Though the preference to stay home has increased dramatically, Americans remain connected to the web – where cultural organizations may work to cultivate engagement and attendance.
Cultural executives at museums and performing arts organizations are no strangers to considering constant change and evolution. At IMPACTS Experience, we’ve observed particular interest amongst our partner organizations in trends that have been exacerbated over the last two years. It’s no surprise that the pandemic has altered and exacerbated several trending behaviors. For instance, digital engagement was already on the rise even before the pandemic, and the need to focus on expanding audiences was already critical. The last two years accelerated both of these trends and several others surrounding membership, optimal admission pricing, and the importance of an organization’s mission in motivating attendance and engagement. Certainly, there are a lot of things influencing what people do outside of their homes, but it’s also helpful to understand a growing trend inside of those homes.
To that end, let’s talk about the growing comfortability of the couch.
The chart below is from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study and it shows the growth in the percentage of Americans who prefer to stay home over the weekend. The orange line shows that the preference to stay home over the weekend has grown 42.4% for all Americans since 2011. However, the kicker in this chart is the blue line.
The blue line shows the findings for people who profile as high-propensity visitors to cultural organizations – both exhibit and performance-based. These are the people who have the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate a heightened interest in visiting museums and/or performing arts institutions. It includes folks who indicate that they actively visit these kinds of organizations, as well as people like them or who have an interest in attending, but have not visited recently. For these most likely audiences, their preference to stay home over the weekend has grown a staggering 60.1% since 2011.
Right off the bat, this isn’t great news. A top indicator of a person willing to attend a cultural organization is that they are willing to leave their homes in the first place! As you can see, even the people who like to go out are more interested in staying in than they were in the past.
You’ll notice that there was notable growth in the desire to stay home during the pandemic. Indeed, the pandemic “forced” some people to stay home, but you’ll see that this desire to stay home has thus far shown to be durable. The want to keep themselves or their families safe may certainly have something to do with this finding. That said, you’ll notice that the indicated preference to stay home continued to increase in 2021 when many places had re-opened and we had advanced in both our knowledge and ability to live alongside the virus. The percentage of people who want to stay home over the weekend has continued to grow over the last ten years, and it may not be reasonable for cultural organizations to bank on the market’s desire to return to their behaviors of the previous decade as the backbone of future engagement strategies. Indeed, the data strongly suggest that the couch and the remote control are here to stay as stiff competition for our audiences’ time and attention.
Even before the pandemic, staying home was becoming easier. Now, it’s arguably easier than ever. As I often say when I present this research: In the past we had to leave our homes to go to the bank, get groceries, and even to rent movies so that we could stay home and watch those movies! We don’t need to leave our homes for any of that today.
But what are people doing when they stay home? We asked those folks who said that they prefer to stay home over the weekend what they did the last time they stayed home over the weekend. The results below are populated by a data science process known as lexical analysis wherein IMPACTS Experience asks open-ended questions, and people are able to respond in their own words while technology helps to categorize these responses. This not only avoids the framing that can create cognitive biases in a traditional “select all that apply” survey, but it also populates the list with what people are actually doing rather than options that may have been brainstormed, etc.
Browsing the Internet (and other related phrasing that informs this broad categorization) takes the cake for what we are all doing when we decide to stay in during a weekend, followed by watching a movie or show on TV, and “taking it easy.” You’ll note that these top three items didn’t change much since we initially published this research through 2017. At that time, 90.2% of people who preferred to stay home said they were browsing the Internet. Note that while the percentage of people who prefer to stay home and reported this activity didn’t change much (90.2% vs. 92.0%), the percentage of Americans who prefer to stay home in the first place has increased. In other words, the pool of people preferring to stay home and thus reporting that they are spending time on the web has gotten bigger both in terms of percentages and total numbers.
Some new items have risen or made an appearance at end of year 2021 that were not on this list in 2017. For instance, ordering delivery has displaced preparing a home-cooked meal. Zooming friends and family and solving a puzzle are new, to name a few differences. (Thank you, Wordle.) Notably, the percentage of people taking part in most of these activities significantly increased. This makes sense: More people spending more time at home means more people doing more things at home.
What might this mean for cultural organizations? It has a host of implications, but these may be the three most important from a broad perspective:
1) When at home, Americans are still out-of-home (on the web)
People who are on the couch may be down for the count in terms of walking into a museum’s doors at that moment, but they are still ripe for cultivating engagement. With 92% of those preferring to stay home on the web, there’s ample opportunity (and responsibility) for cultural organizations to continue to prove their relevance beyond their physical walls by providing engaging content to motivate a visit. When people are home, we can still reach them.
More people are engaging with cultural organizations online now than before – and even during – the height of the pandemic. It’s critical to meet audiences where they are online and continue to work to cultivate engagement online, including (if not especially) engagement that results in a visit or a membership enrollment.
2) Growth in the desire to stay home makes competition fiercer for out-of-home leisure time
This trend makes strategic marketing all the more important. More time on the couch means less time having experiences out-of-home, and that increases the need to be a top-choice for leisure time in order to secure a visit. If a person is going to take part in one out-of-home activity over the weekend, we want them to choose a visit to the museum over a movie screening, downtown shopping, or a hike, for example. (Unless of course your organization screens movies or you have a park – then you want people to choose that activity.)
The solution will be in understanding the importance of strategic marketing, the value of word-of-mouth endorsements, and intelligent targeting of audiences with relevant messaging. Those institutions thinking, “People are going out more often than during the height of the pandemic! They’ll come back to us at even greater numbers if we just wait!” may be in for a disappointing future if these trends continue. Competition for leisure time is already fierce, and marketing strategies are growing more personalized and targeted. As the most successful cultural institutions already know, admission tickets are not bought. They are sold.
3) Cultural experiences must increasingly serve as independent motivators for leaving the home
If people are not already wearing their “going out pants” because they are going to the bank or the grocery store, then the want to attend museums and performing arts organizations must be an even stronger motivator to put those “going out pants” on in the first place. This isn’t to say that people will necessarily only visit a cultural institution and then turn around and go home. Rather, out-of-home experiences may be losing the motivation heretofore automatically afforded to them by people generally needing to leave their homes to live their lives.
This is an added challenge, and the solution may be continuing to emphasize the relevance of cultural experiences. We want folks to feel the draw to attend – to feel inspired, engaged, and learn something new within our walls. The call is for us to continue to cultivate excitement with inclusive, stimulating, thought-provoking, and inspiring programming and permanent experiences.
There are several potential strategies and opportunities to aid cultural organizations in overcoming and adjusting to growth in the preference to stay home. The first step is to understand the extent to which it is happening, and specifically how much it is impacting our core audiences of high-propensity visitors. When we know how our key audiences are behaving, we are better able to create and adapt strategies to overcome these challenges.
The good news is that even when people are at home, they are still able to connect with museums and performing arts entities online. There may be that moment when folks are on the couch and the sourdough bread is eaten up and the Netflix notification pops up asking, “Are you still watching?” A goal is to be so strategic in our marketing and so relevant in our programming and experiences that at this moment, family members may turn to one another and say,
“We’re done watching for now. Let’s go to the museum.”
IMPACTS Experience provides data specific to organizations or markets through workshops, keynote presentations, webinars, and data services such as pricing recommendations, market potential analyses, concept testing, and Awareness, Attitude, and Usage studies. Learn more.
We publish new national data and analysis every other Wednesday. Don’t want to miss an update? Subscribe here to get the most recent data and analysis in your inbox.