Organizations mistakenly identify underserved audiences based more on ethnicity and race than what these audiences consider their most distinctive attribute – age.
Cultural organizations (i.e. museums, performing arts organizations, aquariums, historic sites, etc.) are experiencing a phenomenon known as negative substitution of their historic visitors. Simply put, more people who share qualities with historic visitors are leaving the market than are being replaced. In essence, the US market is running lower and lower on older, white people. This means that organizations need to update and broaden the profiles of our typical visitors now in order to thrive in the future.
We need to engage new audiences and make them our regular audiences. Specifically, we need to get better at reaching two broad “types” of people: millennials and “minority-majorities.” Really, though, we need to reach millennials – because the “minority-majorities” that aren’t representatively visiting cultural organizations are overwhelmingly millennials.
There has been an increasing amount of talk about so-called “minority-majority” populations in the US. In general, the phrase “minority-majority” describes a population cohort that has traditionally comprised a minority of the US population, but has recently grown to represent an emerging majority of the US population. An example on a national level are children under the age five – of whom 50.2% (i.e. the majority) represent historic ethnic and racial minorities (e.g. Hispanic, African American, Asian, etc.)
Today, four states (California, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Texas) and the District of Columbia are minority-majority. Additionally, 13 of the 40 largest US metropolitan areas are minority-majority.
Even the connotation of the phrase “minority-majority” risks further confusing the matter. In the past, minority populations were defined primarily by race. As the US grows ever more ethnically and racially diverse, emerging minority-majority populations are increasingly defined by age.
Let’s dive into some data that can help us better reach young people, and in doing so, engage people of more diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds:
1) Minority-majority audiences are young
According to July 2014 US Census Bureau data, there were 148.6 million people in the US under the age of 35 – or, 46.6% of the total US population! If you further organize these data and exclude more elderly populations, there were 299 million persons in the US under the age of 75…and half of them were aged 34 or younger.
Millennials and minority-majorities are a huge part of the same audience. Data indicate that nearly 22% of adult millennials have visited a cultural organization in the US within the past year. However, as millennials comprise approximately 30% of the US adult population, the data suggest that millennials are representatively underserved as a cultural audience.
Millennials are clearly an emerging audience, yet, all too often, conversations concerning emerging audiences seem to focus less on age and more on race as an indicator of underserved populations. When we talk about millennials, we are also talking about the 47.35% of millennials that are NOT White non-Hispanic.
Why do organizations seem to think of white millennials as millennials, and distinguish millennials of other ethnic or racial backgrounds primarily as minority-majorities?
Kind of weird, right?
The Hispanic population of the United States as of July 2014 totaled 55.4 million, making people of Hispanic origin the nation’s largest ethnic or racial minority. In addition, Census Bureau data indicate that Hispanics, with a median age of 29 years, are younger than most other racial or ethnic groups. By comparison, the median age for non-Hispanic Whites in 43. (The median age for non-Hispanic Blacks is 34, and the median age for Asians is 36.)
Because Generation X is such a relatively small generational cohort, youth has only recently started to demographically prevail. One could argue that young people are the emerging minority-majority population in the US.
2) Millennial audiences are generally underserved by cultural organizations regardless of race
Representative visitation is an issue for nearly all millennial audiences, not only minority-majorities. These data suggest that perhaps the notion of “underserved audiences” has less to do with historic definitions based on ethnicity and race, and much more to do with a generational disengagement.
The above chart indicates that most US adult millennials are underserved in terms of representative cultural participation…regardless of race or ethnicity. Excepting the relatively modest number of adult millennial Pacific Islanders, Native Alaskans, and American Indians, only adult millennial Asians representatively participate in US cultural organizations. The three largest racial cohorts (i.e. White non-Hispanic, Black or African American, and Hispanic) – comprising nearly 90% of the US adult millennial population – are all massively underserved.
Why is this the case? I posit that it is because organizations observe that they’re not representatively engaging these audiences and think of it as a matter of race and not a generational disconnect. If it were solely a matter of race, then White non-Hispanics would be representatively participating…but they’re not.
3) Millennials generally do not consider race to be a primary defining attribute
Perhaps one of the reasons that cultural organizations are not representatively engaging minority-majority audiences is because we are developing engagement strategies and programming based on assumptions concerning culture and heritage. We miss the mark when we decide that ethnicity matters most to this audience. We would be better served to understand that we need strategies based on the psychographic and behavioral attributes of a generation that does not consider ethnicity as a primary differentiator. After all, this generation is nearly 50% not “white!”
