Time is even more valuable than money in 2019 than it was in 2010 – especially for likely visitors. Here’s what’s happening and what it means for cultural organizations.
There’s a common misconception that being free may be a panacea for audience engagement for cultural organizations. “If we just didn’t have an admission price,” some leaders or staff members may say, “then we’d reach scores more people.” While this has been disproven on nearly every level – from intentions to visit free vs. paid organizations to the diversity seen at free vs. paid admission organizations – the unfounded belief that money is the primary barrier to visiting cultural organizations is still a prevalent one.
This misconception stems from the belief that money is more valuable than time. This is false. Time is more valuable than money for people, especially for people who profile as likely visitors to cultural organizations. First and foremost, cultural organizations must be worthy of people’s time.
IMPACTS has been measuring the value of time vs. money for people in the United States for a decade as of this month. And time has grown even more valuable in the last decade.
During the contemplated 10-year duration ranging from year 2010 through year 2019, the belief that “time” is more valuable than “money” broadly increased across both the entire US adult population and for high-propensity visitors. High-propensity visitors are folks who have the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral characteristics that indicate an increased likelihood to visit any kind of cultural organization at all, from an art museum to a theater performance to a zoo. Simply, these people are defined as having any kind of interest in visiting cultural entities. The beliefs of these folks are shown in blue, and the beliefs of the US composite market are shown in orange.
Belief in the increasing value of “time” compared to “money” rose by 9.5% for US residents, and by 8.8% for high propensity visitors in the last decade. This is notable!
A few factors likely drive these observed increases:
1) Increasing demands for worker productivity and less vacation time
The “always-on” work culture born of 24/7 connectivity is taking its toll on workers. Americans spend more time working than do other national workforces, and our vacation time has declined over the last 15 years. In 1998, the average working American took 20.1 vacation days. In 2017, that number had decreased to 17.2 (and only 8 days were used for travel, on average). Not only that, 52% of American employees don’t even use all their vacation time! The results of increasing demands for productivity may be seen in the surge of literature on self-care today. “Your worth is not measured by your productivity” memes can be easily spotted on social media. (…Or maybe algorithms are especially targeting me with these messages? Welp.)
2) The US economy has been generally strong over the past decade
A stronger economy generally means more money in folks’ pockets compared to a weaker economy, and US economic expansion began in June of 2009. While financial professionals may be generally blasé about this growth compared to other periods in history and there are some predictions of a recession on the horizon, this is worth mentioning because this condition took place during the recorded time period. Note, however, that time was more valuable than money even in 2010.
Why does this matter for cultural organizations?
Unlike buying energy drinks, new boots, or most other goods, the benefit of attending a cultural organization is in the experience. When we aim to motivate a visit, we are asking people to invest their most important nonrenewable resource – their time. A bad time investment cannot be reimbursed.
Our goal – first and foremost – is to be perceived as being worthy of precious time.
1) Primary attendance barriers are about time
Cost is ranked the fourteenth biggest barrier to attendance among people who are interested in visiting but don’t! The top barrier to visitation is one’s preference for another leisure activity. Many people report interest in visiting cultural organizations. However, over 30% of those indicating interest do not actually attend them. What gives?
They’d rather invest their time differently. They may be interested in going to the aquarium, botanic garden, or symphony… but they may be more interested in doing other things instead. This is especially relevant as more and more people prefer to spend time at home.
2) Schedule is a primary influencer of attendance
Schedule is the top influencer in the decision to engage in a leisure activity for likely visitors and the US composite market alike. Schedule is the top condition for visiting cultural organizations. Makes sense, right? If a museum is only open during the hours in which people are at work or school, folks are less likely to rearrange their schedule to visit.
Time is more valuable than money, and if it’s previously committed elsewhere, that time isn’t available to visit a cultural organization.
When cultural organizations understand that we are requesting time and how important this is, we can focus on removing true – but difficult to tackle – barriers such as content disinterest. It allows us to focus on relevance and communicating singular, unique experiences.
Time is precious. Compared to money, it’s even more precious than it was a decade ago.
Let’s show potential visitors how worthy cultural experiences are of that investment.
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