Mobilizing certain visitors may be more important than others as organizations aim to find their footing and start the recovery process.
“Secure your own mask first before helping others.”
You may remember that instruction from the good old days when people were still traveling on airplanes. (Remember those times?) The implication, of course, is that securing your own mask first enables you to help others. You won’t be able to help a family member if you’ve passed out. And then you’re both in trouble.
Data is pointing to a similar message when it comes to cultural organizations getting back to business upon reopening.
While people intend to return to their more usual attendance behaviors concerning cultural experiences within three months, they expect organizations to evolve their operations to help keep people safe. Both performance and exhibit-based organizations may benefit from limiting lines and crowding. For many organizations – and perhaps performing arts organizations especially – limiting the number of people permitted within the facility as a safety measure may become a prerequisite to securing attendance.
This sounds easy to do… until you remember (as if any of you could have forgotten) that these entities will have been closed for weeks, if not months. Many leaders have already been forced to make painful decisions to cut or furlough staff members, freeze wages, discontinue contracts, halt educational programs, discontinue construction, and abandon some future plans. Earned revenue has come to a near-screeching halt in many cases. That revenue is largely (and unfortunately) lost.
What does data suggest cultural entities should do in order to maximize their chances for sustained success upon reopening – especially given that capacity within their organization may be limited?
This is a data-based article about maximizing recovery in the midst of altered operations. When entities reopen, space may be limited. Not only that, data shows that some kinds of visitors are especially crucial for maximizing revenue. Not all individuals will equally aid your organization in its recovery efforts right now.
This article is not at all about who you should ignore. It’s about who you should especially consider engaging when you reopen. Affordable access programming – and data to inform strategies surrounding it in our new environment – is a topic worthy of its own article. That article will be published on Wednesday, May 13th. You can subscribe here so you don’t miss it.
People who regularly visit cultural organizations are called “active visitors.”
Let’s start here. At IMPACTS, we classify anybody who tells us that they’ve visited any kind of cultural organization within the last two years an “active visitor.” These folks make up 18% of the US population. These are the people who actually visit cultural organizations. They are the people who come in our doors. They are the folks who already like us. Members and subscribers often fall into this category.
On the whole, active visitors tend to share some broad characteristics. They tend to be more affluent than the average American (though they are hardly all millionaires). They tend to be highly educated, and often live near urban areas. If your organization collects audience research or conducts onsite evaluations, then these are likely the folks you know the most about.
Below is the household income visitor distribution for 84 cultural organizations in the US, segmented by exhibit and performance-based institutions. This chart contemplates a sampling of 4,137 recent US adult visitors to cultural enterprise and includes organizations with both paid and complimentary admission policies. In sum, it is an overall snapshot of visitors organized by household income.
This distribution does not indicate the propensity to visit by household income. It only identifies major visitor cohorts for the purpose of contemplating our audiences in greater detail. Higher-income individuals have a higher propensity to visit, but there are many more people in the US in the lower-income brackets. So the volume of people in the US in each bracket plays a role. That said, you will note that these income-based cohorts still aren’t necessarily representative of the overall US population; instead, they are representative of actual, recent visitors to cultural organizations. For example, while visitors from households earning less than $100,000 per year comprise 52.7% of exhibit-based onsite audiences (and 48.7% of performance-based onsite audiences), households earning less than $100,000 per year make up 69.6% of US households.
For the purpose of this analysis and those below, we have further segmented students and retirees because while they may have incomes that fall within one of the income cohorts, extant research indicates that these groups have distinct behaviors and environmental conditions that merit unique consideration. For example, a student may fall within a lower income bracket, but actually have more discretionary spending capacity than a full-time professional worker earning the same income. Likewise, a retiree may have a more limited annual income but possess significant assets that allow for greater financial freedom than income alone might otherwise suggest.
Household income correlates with intentions to visit post-COVID-19.
