As self-identified fans of your organization who have prepaid for your experience, members and subscribers are a critical group to engage during the pandemic as entities seek to stabilize revenues.
Doing this successfully means knowing a bit more about how they differ from general admission attendees.
At IMPACTS, we are diving into data to better understand the shifting equation of conditions surrounding the coronavirus, audience engagement trends, and the economic recession and what this may portend for the sustainability and solvency of cultural organizations. We’re trying to get to the bottom of this shifting equation in an effort to help treasured cultural organizations weather this virus. Better yet – so many may emerge future-proofed and primed to thrive in the coming decades.
Many organization leaders are rightfully asking, “What should cultural organizations do to engage audiences?” It’s an important question! But there’s another question that’s just as important right now in terms of staying afloat:
Given limited funding and capacity, which audiences should cultural organizations prioritize engaging?
An easy answer is, well, all of them.
But some audiences are much more cost-effective than others in providing the support necessary to simply survive through this crisis. It costs a lot more money to entice a person to visit a cultural entity who does not have interest in doing so then it does to engage someone who does have an interest – 4.6 times more, in fact! For cultural entities with tighter wallets than ever and itching to find solid ground to hire back staff who were let go due to furloughs or layoffs, finding firm financial footing is a big deal. In order to invest in effective access programs, they need to keep their lights on. These things cost money – money that is in short supply for many institutions right now thanks to coronavirus-related closures. In order to reengage their experts and relaunch their vital programming, many entities need to efficiently cultivate reliable revenues in our new, pandemic-impacted world.
With this in mind, there’s a key group we urge cultural organizations to cultivate and engage with care and urgency:
Their members and subscribers.
Whether an entity is currently planning to reopen or has reopened and is navigating audience engagement during the coronavirus surge, this audience subset is particularly important. Indeed, an element of recovery may depend upon not only how effectively entities cultivated this audience prior to the pandemic, but how effectively they engage with them during it.
Members and subscribers generally differ from regular attendees
Let’s start here: Members and subscribers are essential right now.
Members had already emerged as an especially critical audience subset prior to the pandemic. Repeat visitation to cultural organizations was increasing and was at its highest point in at least eight years, creating an environment ripe for cultivating members and subscribers.
But these folks are more than simply glorified visitors seeking a deal. They have higher satisfaction rates, thus providing more positive endorsements which play an important role in driving attendance. Over the course of just one year, they are four times more monetarily valuable than a visitor, on average. Not only that, but they have also effectively pre-purchased their tickets to attend! They are self-identified super-users who have prepaid admission, and have handed us their email addresses and asked us to stay in touch. What’s not to like about these awesome people who generally already like us!?
But who are these folks, and how do they differ from general visitors to exhibit-based institutions (such as museums) and general patrons to performance-based entities (such as theaters)?
Today we’re getting some national data in your hands to help cultural executives better understand who these folks are, and how they differ from general attendees in terms of age, educational attainment, and household income.
They have higher levels of educational attainment
It’s no surprise: Both members/subscribers and general attendees to cultural organizations are an educated bunch, with both groups having graduated high school and benefiting from at least two years of additional schooling. This is greater than the national average for US adults, which is about 12 years of accredited schooling.
But members and subscribers have even more years of educational attainment, with the average member having graduated college – and then some!
We’ve long known that educational attainment is a top attribute of a likely visitor to a cultural organization. Generally, the greater the number of years of educational attainment, the more likely someone is to have a propensity to attend a museum or performing arts organization. Thus, it makes sense that many of our members and subscribers – our super-users – tend to have more years of educational attainment under their belts than do our other guests.
Understanding this differentiation further underscores that, though similar in some ways, members and subscribers are a different subset of audiences for cultural organizations. They are a different group of people, and they’ve signed up and paid to be treated as such. If members and subscribers were simply “guests looking for a deal” and nothing else, we may not see these differences.
They are older
Adult members and subscribers tend to be older than general attendees.
The average age of a visitor or member/subscriber may vary by institution type, and these numbers are aggregates of various types of organizations. For instance, the average of a patron to symphony or orchestra in the United States is 61. The item of note here is the delta in ages between members/subscribers and general admission audiences.
They have higher household incomes
Household income correlates with educational attainment in the United States, so it’s no surprise that if members/subscribers are more educated, then they may have higher household incomes as well.
And indeed, this is the case.
Household income also tends to correlate with a higher propensity to visit cultural organizations. The higher one’s household income, the more statistically likely they are to be interested in visiting a museum or performance.
Whether they are members/subscribers or general admission visitors, attendees with higher household incomes have greater intent to visit cultural organizations upon their reopening, spend more money on site, and return to cultural entities more often. Wealthier people aren’t just helpful because they pay admission – they are good visitors, too.
None of this is to say that people who are not of particularly high household income are unimportant – far from it! The benefit of sharing this data is the understanding that these higher-income audiences may be efficient targets to help build back up revenues precisely in order to help cultural institutions get back on solid financial ground. Successfully engaging these individuals may be the key to offering affordable access programming again as quickly as possible.
People are far more than their educational attainment levels, ages, or household incomes. The point here is that members and subscribers generally differ in their demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes compared to general admission attendees. Members are likely to be critical audience members of high impact during the pandemic. They are self-identified super-users who like us, and their endorsements may be particularly important as we grapple with shifting conditions surrounding the coronavirus.
While they share several characteristics with active visitors, members and subscribers can represent a meaningful and efficient subgroup of supporters with a particularly high impact. Knowing as much about them as we can – who they are, what they value, and why they visit – can help us best engage them as a differentiated group during this unprecedented time.
Today, we’ve shared a bit of data about who they are, on the whole.
We look forward to sharing more information to be of service in the tomorrows to come.
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