Live music in the museum gallery, wine the theater atrium, and 5K runs around the zoo? Data suggest that thoughtfully diversifying the experience can help attract new audiences.
Many cultural organizations – including museums and performing arts entities – are on a roll with these kinds of programs! Still, as a sector, data suggest that there’s an opportunity to leverage diverse visitor experiences (and go beyond the traditional “core” curatorial and/or performance focus of many organizations) in order to engage new constituencies…and keep them coming back. There is, of course, a catch: For organizations to succeed, they benefit by considering audience expectations and connecting these diversified experiences to their respective missions.
It is difficult for an organization to “one-off program” itself to success. This is because there are generally two ways that organizations may approach change: Either by adding on programs to an organization’s current culture and mentality, or by integrating necessary trends into an organization’s ongoing operations. Integrating trends into an organization’s strategy often drives greater success than simply adding on one-off programs.
This article isn’t about “adding on” diverse experiences and simply calling something a win. It’s not about drinking cocktails in the atrium for the sake of drinking cocktails in the atrium. It’s about integrating thoughtful, diverse experiences in a way that authentically honors the balance of an organization’s operations. It’s about making your audiences’ interests paramount, and connecting them meaningfully to the values and mission of your organization.
Likely visitors to cultural organizations make up 32% of the US population. These high-propensity visitors are the folks who have the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood to attend an exhibit or performance-based cultural entity. They can be divided into two, even groups that each make up 16% of the population:
- Historic visitors, who have visited any cultural entity within the last two years.
- Inactive/potential visitors, who have the psychographic and behavioral characteristics that indicate an increased likelihood to visit, but have not attended in the last two years.
This article is the third in a four-part series on data-informed methods for activating potential visitors to cultural organizations such as museums, zoos, aquariums, botanic gardens, historic sites, orchestras, theaters, ballets, and symphonies.
1) Potential visitors are even more active than current visitors to cultural entities
Data suggests that those who visit cultural organizations are generally super-connected to the web, enjoy low-intensity outdoor activities (like hiking, golf, or skiing), describe themselves as having “active” and “healthy” lifestyles, and travel for leisure purposes. And perhaps it’s safe to say that these characteristics aren’t a surprise. But maybe this is:
Likely visitors (who haven’t yet attended) are even more super-connected to the web, are even more likely to enjoy low-intensity outdoor activities, are even more likely to describe themselves as having an “active” or “healthy” lifestyle, and are even more likely to travel for leisure purposes than current cultural visitors.
Try that on for size.
The top indicator that someone might visit a cultural organization? That they leave their home to do anything at all. The good news is that those who profile as likely visitors may be leaving their homes even more often than current visitors. The bad news, of course, is that they aren’t visiting cultural organizations…yet.
The top reason why those who report interest in attending a cultural organization but have not, in fact, visited is that they simply prefer to do something else. Time is extremely precious. In fact, among likely and unlikely visitors alike, time is more valuable than money.
How can an organization beat out an alternate preferred leisure activity like trivia night, going for a jog, or meeting for cocktails with friends?
An answer may be to combine the experience with a preferred activity.
2) Diverse experiences may be used to underscore an organization’s mission and goals
The next question is an obvious one: What are some of those preferred leisure activities that folks are doing instead of visiting a cultural organization?
Here’s the answer, as informed by the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study. The blue bar represents the percentage of those who visited a cultural organization in the last two years who self-report being “very interested” in each respective activity. The orange bar similarly shows the percentage of leisure activity interest for those who profile as potential visitors – but who have not attended any type of cultural organization in the last two years:
Potential visitors are an active bunch – and they are more into gardening, foreign travel, skiing, hiking, outdoors, music, and food and wine than current visitors.
A person does not need to be super rich to enjoy these things! A person can enjoy good food and drink, or like to hike, or like going to concerts, or save up to take a vacation to another country, and not be a millionaire. This isn’t a matter of how much time or money potential visitors have, but how they chose to spend the time and money that they do have.
Cultural entities are not engaging young people at representative rates. The preferences of this demographic may lend themselves to this data.
