A significant part of motivating visitation to cultural organizations depends upon on the experiences outside of the walls, and not solely the experiences offered inside of them.
That doesn’t sound like rocket science…but it is data science.
And, thankfully, we’ve got that.
Data suggest that an organization’s macro environment matters in motivating visitation. To get someone to visit a cultural organization, they first need to visit the organization’s city – or get out of the house in the first place.
Knowing more about what motivates visitation is a good thing. A key to this is to look beyond the question of what people want in their museum, zoo, aquarium, theater, or orchestra experience and pay attention to what people want in their leisure time experiences on the whole.
The top reason why those with reported interest in attending cultural organizations do not actually visit is because they prefer an alternate leisure activity. Time is precious and competition for it is stiff. Compounding the matter is the fact that cultural organizations have a growing competitor: The couch. The preference to stay home over the weekend has increased 19.4% in the last five years.
The good news? Folks who are primarily motivated to visit a museum, zoo, aquarium, science center, or performing arts organization are already visiting, and they are visiting more frequently than in the past! We generally know a great deal about these folks, as they are often the sole focus of our industry’s audience research efforts.
Audience research is not the same as market research- it’s a subset. Market research can be difficult to obtain. After all, folks who haven’t visited or do not want to visit in the first place are not on site to survey. They aren’t on an organization’s email lists, following it on social media, or visiting the website. Simply, it’s a big investment – and one that many cultural organizations have neither the funds nor the internal data science skillsets to effectively carry out
If cultural organizations were currently offering experiences responsive to the motivations of more diverse audiences, then they’d already be attending. They’re not. So, by understanding what motivates those who have propensity but are not yet attending, we can design experiences tailored to their motivations that are aligned to an organization’s mission. Moreover, we can design communications to market to these motivations.
Let’s divide this into two parts: The information and the opportunity.
1) Cultural organizations are not strong destination motivators in and of themselves
Data suggests that people do not generally go into towns or cities solely to attend a cultural organization. Other factors inform the decision, even if visiting the cultural organization is the main event. For instance, folks are more likely to go to the theater in town if there is also a place to enjoy dinner.
The chart below is informed by the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study. It has been organized in descending order of leisure activity motivators for current visitors (those who have attended any cultural organization in the last two years), and inactive likely visitors. Inactive likely visitors are those who both indicate an interest in visiting a cultural organization and also possess the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that suggest an increased propensity to engage with cultural enterprise…but who haven’t actually done so in the past two years.
In other words, the chart shows people who are attending (blue) and people who should be attending, but aren’t (orange). Here’s more information about these cohorts within the US population.
Most people need motivation outside of a visitor-serving experience itself in order to motivate attendance to a cultural organization.
In other words, in response to the question, “What motivates your choice of leisure activities and destinations?” 9.5% of inactive likely visitors (and 11.2% of recent visitors) responded by saying, “Visiting a museum.” Compare this to 77.3% of inactive likely visitors who said “Visiting a major metropolitan area” or 39.9% who said “Having a unique dining experience.” In and of themselves, cultural enterprise singularly motivates the behaviors of fewer than 10% of the adult market.
That doesn’t mean that only 10% of folks will visit a museum (for instance), but it does mean that getting them to visit the museum requires enticing them with external factors related to the macro environment – like going out to a nice dinner afterwards, exploring a big city, or spending time along the waterfront.
Sure, people might visit the Met or Whitney…but they foremost visit NYC (or venture into the city, if they live nearby) because it is a major metro with great shopping and dining, for instance. If the Whitney weren’t in a city like New York that has such a robust density of leisure pursuits that motivate visitation, then it arguably would not be so well attended. For the vast majority of people, folks visit the Whitney while they’re in NYC – they don’t visit NYC solely and exclusively to visit the Whitney.
This is in no way a ding on the Whitney. (Hi, Whitney. I love you.) This is pointing out a reality about critical mass and visitation. And, specifically, what aspects of critical mass and external experience contribute to cultural visitation.
This makes sense. Precedent to visiting any type of cultural organization, people must first decide to visit the place where the organization is located. For example, people who are likely to visit cultural organizations are 4x more likely to cite dinning as a primary leisure destination motivator than visiting a museum. I suspect that for many cultural leaders, these data hardly resonate as shocking. Either by research or intuition, many leaders have long known that the experience of the macro environment matters when it comes to motivating visitation. These data simply quantify the significance of the macro environment.
“But we aim to attract local audiences…”
It can be dangerous to assume that just because an organization chooses to only market locally that their local market is representatively responsive to the organization’s offerings. What if the local market is disinterested in an organization’s programming? Just because an organization builds it (and markets it), doesn’t mean that they will come.
Consider this: Local audiences may well be the target of a savvy out-of-town organization’s marketing efforts. A reason why local audiences may not be engaging with local organizations at their full potential may be because they are visiting organizations located elsewhere that are doing a better job of appealing to their leisure activity motivations. Folks may be quite happy to drive 25 miles to visit a place that has more desirable attributes.
