People who profile as likely visitors to cultural organizations have interest in attending museums and performing arts organizations… but they are interested in other activities as well.
Here’s what cultural entities need to know.
At IMPACTS, we have a lot of research about likely visitors to cultural organizations. We call these folks “high-propensity visitors.” High-propensity visitors are the people who do – or might – actually visit.
They are people in the US who have the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes indicating an increased likelihood to visit any kind of cultural institution. High-propensity visitors include both active/historic visitors (people who currently attend cultural entities) and inactive visitors (people with interest or similar characteristics who do not attend). Inactive visitors represent our industry’s potential to grow. They are more diverse than historic visitors. In a big way, they are our key to engaging new types of people.
“Excellent,” you may be thinking. “There’s hard data on these folks. Let’s use it to attract our people – and from there grow audiences who love us so we can increase the number of people who come through our doors and engage in our mission.”
Yes! That’s the spirit! High-confidence market and audience research enables cultural entities to effectively engage new and current audiences – and that’s exactly what we should do. After all, how can entities maintain and grow audiences without knowing how people perceive such organizations and make visitation decisions? Likely visitors are our bread-and-butter – and growing this audience is a goal.
…But we know something else that is critical for cultural entities to understand in today’s connected world: Likely visitors to cultural entities are likely to do other things, too.
The primary reason why likely visitors do not attend cultural organizations is because they prefer to do something else instead. High-propensity visitors are defined by their interest in attending cultural entities such as art museums, botanic gardens, symphonies, or science centers! But just because they are interested in attending a cultural organization does not mean they are disinterested in anything else – or that they are most interested in visiting a cultural organization. Being interested in something is also different than intending to do it.
Understanding our target audiences’ interest in the competition underscores the importance of effective marketing practices (and appropriate investment in it) – not to mention adequate funding for said practices. It also underscores the need for thoughtful programs, active digital engagement, and an even better onsite experience. In a nutshell, realizing that there’s intense competition for leisure time today heightens the importance of nearly every role within a cultural organization.
IMPACTS is – and has been – tracking interest in attending cultural entities alongside interest in other activities. Here are the three overarching competitors in town (…or at home).
The “new” competitor: The couch
If you’re hearing a lot about people staying home to binge-watch the new season of You on Netflix… or if you’re hearing so much about the cuteness of Baby Yoda on Disney+ that you’re not sure if you even think he’s cute anymore… then you’re likely already fully aware of our industry’s newest major competitors: Mr. Couch and Ms. Remote Control.
Just how interested are people in staying home during a week or weekend off work or school? We’ve provided data updates on this through the end of 2015, and then 2017. We now have fresh findings hot out of the data oven through the end of 2019, and the trendline has continued. In fact, the trendline is the steepest in this duration.
It isn’t only alarming that people in general are preferring to stay home. It’s particularly alarming that high-propensity visitors to cultural organizations are preferring to stay home as well – with meaningful growth in the preference. The preference to stay home during the weekend – among people who profile as likely visitors to cultural entities – has increased 35% since 2011!
Also consider that people need to leave their homes less often today than in the past. We can shop, buy groceries, bank, and connect with loved ones from home. It’s understandably harder for cultural entities be a singular motivator for someone to change out of sweatpants (or not) and leave the house than if someone were already dressed and out of the home to run errands or do something else.
A top indicator of likelihood to visit a cultural organization is a preference to leave the house to do anything at all. It sounds silly, doesn’t it? But it makes sense: Not everyone is especially active, but historic and inactive visitors to cultural entities are. Regardless of this fact, the desire to stay home amongst this group is growing.
The “traditional” competitor: The cultural entity down the street
Arguably, cultural entities are most familiar with this competitor (that is also a community-builder in some cases, as I will explain).
The data below is shown in scalar variables. In these particular charts, values under 62 start to indicate disagreement with the statements, while values over 64 begin to indicate agreement. Of course, the higher the value, the more interested people are in visiting that organization type. As usual, the data comes from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study with a current sample size of over 139,000 individuals in the United States.
First, the good news: Cultural entities generally share audiences.
