Seniors on the zipline

What a visitor attraction learned from its visitors

Sometimes new audience development opportunities can come from simply noticing who uses the spaces and how.

This Tourism New Zealand case study from Christchurch Adventure Park shows how insight into how visitors used their offer made a tourism business change their strategy and plans.

Our reservations team spoke with a potential customer asking about the age restrictions for the zipline… She was 92 and wanted to bring her children with her for her birthday. It took a few seconds to realise her children would be seniors too, but they came and had a fantastic time! For us, it really opened our eyes to a whole new world of customers we hadn’t previously engaged with”.

Christchurch Adventure Park
Image: Christchurch Adventure Park

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Stop asking your users what they want

People find it hard to express or even know

Many organisations are audience focused and want to offer what is relevant to audiences. A question I often get is how to ask audiences what they want.

Unfortunately it isn’t as simple as that. People find it really hard to express what they want or even know what they want. A popular quote is Steve Jobs (in turn quoting Henry Ford):

“Some people say give the customers what they want, but that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I’d ask customers what they wanted, they would have told me a faster horse.’ People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.“

Steve Jobs

This article (about digital design but generally applicable) highlights this with four common questions you should avoid in user research.

But what do they want?

So how do we figure out what people want? Well, we have to do the hard work of understanding them, their life, what is relevant to them and how we fit in their lives. Put the focus on “understanding what people want to accomplish, not necessarily how they want to accomplish it”. Often conversations can reveal more than just looking at data (Harvard Business Review). This sets the basis for developing ideas and offers, which can then be shown to audiences for their reaction. 

Image: Christina Wocin on Unsplash

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The ingredients of digital success

It’s not about technology or money

With the pandemic-induced step-changes in digital offer, this ArtsProfessional article looks into the ingredients of arts organisations’ success with digital. Concluding that going digital isn’t about technology or money, it suggests these key ingredients:

  • Being curious and unafraid of change
  • Having a deep understanding of the organisation’s purpose
  • Thinking about the audience experience first rather than assuming digital is the answer
  • Collaborative team efforts lead to the best digital activity
  • Acknowledging gaps in knowledge or capacity in the organisation and filling them with expert support
  • Leadership literacy
Image: Samantha Borges on Unsplash

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Did it take a crisis to make better content?

Insights from Tate and the V&A

The digital directors of Tate and the Victoria & Albert Museum discussed digital content in an excellent session of the MuseumNext Digital Summit 2021. They offered insights into how their organisations work on content and the challenges created by the pandemic.

I found the following considerations particularly interesting:

  • Think about why people are engaging.
    This has important implications for deciding whether and how digital can deliver this and the suitable formats for it. In public programmes people want a learning experience but also a social experience – for example, in physical life going to a talk with a friend is about the talk as well as spending time with the friend.

  • Digital audiences want content when it suits them, not when it suits you.
    While the strength of physical events or exhibitions (or a live streamed event) is the call-to-action they provide by being on a specific date/time, the benefit of digital is that you can have it on demand and thereby widen the audience. And while live event (real live or live streamed) offer the benefit of the additional social experience, even big live streaming events with high production values that large organisations such as Tate (with sponsor support) can deliver, had more visits on demand than live.

  • Digital media works best when you use it to do things that you can’t do in physical spaces.
    The V&A, for example, found that ASMR (Auto Sensory Meridian Response – when hearing a sound makes people feel a sensation) works well. They developed videos of conservation activities with high resolution sound recording, which would be hard to offer in a physical space.

  • Be very clear of your purpose and mission as your north star.
    Think about how digital can bring this mission to life in its own way – not replicating the gallery experience or competing with it, but as a different encounter or layer.

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Tāmaki Herenga Waka – Stories of Auckland

New galleries at the Auckland Museum

Tāmaki Herenga Waka – a new suite of galleries about Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland has opened at Auckland Museum. Having played a (minor) part in user testing some of the digital interactives I enjoyed experiencing the final versions.

The galleries tell stories of Auckland from early volcanic eruptions to waka arrivals, from early settlers to different cultures making Auckland their home, showing changes to nature and culture as well as highlighting key political moments. The stories are going back in history and forward with data visualisations about Auckland’s future. Objects and display cases are mixed with interactive elements, digital or physical, that interject some variety and playfulness.

The city and its people are still grappling with many of the issues and the stories will hopefully trigger some new thought and discussion among visitors.

Is digital replacing the physical?

