Strange as they may seem, these five fun facts also serve as helpful reminders for cultural organizations.
At IMPACTS, we have a lot of data about people’s perceptions and behaviors surrounding cultural organizations. The National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study (NAAU) is currently over 124,000 people strong, and it’s not a traditional survey that asks people to choose from a list of responses. Instead, the NAAU uses open-ended questions and people respond in their own words. Then, we ask follow-up questions based upon that response. (Haven’t been to a science center? Then we’re not going to ask you about the best part of your visit. Instead, we’ll ask you why you haven’t visited, for instance.) This process is called lexical analysis. We also use scalar variables (1-100 scales) to help us understand the strength of certain sentiments.
I submit ongoing queries to uncover trends for this website, keynotes, and workshops. Sometimes the queries yield meaningful findings. Other times, they don’t. And sometimes, they’re excellent reminders to take a closer look at certain perceptions and behaviors surrounding the decision to visit or support a cultural organization..
Here are five fun facts informed by the NAAU. On the surface, they may merely appear to be good cocktail party fodder – and in some ways they are. (Or maybe only I think they are, and this is your indication to steer clear of me at cocktail parties!) Small talk aside, these fun facts represent meaningful reminders about the cultural organization business model and the people who visit these treasured institutions.
1) People who own a horse for amateur use are 12x more likely to visit cultural organizations
What the heck does visiting a cultural organization have to do with owning horses?! Here’s what: The kind of people who own horses share several of the most prevalent characteristics of recent visitors to cultural organizations in the US.
This certainly doesn’t mean that everyone who visits a museum or performing arts organization owns a horse! It means that if someone does own a horse, there’s a good chance that they also regularly attend museums and cultural organizations. (Cue marketing folks putting up fliers at local barns. It’s not a bad idea!)
On a related note, people who visit cultural organizations are 2.3x more likely to be pet owners than average Americans, and the most common pets they own are dogs. Even though a much smaller subset of people own horses than dogs, data shows that those folks have a particularly high likelihood of being cultural organization visitors.
More than a fun fact:
Just like avocados, churches, greeting cards – and most other things in a free economy that aren’t required in order to survive – cultural organizations have likely and unlikely visitors. Simply, some people are just more likely to attend museums and performing arts organizations than others. Our goal, of course, is to increase the percentage of people in the US who have been to or have interest in attending cultural organizations. This requires both engaging new audiences and satisfying current visitors. Even then, however, there are likely to be some people who are more likely to attend than others. This isn’t a failing – it’s an economic reality.
2) “Kittens are cute” is one of the most widely agreed upon sentiments in the US – and it’s still only an 83 scalar variable
Scalar variables demonstrate the strength of a sentiment on a 1-100 scale. In terms of analysis, values in the upper 70s are very high. And values in the 80s are rare. One of the highest sentiments I’ve seen tested is “kittens are cute,” which has a mean value of 83. For context, “I love my mother” has a mean value of 76, and “Ice cream tastes good” has a mean value of 75.
In the cultural organization world, high-70s values help us identify superpowers. These include the level of trust that people have in museums, and how these organizations provide an academic advantage for children, for instance. Scalar variables (when dealing in high-confidence data) don’t often reveal values past the 80s.
More than a fun fact:
Be suspicious of high values in big data. “Everyone” doesn’t agree that strongly on very much. You can often tell if you are dealing with a low-confidence data set if numbers are too high and too strong. We use a 1-100 scalar variable because it allows for more variance than a 1-10 scale. This doesn’t mean a 1-5 or 1-10 scale is bad, and – indeed – entities are more likely to see “summarized” positive findings with a smaller scale that allows for less variance. These findings can be important! But if you’re dealing in market research, be suspicious when you see findings with a high mean suggesting that “everyone” (or near everyone) feels a certain way. You’re probably using bad data.
Sometimes, bad data is the unintentional result of unspecialized data collection practices and methods. Other times, it is the willful result of a third-party purposely skewing data to highlight their company or product. Be wary and remember: “Everyone” doesn’t even agree that kittens are cute.
3) What is the “best” science museum or science center in the US?
There is one, clear leader in the science museum/center space, according to people in the US. Can you guess what it is?
Really! Take moment to guess before reading on!