We collect a lot of data on the “kind of person” who visits different types of cultural entities and their most-shared characteristics. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the kind of person who attends a history museum is not vastly different than the kind of person who visits a botanic garden or goes to a symphony… and is often the same person. (Think about your own behaviors.) Certainly, there are slight variances by organization type. However, the kind of person who visits an art museum is a lot more like the kind of person who visits a theater performance than someone who visits, say, a monster truck show. Simply, the kind of people who visit cultural organizations are the kind of people who visit cultural organizations.
This is good news because sharing insights may provide helpful hints for the entire sector. This is also good news because it means we can create meaningful partnerships with other organizations and strengthen interest within communities of people. For instance, we know that people who visited any kind of cultural organization with their family as children are more likely to become adult visitors. In a sense, one entity cultivating a museumgoer contributes to other, like entities welcoming more museumgoers over time. Cultural entities are, in many ways, in this together.
Now the bad news: yes, cultural entities generally share audiences.
Free time is precious. Even if someone is interested in both science and art museums, they can’t visit two cultural entities at the same time. They’ll need to make a choice, and they’ll go with whichever is their top priority. That doesn’t mean they won’t visit the other at another time, but it’s not guaranteed. If someone is going to turn off Hulu, you want your organization to be their priority.
While organizations generally share similar audiences, organization types have different perceptions, as you can see in the data. These perceptions may cultivate or deter a visit to one organization compared to another. For instance, childless adults do not feel comfortable at children’s museums (which may not be a bad thing for the safety of children), but science centers also share this perception to an extent – and they generally do aim to welcome adults. Attitude affinities, or how much people feel that different organization types are “for people like me,” generally correlate with interest perceptions.
The “other” competitor: The theme park, baseball game, or movie theater
I won’t sugarcoat it: This finding is a bummer. It’s also critical to understand and should inform how we motivate engagement and attendance.
We’ve considered US composite market (everyone) interest in various cultural organization types alongside interest amongst those who profile as likely visitors to cultural organizations. How interested are these folks in other things like parks, restaurants, and sporting events?
Here’s the kicker: Likely visitors to cultural organizations are likely attendees to these entities as well – and at even higher levels, on average. Cultural organization likely visitors are a subset of people in the US who are likely to do things.*
Remember that this information quantifies mean values from a very large, high-confidence sample of people in the US. There is room for individual deviation. Not everyone who is likely to go to a botanic garden is more interested in going to a popular restaurant. As a whole and on average, however, this is how things stack up for the US composite market and also people who profile as likely visitors to cultural organizations.
Don’t overlook the opportunities here! If your mind is spinning with thoughts about partnerships, programs, leveraging your macro-environment, or diversifying your experience within the realms of your mission and brand, then you may be onto something. There may be just as many clues to sector evolution in this chart as there are potential moments of disappointment.
* Questions related to the “popular concert” category were informed by information on the most viewed, top-selling, or trending concert events featured on entities such as StubHub and Ticketmaster.
What does this mean for cultural organizations?
While much of the research shared here may not be surprising to cultural executives, it has critical implications.
High-propensity visitors are interested in visiting cultural entities – but they are interested in taking part in other experiences as well. Generally, they are even more interested in other experiences.
Time is a non-renewable resource. An afternoon spent seeing a baseball game is an afternoon not spent at the art museum. Our goal, then, is to underscore the unique attributes that differentiate us from other experiences and use them to aid in motivating attendance.
The steps to achieving this goal require all hands on deck in cultural organizations. It’s understanding as much about the Visitor Engagement Cycle as possible, and knowing audiences’ behaviors, motivations, and preferences. It’s leveraging our superpowers of creating meaningful moments between people and providing an educational experience while understanding the driving role of entertainment value. It’s evolving our programs, messaging, ad placements, word of mouth opportunities, content, and experiences. It’s knowing that our audiences are online and investing adequately in marketing so a cultural institution is the first place folks go when the Netflix binge-watching ends.
It’s a job for visionary executives, game-changing board members, and passionate leaders in every department and on every level of the org chart.
Our fans are fans of other things, too. And that’s okay. We happen to like active and curious people! Let’s let this serve as a reminder not to become complacent in the coming decade, and instead allow it to motivate discussion about the strengths and superpowers of cultural organizations – and the importance of the people who serve in them – in educating and inspiring the masses.
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