Marketing to adults increases visitation even if much of your current visitation comes from people visiting with children. Here’s why.
I’ve recently written quite a bit about the barriers to visitation for likely visitors to cultural organizations such as museums, zoos, aquariums, science centers, symphonies, ballets, and other mission-driven, visitor-serving entities. Generally, data do not suggest drastic differences in identified barriers among organization types. In other words, critical barriers to visitation – such as schedule conflicts, travel challenges, etc. – tend to be rather similar, regardless of if you are looking at data cut for a history museum or a ballet. When it comes to nailing down and overcoming barriers to visitation, some emerge as more frequent barriers than others (such as preferring an alternative activity), but a barrier is a barrier. If data suggest that something is stopping people who we’d like to welcome from coming in the door to our organization, we generally want to break up that blockage.
So let’s share information today on how to knock down one of those blockages. Namely, the misconception that certain visitor-serving experiences (aside from children’s museums) are “not for adults” or ”only for kids.”
Being perceived as a place only for kids is barrier to visitation
One barrier to visitation that reliably emerges in the data is the perception of an organization as being “only for kids,” and, by extension, less suited for adults. While this finding is applicable to many types of visitor-serving organizations, it may prove especially relevant for aquariums, science centers and science museums, and zoos. Here’s why (for science centers and science museums, in this case):
With an index value of 163.7, being perceived as “not for adults” is nearly a 3.5x greater perceptual barrier to visitation to a science center or science museum than is cost. While “not for adults” is a perceptual barrier among many different types of cultural organizations, it’s a biggie for science centers and science museums. It’s also an important barrier for zoos and aquariums. That said, again, it’s still a barrier for many types of organizations and, thus, it’s one that many types of organizations may want to knock down regardless of reported index value.
Being perceived as “not for adults” is also a contributory reason why some organizations are experiencing negative substitution of their historic visitors. It has been well-documented that millennials are having fewer kids and having them later in life. In a nutshell, there’s a massive generation who have grown up and are no longer going to organizations perceived as “not for adults” (because they’re now adults themselves). They also aren’t (re)producing another massive generation to keep the kid-flow going strong for those organizations that are perceived as “only for kids.”
How to overcome perceptions of being not for adults
There is hopeful news – organizations can work to overcome this perception. Here’s the hack: Market to couples and other adults visiting without children.
“But our main audiences are families!” Yup. For some organizations, they are and that’s great. And they are going to keep coming – which is also great. IMPACTS has observed that organizations that market to couples and other adults generally manage to sustain their respective levels of family visitation. How is this so? Well, as the data attest, there exists a strong belief that many organizations are innately suitable for children. Marketing to families is a bit like proselytizing the church choir.
The risk of marketing solely or primarily to families is that these messages may serve to promulgate a perceptual barrier to engagement. And, in turn, this barrier may diminish an organization’s overall market potential. Here is the finding of note: The data suggest that appropriate adult-targeted marketing does not generally risk alienating families, but family-targeted marketing risks alienating couples and other adults.
1) Adults without children favor marketing messages that target adults instead of children (but adults with children assess both concepts similarly)
These data come from concept testing that IMPACTS performed on behalf of a client organization. The organization’s advertising agency developed five similar concepts – three targeting families (i.e. adults visiting with children) and two targeting couples and other adults visiting without children. Favorability is a measure of the overall “like-ability” of a concept. If the market does not perceive the campaign concept as favorable, then it is extremely unlikely to respond to its message and call to action.
These data (like the balance of the data in this article) are indicated as index values. Index values are a means of quantifying proportionality and relativity between assessed conditions, and they are a helpful way to benchmark and measure differences. Typically, a base measure (e.g. an average) is expressed as a value of 100, and all other data points are quantified in relation to the base measure. When quantifying perceptions such as favorability and actionability, values greater than 100 are good/the aim (with higher values being proportionality more favorable or actionable).
While it’s probably not surprising that folks without kids favor messages without kids, the difference is notable. None of the three concepts targeting families had index values over 100 for adults without children in the household. However, adults with children in the household indicated remarkably similar favorability perceptions of couples-based concepts as did those adults without children in the household! These data affirm that marketing to adults does not necessarily alienate families. The market implicitly understands that many visitor-serving organizations are very effective at serving families.