That said, the reality is that people who actually do and want to visit cultural organizations are still predominately (but not exclusively) of a certain average household income and/or proximity to a major metro market. That, folks, is what we’re trying to fix by reaching those who are not yet visiting. They can be our bridge to reaching less likely visitors and changing the visitor profile.
This information can provide a baseline for thoughtful partnerships between cultural organizations and entities that specialize in these activities. These potential visitors – the people that organizations must better engage as a pathway to welcoming those of increasingly different racial and ethnic backgrounds – are movers and shakers. They are out and about…even more so than current visitors.
Keep in mind that this information informs strategies and tactics that appeal to potential visitors without alienating current constituencies. Many organizations do not have the resources to target one, distinct group of likely visitors between those who already attend and those who are likely to attend but do not. These programs may increase opportunities for getting two birds with one stone.
Consider this: The average US adult visits 0.61 cultural organizations each year. This includes cultural organizations of any type – exhibit or performance-based.
(Don’t fret, folks! We’re all here together on a mission to increase that number. This may be a sad violin solo right now, but we’ll work hard to make it a jazzy sax number later.)
In this data, “music event” is specifically cut from cultural visitation (theaters, symphonies, orchestras, ballets, etc.). In other words, it includes concerts and for-profit music events.
On average, people who report that they prefer to spend their leisure time gardening attend 2.89 cultural organizations each year. In other words, on average, they visit a cultural entity 4.74x more frequently than does than the typical US adult. Folks reporting interest in spending leisure time running races attend 2.41 cultural organizations each year – and, thus, visit a cultural organization 3.95x more frequently than does the average US adult.
In case anyone ever thought otherwise, RunDisney, Disney’s famous food and wine festivals, and their heralded flower and garden shows, aren’t simply fun ideas informed by a brainstorming session. They are data-informed strategies for reaching and engaging new audiences. These folks aren’t guessing.
And with data becoming an increasingly hot topic in the cultural sector, we don’t need to guess, either.
3) Match diverse experiences to your mission
Do you know what we find confuses people? Mission drift. But missions to educate, inspire, or bring communities together may provide an opportunity for creativity. There’s certainly a “line” here – and it’s up to organizations to have their own, realistic conversations about where that line is drawn from an internal perspective but, perhaps even more importantly, from a potential visitor’s perspective.
Information about preferred leisure activities highlights an opportunity for intelligent partnerships that increase visitation by new audiences and that may underscore your organization’s mission. Organizations that highlight their missions outperform those marketing primarily as attractions.
This is not a call for entities to ask overstretched staff members to put on yet another hat and suddenly put on a garden show! Remember: People trust museums, in particular, more than they trust newspapers. If people visit your garden show and they know more about the flowers than you do, then your organization may be hurting its own reputation. Partner with real experts – such as the local botanical garden. (Remember: The goal is not to get these folks to come once and simply attend the program. The goal is to get these folks to become regular attendees!)
The opportunity is to reliably integrate these preferences into programming so that their benefits become a perceptual part of the cultural visitation experience – not distinct from it.
It’s an opportunity to create connections and partnerships with like-minded people and organizations that evidence an important aspect of your mission: That you can be trusted to be expert and educate.
It’s an opportunity to show off your organization and what it stands for – not just during this one program, but on the whole, and underscore another potential aspect of your mission: That you can be trusted to be relevant and engaging.
It’s an opportunity to provide a unique experience that shows how your content area is integrated into the world around us, and highlights yet another vital part of your mission: That you can be trusted to inspire.
These are examples. You do you(r mission).
Diversifying the experience can conceivably be done via a series of disconnected one-off programs, but the depth and authenticity of these experiences will benefit from a deeper, more systemic integration of audience needs and expectations into your programmatic offerings.
One-off programs say, “We’re doing this thing that you may like today.”
Integrated strategies say, “You can count on us to do things that you like.”
To do things that audiences like, it helps to know what they like and how it may provide a mission-driven opportunity to inspire visitation and support.