Onsite technology (virtual reality and techy exhibits) sound cool, but data suggest that inadequate offsite technology (ticketing platforms and social media) is a primary reason why many people do not visit cultural organizations.
Cultural organizations are doing technology wrong. Or, more accurately, they may not be focusing on their most immediate tech-based opportunities to inspire and support visitation.
When it comes to onsite technology – such as virtual reality, techy exhibits, and mobile apps – cultural entities (and museums in particular) are generally enthusiastic and chatty. These initiatives are the basis of many industry conference sessions, and they often make the news as creative, tech-based initiatives launch.
Offsite technology – such as allowing for quick and easy online ticketing, adequate use of social media, or having a mobile website – doesn’t often make the headlines. It certainly doesn’t sound as sexy as innovative onsite tech exhibits! These things are so fundamental to baseline operations in the 21st Century that perhaps cultural entities should have long ago prioritized and mastered them…
…and, yet, many organizations haven’t.
Onsite technology is certainly an opportunity! Very cool things are happening! But focusing on “technology” instead of meaningful engagement (by whatever means) may be a damaging distraction. Just because something has to do with onsite technology doesn’t mean it is engaging, and just because an interaction doesn’t involve technology doesn’t mean it’s not engaging.
Onsite engagement – technology based or otherwise – tends to succeed when it focuses on personal engagement. Allowing for shared and/or personalized experiences may be one of the reasons why onsite web and social media use correlates with a 6% increase in visitor satisfaction.
When it comes to reaching new audiences, onsite technology is an opportunity. Improving offsite technology is a necessity.
This article is the second part in a series of four articles focusing on the data-informed ways that cultural organizations may more effectively reach new audiences. (Cultural organizations still are not succeeding in the quest to entice a new kind of visitor.) Last week, I covered data fueling the importance of social media in securing new visitation. Social media is, of course, a very important element of offsite technology that requires prioritization, and a failure to do so may end up costing cultural entities more than they may realize.
The tech engagement world moves relatively quickly, and it’s not a “one and done” conversation or investment.
Organizations generally seem to understand that aspects of their physical locations need to be updated. Few leaders question the need to replace a roof or refresh a tired exhibit. (Granted, these items and the attendant expenses may be deferred until that leak in the roof can no longer be ignored…but, conceptually, organizations understand that these updates are a necessary cost of doing business.) Fewer organizations seem to hold similar views of their digital infrastructures.
I regularly overhear conversations among otherwise enlightened leaders concerning their digital capacities that cite “recent” investments as sufficient while failing to grasp the speed at which technology – and the market’s expectations of technology – evolve and advance.
That website your organization spent thousands of dollars to develop three years ago? It’s likely in need of some updating. That ticketing system that you installed four years ago? If it’s not mobile-optimized or making life easier for potential visitors, it is costing revenue opportunities.
An intelligent strategic imperative may be to make transactional paths as free of resistance as possible. This makes sense: Make it easy for people to support your organization and mission! However, cultural organization “regular practices” may not be “best practices” in this arena – and it’s hurting them.
1) Offsite technology problems are a major barrier to visitation
“Access issues” is the second most often cited barrier to visitation among people with an interest in visiting a cultural organization…but who haven’t actually done so within the past two years.
These are the overall, data-informed, actual barriers to visitation to both exhibit and performance-based organizations informed by the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study. I mention this because some entities are accustomed to creating their own, unintentionally skewed, “I think” barriers to visitation without actually consulting non-visiting humans.
You can dive deeper into some of these barriers in this article.
A follow-up research question delved deeper into the specific nature of these perceived access challenges, and the findings are interesting in that three of the top five most frequently cited access challenges involve a digital or technological access barrier. Only two of the top five most frequently cited access challenges were physical conditions (i.e. “hard to get there” and issues relating to the physical experience for people with ability and/or health concerns).
Barrier: Lack of advance planning information
What?! You say that you have an incredible visitor’s guide or brochure? Swell…but these visitors aren’t reading glossy print publications. Would-be visitors predominantly consume information on digital channels. Likewise, if your website isn’t mobile optimized, then the “Plan Your Visit” section of your website may be less helpful to a market that increasingly relies on the mobile web for its information.
Barrier: Ticketing infrastructure
Another significant barrier involves the actual transaction process. A recent comparative analysis of e-commerce usability factors by a representative IMPACTS client indicated that 91.7% of potential online customers abandon the purchase process before completing their transaction. This compares to an average e-commerce abandon rate hovering around 65% for other types of online transactions. The visitor-serving cultural industry has an e-commerce abandon rate 41% greater than average.
Why don’t we seem to talk about this problem?
And, even when our customers overcome the cumbersome process of clicking through multiple pages on a non-mobile optimized website, entering personal details, and selecting dates and times to visit from drop down menus, we all-too-often still pose the needless barrier of not accepting their preferred means of payment (e.g. PayPal, etc.), or we hit them with an additional “convenience” fee. Yikes!
