Half of people in the US who profile as likely visitors to mission-driven, visitor-serving entities do not attend.
What we know about these people may be the key to engaging more diverse audiences.
Data suggest that cultural organizations are getting better at reaching traditional visitors with greater frequency, but are not yet succeeding at representatively engaging new visitors. This is a problem, because traditional visitors are exiting the US market at a faster rate than they are being replaced. If cultural organizations do not get better at cultivating and converting “non-traditional audiences” into regular attendees, these organizations – such as museums and performing arts entities – risk experiencing declining attendance and revenues.
Alright, team. Hold on tight. This is a long article – but it’s important.
This article is about strategy, not tactics. We love tactics. After-hours cocktail events (for example) can be excellent programs, but if they aren’t part of an overarching strategy, they have little ability to retain new audiences after the event ends. Organizations simply aren’t seeing success in their efforts to one-off program themselves to success and it is manifesting itself in attendance data.
High-propensity visitors keep cultural organizations alive
High-propensity visitors are adults with the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood to visit a cultural organization. These are the people who butter our bread and keep our doors open. These are the people who think, “I’d love to see a live theater performance today!” and “Exploring the natural history museum sounds like a good idea!”… or even, “Yeah, going to the botanic garden today works.”
We love high-propensity visitors, because they are the people who have the greatest likelihood of visiting our organizations! And when we do our jobs right, they do visit! They are our real and potential visitors.
The market falls into four categories.
1) Those who attend cultural entities (Historic visitors):
These are the folks who actually come in the door. In data collected by IMPACTS, these are people who have attended any kind of cultural organization (zoo, aquarium, museum, symphony, theater, ballet, etc.) within the past two years. We call these folks “historic visitors” and monitor their attributes by researching their behaviors, perceptions, expectations, and preferences.
Again, these folks need not attend every type of cultural organization within the past 24 months to qualify as historic visitors – they need only to have visited any cultural organization within this duration. (Keep in mind: While allowing for some nuance, the high-propensity visitor profile for many cultural organizations is remarkably similar.)
Don’t let the term “historic visitor” fool you! This is not a stagnant profile – historic visitor profiles are updated in real-time! That said, the profile of a historic visitor tends to lack diversity and has not changed much over the years. In this sense, it’s fair to consider them as “traditional visitors.” They are the people who actually attend our organizations – and possess the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes typical of our visitors.
These are the same audiences most impacted by the negative substitution of our historic visitors. In essence, the United States is growing increasingly diverse with people who do not look, think, or behave like traditional visitors to cultural organizations.
The goal is to make the historic visitor profile more representatively inclusive of emerging audiences. It is for our regular attendees to represent demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that extend beyond what is (still) the norm right now: Upper-middle class, educated, white people. (To be blunt…)
2) Those who are likely to attend but DO NOT attend (Inactive visitors):
These are the folks that profile as having an increased likelihood of coming in the door because they share many characteristics and attributes with historic visitors, but who – for any number of reasons – still have not visited a cultural organization within the last 24 months. In some instances, some of these people may not have visited in the past five years, 10 years…or ever.
Inactive visitors predominately include people from two groups that cultural organizations are not reaching at representative rates: millennials and those of more diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds who have a likelihood to attend, but aren’t. These audiences may be more likely to be “non-traditional visitors” in terms of age and ethnicity (how they look), but not necessarily in terms psychographic or behavioral attributes (how they think and act). In short, these tend to be the more diverse folks who have a likelihood to attend, but are not doing so. They are our gateway to diversity and evolving perceptions of being welcoming entities.
They represent our biggest opportunity for engagement.
Does this mean that there aren’t millennials and some folks of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds in the historic audiences group? Of course not. In fact, millennials make up the greatest percentage of visitation to cultural organizations! Even so, millennials are not visiting at representative rates, and neither are folks from more diverse backgrounds. Historic visitors tend, on the whole, not to be very racially and ethnically diverse.