2) Adults without children are more likely to act on marketing messages that target adults instead of families (but adults with children are equally likely to act on either)
As we’ve seen, there’s a difference in how much those with children and those without children favor messages that target families. That makes sense! But does it affect actionability? Actionability is a measure of the market’s likelihood and intention to respond to the campaign’s call to action (e.g. visit). Though the data below generally match the data shared above, favorability and actionability don’t always align. You can like a message and still report that you’re not any more likely to engage with that product, service, or experience based on the message. Think of some Super Bowl commercials! For instance, I’m one of those people who flipping loved PuppyMonkeyBaby in 2016. (I know it’s weird. I cannot explain it.) That said, I’m not any more likely to purchase Mountain Dew Kickstart. (I’m a sample size of one person, though, and that’s not a thing. However, I think this example demonstrates why actionability is an important metric to consider alongside favorability.)
Those without children in the household are simply less likely to act on messaging that targets families. Folks with kids in the household were just as likely to act in response to the concepts that primarily depicting couples as those primarily depiciting families.
3) Case Study A: Aquarium
So you’ve seen these data and you – hopefully – understand the value of concept testing. The next, smart question to ask is, “Does this strategy actually work?” Good question. I like the way you think.
To tackle this, I’d like to share three case studies from real life IMPACTS clients. Again, we’re looking at index values. I have expressed annual attendance numbers as index values as a means of both comparing performance and also helping to protect the identities of the organizations. In this usage, index values serve as a means of comparing relative performance across platforms (i.e. different organization types, different attendance volumes, different geographies, etc.). In other words, it’s a means of standardizing for the sake of comparison. (Math lovers: This index value is determined by taking the average annual attendance of the contemplated years, dividing any one year’s attendance by the average, and then multiplying that value by 100.)
The first case study is from an aquarium client. In the charts, the shaded period indicates years 2006-2011 during which the focus of the organization’s marketing efforts primarily targeted families with children. As indicated, for years 2006-2016, family visitation (i.e. travel parties including children under the age of 18) has remained essentially stable during the assessed duration.
However, commencing in year 2012 when the organization updated its marketing efforts to better engage potential visitors traveling without children, annual adult visitation (i.e. adults visiting without children under the age of 18) increased by an average of 20.0%. And it didn’t negatively affect visitation from those with children in the household.
4) Case Study B: Science Museum
These data are from a science museum client. As in the last chart, the shaded region represents the time period during which the organization was promulgating predominately family-related messages. In 2012, this organization shifted to a campaign more contemplative of adult audiences, and attendance from adults without children in the household increased. Again, attendance from visitors with children in their respective households remained stable.
5) Case Study C: Zoo
We cannot forget zoos! You know the drill: The shaded region represents the time period during which this organization was primarily focused on targeting families. As you may expect by now, attendance from adults (and, thus, overall attendance) increased when the organization changed its messaging to more effectively target adults. Again, attendance from those with children in the household remained stable.
Supporting childhood education is a big part of many-an-organization’s mission, and organizations that highlight their missions outperform those marketing primarily as attractions. However, shifting demographics suggest a need for cultural organizations to rethink the means and messages that they use to engage their audiences. Being considered a place “only for kids” is completely different than being considered a place that “plays a role in supporting childhood education.” Places that are perceived as for children need not be the only types of organizations that support children. According to those who profile as likely visitors, a place that’s fun for adults may still be fun for kids. However, the reverse may not perceptually hold true.
On a personal note, this finding always reminds me of what was undoubtedly the worst job interview I’ve ever had. I was trying to line up a full-time gig after college graduation and was granted an interview to be a floor staff manager at a children’s museum. For the interview, I had to be observed interacting with children while wearing a laminated sign around my neck that read, “UNACCOMPANIED ADULT.” Though children’s museums are a different situation, I cannot say that it was a feel-good experience. It’s creepy to be that person. Loud, laminated sign or not, it’s probably not a feeling for which likely adult visitors to cultural organizations would sign up – let alone pay admission.
And, chances are, adults can and do have fun visiting your organization! This data isn’t to say that it’s necessarily a good idea to cease all messaging related to families. Simply, there’s visitation to be gained and audiences to be welcomed by taking on another approach and not only promulgating messages about and around family groups. If we want more than family groups to come through our doors, it’s time to underscore more directly that other individuals and group types are every bit as welcome.