We know things have changed for people as a result of Covid-19. But which things? And by how much? What will it mean for the attitudes and behaviours of everyday people? Which habits have been disrupted? Which have been created? What are short-term reactions? And what may change long-term in the way we think and act? The 2020 Vision Project seeks to answer these questions by following 30 New Zealanders during and post lockdown.
The wave 2 report Finding our new sense of normal deducts 9 findings. For arts organisations, I can see an opportunity in the first three findings: “Normal but not normal”, “Focusing closer to home” and “Buying Local”. The sector talks about community a lot, now is the time to foster (or build) the connection with the local community and to help people maintain new habits that might include engaging with art in new ways. That report was before the second lockdown in Auckland. Most people I spoke to found the second one harder, here are insights in the wave 3 report Making the most of the situation.
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In recent years, the arts have invested in audience research and in many successful projects to engage audiences. However, there is still not the consistent and long-term growth in audience breadth and diversity that is needed.
In some cases projects might have been too safe and while catering better for traditional core audiences they did not necessarily reach other groups, in other cases they might not have been maintained long-term. Or organisations got stuck between insight and action.
New approaches to audience development seem to be needed. In other industries services are increasingly designed in a user-centred way and through an approach referred to as service design, human-centred design or design thinking.
What is design thinking? It is a human-centred approach to problem-solving and to innovation. It helps teams understand people’s needs and motivations with empathy and supports experimentation to create innovative solutions.
A design thinking process can unlock the gap from insight to action by placing people at the heart of the challenge, by working in multi-disciplinary staff teams and by imagining and testing new solutions.
Key elements of the design thinking process are: • bringing together quantitative and qualitative data to build empathy with different audiences, seeing the experience through their eyes • reframing the challenge to open up to a broader range of solutions • developing ideas, and • experimenting and prototyping to test and learn.
I believe that applying this process or elements of this approach holds a lot of potential for the cultural sector. It can help to make more of the insight generated, it is practical and cost-effective and it embeds new ways of working. I am not alone as this article from the Audience Agency in the UK shows: “Time to ditch old-school approaches to audience development“.
I have recently become a certified design thinking facilitator. Please get in touch if you are interested to explore this approach for your organisation.
In a blog post earlier this year I reported on a flexible pricing experiment at a German museum: Weserburg Museum für Moderne Kunst in Bremen tried a “pay-as-you-stay” model, charging 1 Euro per 10 minutes of a visit.
Results exceeded expectations with visit numbers increasing while income remained relatively steady. Their second test round in March was interrupted by Covid-19, so to get a clearer understanding of the effects, they will implement ‘pay as you stay’ again and think it might be a good way to get visitors. “If it proves a feasible pricing model, both financially and with regard to accessibility and visitor satisfaction, we will keep it in place. If not, we’ll be comfortable with this finding, too, and try something else. But try we will.” says Tom Schloessler, managing director of the museum.
Zoom recording of recent Museums Aotearoa presentations
Last week I participated in Museums Aotearoa’s zui on visitors: What do today’s museum and gallery visitors expect, who are they, and how can we make their visit memorable?
We were 4 presenters, who shared different perspectives on the theme:
Angie Judge, CEO at Dexibit, discussed how and which data analytics can be particularly useful to understand the development of visitation post-lockdown. She recommended 3 metrics: – % of normal visits on a rolling 7-day average compared to previous year, – impact assessment of lost visitation and revenue, and – growth week on week on a 7-day rolling average. This recovery index could then be benchmarked locally and internationally. Interested organisations can join to get access to a free dashboard.
Gayle Beck, Head of Audiences & Insight at Te Papa shared research on how visitation has been developing at Te Papa as well as insights on audience expectations and behaviour. Generally visitors are feeling safe and she reported that visitation is growing continuously, in particular on weekends. Te Papa benchmarks versus domestic visits in the previous year, given the borders are closed. However, Te Papa still found a sizeable amount of international visitors (on long-term travel or stranded in NZ), who are keen to see more of the country and visit its attractions. Gayle shared research on the main reasons why people visited in recent weeks: – it’s part of locals’ lives – to spend time with friends & family – to use the open spaces and cafe as safe places to relax and escape home – it’s a must-see attraction.
