Data suggests that members and subscribers may be particularly important target audiences upon reopening. Here’s why.
We have a great deal of data and potentially critical information coming in right now alongside analysis to inform recovery strategies for cultural entities upon reopening. To that end, we’ve decided to publish this Friday special featuring a new Fast Facts video.
As states slowly begin to relax stay-at-home orders and the potential for opening doors to cultural institutions moves closer on the horizon, cultural organizations are asking us what audiences they should be targeting to maximize their recovery and stabilize their finances. Given that most organizations’ wallets may be a whole lot thinner than they were pre-COVID, these are critical questions.
Reopening doors without a clear and efficient (but flexible) audience engagement strategy risks even more lost funds. “Let’s open the doors and see what happens” risks losing opportunities to set entities up for successful and expedient recovery. It’s imperative that organizations make strategic engagement decisions. This may be especially true for those organizations imposing entrance limits in order to promote social distancing onsite.
On Wednesday, we shared (potentially uncomfortable but important) data about why higher-income visitors are particularly efficient targets as entities devise engagement strategies to recover. That article set the foundation for more data we have coming down the pipeline. Because we are in the midst of a recession, financial situations are changing for some audience members. But remember that the financial situation has changed for cultural institutions, too. Many are in “survival mode” and in desperate need of funds to support operations, bring back staff, and carry out their missions.
There’s a key group of constituents data suggests may be especially important for recovery:
Members and subscribers.
Prior to COVID-19, members and subscribers were already arguably more important to sustainable operations than ever before. This may be especially the case upon reopening and afterward. Here are three data-informed realities regarding members and subscribers that make them particularly worthy of attention during this uncertain time in which finding stable organizational footing is paramount:
1) Members and subscribers are generally already advocates – and entities will need that support upon reopening
Members and subscribers are a cultural organization’s greatest potential advocates. Their onsite satisfaction and perceptions about the institutions to which they belong differ from those of general visitors. They’re better.
This video doesn’t mention COVID-19 because it was filmed just before the virus was spreading throughout the United States (that we were aware of at the time, at least). Knowing how member and subscriber onsite experiences differed from other guests when entities were last open informs audience engagement strategies upon reopening. The data underscores a unique benefit attendant to member and subscriber perceptions.
(I’m not looking nearly this fancy in quarantine, though. That’s definitely changed in the short time since filming.)
IMPACTS surveyed members and non-members to 18 cultural organizations in the United States. This includes both exhibit-based entities (think museums) and performance-based entities (think theaters).
Right off the bat, we see that members/subscribers have higher onsite satisfaction than non-members/non-subscribers. In these scalar variable metrics, a jump of only 2 points is statistically significant and worthy of note. A jump of 4 is a big difference!
These higher scores matter because satisfaction correlates with the likelihood to endorse an organization. What people say about your organization is significantly more impactful in building your reputation – and thus, motivating attendance – than what your organization says about itself. Your members and subscribers probably like your organization, and leveraging the people who like your organization can have big returns on support and motivating other people to attend.
And it’s not just visitor satisfaction that’s higher! Members and subscribers rate the educational experience higher than regular visitors. They also report better admission value, better perceptions of crowd control, and better parking experiences.
Members and subscribers are a self-identified group of advocates who generally like the organizations to which they belong. Their increases in onsite satisfaction and guest experience metrics can have a big impact on the likelihood to positively endorse an organization.
Among members, those for whom your mission matters have the highest satisfaction of all. For most people, your mission is a draw to sign up in the first place. (Data shows that it’s not only free admission that plays a role.)
When entities reopen, they’ll benefit from the endorsements of the people who cherish them most. In our members and subscribers, we have a concentrated group of people to whom we’ve already appealed, who generally know what we offer and why it matters, and who have better onsite experiences. This is a critical group to reengage.
An important bonus: We already have their contact information and know who they are.
2) Lapsed members and subscribers intend to renew when they next visit
Or, at least some of them. The top reason (by far) why guests do not renew their memberships and subscriptions is that they intend to do it when they next visit. The data below contemplates 2,688 members and subscribers to cultural organizations who had not renewed their memberships in two years, cut for the first quarter of 2020. The blue bar indicates lapsed subscribers to performing arts institutions, and the orange bar indicates lapsed members to exhibit-based institutions.
The reasons members failed to renew their memberships have been populated by a lexical analysis process whereby responses to open-ended questions help establish the range of non-renewal options. In other words, we did not frame responses by proposing a series “I intend to renew when I next visit” multiple choices. Instead, the nine reasons for non-renewal indicated above derive from actual member feedback.
The data is in index values. An index value shows proportionality around a mean, and values over 100 are more important than those under 100. This is a helpful way to display data. For instance, it shows that simply intending to renew when one next visits is a 2.76x bigger reason for the lapse than a member’s changing interest or priorities for exhibit-based organizations. It’s a 2.21x bigger factor for performing arts organizations.
Because this chart represents the first quarter of 2020, it includes samples collected after the national emergency was declared on March 13th. Approximately 17% of the sample included represents the pandemic shutdown period. This may have negatively impacted renewal intent-related numbers. This said, intending to renew when they next visit remains and is consistently the top reason why memberships are not renewed, as you can see in the data for this same time last year. They need to be targeted much like other kinds of visitors so that the organization remains top of mind. Remember: These folks intend to renew when they next visit, but they haven’t visited in the last two years. Encouraging their membership renewal may be synonymous with encouraging attendance.
This data matters right now because it illustrates that there is potential to capture lapsed members and subscribers as well, and they may share similar affinities to current members if they can be encouraged to reengage soon after reopening.
3) Members/subscribers are particularly valuable from a revenue standpoint, and that is critical right now
Why all the fuss about members? Because not only are they our advocates, but they contribute critical monetary support as well. After being closed for weeks – if not months – cultural institutions may find themselves in “survival mode” and aiming to figure out how to sustain themselves in this new environment with significant lost revenues due to closures.
Over a ten-year duration, IMPACTS examined 18 cultural organizations that have paid admission as well as a membership fee. (None of these entities had free admission or a free membership program.) This group of organizations includes museums, zoos, aquariums, and botanic gardens, among others. We found that a member of an exhibit-based institution has a 4.5x greater monetary value to the cultural organization than a visitor.
This isn’t at all to imply that visitors don’t matter. Of course they do! They matter a lot! It’s just that, from both a revenue and an advocate standpoint, members are particularly meaningful at this key juncture.
This video (not as hot-from-the-production-partner as the first) provides an overview of the analysis:
In many ways, members and subscribers were our champions prior to COVID-19. A goal may be to keep them engaged and encourage their attendance so that they may remain our champions upon reopening as well.
There may be creative opportunities to welcome members and subscribers and strengthen this relationship. This may involve inviting them exclusively to the early phases of reopening (and showing off your safety measures to ensure positive earned endorsement). It may mean special hours for members, exclusive content to strengthen the relationship prior to reopening, or a whole host of other ideas.
As organizations devise strategies to rebuild and maximize revenues, these champions may be a particularly important asset. But as we’ve seen, just because they are members doesn’t mean they will visit even during a non-pandemic time period. They may need to be reminded of your important work and the value of their support.
During this time, it may help to think of members and subscribers – and particularly those who are mission-motivated – as our advocates and supporters. Becoming a member is the top way that people believe they can support an organization’s mission – even more than donating.
In discussing the importance of these audiences, my colleague Jim Hekkers said it succinctly: “When you’re in trouble, you turn to your friends.”
Members and subscribers or not, the people who believe you matter, matter.
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.