I know, I know. Your organization has so many excuses for having convoluted, time-consuming, difficult ticketing systems that also require an additional fee. I get it. I know it. Those excuses don’t matter to the outside world, and they don’t make potential visitors any more likely to visit.
This situation is our problem, and it is costing us real visitation.
Barrier: Non-responsive to requests
It’s tempting to see this and think, “We pick up our phones!” That’s certainly important, but this also means prioritizing online responsiveness. Regardless of age, web, mobile web, and social media are the top three sources of information for likely visitors to cultural entities. This doesn’t mean, of course, that people don’t use other communication channels… but our industry’s opportunity may be digital engagement prioritization.
78% of people who profile as likely attendees expect a response to a question or comment posed on social media within one hour. Organizations overlook the necessary timeliness of the web at their own risk.
2) Ease of planning is an expectation, not a mark of excellence
Updated ticketing infrastructures, mobile optimized websites, and responding to people online are hardly sexy operations. This may be because they are not glorious feats of innovation in informal learning, but fundamental requirements to succeed as a visitor-serving organization today.
Consider this: Potential visitors to cultural entities spend two times more money online than those who already visit these organizations. While people who have visited a cultural entity in the last two years spend more than $2,500 in online purchases each year, those who profile as likely attendees but who have not yet visited spend more than $5,000 online annually.
Cultural visitors – both actual and potential – regularly spend money online. At these spending levels, these folks are likely to expect online purchasing to be as easy as possible. Amazon has one-click purchasing! Many movie theaters text attendees their tickets and have expedited, quick scanning entry procedures! When one considers what a person who makes frequent online purchases is used to alongside the experiences that some cultural entities provide, the difference is astounding.
Likely visitors consume information, plan their itineraries, and make purchase decisions online. If your visitors are not buying tickets online, here are four reasons why this may be happening.
Our industry can develop mobile apps that make works of art dance. We can create elaborate virtual reality worlds…but enabling online ticketing transactions (an action fundamental to our survival) without frustrating the bejesus out of our target audiences?
Well, no. We’re not great at that.
3) Having visitors pay for “convenience” is costing organizations
The following data shows a tracking analysis for 13 visitor-serving organizations in the United States that surcharge a “convenience” or “handling” fee related to online ticket purchases. It shows their visitors’ value for cost perceptions for the actual ticket price contrasted with their value for cost perceptions for the total transaction cost (i.e. the ticket cost plus the transaction surcharge).
The average indicated ticket price was $27.10, and the average indicated transaction surcharge was $2.45.
Yes. $2.45 made that much of a perceptual difference to visitors.
Data suggest that it’s not necessarily the cost itself that is the issue here. Visitors value what they pay for. When IMPACTS dove deeper into responses, we found that the culprit aligns primarily with the “feelings” behind these fees.
In other words, it’s not so much the surcharge itself, but the perception associated with the fee. “Convenience?” (Shouldn’t it be more convenient for this organization to have me purchase my tickets online?) “Handling” (Is a staff member stuffing envelopes after I make my purchase?) People are smart. Even the masking monikers attempting to justify these surcharges risk a feeling of being duped.
Moreover, volumes of pricing psychology research indicate that the market reliably rejects being nickel-and-dimed when it comes to its purchase decisions. This finding surely applies to cultural organizations – and is likely exacerbated by a surcharge associated with an already difficult and convoluted online ticket buying experience.
I know from my own experience working with cultural entities that, in reality, this is often a fee paid to the ticketing service provider. And while perhaps some folks may know this, too, it seems that it does not make a difference: The negative perception is associated with the cultural organization itself.
This is a big deal because lower value for cost perceptions correlate with lower intent to revisit, decreased likelihood of endorsement (or negative endorsement), and lower onsite satisfaction levels.
It may be tempting to think simply, “A surcharge is the nature of the beast.”
But maybe it’s not.
Cultural organizations are the “customers” that can change the ticketing systems. Or, perhaps some cultural organizations are so determined to try and save their way to prosperity that passing off the fee to customers is more appealing than investing in getting folks in the door.
This realization – that it takes investing money to “make” money – may still seem foreign to some nonprofit leaders, despite significant data suggesting that this is the case.
Data indicate that offsite technology is the second biggest reason why likely visitors do not attend entities like museums and performing arts organizations in the first place. The action item here is simple, but it’s not necessarily easy: Fix it.
Some leaders have whole departments and major investments in fancy onsite technological initiatives – but that’s not the primary area in which many of these entities are struggling. It’s getting people in the door. And while reputation matters in driving visitation (big time), practical access barriers may make those reputation-increasing initiatives less helpful.
Considering the use of onsite technology is a good idea. This is not an “either/or” conversation. It should be an “and” conversation – as in, onsite and offsite technology are critically important to engaging and retaining our audiences.
What’s the use of fancy, tech-enhanced exhibits and performances “to reach new audiences” onsite if there are major barriers for these folks to get onsite in the first place?
If the goal is to get people in the door, let’s make doing that as straightforward and convenient as possible.