Try this on for size: 18.7% of black and Hispanic adults aged 25 or older in the United States have a college degree or greater. 26.2% of these same college-educated, ethnically diverse people believe that cultural organizations are “not welcoming for people like me.”
High-propensity visitors are 3.1x more likely to be college educated than the average person! These people are of a different racial or ethnic background than “traditional” audiences, but they also have a key indicator that suggests they would visit a cultural organization.
While it’s tempting to believe that not feeling welcome (negative attitude affinities) is solely a matter of race and ethnicity, data suggest that there’s more to it than this.
About 32% of the US adult population profiles as a high-propensity visitor to cultural enterprise – and, only half of this subset population have actually visited a US cultural organization within the past two years. With approximately 250 million adults in the US, this sizes the market for engagement of our relatively low-hanging fruit (i.e. people profiling as likely attendees but who aren’t actually visiting) at around 40 million people.
How’s that for an opportunity?
Both historic visitors and inactive visitors are considered high-propensity visitors. They represent potential visitation within the United States. These are our target audiences. (If targeting unlikely visitors, you’re probably working on an access program (an investment) rather than a strategy to increase long-term visitation.)
Only adults are included in high-propensity visitor data – as they are the makers of visitation decisions. Over 60% of visitors to cultural entities today attended as children, and welcoming school children is wise for many entities!
3) Those who do not choose to visit cultural entities (Unlikely visitors)
Sometimes unlikely visitors do attend cultural entities, but they are arguably not the basis of a sustainable business plan! These folks need major incentive to visit a cultural organization, but they’ll do it. They will go with grandma when she is in town and really wants to attend the ballet. They will attend the office work party at the museum. They signed up in advance to chaperone the field trip and the kiddos are going to the symphony or science center. These people are usually “taken” to cultural entities by others, or attend out of obligation.
“At 38% of the US market, what an opportunity!” Not really, no. It’s a big portion of the US population, but these people generally do not visit on their own, and they do not have potential indicators to suggest that are likely to come back again. We are unlikely to capture these folks and convert them into regular attendees.
The people who have a likelihood of conversion are in the “inactive visitor” category, not this one.
It sure is NICE to think that anyone who visits for any reason will be a lifelong attendee and cultural convert, but that’s just not a real, data-informed thing. “Let’s capture the people who were forced to go once but didn’t want to at all!” is a notable goal, but it may be a particularly sad and inefficient basis for a long-term engagement strategy for this audience segment.
And, let’s be honest, it’s kind of creepy.
Aiming to convert visitors can be good. Assuming everyone who visits is magically converted can be misleading. This is a contributing reason why blockbuster exhibits do not necessarily cultivate new audiences long-term for the organizations that deploy them. We want to have audiences that want to visit us…again and again.
There are simply people who we are happy to welcome onsite – and who we will show a satisfying, inspiring, informal-education-filled time – but data suggest that they aren’t going to come back again. That is a reality, and these folks make up a percentage of attendance to most organizations. This doesn’t mean an organization isn’t great – it means that it exists on planet earth with humans.
4) Those who do not visit (Non-visitors)
It can be hard for culture lovers to even admit that these folks exist… but they do. Not only that, they make up 30% of the US population. And that’s okay. Can you think of anything that has a market of everybody? Even ziplock bags have likely users and nonusers! So does kale. So does outdoor running. So does most everything.
And consider this: Getting folks to visit cultural organizations is extremely complex and a non-refundable investment of a thing that is particularly precious to people: their time.
These are the people who actually do not visit or want to visit cultural organizations. As in, even with practical barriers removed (yes, even cost), they still say, “Nope. I’m not going to do that.”
“But we want to engage these people! We want EVERYONE to want to attend.” That could be a nice, very long-term goal. However, setting sights on this particular audience is likely to be a very major investment with little payoff. There are adults who won’t even engage in an organization’s access programs, regardless of incentive. They simply don’t have interest. It’s not a thing that they want to do.