Take a look at this data from the National Awareness, Attitudes & Usage Study of more than 98,000 persons (including more than 24,000 millennials):
When asked to describe themselves, millennials generally did not self-describe based on ethnic or racial criteria. (The sole exception were Black or African American millennials, and even in this example, racial identity was not their most frequent self-descriptor. Black or African American millennials identify with being young more frequently than they self-describe based on race.)
To more representatively engage young Hispanics as an emerging audience, for instance, significantly more attention should be focused on the “young” part of the equation and less attention on the “Hispanic” descriptor (which doesn’t show up as a frequent self-description by Hispanic millennials). In order to better connect with emerging audiences, organizations need to see these audiences as these audiences see themselves. Otherwise, organizations risk a massive disconnect with the very audiences with whom they are trying to engage.
Interestingly, most every other word that these groups use to describe themselves could apply to other generations. Youth is their self-described unique attribute.
Also, adult millennial audiences self-identify as “young” before they generally identify by their gender! (Perhaps this also helps to explain the rise of the transgender rights movement at this moment in US history. Transgender persons have always existed…why is it that now the movement finds increasing acceptance and salience? It may be because millennials – the largest generation in US history – identify as “tolerant” and “friendly” and “kind” and “hopeful” ahead of their own gender!)
Millennial cohorts identifying themselves as “friendly” and “kind” is great for cultural organizations! It underscores much of what we know: To millennials (and, increasingly, to all audiences), your organization’s mission matters! This finding also aligns with millennial wants for membership programs.
4) There is no meaningful difference in visitor satisfaction based upon race
The data below indicate overall satisfaction for adult millennials segmented by race – and shows that there is no meaningful distinction in overall satisfaction based on race. These data, too, come from the National Awareness, Attitudes & Usage Study.
Regardless of race, millennials visiting cultural organizations are generally satisfied. So our engagement challenge is not one of content – millennials of all races enjoy the experience once they have been engaged. This finding suggests that the improvement opportunity lies more at the top of the engagement funnel.
In other words, having special Cinco de Mayo programming (i.e. content) may not necessarily better engage Hispanic millennial audiences. Having programming that appeals to millennials – regardless of race – is perhaps a better means of engaging with Hispanic millennial audiences. Basically, from an engagement perspective, the operative word in the “Hispanic Millennial” descriptor is “Millennial” and not necessarily “Hispanic.”
I have been party to many conversations with cultural leaders asking, “How do we more representatively engage the African American population of Washington DC?” and “How do we better connect with the Hispanic population in Los Angeles?” These conversations belie the sense that many organizations believe race to be the key differentiator in terms of representative engagement. Instead, these same leaders should be asking themselves, “How do we engage young people in Washington DC?” and “How do we engage young people in Los Angeles?”
If organizations representatively engage young people – members of the most diverse generation in US history – then organizations will also do a much better job of representatively engaging more racially diverse audiences. Again, the median age for Hispanics in the US is 29. The median age for non-Hispanic Whites in the US is 43. Developing strategies to representatively engage young people is a “two birds, one stone” move: Representatively engaging young people concurrently means representatively engaging more racially diverse audiences.
All of this is NOT to say that ethnicity and racial background are unimportant. Cultural and heritage awareness and sensitivity are important considerations for all organizations. And, from an engagement and programming perspective, emerging personalization trends recognize the uniqueness of more diverse audiences. However, the data does suggest that the way we think of our audiences isn’t necessarily the way that they think of themselves. The data suggest that America has never been more of a melting pot…yet too many organizations seem to silo audiences based on increasingly less relevant segmentation criteria such as ethnicity and race. Cultural organizations need to get better at attracting millennials of all races and ethnicities.
In the end, this is good news. It suggests that efforts to representatively engage millennial audiences should reach all millennial audiences. It’s another drop in the bucket for forward-facing organizations prioritizing transparency, social good, connectivity, communication, personalization, and digital engagement.
Audience diversity for cultural organizations is increasingly a function of representatively engaging young people – not necessarily trying to target specific racial or ethnic groups with one-off, race-based programming. If organizations representatively engage young people, in turn, they will engage more racially diverse audiences.