In order to identify market leaders, we often ask folks to name the “best” of an organization type, or an organization that they most admire. (Again, the responses are open-ended, so they aren’t choosing from a list.) When it comes to science museums and science centers, we find that people generally are not reliable in distinguishing between them. We’ll ask someone to name the last science center they attended and they may name a science museum. We’ll ask them to name their favorite science museum, and they may name a science center.
So what science museum or science center is most reliably rated by people as one of the best in the United States?
Here’s a hint: You can learn about rocket science…
…and the planets…
…and see the Wright Brothers plane.
It’s the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
Were you surprised? In my experience, this answer makes sense after it is shared, but it’s not the first organization that comes to mind for cultural professionals. Those tend to be other entities in the pack such as Exploratorium, Museum of Science in Boston, Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, California Academy of Sciences, or COSI Columbus. The reason may be that internal experts have a more specific idea of what a science museum or science center is – and that may differ from the public.
In fact, you might have even considered the National Air and Space Museum to be a history museum more than a science museum! And you’re not necessarily wrong! It may be considered both – but it’s the forced categorization of experiences and organization types that may get us “insider experts” into trouble.
More than a fun fact:
As internal experts, we’re often limited by our own ways of thinking. Certainly, we often know the difference between a science museum and a science center, a history museum and a historic house, or an art museum and an art center. But most visitors don’t have the same context as industry professionals, and it’s the classifications from our visitors that impact our public perception the most. When we divide too starkly along our own self-created lines, we may miss opportunities to collaborate, evolve, and meet audience needs.
4) When asked what they did at home, 90.2% of people say they surfed the Internet
We all have those weekends…sometimes it’s nice to just sit at home, relax in sweatpants, and fall down an Internet rabbit-hole. As it turns out, hanging out online is not necessarily a “side” activity – it’s an active activity! When we ask people what they did the last time they stayed home, over 90% of people actively say that they browsed the Internet. (Second place goes to watching a show or movie on TV at 85.5% of people.) Make no mistake: Folks are spending time online. They are doing it onsite, and they are doing it actively at home. The couch is a growing competitor, but people who stay home are still connected.
More than a fun fact:
Beware of the myth that folks staying home are “checked out” from a visit. With over 90% of people who stay home reporting that they are actively browsing the Internet, these folks can still receive your organization’s message and interact with your institution. Remember: Online engagement is engagement. When people are at home, they may still be looking up information about our programs, performances, or collections. They may still be seeing our interactions in their social media feeds. They could even be planning a visit. People who choose to stay home over the weekend may not be “lost opportunities.” Instead – with smart marketing and communications – we may be better served to consider these 90.2% of folks “ongoing opportunities.”
5) The most common international travel destinations for US likely visitors are Europe and British Columbia
Interestingly, skiing while on vacation in British Columbia often comes up as an indicator of a likely visitor! The average length of stay for foreign travel is 6 nights. People who have attended in the last two years are 4.2x more likely than average Americans to travel for leisure purposes. Inactive visitors (people with interest in visiting, but who haven’t in the last two years) are 5.1x more likely to travel for leisure purposes. These folks tend to also enjoy low-intensity outdoor activities such as skiing, hiking, and golfing.
More than a fun fact:
Likely visitors to cultural organizations are an active bunch, and competition for their time is fierce. In fact, potential visitors are even more active than recent visitors! Being a likely visitor is more often determined not by how much money someone has, but how they choose to spend it. Time is more valuable than money, and this fun fact underscores the need to continuously evolve marketing and communication strategies to entice people to attend in today’s competitive environment. It also calls upon cultural organizations to consistently offer programs and experiences that are reliably relevant to help an organization rise to the top of one’s list of potential activities.
The goal is for folks to say, “Hey, there’s a lot we could do today. Let’s visit the museum (or another type of cultural organization)!”
Perhaps these findings surprised you! Perhaps they did not. Either way, they lend insight into some deeper take-aways about cultural organizations and our audiences.
One of my favorite things about my work is discovering new trends and information to help cultural organizations. We’ll keep pulling the data, asking hard questions, and sharing the findings…if you keep up the important work of educating and inspiring your audiences.
But it doesn’t hurt to have fun facts for cocktail parties, either!
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