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, childrens), 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, organizations “This does not apply to me” this data at their 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.
Local audiences believe that the value of the visitor experience is less worthy of the organizations 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.
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 is 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.