Here are three, data-backed superpowers that cultural organizations possess that inform the operations of private companies.
Ask anyone who knows me personally, and they’ll tell you that I’m big on superpowers. At the risk of revealing my dorkiness, I believe that each person has unique talents and superpower characteristics, and I introduce my colleagues by way of their superpowers: “This is Jim Hekkers and his superpower is putting trend data into practice!”
(If this annoys my colleagues – Jim included – they haven’t yet said anything to me about it… yet.)
I’ve recently been sharing a run of data-based “real talk” regarding some tough stuff: How long the attendance bump after a building expansion lasts, lackluster interest in arts and culture among young people, the negative impacts of cutting marketing budgets, and how our industry experts (myself included) exhibit confirmation bias. (Yikes!)
Enough of that. This week, we’ll talk superpowers.
Cultural organizations have a lot of them! Today I’ll share three potentially overlooked superpowers that are proving particularly interesting for private companies in today’s connected world.
Visitor-serving organizations are innovators
One point of proof that nonprofits provide clues for private and government entities is the very existence of my job with IMPACTS. IMPACTS is a private company of approximately 85 professionals working predominantly with entertainment and policymaking entities. As I explain in the About KYOB page on this website, visitor-serving organizations are R&D for IMPACTS.
Think about it: In order to visit a museum, a person might need to take their children out of soccer practice, load the kids in the car, travel into the city, park the car, play real-life Frogger crossing a busy street, keep spirits up while exploring educational exhibits, fend off hunger pangs, avoid (or embrace) the gift shop, etc. There’s so much good stuff to understand about consumer motivations in these behaviors – and we’re not even discussing philanthropic giving yet! Gathering and understanding this information helps IMPACTS better serve our for-profit and policymaking clients (not to mention, our select visitor-serving clients!) – and that’s why the data shared on this website is valuable to IMPACTS.
For-profit entities are interested in this data. Why? Studying perceptions and behaviors related to visitors and attendees to cultural organizations provides important clues as to market trends and behaviors writ large.
Running a cultural organization in today’s world is hard, guys. (But, then, I guess that I don’t need to tell you that!)
It takes a keen understanding of visitor motivations and behavioral economics in order to entice a potential visitor to attend and support a cultural organization.
While we may have a bit of a ways to go to be a data-informed, “outside-in” industry, cultural organizations have many data-proven superpowers! Today, I’ll share the three that are proving most interesting to private and public sector clients. I’m sharing them because they are worth celebrating, to be sure – but they are also worth deeper digging and additional critical thinking.
Slow-moving? Cash-strapped? Unwelcoming? We’ve heard all that. (And we’re working on it! That’s why you visit this site and that’s why I publish it.) While some of the negative perceptions surrounding certain cultural organization types may be true to varying degrees, there are areas in which these organizations shine on the whole. Interestingly, cultural organizations may not have fully embraced these areas!
Here are three areas in which data relating to visitor-serving organizations is making waves in other (potentially less cash-strapped) sectors.
1) Translating digital engagement into (high stakes) action
Cultural organizations utilize offsite engagement in order to motivate a series of complex behaviors.
Cultural organizations, like nearly all other entities, aim to motivate individuals to act in the best interest of the organization. (This sounds terrible, but it’s the opposite.) Cultural organizations aim to motivate visitation in order to educate and inspire audiences, and (for many) secure admission revenues that allow them to keep their lights on while they do it. They also aim to motivate the behavior of becoming a member and donor so that the organization may ensure its financial health in order to keep executing that mission long into the future. (See? The opposite of terrible.) Cultural organizations aim to educate and inspire – and they also aim to motivate behavior.
The critical role that social media and earned endorsement play in the visitor engagement cycle is eye-opening. Social media can both motivate visitation offsite and also increase onsite satisfaction. The data that we uncover about the role that digital connectivity plays in helping organizations to achieve their goals is important because it tends to be a bit less linear and more complex than motivating the straightforward purchase of a product.
Time is more important than money to potential visitors. Now, consider this: Cultural organizations essentially seek to secure the commitment of a person’s time on the promise that the experience will be worth it – and there’s no returning that time once it is invested. By nature of the fact that many cultural organizations offer an experience, they are playing a high-stakes game with every potential visitor.
