It is difficult for cultural organizations to “one-off program” themselves 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 is 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 is 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, 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 is 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 have briefly outlined the framework below, which I have 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.” Pause, please. I am 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 is not working.
Here is 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.
M = MISSION
The first action item is to underscore your MISSION. That is the “M” that starts us off. Data suggest that cultural organizations highlighting their missions outperform those marketing primarily as attractions. Here is 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” 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 is difficult to reach people when we don’t know with certainty why they are not 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 is 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 is 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 had not 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 – and specifically for high-propensity visitors! Moreover, schedule is the top driver of visitation that our industry somehow never talks about. 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 have understood your access opportunities, creating PERSONALIZED PROGRAMS helps put them into play. That is the “P” in the MAPS framework. This means understanding that one-size fits all experiences do not 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 onsite between visitors and staff members are the most reliable way to increase a visitor’s overall satisfaction. When trying to target audiences, it is 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 is 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 is 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 is time that we embrace it.
I hope that this data-informed framework will help help you to carry out the important work of cultivating new audiences for your organization.