve a hard look at what we do and a culture shift  – and looking into some real answers in order to be effective.

At IMPACTS, we use a data-informed framework that we call MAPS. There’s a good amount of data and analysis that fills in this framework, but sharing its outline can help any organization think more strategically about the proper steps for cultivating new audiences. The framework is equally applicable to all organizations regardless of size, city, or operating budget.

This week’s video summarizes the concept nicely, and in a way that can easily be shared in classrooms and meetings for contemplation. That said, I know that some of you “just want the goods,” so I’ve briefly outlined the framework below, which I’ve written about here and spoken about it more in-depth here. That said, this framework is really worth thinking about rather than breezing through.

“Yeah, yeah! Figure out access barriers… blah blah.” NOPE. Pause, please. I’m writing and speaking about this framework because cultural organizations are not carrying out these important steps. Cultural organizations are trying to tackle our industry’s biggest challenge by minimally investing in blind, “we think this might be right” one-off programs – and it’s not working.

Here’s a framework that can be used to help reach young professionals, teens, people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, or any other key demographic in the market today.

 

MAPS FRAMEWORK

 

M = MISSION

The first action item is to underscore your MISSION. That’s the “M” that starts us off. Data suggest that cultural organizations highlighting their missions outperform those marketing primarily as attractions. Here’s the data. Underscoring your mission also usually involves creating compelling stories and differentiating your organization from others.

Highlighting your mission underscores that your organization “walks its talk” and helps build your organization’s reputation – and reputation is a top-five motivator of visitation among high-propensity visitors and the composite market alike. The market is increasingly sector agnostic, meaning folks care more about what you do than they care about your tax status. In sum, your organization’s “so what?” matters. Your mission can help push past some of the noise in today’s world, and draw some positive attention to what you are trying to do and accomplish.

 

A= ACCESS

“A” stands for understanding ACCESS opportunities and barriers. Often, leaders will assume that they have identified – without data- why a certain demographic is or is not visiting an organization. In order to reach new audiences, research and second-guessing assumptions are in order. It’s difficult to reach people when we don’t know with certainty why they aren’t coming and what they want. To figure this out, we need to look at market research – not audience research. Asking about current and historic audiences helps us learn about current audiences and what they like – but that’s not the primary problem for our industry. Successful programs that reach new, not-attending audiences are necessarily dependent upon knowing the true logistical and perceptual barriers of people who are NOT already visiting your organization. They are not members of your audience yet. 

There are a lot of myths to bust about how cultural organizations approach “access.” Simply, here’s how access works. And, critically, admission is not an affordable access program. Also, admission price is not a primary barrier to visitation.  The following data is from IMPACTS and the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study of 104,000 adults and counting (i.e. it is currently and constantly in-market). We asked folks who reported interest in visiting a cultural organization, but who hadn’t visited in the last two years, “Why not?” Here’s the data from the U.S. composite market. Check it out:

Take a look at how low “cost” is as a barrier – specifically for high-propensity visitors! Moreover, schedule is the top driver of visitation that our industry somehow never talks about. Don’t use this data as a cheat. This is big data. In order to create effective programs, we need to conduct market research on the target audience that you are trying to engage and obtain the real, data-informed reasons why they aren’t visiting our organization so that we can aid in removing true barriers. (Hint: Don’t overlook the role of attitude affinities.)

 

P = PERSONALIZED PROGRAMS

Once you’ve understood your access opportunities, creating PERSONALIZED PROGRAMS helps put them into play. That’s the “P” in the MAPS framework. This means understanding that one-size fits all experiences don’t always work – and, likely, your organization is trying to reach several different audiences. Lumping “underserved audiences” together and trying to create catchall programs is not an effective move.

Personalization is increasingly important for cultural organizations. Think about it: Every time you log onto social media or browse the web, ads and statuses that show up are based on an algorithm that is specifically designed to match your interest. That said, though the world is spending more time on screens, personal interactions on site between visitors and staff members are the most reliable way to increase a visitor’s overall satisfaction. When trying to target audiences, it’s important to make sure that we have programs that fit their needs and wants. For example, here’s how millennials are changing up membership structures.

 

S= SHARED EXPERIENCES

Finally, the “S” of the framework stands for facilitating SHARED EXPERIENCES. Data suggest that who visitors are with is more important than what they see when it comes to the best thing about a visit to a cultural organization. It’s important to provide opportunities for connection so that these engaged, new audiences are inspired to share their positive experiences. Remember, cultural organizations are about people, not things. At our best, we are hubs of human connection – and the organizations that thrive are the ones that embrace this superpower.