Moreover, when some cultural executives think about the time investment of visitors, they tend to overlook the time commitment and planning involved in the entirety of the experience, and only focus on the time spent within the organization’s doors. Access challenges – including (real or perceived) traffic, travel time, and distance – are the second biggest reason why those with reported interest do not make it to cultural organizations.
There needs to be some trust that a cultural experience will be a worthy time investment prior to someone making a visitation decision. Earned endorsements may be the key to this. Social media is important. Leveraging what other people say about an organization beyond the organization’s own paid advertising is important.
But intelligent paid messaging is also a must in the metaphorical formula for motivating visitation. Because what cultural organizations aim to do is rather complicated (comparatively), it’s been helpful to consider how these entities may effectively motivate behavior.
This information is interesting to non-cultural clients. It opens their eyes (and ours) to how to influence and motivate decision making in today’s world.
2) Securing trust
Cultural organizations are perceived as highly credible sources of information in a divided time.
Cultural organizations are more trusted than newspapers. US audiences do not view the missions of cultural organization types to have a political agenda, and – perhaps most interesting of all – they believe that cultural organizations should recommend action on behalf of those missions.
In a world of alternative facts, cultural organizations serve as a perceived beacon of truth. That’s a big responsibility and a hard-earned superpower.
Conversations surrounding this topic are critical and include discussion relating to maintaining high levels of trust during turbulent times, potentially politicized content areas, and anything and everything that has to do with integrity. We’ve seen museums march with Pride and stand up for science, as well as experience a reputation boost by standing up for their mission. We’ve also seen organizations back out of the conversation, have board leadership called into question, and some bigger entities struggle with how they broach climate change. Those integrity conversations need to happen…and they are happening. How an organization tackles these issues is their own prerogative.
There’s one finding that keeps resurfacing, though: Standing up for an organization’s mission matters.
When other client types frustratingly ask, “Does anyone trust any entity type today?!” The answer is “Yes. They trust cultural organizations – and particularly museums.”
Will cultural organizations keep this superpower? I sure hope so. And you can trust that we’re keeping an eye on the data.
3) Facilitating shared experiences
Cultural organizations connect people to one another and the world around them.
If you follow this website, or if you’ve been to one of my keynote presentations or workshops, then you already know all about the importance of this (often overlooked) superpower.
Yes, we live in a digitally connected world. Likely visitors to cultural organizations are particularly “super-connected” with access to the web at home, at work, and on a mobile device.
Yes, museums pride themselves on their exhibits and collections. Zoos and aquariums pride themselves on their living environments. Theaters, symphonies, and ballets pride themselves on their performances. What people see is important.
That said, who people are with is more important than what they see when they visit a cultural organization. At our best, cultural organizations are facilitators of shared experiences. Face-to-face communications matter. In fact, they may matter most.
Positive interactions with frontline staff and volunteers are the single most reliable way to increase visitor satisfaction. Negative interactions with representatives are the single worst thing about a visit to both exhibit-based and performance-based organizations alike.
The data attendant to these findings underscores a unique advantage for cultural organizations: Real-life face time. After all, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” This is also an important reminder for cultural organizations and other entities alike not to get swept up in technology, but to remember that effective technology is about people.
When floor staff, ushers, or interpreters are good, they can make things great.
Of course, there are a lot of changes for cultural organizations to consider embracing in order to effectively and consistently thrive in an advanced, data-based, and connected marketplace.
…But cultural organizations are the work-homes of those whom I believe are among the most passionate, big-hearted, tireless, and driven workers in the world. The business models of cultural organizations may be changing, and executives may be growing more aware of opportunities to ensure long-term solvency that will allow them educate and inspire people for decades to come. This is exciting!
Cultural organizations may be fighting negative perceptions both externally and internally. Externally, they may be perceived as unwelcoming, boring, or slow-moving by some. Within the working world, cultural organizations may be perceived as low paying, professionally exhausting, or housing hierarchical structures that hinder evolution.
For one moment, let’s pause all that and acknowledge two realities (affirmed by outside sectors and coming from an author who is also technically outside the sector):
1) The work of educating and inspiring audiences is complicated, important, and hard work.
2) Cultural organizations are leaders.
Thanks for doing what you do.