Adrian Kingston, Digital Channels Manager at Te Papa shared the Audience Impact Model. This is an impressive framework to help the organisation assess the value and impact of what it offers, going far beyond numbers through the door. It is a 5-step model (Attention – Reaction – Connection – Insight – Action) and, importantly, is based on success from a visitor rather then from an organisation point-of-view.
Sabine Doolin, Insight Unlocked. I shared my Manifesto for Audience Focus. It is often said these days that we should not just go back to normal but to create a new normal. But what does that actually mean? I suggest that a strong audience focus across the whole organisation should be our new normal. And that this time of change is an opportunity to change some of our approaches and to implement some changes to how we work in relation to visitors. I have summarised my thoughts in the Manifesto for Audience Focus. It was great to hear that this resonated with Gayle and her colleagues at Te Papa.
Arts and other not-for-profit managers should be much more recognised by the business world, they are leading complex businesses. Nice to see also a fellow Austrian leading such an esteemed organisation.
The award was handed over virtually with an interesting conversation about the museum in lockdown and funding. He compared the different funding approaches in the US (private funding of the arts) and Europe (government funding of the arts) and suggested that a wide spread of funders is necessary to ensure the independence of an organisation. Here is the video (in German).
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The experience of no (physical) audience during lockdown made even more obvious how central audiences are for our cultural organisations. Now is the time to really develop our audience centricity.
I have reflected on what I learned from my different experiences as a consultant, working at Tate and, before that, working in branded consumer goods, as well as from engaging with human-centred design more recently.
What did respondents to my 2 poll questions think?
I’m happy to see that there seems to be an increased focus on audiences and an appetite for change how to understand and develop audiences after this time of absence of a (physical) audience. Not a big surprise as arts organisations have to re-build their audiences. And I should add that the sample size was fairly small. But still good to see. Thanks to those who took part in my poll.
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How do these changes impact expectations on brands?
New research shows how the pandemic impacts core human needs – and what this means for brands.
The study has been conducted by Firefish, an insight agency I know from my time at Tate in the past. The research gives some relevant and interesting insights into what people across different generations are looking for in this time and how brands can help meet some of those needs. While done in the US, I think a lot of this is relevant here and applicable to cultural organisations.
Unsurprisingly the research reflects how dramatically life has changed across most aspects and for all generations. The basic human need of safety dominates currently, followed by Wellbeing.
The re-priorisation of needs leads to expectations people have from brands and these might influence a company’s reputation in the longterm. People see through marketing and how organisations act in a crisis can reveal how much they actually live up to their values.
People have expectations of brands, the research shows that in the main, people expect brands to:
step up and do something – this can be either helping directly or, if that’s not possible, providing a platform for help
show compassion, starting with staff
contribute to lightening the conversation
The report finishes with a more detailed and practical summary of ‘where brands can help to meet evolving needs’. It seems to me that most of these findings can easily be interpreted for arts organisations (and many organisations have already provided activities in some of these areas).
What do you think? Does your experience in recent weeks correspond with these findings?
Building lasting relationships with donors through shared purpose
Many arts organisations are getting first-time donors now (for example from people who had booked for events that had to be canceled due to the virus and are not asking for their money back). With donations and philanthropy needed more than ever in the arts, how can we develop these relationships to last?
In a highly relevant podcast with CI-to-Eye, American consultant on philanthropy James Langley emphasises the importance to understand and listen to these new donors and to carefully consider how to build a longterm relationship with them.
“The first time someone gives a gift to any organisation, the most astute thing you can do is ask that donor, ‘why?’”
Understanding the donor’s motivation allows to discover where there is a shared purpose that can be the basis for building a longterm relationship. Langley emphasises the importance of human-to-human connection, generated through human stories and real conversations, to build an authentic relationship that can last.