 

SHARED EXPERIENCES increase overall satisfaction and reputation-related metrics, feeding back into the MISSION category – and this continues the framework on a cycle. Considering mission, access, programs, and sharing creates a cycle that helps cultural organizations help others – and also help themselves. It’s time that we make the large-scale shifts necessary for engaging new audiences an important part of our culture, rather than a thing that we invest in “if we can get the grant.” The fact of the matter is that the market is decreasing in historic visitors and increasing in younger and more diverse audiences, who we are not engaging with cultural organizations at representative rates. We wait to “get the grant” at our own risk. We’re not going to “one-off program” our way out of this big problem. It’s time that we embrace it.

 

I hope that you’ll allow this data-informed framework to help you carry out the important work of cultivating new audiences for your organization.

 

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

 

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

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

Point of Reference Sensitivity in Visitors: How It Affects Your Cultural Organization And What To Do About It

Data suggest that it’s good to to be the first organization that someone visits… but what if yours is the second?

If you’re the best art museum, for instance, then a visitor to art museums should be able to tell, right? Wrong. As it turns out, it’s a bit more complicated. This week’s Know Your Own Bone – Fast Facts video is about firsts… and seconds. And what to do if your organization is second.

You probably remember your first kiss – and your first car, your first love, and a whole host of other firsts. As human beings, we tend to ascribe a premium to firsts – and visits to cultural organizations are no different. Data suggest that first-time visitors to a type of cultural organization – such as a science center – rate their visitor satisfaction higher than those who have visited any other science center before – 18.1% higher, to be exact.

That’s a huge bump! It’s great news for the first cultural organization of its kind that a visitor experiences. Woohoo! We’ll take it! While this value varies slightly based on cultural organization type (history museum vs. aquarium vs. symphony), they tend to hover around this average.

However, the sad side of this coin is that, for no fault of their own, the second (and third, forth…) like-organization that an attendee visits is likely to suffer from significantly lower satisfaction levels than the first. This is a big deal for many obvious reasons, but one of which is the fact that overall satisfaction is a major contributor to overall value perceptions of organizations. Lower satisfaction levels lead to less word of mouth and thus less support and visitation. Yikes!

First time visitors also rate their experiences 14.8% higher in terms of value for cost of admission. That’s another huge bump that’s great for organizations able to benefit from that “first time” magic. 

We call this phenomenon Point of Reference Sensitivity

pors-image-impacts

We noticed this trend at IMPACTS and we gave it a name. Point of Reference Sensitivity suggests that the market’s expectations are being constantly reframed by recent experiences. Essentially, as a person gains familiarity with an experience, it becomes increasingly harder to impress them. While Point of Reference Sensitivity may make logical sense, it’s still a bit of a bummer for the second cultural organization that hosts that visitor.

What is the solution? Be more unique.

Differentiate yourself as an individual organization rather than priding yourself on being like all other such organizations. That may sound overwhelming, but the good news is that we live in a connected world where differentiation may be easier – and more expected – than ever before. It’s a call to organizations to undertake smart experiments and creative programs, and to incorporate avenues for personalization and shared experiences. It’s a call to action to know who your organization is and what it stands for as well as why it is uniquely important. Achieving that “first time” satisfaction bump with every visit means smart integration of trends and awareness of market perceptions. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it all comes back to doing well what you do well – and letting folks know about it!

Those organizations that are most susceptible to Point of Reference Sensitivity are those that believe themselves to be mostly a type of attraction rather than a unique organization. The key to overcoming Point of reference sensitivity is to be yourself. That is how the market determines which organization is “best.”

 

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

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution 1 Comment

Experiencing Millennial Discussion Overload? Here Are Four Things to Remember

Cultural organizations need to reach millennials and that means talking about it – but that talk doesn’t make other generations less important. 

Cultural organizations desperately need to get better at reaching millennials in order to thrive in the future – but in order to have these conversations, we need to clear up some craziness. The aim of this week’s fast facts video is to set the record straight: Talking about the need to reach millennials is responsible and necessary – and adding millennial engagement to important discussion sessions is in no way a dig on older generations because they are extremely important audiences! Talking about millennials does not mean ignoring other generations – and it never has. It seems that all of this millennial talk may be leaving other generations working within the industry feeling confused, frustrated, and maybe a little bit ignored. To feel this way may be based upon a misunderstanding.

Here are four things to remember when your feeling overwhelmed by millennial talk – or maybe even left out by the lack of similar discussion about your own generation.