We’ve been tracking a measure called “Intent to Visit” and reporting every Monday on its movement since the national emergency was declared in the United States on March 13, 2020. Unlike measuring interest in visiting, this time-bound intent-to-visit metric is among the most reliable predictors of actual attendance.
Some have asked us if intent to visit differs for people by household income. Indeed, it does. For the nearly 12 years that we’ve monitored this metric, it always has. For context during a non-pandemic time period, here’s what intentions to visit cut by household income looked like on April 30, 2019:
A good way to think of these values is as a measure of the relative certainty of an intended behavior being actualized. Thus, a value of “1” would indicate no intentions whatsoever to visit an organization, whereas a reported value of “100” would suggest that the respondent was essentially waiting in line for the doors to open.
Below is the data through yesterday, April 28, 2020. See this article for a full analysis of what these findings mean right now from a broader perspective in light of COVID-19.
You’ll see that intentions to visit among those with household incomes less than $100,000 have more depressed values when compared to last year than those with higher household incomes.
Though visitors from households earning annual incomes greater than $100,000 comprise approximately 30% of total attendance to cultural organizations, these more affluent visitors tend to be particularly efficient audiences to engage due to their heightened intentions to visit and enhanced discretionary spending capacities. The relative quality of this audience as consumers offsets their comparative lack of quantity. (Indeed, this lack of quantity may prove to be somewhat beneficial in a more socially distant, capacity-constrained world…more on this in a moment.)
The fact that intentions to visit are not depressed for higher-income households is good news for our recovery! If they were depressed, we might have an especially big problem getting back on our feet. These folks may also have the capacity to be meaningful donors.
This finding isn’t entirely surprising. Household income correlates with educational attainment levels in the United States, and it’s a key indicator of propensity to visit a museum or performing arts organization.
This certainly doesn’t mean that all attendees are of a high household income! The scatter chart simply demonstrates that the higher one’s household income, the greater their propensity to come in the door.
What else do we know about high-earning visitors to cultural organizations?
With dramatically increased unemployment, shifting household income statuses, and a shuttered economy, we’re observing some important changes that we’ll be sharing in the coming weeks regarding likely audiences.
We know that more affluent individuals indicate the greatest intentions to visit – and they may play an important role in cultural organizations regaining footing and starting to recover from the COVID-19 business interruption.
A) Higher-income individuals spend more money onsite.
The chart below contemplates 4,793 adult visitors to 84 organizations and quantifies their average per capita onsite spending. As applicable, this includes admission fees, membership costs, retail purchases, food service, and program fees.
On average, a visitor with a household income greater than $250,000/year spends 2.67x more per capita onsite at an exhibit-based institution than does a visitor making less than $50,000.
This may be painfully logical, though it may feel uncomfortable to acknowledge. Cultural entities aim to welcome everyone! It is embedded within many of their missions to educate and inspire. It’s what they do.
But when entities reopen, most will need revenue – and fast. It stands to reason that those with more money may be more likely to spend more money. It’s not rocket science, but it can feel like a taboo topic within some organizations. To that end, here’s the hard data. And I’ve said it for you: From an earned revenue perspective, your organization may especially benefit by mobilizing higher-earning advocates upon reopening.
But onsite spending isn’t the end of it…
B) Higher-income individuals visit more cultural organizations more often.
This chart below contemplates 2,885 recent visitors who attended any cultural organization within the last two years. The total number of cultural organizations of all types (i.e. museum, zoo, historic site, performing arts venue, etc.) that a person visits during the course of a year tends to increase with annual household income.
Might these numbers change in light of COVID-19? Indeed, they may. After all, there will be a period of time in 2020 in which people will not have been able to visit any cultural organizations – even if they wanted to do so.
People with higher household incomes have the propensity to visit more cultural entities more often, further underscoring the efficacy of targeting and considering them.
I find that this data set is often eye-opening for cultural organization staff members. If you consider how many cultural organizations of any kind that you personally visit per year (excluding your own), I wouldn’t be surprised if you said ten or more. After all, you are likely the leader of a cultural institution with both a personal and professional interest in these kinds of organizations.
