Data suggest that a sizable number of people report interest in visiting cultural organizations and yet over thirty percent of those same people do not actually attend.
What is going on? That is the subject of this Know Your Own Bone Fast Fact video. The video summarizes the takeaways, and I encourage you to give it a watch.
Let’s start here: People who report interest in visiting cultural organizations do not always actually attend. This is because interest in visitation and intent to visit are completely different things. Interest is more theoretical and conceptually removes several key barriers to visitation, while intent forces thought about the more logistical reasons why one might not actually attend. Frustrating as it may sound, those logistical reasons are often the primary reason why folks who profile as likely visitors – and who express interest in attending your specific organization – do not necessarily pay your organization a visit. Interest is important for organizations to uncover, but it does not measure intent to visit. Intent to visit contemplates the barriers attendant to visitation and a persons willingness to overcome those barriers within a defined duration. Interest is wishful thinking. (For an example of an intent to visit metric in action, check out last week’s post on the publics intent to visit MoMA after rehanging their permanent collection to highlight artists from countries effected by the original travel ban.) This divide between interest and acting on this interest can be seen in the data below from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study.
While nearly 85% of survey respondents report interest in attending a visitor-serving organization such as a museum, zoo, aquarium, or performing arts center, only 51.8% had visited within the past year. Just as interestingly, only 54.2% had visited within the last two years, indicating that those who visit cultural organizations are those who…well, visit cultural organizations. There is a large group of people who report interest, but arent attending cultural organizations. The question, then, is: Why not?! In a nutshell, it boils down to a particularly important reason – and it is one that we cultural organizations may not altogether deeply internalize:
Visitors to cultural organizations are competitive audiences.
While it may sound obvious, despite having interest, those who do not visit may prefer to do something else. Of those folks who reported interest in visiting a cultural organization, but who had not done so within the past two years, the top reason is because they prefer an alternative activity. This may include an activity such as seeing a movie or sporting event, going jogging, bowling, or even enjoying trivia at a bar with friends. Simply put, for a good number of people interested in visiting a cultural organization, there are many other things that compete for their precious time. And, it seems, some of these other things take precedent. Yes, they are interested in visiting, but they would still rather do something else.
This finding is important because it underscores that there is intense competition for the engagement of people who are willing to leave their homes to do anything at all! These are the same folks being targeted by the film industry, rock concerts, and sports teams. This finding also makes it all the more important for cultural organizations to communicate their brand values and market their unique experiences and missions.
Further underscoring this call to action is the fact that folks increasingly want to stay home. It is not in your head. You really are hearing more and more about people wanting to stay home and marathon watch Stranger Things, This is Us, or Buffy The Vampire Slayer. (Happy 20th Anniversary, Buffy!) In fact, the number of people who have expressed a preference to stay home during a week off from school or work has increased by 17.3% in the past five years. The amount of people who express a preference to stay home over the weekend has increased by 19.4%. I recently wrote a post that shares the trend data on the increasing preference to stay home during ones precious leisure time, and that post and data are worth revisiting.
These are big numbers but all is not lost! Though they may be hanging out on the couch, data suggest that these people are still on the web, talking to friends, and connected to the outside world. There is still an opportunity to engage them if we can compellingly articulate the benefits of our experiences. This is where targeted, personalized communications enabled by technology are the key. Reputation plays an important role in driving visitation to cultural organizations, and potential visitors can still play an active role in taking in and sharing word of mouth endorsements regarding cultural organizations. These data point toward the importance of targeted messaging that underscores the unique experience offered by your organization. Remember, though, your mission matters when it comes to increasing visitation as well. The growing couch contingent is yet another reason why it is important to make sure that your organization is in agreement on its mission, vision, and brand (this may be especially important in todays politicized environment), and investing adequately in audience acquisition.
In addition to movies, sporting events, and a day at the beach, our competition is increasingly the couch and a remote control. The best thing about competition, though? It raises all of our levels of play. Competition brings out the best in us, so long as we work to separate ourselves from the fray. We can do this by reminding would-be visitors that there is no at-home substitute for the wonder, awe, and social connectivity uniquely experienced at a cultural organization.