 

1) MILLENNIAL TALK is code for EVERYBODY TALK

We discuss millennial mindsets so much because they represent a kind of evolution that affects everyone in today’s digital world. “Millennial talk” is often used a bit like an umbrella topic in the discussion about creating twenty-first century cultural organizations – so talk about transparency, social consciousness, personalization, and connectivity often get attributed to millennials. Really, though, these are growing expectations among all audiences.

Sometimes it seems as though organizations label market trends as “millennial talk” in order to somehow dilute conversations about necessary evolution. Calling large-scale trends that affect all generations (like digital connectivity) “millennial talk” may make them seem less looming and perhaps less urgent. But they aren’t. We millennials could easily look back at other generations and say, “Wait! You increasingly care about connectivity and impact, too! Why are organizations pinning all of their inconvenient calls to evolve on our generation alone?!” Part of getting over the “millennial talk” is realizing that it’s not “millennial talk” at all. It’s “market reality” talk.

 

2) Millennials are the only generation that cultural organizations are NOT reaching at representative rates

We talk about millennials so much because cultural organizations (museums, zoos, aquariums, theaters, symphonies, botanic gardens, etc.) need to reach them. Pause. Real talk: We really need to reach millennials. Millennials represent the largest generation in human history, and we’re also the only generation not visiting these organizations at representative rates. On top of that, millennials are also our most frequent generational visitors. This is a unique situation! Millennials are our most prevalent current audiences, but they are also the audiences we need to better engage. (In other words, they are visiting the most, but when we look at the US population, they should be coming much more.) This unique situation is one that must be addressed in order for organizations to thrive in the future. When we look at the size of this population and their make-up, preferences, and lack of representative engagement, it’s very clear to see that if we don’t start reaching millennials at representative rates, cultural organizations will have a very rough and unsustainable future.

 

3) Millennial engagement has nothing to do with ignoring other generations (We NEED them!)

Adding “millennial talk” to generational discussions sometimes seems to make other generations defensive.  The discussion about the need to attract millennials has NOTHING to do with ignoring other generations. (Has it ever?) Baby boomers still make up a good portion of our audiences and they have noteworthy giving capabilities. Generation X engagement remains stable and consistent (and this generation, in particular, deserves a bit more love). When we talk about attracting millennials, we are NOT encouraging organizations to forget about everyone else. Organizations have been talking about and focusing on reaching Baby Boomers for fifty years and that conversation isn’t stopping. It shouldn’t! But adding another generation to the discussion at some point – especially a generation even larger than the Baby Boomers – seems reasonable and inevitable. Certainly, there has to be a way to talk about new generations without other generations feeling personally offended. We need all of our audience members! We need to add generations to the discussion. To replace discussions about other generations – and especially to ignore them – would be irresponsible.

 

4) Strategies for engaging millennials do not generally alienate other demographics

See point one. We at IMPACTS collect a lot of data, but we cannot find any that directly suggests that an organization having programs aimed at attracting millennials particularly alienates other generations on the whole. Again, trends that we are seeing in regard to millennials increasingly appeal to older generations as well. We simply aren’t seeing signs that a majority of Baby Boomers really hate transparency, personalization, social consciousness, or digital connection. It doesn’t mean that they necessarily prioritize or make decisions based upon them as much as millennials do. But, as it turns out, this whole “Internet thing” has affected all of us and has changed up what we expect from organizations.

 

When we in the industry underscore the need to reach millennials, we’re not digging on Baby Boomers or Generation X (or Traditionalists or Generation Z)! We need these visitors and supporters! But NOT discussing millennials – this new, large, underserved generation that holds the key to our future – would be irresponsible. In fact, ignoring millennials would be just as irresponsible as ignoring those generations that are already engaging with us.

 

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 Fast Facts Video, Millennials, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends Leave a comment

Three Data-Informed Reasons to Love Gen X Visitors to Cultural Organizations

Thank you, Gen X. Just… Thank you.

Let’s be honest: Generation X is squeezed in between two large, noisy, and rather needy generations – and we spend a lot of time talking about these millennial and baby boomer visitors to cultural organizations. But what about Generation X? 

That’s what this week’s Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts Video is all about!

Generation X visitation behaviors often get the short end of the stick when it comes to getting attention in staff meetings and board rooms within cultural organizations. It doesn’t help that Generation X is a comparatively small generation that is just over half the size of Generation Y – the largest living generation that now makes up the majority of the US labor force. When we discuss millennials and baby boomers, we’re simply talking about much larger generational cohorts than Generation Y. It’s not a good excuse to overlook this generation by any means, but it’s a reality. It’s an especially bad excuse when we take a moment to pause and consider the great qualities that this generation brings to the table in terms of visitation.