Not to mention, local audiences can be a tough crowd to please.
Moreover, to get someone to attend – local or otherwise – they must first be motivated to leave the house. Leisure motivations can help us understand how to do that.
2) Time is precious
Time is more valuable than money for both likely visitors and unlikely visitors.
In our hyper-competitive market, a choice to participate in one activity on a certain Sunday afternoon may preclude this same audience member’s ability to participate in another activity. It stands to reason that these competitive choices are further magnified by “outlying activities” – destinations, experiences, and events that aren’t conveniently located or accessible within a critical mass of other leisure activities.
For example, if an organization is miles removed from a dining, shopping, and event hub, then the singular appeal of the destination may not be enough to overcome the convenience and appeal of the critical mass of competitive activities. Similarly, if an organization is in the middle of a district laden with terrific dining and shopping options, but these venues remain open until 10p while your organization shuts its doors at 5p, then the singular appeal of your organization may not be sufficient to overcome the accessibility benefits of these other activities. (In this instance, it may not be that people don’t want to visit the organization. They simply may not be willing to take off of work to do so when more schedule-friendly options are equally available.)
Schedule is a primary barrier to visitation as it relates to programming, open hours, or even the amount of time that a person is able to spend in town or out of town. Unfortunately, engaging in one activity on a certain day often means foregoing another.
1) Leverage density and intensity of experiences
There’s good news! When you know your destination’s strengths (that are outside of your organization’s walls), you can play to them. When you know its weaknesses, your organization can work to balance them out.
Affinity models indicate what people look for when making leisure-motivated decisions. In the charts below, IMPACTS has cut the data for four primary leisure motivations: Visiting a museum; visiting a historic destination; visiting a zoo, aquarium or science center; and visiting a performing arts organization. For each, IMPACTS has coupled the primary leisure activity motivator with secondary activity motivations to inform what types of experiences these market members are seeking when they choose leisure activities and/or destinations.
For instance, folks who report a primary leisure motivation of visiting a museum also cite dining, movies, waterfront experiences, special events, etc. as secondary motivators.
As a heads-up: “Historic locations” includes historic sites – both those that are/have visitor-serving cultural entities and those that are/do not.
Last week, I shared data on the importance of diversifying the visitor experience based upon audience interests and connecting them meaningfully to an organization’s mission. This information is similar, in a way, but it underscores what is motivating visitation outside of an organization’s walls and within the greater macro environment.
Run a performing arts organization? It may be a good idea to partner with local restaurants to create the intensity and density of performance and dining activities that these potential visitors seek. The success of orchestra programs that highlight musical scores from the movies? It may be because data suggest that folks who attend performing arts are similarly motivated by movies!
Affinity models help identify and define the competitive “trade-offs” that the market may be willing to make when it comes to engaging their leisure time and money. These affinity models may not be altogether surprising, but they remove guesswork and debate that too often paralyze an organization’s ability to overcome engagement challenges. Not in a major metro or on the waterfront? Focus on dining, special events, and partnerships with like enterprise to create sufficient critical mass.
2) What’s good for the city is often good for your organization
It doesn’t sound revolutionary, but it’s often overlooked: Motivating visitation is not all about your own organization.
All being otherwise equal in terms of the experience between your own walls (i.e. similar collections, performances, etc.), the organization that satisfies the most leisure activity motivations is more likely to engage audiences. More to the point, even if the experience between your walls is vastly superior to another, competing organization, the lack of responsiveness to other leisure activity motivations may not be enough to engage a visit. Again, fewer than 10% of inactive likely visitors indicate a visit to a cultural organization as a primary leisure activity motivator.
The most compelling collection or performance may not be enough to compete with a less robust collection or performance located on the waterfront in a historic major metro surrounded by amazing dining and shopping options.
But this isn’t a reason to go glib, throw our hands up, and say, “Well! We cannot help that we’re not in New York City!” That’s silly. Instead, it’s an opportunity to take stock of the attributes of your own marco enviroment and consider opportunities to leverage its benefits.
This article is the last of four in a series on how to engage those who profile as likely visitors to cultural organizations. These four findings work together to inform strategies. Engaging new audiences isn’t simply about using social media and carrying out integrated programs. These strategies work together:
- Meeting audiences where they are (Hint: They are on digital communication platforms)
- Creating a less resistant transactional path
- Diversifying the experience
- Leveraging the surrounding macro environment
The data is in, and there’s work to be done in engaging audiences of more diverse demographics. The first step in doing this is knowing how to target likely – but inactive – visitors. They are our industry’s low-hanging fruit, and the bridge to sustained solvency.
To engage these folks, we need to know where they are getting information, what is holding them up, and what they like to do instead of visiting cultural organizations. I hope that you have found this series useful!
Now let’s work together to put these lessons into play.