Data shows that cultural organizations have a long way to go to engage millennials at representative levels. Here’s a two-year data update.
“We need to be better at engaging millennials!” If you’re sick of hearing this, then join the club! (Especially if you are a millennial yourself, as a study by Pew Research shows that millennials hate being called millennials.)
However, we talk about millennials so much for a few good reasons! The need for cultural organizations (museums, zoos, aquariums, symphonies, theaters, botanic gardens, orchestras, etc.) to reach millennial audiences is deeper and more complicated than we may realize. Simply put, our industry talks about millennials so much because even though they’re the generational cohort that visits cultural organizations the most, they’re also the generational cohort cultural organizations need to do a better job of attracting. This generation is so large that it represents both our current visitors and the folks that we must engage to secure our futures.
Today, I’d like to provide an update on data that I shared in 2016 about how well cultural organizations were reaching millennial audiences. The findings and analysis are similar; the numbers have been updated. As usual, this information is from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study, which now includes over 122,000 individuals.
Here are three things that all cultural organizations should know about millennial visitors and our efforts to engage them:
1) Millennials are the most frequent attendees to cultural organizations
Millennials make up the highest percentage of visitation to cultural organizations on the whole and – as we would hope and expect – that percentage is steadily increasing. Here, you can see this information alongside the percentage of visitation made up by Baby Boomers.
It’s a very good thing that millennials make up the highest percentage of visitation to cultural organizations! Millennials represent by far the largest generation in the US, and if they didn’t make up a majority of attendance, that would be a big issue – much bigger than our current millennial engagement struggles.
The “We need to cultivate millennials while satisfying our current, baby boomer audience” argument may be more baseless than some leaders realize. This is especially the case since we often find that trends impacting millennial engagement apply to older generations as well. Macro-trends like self-curation, personalization, and unique experiences may be borne more from our connected era than a younger age.
Let’s also be clear that though millennials represent the greatest share of attendance, this does not at all mean that other generations do not matter. That would be a ridiculous notion! Instead, the point here is that millennials already are a big – nay, the biggest – part of the cultural organization audience!
2) But millennials remain cultural organizations’ only underserved generational cohort
Though they make up the greatest percentage of attendance, the percentage of the US population that millennials comprise suggests that they should make up an even higher percentage of attendance.
The adult population percentages shown are from the US census. According to the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study, only 23.2% of adult millennials visited a cultural organization in 2017. To be merely representative, 28% of visitation should be adult millennials. Cultural organizations are underserving millennials when compared to the U.S. population. (“Underserved” means that participation – attendance, enrollment, etc. – is less than the representative population.) In other words, cultural organizations are underserving millennial audiences by a factor of nearly 21%.
Millennials are not attending cultural organizations at representative levels. But are we reaching them at higher levels than in 2015?
The percentage of millennials visiting cultural organizations has increased from 21.9% in 2015 to 23.2% in 2017. Millennials made up 27.1% of the US population in 2015, and 28% in 2017. Thus, engagement grew by 5.9%, and the population increased by 3.3%. It’s an increase relative to population growth, but it sure isn’t the kind of surge that cultural organizations need in order to make significant gains in engaging this audience.
Additionally, we find that millennials aren’t simply “aging into” caring about arts and culture, as some leaders may have suspected they would. This does not mean that millennials are immune to natural changes that take place as people “grow up.” But they are doing so in the age of the Internet, which may mean that cause duration functions differently in millennials today that it did for Baby Boomers in the past.
3) Millennials are the most loyal audiences with the highest lifetime value
According to the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study, 23.0% of Baby Boomers visited a cultural organization (any cultural organization) in 2017. But Boomers only comprise 21.9% of cultural attendance. Meanwhile, only 23.2% of adult millennials visited a cultural organization, but they comprise 32.1% of total US cultural visitation. What does this mean? Millennials are far more likely to revisit within the year than other generations.
Combine this good news (they revisit!) with the bad news on how much we are underserving millennial audiences, though, and the picture isn’t a pretty one. Based on this observed engagement rate per millennial visitor, for every one millennial that we fail to engage as a sector, we miss out on 1.38 visits to cultural organizations.
This is a big deal! Any organization that continues to underserve its best, most frequent, and most loyal customers – that also make up the majority of the country’s population – risks going out of business.
And consider this: Millennials also have the highest percentage of likely visitors to cultural organizations. Nearly 25% of potential visitors to cultural organizations fall between the ages of 25-34. Talk about an opportunity!
Organizations have finite resources. In today’s world of hyper-targeting, every dollar we spend chasing one demographic is a dollar that we cannot spend chasing another demographic.Three factors should influence how your organization prioritizes its investments and dedicates its energy in terms of demographics: 1) the size of the potential visitor cohort; 2) the buying power of cohort; and 3) the cohort’s propensities to participate. Millennials represent the largest opportunity on all three fronts and, thus, create a compelling case for where to allocate representatively significant investments of resources.
None of this information means that Baby Boomers and Generation X are unimportant targets! But it does mean that the percentage of energy, effort, and investment should be allocated representatively to the percentage of each age cohort’s market potential. The good news is that we do not generally find that efforts to reach millennial audiences particularly alienate other generations. In fact, the trends we attribute to millennials such as perceived transparency, trust, and personalized experiences actually help to engage all audiences in today’s connected world.
We might be sick of talking about millennials, but we should not expect to stop anytime soon. In fact, if cultural organizations aim to thrive financially in the long term, prioritizing this generations is critical.
I’ll end with what you already know, although I hope that it carries more weight than it did when you started reading this article: We need to get better at engaging millennials.