He sees small organisations at an advantage here and has observed that as organisations are getting bigger, they tend to move away from human connections – a trend that is counterproductive when at the same time authenticity is of increasing concern for new generations of arts attenders and donors.
In the Covid-19 crisis we have all deleted emails from organisations we happened to interact with a long time ago and have no relationship with, or desperate messages that dramatise the situation of the organisation while ignoring what the recipients might be in a tough situation themselves. Langley calls this focus on the organisation’s needs and desperation “pleading fundraising”.
What is the alternative? He suggests “pastoral fundraising” as a more effective and authentic approach. An approach that focuses on advancing the purpose or cause and is hopeful, not desperate or demanding. It includes being open to collaborating with anyone who is also serving that cause rather than being fearful of competition.
This leads to his final piece of advice for the current time: Get back to the cause/purpose and strip away institution. I think that’s not only good advice for fundraising but for any audience development or, generally for many of the decisions we are faced with in challenging times.
The PumpHouse Theatre interviewed me for their Creative Talk series (which has moved online due to Covid-19). We spoke about how I got into the arts, the PumpHouse Board* and other things, and I was asked what I thought the top 3 things were that arts organisations should be doing now to prepare for the future.
By then organisations will have looked after their staff and immediate needs, so, unsurprisingly, I suggested to focus on audiences ;).
Here are my 3 suggestions:
1 – Find out who. Find out who your audience is now and decide who you want to deepen the relationship with. Observe who is connecting with you now – who is staying in touch, who is not asking for a refund for a booking, who is following on social media, the website or otherwise engaging now? These are your loyal supporters and you want to thank them and keep them close. But there might also be an audience that engaged with you for the first time – who are they and what you could offer them to stay engaged in the future?
2 – Listen to your audience. Understand your community, build your plans on research. Observe, listen, read what they post, talk with your audience, run a survey… What is going on for them? What do they need? This will help you to be relevant and connect in an authentic way. If this sounds too much to do on your own, collaborate with other organisations. As you consider your audience’s needs, be aware of different need levels. As arts organisations we are very focused on delivering to higher needs such as learning, inspiration and self-actualisation, and these are important. But in a crisis like this we have also all moved down Maslow’s pyramid of needs to basic needs such as safety. Think through all need levels. And, practically, consider: What will make people feel safe visiting? What practical safety provision are needed and what emotional re-assurances?
3 – Stick to your guns (aka purpose). Stay true to your purpose/mission/cause (whatever your preferred terminology). I would assume that most mission or purpose statements don’t require a building to be fulfilled and there are many ways to deliver to them. Use your purpose as a filter for your planning of future activities.
These were my suggestions – do you agree ? What would you suggest? How are you preparing?
*Full disclosure: I am a Board Member of the North Shore Theare and Arts Trust, who oversee the PumpHouse Theatre.
Cultural organisations are closed in most countries and will be for a while. US research agency IMPACT is looking into data that can help prepare for the time when organisations can re-open.
The key data they analyse is “intent to visit”. Colleen Dilenschneider is sharing this data weekly now in her blog Know-your-own-bone.
The data is US focused so to be taken cautiously as an indicator for other markets, and it is early days, and as we see with this crisis, things can change very quickly. Keeping this in mind, I find Colleen’s conclusion interesting that
“demand for cultural enterprise will not be (at least immediately) distributed as it was pre-coronavirus.”
The data indicates demand for visits might be redistributed away from some organisation types and towards others, which will be important to consider for re-opening. Three main trends seem to emerge and sound like common sense in the current environment:
Cultural experiences that allow for relative freedom of movement and in particular outside spaces (such as public parks, botanic gardens, zoos, aquariums, historic sites, museums) may get increased demand;
Enclosed spaces with minimal visitor movement (such as performing arts) may get less demand;
Tactile experiences (such as those offered at science centres) may get less demand.
The data is from the US and still very fresh, thus might change, however, it might trigger some useful discussions for the planning of the eventual reopening: What practical measures will be required to allow physical distancing? What reassurances are needed? How to best communicate this.