Cinemas show that it is not a zero sum game

Is digital replacing the physical – that’s the hotly debated question. In some instances it might make sense, but the digital and physical still co-exist. Encouragingly a look at cinemas shows that it is not a zero sum game (Harvard Business Review). Digital appears to attract new audiences and, provided the physical experience is distinctive, audiences for the live experience remain. For me, this underlines how important it remains to purposefully look after and invest in the physical visitor experience (post-lockdowns). 

Image: Krists Luhaers on Unsplash

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A bold strategic move

Ben Uri Gallery and Museum transforms to “a fully virtual museum with a physical presence”

The Ben Uri Gallery and Museum is a small museum in London that “celebrates, researches and records the rich Jewish and immigrant experience in the visual arts since 1900”. It made a bold strategic move and amid financial pressures decided that transforming its operational model to a fully virtual museum with a physical presence is the way forward to being a sustainable organisation and delivering its mission. And adding another bold move, it funds the transformation by deaccessioning some of its collection. In the first 3 months after the soft-launch of engagement numbers have exceeded budgets and expectations, so they seem to be well on track despite (because of?) the difficult pandemic times in the UK. Chair David Glasser explains the move in a video and in an ArtsProfessional article

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Artists – or people who want to make art

Where Grayson Perry’s creative interest came from

Reading an interview with the artist Grayson Perry, I enjoyed his response to the question where his creative interest came from.

“It came from that old-fashioned idea of liking making things. I used to say to students. I’m not interested in people who want to be artists, I’m interested in people who want to make art. I don’t like the idea that there’s a role out there already made for you. No, the role you end up with comes from the things you want to make; that’s how you find your place in the world. There isn’t a predetermined hole in the world out there for you as ‘an artist’, you have to make the world fit around you.”

Grayson Perry

The approach resonated with me – not just in relation to art and artists, but to whatever we do in life.

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Available insight into cultural audiences and Covid-19

With Auckland currently going in and out of lockdowns and inspired by a blog post by Christina Lister Comms in the UK (thank you Christina) I thought it might be helpful to list the research that’s available about audiences and Covid.

Thank you to all the organisations that are so generously making their data available for free. 

Most relevant (not just in a New Zealand context) I found: 
  • Culture Segments and Covid Audience Mindsets: Useful for those working with Culture Segments and Audience Atlas, MHM have looked into how the segments engaged during lockdowns and their attitudes to re-engaging after openings. Attitudes to re-engaging seem to be roughly in line with the segments’ general attitude to taking risk with culture.
    If you are new to Culture Segments, check them out here.  
  • COVID-19 Audience Outlook Monitor Australia: This is a three-phase study by Patternmakers in partnership with international research partner WolfBrown. It tracks how audiences feel about returning to events in the context of the pandemic and was conducted in May, July and September 2020, with three more phases planned for 2021. It includes data about audience attitudes and behaviours, and how they are changing over time with indicators like attendance, ticket buying and spending, and measures things like comfort at different types of venues and confidence in different safety measures. It includes an interesting fact sheet on disability.
Interesting data from other parts of the world – UK: 
  • Culture Restart is a national tracker of cultural audiences and visitors during Covid-19 by the Insights Alliance, a collaboration by Indigo Ltd, Baker Richards and One Further. With several surveys since October 2020, it supports cultural organisations in planning for reopening, including the appeal of digital content and willingness to pay for it, both before and after re-opening.
  • Indigo’s recent After the Interval and Act 2 surveys asked UK audience members about their attitudes to missing live events during Covid-19, how they were engaging with culture during lockdown and when they anticipated returning to live events in the future. 
  • The Family Arts Campaign and Indigo have worked together to look specifically at family audiences. There are a few key areas in which families differ significantly, these are price sensitivity, social distancing, digital content, outdoors and Christmas.
  • Indigo also released a special report on disabled audiences. The headline finding is that “77% of disabled audiences consider themselves to be ‘vulnerable to Coronavirus’ whilst only 28% of non-disabled audiences do”. 
Data from the US:
  • LaPlaca Cohen shares  Culture + Community in a Time of Crisis: A Special Edition of Culture Track, a national research and strategy initiative for US cultural organisations with Key Findings documents, raw data tables and an interactive tool.
  • And Colleen Dilenschneider shares data from Impact’s research with US visitor attractions in a Covid-19 section on her Know Your Own Bone blog
  • Lastly, you might want to conduct your own research. But what if there is no budget to outsource research? Well, with some careful planning it can also be done in-house. MHM helpfully shared their 5 tips to get the most from in-house evaluation
  1. Starting thinking about evaluation early
  2. Start by asking — what are you trying to achieve?
  3. Take an audience-focused approach
  4. Mix your methods to cover a range of outcomes
  5. Push for objectivity – challenge your assumptions

Have you come across other useful data? I’d love to expand the list and share what you found useful. Please get in touch.