But we are not our audiences. We are (in my personal opinion) the best kind of super nerds. However, most people behave differently than we do in terms of cultural institution attendance.
What does this data mean for cultural organizations devising engagement strategies for reopening?
We will be elaborating on these implications and providing additional contemporary data on these topics in the next several weeks.
1) Not all audiences are of equal value in terms of regaining lost revenue.
Cultural entities have been (and remain) closed, resulting in the loss of significant revenue for many – revenue that helps care for animals, support passionate educators, fuel stage managers, and keep HVAC systems running and the lights on. When entities reopen, they may do so to limited capacity – particularly for performing arts organizations. This is a funding struggle.
During this uncertain time, it may be wise to consider that not every “butt in the seat” or “pair of feet in the door” results in the same payoff for the organization. Not only do higher-earning individuals have greater intentions to visit (making them efficient targets), but they also spend more money onsite and come back more often. They may also have the greatest potential to be major donors during this time of increased need.
It sounds obvious. Yet it seems difficult for some professionals outside of the development department to discuss. We’re talking about survival. If there isn’t money to sustainably execute our missions, then it is impossible to carry out those missions at all.
2) Prioritize advocates.
So which “pairs of feet” are arguably most important and may have the greatest impact not only in terms of revenue but also in getting more people in the door? There are three advocate visitor groups that we suggest organizations consider prioritizing:
- Members and subscribers
- Active visitors
Active visitors, as we’ve been discussing, are the kinds of people who actively visit cultural institutions. They already have interest in visiting cultural institutions and they already overcome visitation barriers to walk through our doors. Visiting our institutions is often an embedded part of who they are and how they view themselves. This makes them the easiest to mobilize, compared to other visitor cohorts.
An added bonus: Many entities know a thing or two about these people if they conducted onsite surveys and evaluations prior to COVID-19. This information may especially pay off after reopening as entities aim to reengage core constituents.
After reopening, your organization’s ability to mobilize key advocates by getting them to engage with your organization, visit, and share their stories may be critical to signaling to other audiences that you are open for business. Among these active visitors, data suggest that those of higher household income may be particularly efficient targets as the revenues that this cohort returns to an organization vastly exceed the investments required to engage their onsite participation.
For organizations that choose to impose capacity controls to limit crowding and promote social distancing, it will be important to maximize the value of every visitor from a revenue efficiency standpoint. In the immediate near term, our highest value visitors are likely those with the fewest barriers to visitation. In other words, active visitors are both the “lowest hanging” and the most “nutrient-dense” fruit. Successfully engaging this audience not only helps to satisfy their immediate demands, it also provides the maximum revenue for an organization to start on the road to financial recovery.
3) Optimizing revenue now can enable successful access programming later.
On the whole, it’s been (and still is) a difficult period of layoffs, furloughs, wage decreases, and hiring freezes. It’s time to openly discuss maximizing efficiency and securing revenue as entities start devising strategies to reopen (hopefully) in the coming months.
We may find that the world has changed in big ways when we’re all able to emerge from our homes. Many more people are unemployed, which may challenge traditional assumptions and operations surrounding affordable access audiences. (Again, data is coming on this topic on May 13th.)
Some organizations may limit their attendance capacity, further exacerbating revenue issues. By targeting higher-earning advocates upon reopening, entities may more quickly secure enough revenue to fund programs and experiences to reach more audiences. The first step right now may be to figure out how to survive.
“Secure your own mask first before helping others.”
It means: “Secure your own mask first to enable yourself to help others.”
Upon reopening, secure your own sustainable funding strategy first so that you may effectively continue your important work of educating and inspiring communities.
We’ll need you.
(A personal sentiment: We already do.)
Here are the COVID-19 data insights for cultural entities that we’ve published thus far. Don’t want to miss an update? Subscribe here to get the most recent data and analysis in your inbox.