Goal: Attract those who profile as visitors, but are not visiting yet (Inactive visitors)
This is a potential gateway for changing up what attendees to cultural entities look like, and succeeding long-term in welcoming more diverse audiences.
Inactive visitors are low-hanging fruit, and engaging these folks has the greatest potential to alter and improve the unwelcoming reputations of some cultural entities! Reaching likely visitors who have not recently (or ever) attended cultural organizations may be a revenue and engagement imperative in and of itself. But these audiences also have the potential to serve as a powerful bridge to the long-term engagement of new audiences.
If cultural organizations can engage people who do not look like traditional visitors (i.e. younger, more diverse) but actually want to visit, then they may be able to change the perception of what a person who attends cultural organizations looks like. The key to engaging new audiences and evolving the historic visitor profile may be in reaching those who are likely to attend, but have not (yet).
How to engage likely visitors who do not currently visit
Reaching new audiences and updating the historic visitor profile isn’t all about age or color or how people look – it may be more about how people think and behave. Considering what we know about historic audiences alongside those who profile as likely but inactive visitors can be a gateway for engaging new constituents.
Take a look at the top attributes of historic visitors and inactive visitors as informed by the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study. Wherever it says “x more likely” it means compared to the average member of the US composite market. (Or, in English instead of data jargon: Compared to the average US adult.)
Remember: Not every historic visitor has an annual household income of $113,000. Not every likely visitor in either category has a pet. What we are looking at are the attributes that are most commonly shared among these individuals – not prerequisites to visitation or being “in that category.”
Got it? Let’s begin…
Now let’s look at inactive visitors. These people share similar characteristics with those who have visited a cultural organization within the last two years, except that these folks have not done so..
At first read, these lists appear rather similar overall, don’t they? Except one of these profiles represents a group that visits cultural organizations and the other represents a group that “should” visit cultural organizations but doesn’t.
There are many important characteristics that these groups share:
- Both groups qualify as being super-connected to the web
- They both have six-figure annual household incomes
- Both dine out more than twice each week
- Both groups are likely to be pet owners
- Folks in both groups tend to reside within 20 miles of major metro markets
- They are “organic” consumers
- They are active and enjoy low-intensity outdoor activities
The differences in these lists, however, represent an opportunity.
The biggest difference is that the top, most common attribute of a person who already visits is that they are White non-Hispanic. This attribute doesn’t even make the list for inactive visitors with potential to attend! This is great news! It means that filling this gap necessarily means welcoming more diverse audiences. And these people are low-hanging fruit!
Here’s what cultural organizations need to do better in order to attract the people who profile as likely to attend these organizations but do not.
These four points are informed by the data above, as well as additional research and analysis regarding motivating visitation. Throughout the next several weeks, I will be querying data and sharing information relevant to the following strategic imperatives on Know Your Own Bone. Be sure to subscribe at the bottom of this article in order to receive email notifications of articles as they are published.
1) Meet audience where they are
High-propensity visitors to cultural organizations – historic and inactive – are super-connected to the web with access to the Internet at home, at work, and on a mobile device. The people who are likely to visit but do not are even more connected to the web than the people who already visit. Likely visitors who do not attend are incredibly digitally connected.
I don’t aim to underscore the data-informed importance of digital engagement and earned endorsement in seemingly every article, it just happens. It plays a role in everything from the foundation of the visitor engagement cycle, to the reasons why organizations underestimate attendance loss during unexpected closures, to an overlooked opportunity cost when considering the building of new wings or expansions.
People who already visit are 5.4x more likely than the average American to subscribe to a travel magazine. However, potential visitors are on the other side of the spectrum. They are 5.5x less likely than the average American to subscribe to any print publication – including newspapers. These audiences get their information online.
Digital engagement, people. It’s really important.
I will be diving deeper into this topic in regard to reaching new audiences in my next article on Monday, November 20. Next Wednesday is the day before US Thanksgiving, so I will make this information and data accessible on Monday next week.