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Entertainer, interpreter or activist – what role for arts in the pandemic?

Art is distracting us and keeping us entertained during the pandemic. This effect is much discussed and so is the increased digital offer of arts organisations to enable it. But is there a role beyond that for the arts? “Perhaps the most interesting feature of this digital transformation”, suggests this article, “is the growing role of institutions as documenters, commentators and interpreters of current events.”

Or should the role of arts organisations go further than that – should they be more activist in supporting the community? Alan Brown challenges organisations in the US not to be bystanders in the public health challenge with a passionate call to action for arts in the Covid-19 crisis.

Some organisations are already offering very practical support like English National Opera with its Breathe programme for people recovering from Covid-19.

Image by Sumanley xulx on Pixabay

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Two sides of the same coin

Talking with a client recently about how audience insight is discussed, we spoke about how to create a safe space where it is okay to talk not just about successes, but also share failures and learn from them.

I came across this interesting initiative in the UK, by the authors of the article above, who want to “instigate more honest and open conversations about failure.” The FailSpace Project wants to “encourage those working in the cultural sector to consider success and failure as two sides of the same coin”.

And as to failure – beyond just talking about it, this author shows that you can even make a book out of failure: Tinderbox.

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Why the feel good narrative must end

Diversity in arts participation is often praised, but time and again the overall conclusion (at least as UK data shows) seems to be that the diversity of people engaging in the arts has only changed little over the years despite the wealth of projects and policies to increase cultural participation.

Is there a tendency to overstate impacts through uncritical narratives of success? The authors of this article think so and that this risks undermining the credibility of state subsidies for art and culture. We should not only celebrate the successes but also look at what doesn’t work and learn from it – why the feel good narrative must end (ArtsProfessional).

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Take art home from the Met

…if only for 15 minutes.

You can enjoy a bit of art entertainment on your mobile with The Met Unframed, an interactive, gamified, mobile-only virtual experience of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. And if you solve some puzzles, you might even be able to take the art home for 15 minutes.

A fun VR experience, reviewed here by The Art Newspaper’s XR Panel.

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The forgotten dimension of diversity

The pandemic is bringing inequalities in society to light, especially economic inequalities. In all the discussion and efforts to increase diversity, the focus is often on gender and ethnic diversity, social class is considered much less. An increasing issue in many societies around the world, social inequality will hold them back, because it matters for the well-being not just of individuals, but of organisations and society as a whole.

Social equality shouldn’t be the forgotten dimension of diversity.

Image: Bruno Figueiredo on Unsplash

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What role do audiences play in virtual culture?

Virtual culture is not just changing the engagement with culture, it is also changing the role of audience members and their experience around the art.

The coronavirus forced us to watch in our homes rather than with strangers and some of the immediacy of live performance went missing. “It’s easy to forget that, in the theatre, each ticket buyer plays a role. The quality of our attention—silent or ecstatic, galled or bored … makes each in-person performance unrepeatable.” Some theatre productions try to bring some interaction into the digital – between actors and spectators, and among spectators. Awkward at first, it offers a way to avoid social estrangement and gives back an experience of interaction.

Image: Kris Amon on Unsplash

And it’s not only the performance itself, but the whole experience, including the important social side of it. “Perhaps there is enjoyment in rituals of getting ready, going for a meal or drink before or after, chance meetings with friends, or minute details, such as the smell of a favourite venue or even the irritating rustling of another performance goer’s snacks on the next row. Experience of performances involves all of these things and more; a ‘total’ experience (Gesamtkunstwerk) with forms of artistic performance as a focus point.” A nightclub found an innovative solution when it went online. In addition to its 3D interactive dancefloor, it included a virtual queue, where participants would wait to be let in; a bar where, for the price of a drink, participants could donate to charities; toilets, represented as a number of chatrooms hidden behind cubicle doors. It offered clubbers casual interaction and the club experience that exists around the dancefloor. Something to inspire traditional venues?

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