It’s time that we give this generation some of the love that it deserves! Generation X has three, particularly helpful characteristics for cultural organizations – and they deserve a big THANK YOU for bringing them to the table.

 

1) Generation X visits cultural organizations

Aside from the comparatively small size of this generation, another reason why organizations tend not to discuss Generation X nearly as much is precisely why we should be thanking them: Generation Y is a comparatively drama-free generation when it comes to visiting cultural organizations. We millennials aren’t attending organizations at representative rates even though we make up a majority of visitation and Baby Boomers are also a rather large and difficult bunch when it comes to cultural engagement. Generation X, though, is visiting cultural organizations without a fuss!

The chart below considers the percentage of the US adult population (informed by the US census) made up by Millennials, Generation X, Baby Boomers, and Traditionalists in green. Alongside that bar, it shows the percentages of these generations visiting cultural organizations in orange, informed by the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study. Generation X visits cultural organizations at the most over-representative rates among the three generations. It should be noted that Traditionalists also visit cultural organizations at noteworthy rates. Among the largest three generations, however, Generation X shows that drama-free is the way to be.

­

IMPACTS representative visitation by age demographic

While this generation’s awesomeness in the “representative visitation” department may be a reason why tend not to fret about them, it’s also a darn good reason to give them a shout-out. Thank you, members of Generation X, for visiting cultural organizations – fuss-free.

 

2) Generation X is decisive when it comes to online advertising for cultural organizations

The comparative decisiveness of Generation X means that this generation gives organizations the most bang for their online advertising buck. This saves cultural organizations money, and we like that. We like that very much.

The chart below comes from IMPACTS Research. It indicates the average number of ads delivered to online users from the retargeting campaigns of six cultural organizations before the user clicked on the advertisement. Generally speaking, the more frequently an organization has to deliver an ad, the more expensive things get. If you work in online advertising then you know that these numbers add up!

IMPACTS Frequency of impression before click on cultural online ad

Compared to millennials, targeted members of Generation X require nearly 42% fewer impressions in order to click on an ad. Our nonprofit budgets thank you, Generation X, for not dilly-dallying around.

 

3) Generation X is most likely to purchase or renew a membership to a cultural organization

Could Generation X visitors to cultural organizations get any better? You bet. Members of Generation X are more likely to purchase or renew memberships to cultural organizations than millennials and baby boomers – and traditionalists, too. In fact, members of Generation X are 11% more likely to purchase or renew a membership than are millennials, and they are 26% more likely to purchase or renew a membership than baby boomers. Those are noteworthy numbers!

IMPACTS Intent to purchase or renew membership by age demographic

As a heads-up to regular KYOB readers, it’s worth noting that “intent to purchase” is a different metric than “strongly considering membership.” When it comes to unrealized potential to secure a greater number of memberships, millennials take the lead (perhaps making us appreciate Generation X all the more in this respect)!  Data suggest that interest remains unrealized to its optimal potential largely because the types of membership programs that millennials want from cultural organizations largely don’t exist/aren’t particularly mainstream in the industry yet. That said, with index values over 100, millennials are currently noteworthy members to cultural organizations as well. This Generation X number is critical because the number IS so high, comparatively. The take-away isn’t that membership structures don’t need to evolve like everything else, but rather than Generation X is a terrific audience that is undervalued, perhaps, in their intent to purchase or renew the types of memberships that organizations generally offer.

 

Millennials and baby boomers are demanding a lot of industry discussion right now and perhaps that’s why we’re not discussing Generation X as much: They are stable and reliable audiences. It’s time that we take a moment and thank Generation X for being awesome.

Thank you, Generation X, for being awesome.

 

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

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fast Facts Video, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 5 Comments

The Two Most Important Mindset Shifts For Engaging Millennials

These two, simple mental shifts are the foundation for engaging millennials (…and everyone else, too).

This week’s Know Your Own Bone fast facts video is the result of a simple question that I was asked during a workshop with a client organization: “Overall, what are the most important “big-picture” things to keep in mind in regard to engaging millennials?”

Darn. Good question! There’s so much information going around about how to engage millennials within cultural organizations right now – and for a dang good reason. Millennials are both the most underserved age demographic visiting (or rather, not visiting) museums – and millennials ALSO manage to be our most frequent visitors. (Here’s the data.) It’s a unique and urgent situation and it’s one that all visitor-serving organizations need to be aware of right now. Our behavioral attributes also make us very smart audiences to engage and the things that we want from organizations are a wee bit different than what other generations are looking for. In a nutshell, there’s a lot of critical information to know. But at the end of the day, what information is most critical?

