From a visitor’s perspective, which is more important for cultural organizations: Being entertaining or being educational? Here’s the answer.
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 is 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 is 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 – at this point in time – more than 98,000 US adults concerning visitor-serving organizations.)
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 is saying something.
The fact that entertainment value drives visitor satisfaction is cut-and-dry. And any company or organization telling you otherwise is likely paid by an entity that really does not 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 is 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):
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 justify a visit. Successful organizations aim to make education entertaining. It is 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.