Not everybody wants to visit museums or performing arts organizations. Here are the percentages of people in the US who do and do not.
What do avocados, fishing poles, churches, and greeting cards all have in common? They all have likely and unlikely consumers. In fact, nearly everything does in a free market. Cultural organizations – such as museums, symphonies, and zoos – are no exception.
While it’s a popular (and critical) topic here on Know Your Own Bone, we now have a brand new Fast Facts video for you to enjoy that covers this very topic of active and inactive visitors. For cultural organizations to measure success and understand realistic expectations, it’s necessary to know more about the people who visit, don’t visit, and will not visit cultural entities, and the percentages of the US population made up by these preferences.
This information is an important foundation for any discussions about reaching new audiences. Without a clear-eyed understanding that not everybody will visit cultural organizations – and that’s okay – cultural executives and board members misunderstand their market potential. Without this baseline information, “reaching new audiences” is merely a distant concept that entities talk about but are unable to effectively act upon.
The National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study helps us at IMPACTS to understand a lot about who is visiting these organizations and who is not. They generally fall into four groups: Historic visitors, inactive visitors, unlikely visitors, and non-visitors.
To increase attendance long-term, a goal is to change up who is in these categories and increase the number of people in each group through smart marketing and relevant programming.
On that note, let’s dive deeper into the visitor and non-visitor cohorts.
1) People who attend cultural organizations
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, historic site, 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.
They are the people who actually attend our organizations – and possess the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes typical of our visitors.The profile of a historic visitor tends to lack diversity and has not changed much over the years, despite our monitoring this profile over time.
A person need not attend every type of cultural organization within the past 24 months to fall into this category – they need only to have visited one. (Keep in mind: While allowing for some nuance, the high-propensity visitor profile is remarkably similar across cultural organization types.)
These audiences are dependable, but they are also part of a shrinking demographic. In essence, the United States is growing increasingly diverse with people who do not look, think, or behave like traditional visitors to cultural organizations, and we are not reaching new audiences at representative rates. The goal is to make the historic visitor profile more representative of national audiences.
Information on who current visitors are, what they have in common, and what cultural organizations need to know about them is available in Active Visitors: Who Currently Attends Cultural Organizations?.
2) Those who are likely to attend – but do not
These are the folks who profile as having an increased likelihood of coming in the door, but have not done so in two years or longer. They’ve either stated an interest in visiting or they share many characteristics and attributes with historic visitors, but 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 include people from two groups that cultural organizations are not reaching at representative rates: millennials and those of more diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. 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 of 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.
With approximately 250 million adults in the US, this puts the market for engagement at around 40 million people. How’s that for an opportunity?
This is the single most important cohort for cultural organizations to start motivating to attend in order to survive long-term. Due to a general lack of market research in our industry, it’s also our most critical blind spot.
Information on who inactive visitors are, what they have in common, and what cultural organizations need to know about them as they compare to current visitors is available in Inactive Visitors Are Interested in Attending Cultural Organizations. Why Don’t They?
3) Those who do not want to visit cultural entities
These folks are defined by their active disinterest in visiting cultural organizations. Unlike non-visitors (who will not visit – more on them below), these folks are unlikely to visit by their own choice and need major incentive to attend. For instance, they may go with grandma when she is in town and really wants to attend the ballet. They may attend the office work party at the museum. They may sign up in advance to chaperone the field trip if the kiddos are going to the science center. These people are usually “taken” to cultural entities by others, or attend because of a more pressing obligation.
It’s a good goal to make sure that these folks have a positive experience, and to try and convert them into regular visitors. However, it’s also an inefficient strategy, as these folks are defined by their lack of interest in cultural organizations. These are simply people who we are happy to welcome onsite – and who we will show a satisfying, inspiring, informal-education-filled time – but who likely aren’t going to come back again. 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 in a free economy.
4) Those who do not and will not visit
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 cultural organizations. As in, even with practical barriers removed (yes, even cost), they still will not come in your doors.
“But we want to engage these people! We want EVERYONE to want to attend.”
I hear you. Being welcoming to everyone is important, but no matter what you do some people will not want to attend. Setting sights on this particular audience would be a very major investment with no payoff. These adults won’t engage in an organization’s programs, regardless of incentive. They simply don’t have interest. It’s not a thing that they want to do. Understanding that this audience exists (and accepting it), allows organizations to focus on programs and opportunities that are significantly more likely to welcome new audiences.
Data about unlikely and non-visitors and how to strategically approach these two audience segments is available in They’re Just Not That Into You: What Cultural Organizations Need to Know About Non-Visitors.
Some people just don’t want to – and won’t – visit cultural organizations. This is not a failing. It’s an economic reality. Unless cultural organizations become as necessary to every individual as oxygen, we are likely to have visitors and non-visitors.
To increase attendance long-term, we’ll need to change up who is in these categories and increase the number of people in the first two groups through smart marketing and relevant programming. The first step is to understand these audiences and how to strategically approach them.
Eager to follow along as I share the data-informed profiles of historic, inactive, unlikely, and non-visitors to cultural organizations? You can subscribe to this website here in order to receive an email every other Wednesday with a link to the most recent data and analysis.
This is Part One of the series on historic, inactive, unlikely, and non-visitors to cultural organizations.
For Part Two, visit Active Visitors: Who Currently Attends Cultural Organizations?
For Part Three, visit Inactive Visitors Are Interested in Attending Cultural Organizations. Why Don’t They?