Successfully engaging millennials is about strategy – not tactics. No, the answer is not simply, “use social media” or “serve cocktails after hours.” Those tactics are meaningless without understanding guiding strategy. If those things worked on their own, we wouldn’t have the huge “millennial problem” that we have. And remember folks, Pokemon Go is a fad – not a trend.

If you’re getting overwhelmed, here are two, big picture takeaways that will improve your organization’s ability to effectively reach millennials. There are a lot of great things to know from here, but these two take-aways encompass most of the others. Keep these two mental updates in mind:

 

Text - talk with audiences - Know Your Own Bone

Cultivating a deep-rooted mentality of talking WITH audiences instead of AT audiences can make a world of difference. Millennials – and increasingly, everyone else – are an extremely connected bunch and the web has changed how people interact with organizations. Today, institutions have real-time feedback mechanisms and they can listen and directly speak with their members and potential visitors. This shift means approaching everything – exhibits, communications, and programs, for instance- as conversations, not as announcements.

It may sound like a subtle difference or maybe even a matter of wording, but it’s actually a big cultural shift for organizations. After all, in the past, talking AT audiences – through TV or radio spots or even exhibits, for instance – was our primary means of reaching audiences. The channels that millennials and everyone else are using talk WITH audiences. Unfortunately, just because some leaders may have more experience with “talk at” channels doesn’t make them more relevant to our audiences. Third party endorsements drive your organization’s reputation – and organizations can speak WITH these endorsers on our newer communication channels.

This quick tip umbrellas the important personalization trends that we are seeing with the market. And this tip does not only apply to marketing! Programs, exhibits, and performances benefit by adopting this mindset as well. This doesn’t mean that everything needs to be unnecessarily interactive, but it does mean that we need to consider that while our organization may be able to declare importance, it is the market that determines relevance. It’s not a matter of “dumbing” anything down, but of finally acknowledging that people matter to our organizations and our missions. And not only uppity cultural gatekeeper people! The totally curious and awesome and not-necessarily PhDed people that we are trying to serve and “spark” in order to fulfill our missions (and remain financially solvent) matter, too! (Matter more? I’ll let you decide for your own organization…)

 

Text - Ask so what - Know Your Own Bone

We live in a world with a lot of noise. So before creating something new, rolling out a new initiative, or even posting to social media, it helps to ask, “So what?” or “Why does this matter to other people?” Helpful hint: the answer probably has something to do with your organization’s mission.

Millennials – and again, increasingly everyone else – are socially conscious consumers. To these folks, your organization’s mission matters. Approaching exhibits, programs, and messaging while asking ourselves “So what?” can help us create connections that are meaningful and impactful. Making this thought process a part of our organization’s culture can help cut through the noise. The things that we post, share, create, display, and perform cannot just have meaning to us – they need to have meaning for our audiences in order to inspire action.

Asking, “so what?” forces your organization to think strategically – and it’s when organization’s don’t first answer this question that they end up with “one-off” tactics for reaching millennials like a social media competition. Incorporating fads can be a smart idea- but it’s a matter of tactics. Long term engagement of this new and huge audience is a matter of strategy – and that runs deeper than using emojis in a new exhibit (for instance). Incorporating these tactics is only valuable insofar as they are relevant to audiences and spark a connection that is aligned with your mission (to educate, to inspire, to get them coming back, etc.)

 

Millennials are a critical audience for cultural organizations to engage and there is a LOT of work to do. I say this despite the very desperate want by some to believe that Pokemon Go will stay this popular until the end of time and that the last survivors on earth will be cockroaches and Pokemon Go. (Millennial cockroaches playing Pokemon Go and visiting museums? That seems to be the hope.) Certainly, there are lessons to be learned and built from fads but my point is this one: We need to reach millennials and things are sounding complicated. At the end of the day, remembering that we need to keep our audiences in mind and we need to consider how we connect with them is most important. In today’s world, organizations will benefit by incorporating a culture of talking WITH audiences and asking themselves, “How is this meaningful to these audiences?”

Sounds simple, right? That’s because “reaching millennials” is often used as industry code for “adapting to the new realities of our connected world.” Doing THAT is what engages this huge audience – and everyone else. Let’s hop to it.

 

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

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fast Facts Video, Millennials, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 2 Comments

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:

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

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:

 

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