2) Create a less resistant transactional path
There’s a great deal of talk about the onsite use of technology in engaging visitors, and that talk – especially insofar as it involves web access and social sharing – is important. But data reveal that there’s an opportunity to remove barriers to visitation for likely visitors by improving offsite technology.
Likely visitors in both categories are used to making quick and easy transactions online – but inactive visitors may have greater expectations. Meeting audiences where they are in terms of utilizing technology means making it as easy as possible to purchase tickets and plan visits digitally. Likely visitors use technology to make life easier. When technology makes life harder, it becomes a barrier to visitation.
(I’m talking to you, cultural organizations who make purchasing tickets require multiple clicks, crazy amounts of information, and 15 minutes of struggling to “blow up” sections of non-mobile optimized websites…before completing the transaction with an extra fee…and then asking folks to print tickets at home or follow convoluted onsite instructions!)
Access issues are a leading barrier to visitation to cultural organizations. This includes both real and perceived challenges regarding “the hassle” of attending. If entities don’t make it easy for folks to visit by following a resistance-free path, they risk missing out on visitation.
I’ll dive into this topic in greater detail and with new data on Wednesday, November 29th.
3) Diversify the experience
Likely visitors to cultural organizations are active – and there is fierce competition for this audience as sports teams, music promoters, and the film industry are aggressively courting their engagement.
Not only that, the greatest indicator of a likely visitor is a willingness to leave the house to do anything at all – and today, there’s increasingly less incentive to leave one’s home. In fact, a preference to stay home during the week has increased by 17.3% for the average American in the last five years. The preference to stay home over the weekend has increased 19.4%!
On top of that is the primary reason why those with reported interest in visiting a cultural organization do not do so: They simply prefer to do something else with their precious time.
This means that to get folks to go out and choose to visit a cultural organization over other leisure activities, we may benefit by underscoring that it is especially worth it. Cultural entities have some excellent superpowers, but this opportunity may include combining the superpowers of other types of entities that similarly appeal to these audiences.
Diversifying the experience may mean all sorts of things depending on an organization’s strategy: Yoga onsite, bringing in food trucks, holding a farmers market, etc. It means adding what people want to do, and not thinking only in terms of what staff members are good at doing. This is different than mission drift. (Mission drift is no good. Your mission matters.) It’s considering intelligent partnerships based on your mission and what people want and expect.
Many organizations are already doing this in meaningful ways! This topic is an important one for activating inactive visitors that represent more diverse audiences! I’ll dive deeper into this topic and share new data on Wednesday, December 6th.
4) Leverage the macro environment
While it’s enticing to think that a cultural entity itself may drive visitation to a location, data suggest that this is not the case. In order to visit a cultural organization, a person has to first choose to visit the city where the organization resides.
Often, offerings outside of an organization’s walls can be just as big of a visitation motivator as offerings inside of them.
Especially considering the active nature of likely visitors who are not attending cultural organizations, the conversation about how macro environments (such as cities and communities) are perceived is especially relevant right now. With the super-connected nature of likely visitors, there may be a unique opportunity to positively leverage the stories of our communities, our missions, and our organizations.
This topic is a big one that connects perceptions of being welcoming to new audiences with what we know about inactive visitors. I am eager to dive deeper and share new data about this topic and what it means for reaching new audiences on Wednesday, December 13th.
The key to effectively reaching younger and more diverse audiences may be intelligent targeting, and also intelligent strategic design. Reaching inactive visitors need not be an overhaul of an organization’s strategic plan – far from it!
The secret may be smarter programs that connect mission-aligned strategies to what we know about likely attendees who are not yet visiting…so that they will visit! There is an opportunity to tap into our unrealized potentials, and engaging this audience may lead us through a gateway to a more sustainable future.
I’m looking forward to sharing a great deal of new information in the coming weeks! Do make sure that you receive all of the article, please subscribe below.