It’s Thanksgiving week! Here at IMPACTS, we’re grateful for many things: Our team, our great partners, all of you terrific readers, the hard work of cultural organization staff members in educating and inspiring the masses, math…
We’re also grateful for cartoonist Tom Fishburne. From pointing out cognitive biases to underscoring counterproductive tendencies, Fishburne highlights areas of growth in a way that makes us nod and smile. His cartoons are not “about” the cultural industry, but they often relate to the work we do in our own sector.
Here are five of our favorite cartoons that we think shine a light of self-awareness on particularly critical opportunities for cultural organizations, and the lesson at the heart of the laugh.
1) Operate from the outside-in to effectively engage audiences
There’s a line we say often here at IMPACTS: An organization may declare importance, but the market determines relevance. In other words, it doesn’t matter how much learned leaders of cultural institutions say that some idea, exhibit, performance, program, etc., is important. If people don’t believe it’s important – if we do not effectively make the case for its importance to them – then the message is irrelevant. People decide how successful we will be. Our audiences determine our effectiveness. After all, our missions are to educate and inspire people.
Connection is king. In a world in which people may have a shorter attention span than goldfish, it’s more important than ever to consider how we create meaning. We do this by better understanding our audiences and what matters to them, not just to us.
2) When you cut marketing, you cut revenues.
A P&L statement is a financial statement that summarizes the revenues, costs, and expenses incurred during a specified time period. This cartoon may hit especially close to home for CMOs, but data suggests the painful truth of this cartoon should be felt by everyone in an organization.
Cutting marketing budgets often impacts visitation, and visitation is an important source of revenue for many organizations. To get to the bottom of what really happens when cultural organizations cut marketing budgets, we examined organizations that had recently cut their marketing budgets by at least 15%. Perhaps unsurprisingly, their attendance decreased by 6.1% on average (and the revenue loss attendant to this often dramatically outweighed the money “saved” by the 15% budget cut)!
Here’s the kicker: When organizations realized their mistakes and re-invested in marketing – and even added more to the budget – attendance didn’t fully recover! Not even close. Attendance to visitor-serving organizations does not bounce back when marketing budgets are restored for two reasons: Loss of word of mouth endorsement, and the need to “buy back” lost audience members.
Organizations generally cannot cut marketing investments without corollary impact. Those that miss this memo may be doomed to a spiral of decreasing attendance of their own making.
3) Effective social media cultivates visitors
It’s no secret: Social media is a powerful engagement tool for cultural organizations. Over the years, we’ve uncovered, shared, and updated information on social media’s impact on everything from motivating attendance to increasing onsite satisfaction.
It’s a mistake to divorce social media and digital engagement from attendance and support. Social media – and earned endorsement overall – plays a critical role in getting people in the door. These platforms are tools to be leveraged to effectively engage new and current audiences. If they aren’t doing that, then an organization may not be optimizing social media’s superpowers. Fans and followers mean little when they aren’t providing support to an organization by way of a visit, membership, or another method. But these fan numbers do matter when the community is strategically leveraged. Data shows that social media fans have greater intentions to visit organizations they follow, and people who follow an organization on social media have a better onsite experience.
4) Beware of short timeframes. It takes time to see trends.
Let’s start here: The average re-visitation cycle for US visitor-serving organizations approximates 27 months as of 2019. Annual timeframes do not reflect market behaviors – let alone quarterly timelines. Unfortunately, annual timeframes may be the only ones leaders ever consider.
Of the 224 organizations that we monitor at IMPACTS, 151 organizations (67%) have flat or declining attendance compared to ten years ago, and that doesn’t even take into account population growth! Did some organizations have a few years that were up compared to the year before? Sure. And it’s relatively easy to manipulate short-term annual metrics (sometimes with negative long-term consequences), but it’s harder to buck a trend. Again, 67% of the cultural institutions we monitor have fewer guests than they did ten years ago! Think about that for a moment. Entities measuring only year-over-year attendance may be relying on timeframes that make it harder – not easier – to spot opportunities and evolve.
On a related note, it takes time to spot trends. Fads increase and decrease quickly in popularity, while trends increase over time and often help to solve a problem for people. Even for organizations looking beyond annual numbers, distinguishing between fads and trends is important. Check out the video below for a trick to help distinguish between fads and trends.
5) To be data-informed, get comfortable being uncomfortable.
As humans, we have a whole host of cognitive biases that get in the way of making data-informed decisions. It’s easier not to update our thinking or challenge our preconceived notions. It’s hard to rewire our brains, and it’s uncomfortable when something pops up that counters how we’ve been thinking or operating for months, years, or even decades.
There’s one phrase we hear frequently from leaders in relation to data (even when it’s high-confidence data pulled specifically for the leader’s organization): “That doesn’t apply to my organization.” This phrase is dangerous. It’s often said in order to defensively distance oneself from challenging findings… and the findings are usually challenging because they hit on a deeply-rooted issue that needs to be resolved for an organization to reach its goals. Instead, we encourage leaders to ask themselves regarding trend data, “To what extent does this apply to me, and what can I learn from these findings?” (If it’s high-confidence data for your specific organization or your target audiences, then it’s a matter of data acceptance.) If you get a gut feeling of defensiveness when you see high-confidence trend data, lean in – not out. It’s usually a hint that you’ve run up against a pesky cognitive bias.
No doubt about it: Becoming a data-driven cultural organization is hard work! We’re grateful to all of you for working hard to make your organizations more people-centric and data-driven every day. We’re also grateful for cartoonists like Tom Fishburne who help us laugh at ourselves while driving home key lessons. At the end of the day, we’re a bunch of humans working tirelessly to educate and inspire the masses.
At the end of the day, we’re a bunch of humans.
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