Audiences Should Accept No Substitutes

Seth Godin had a post this week that serves as a good reminder to arts organizations to make your brand and experience distinctive so that audiences can’t substitute another’s experience for yours without knowing the difference.

If a jacket is made by Patagonia or a piece of hardware is made by Teenage Engineering, you can probably tell who made it the first time you see it, even without a logo. A painting by Sonia Delaunay doesn’t need to be signed to know who it’s by.

On the other hand, AppleTV streams shows that could have come from any streaming service.

When your brand has fingerprints, don’t do things that require you to wear gloves.

What People Say Helps Them Feel Welcome

Yesterday, I mentioned some of the factors about membership/subscription benefits that Colleen Dilenschneider and the folks at IMPACTS identified as most motivating for different generations and cultural backgrounds.

Earlier this month, they also identified “What Factors Create a Welcoming Guest Experience?” This is basically the sense of a place or experience being for someone like yourself. (subscription required)

Their graph of perceptions of exhibit based entities which were most and least welcoming provides the easiest to understand illustration of this. At the top end are zoos, at the bottom are children’s museums. In between is every other museum type and botanical gardens, eight categories in all. If it isn’t immediately apparent, (and it took me a second of pondering before reading onward to have my instinct verified), not everyone has children and thus don’t perceive children’s museums to be for people like themselves.

Interestingly though, when Dilenschneider’s team broke out the difference in perceptions between those who self-identified as non-Hispanic whites and those who self-identified as a BIPOC racial category, the gap between to two groups was smallest for children’s museums when compared to perceptions for the other exhibit based and performing arts categories. It was a difference of ~2% vs. anywhere between 6-10% difference.

As I noted yesterday, the IMPACTS folks mentioned that there are significant problems with the way people are asked to self-identify their race on surveys so it is difficult to determine any nuance in a category comprised of so many different groups.

Among the most encouraging findings of recent research is that people have noticed and appreciated efforts over the last two years by arts and cultural organizations to be more welcoming to a broader range of their communities. Over 70% of those identifying as BIPOC say they have felt more welcome. Over 50% of those identifying as non-Hispanic whites say they also have felt more welcome.

Perhaps the most important information in the post is what conditions are contributing to making people feel more welcome.

“Seeing people like me (other visitors)” was a significant factor. The indexed weight on the charts Dilenschneider & company provide placed it well ahead of the next two factors which were basically even. (Data like this is why I often encourage people to subscribe to their website and notifications)

Those next two are “Seeing people like me in ads and marketing materials” and “Seeing staff/volunteers like me”

“Fair representation in stories and exhibits” and “Interactions with staff” come next with similar weight, but slightly less than representation in marketing and staff/volunteers. Interactions with staff seems to be more about how people are treated.

“Multi-lingual signs” had far less weight than I expected. That might be a reflection of people who are multi-lingual still having a lower representation among participants.

While each of these categories had a much higher level of detailed explanation than I am providing here, there wasn’t any related to “Seeing programming relevant to me and my family.” My assumption is that given the complexity of interests people have, this differs from the “fair representation” category in that not everything that is relevant to you is necessarily tied to representation of your racial identity. You may feel anime is relevant to you and others of your social group. Similarly, programming related to drought and water conservation may be relevant to the region of the world in which you live.

“Fair and equal access to all experiences” and “Seeing performers relevant/like me and my family” were weighted least important.

Seeing performers like myself/family being at the bottom of the list surprised me since I had seen surveys around 2018 that placed that at the top of survey lists. Though that list was specifically people who did not participate in arts and cultural activities whereas the data set Dilenschneider and team used may be blended and have a larger representation of people who do participate in these activities.

The fact is, if you are going to pay attention to any of the other highly weighted results and work to increase the diversity of visitors, images in marketing, representation among volunteers and staff, and representation in stories and exhibits, there will be an inevitable impact upon who appears as a performer.

It’s The Mission, Not The Money That Keeps Them Coming Back

Earlier this month, Colleen Dilenschneider’s team at IMPACTS released some interesting insights about what features of memberships and subscriptions most appeal to different groups. (subscription required)

For instance, people born before 1980 prioritize: free admission, priority access, members only functions, advance notice of upcoming activities, and member subscriber discounts, in that order.

Those born after 1980 prioritize: free admission, belonging to the organization, supporting the organization, supporting the mission/program, and making a positive impact toward the mission.

I immediately jumped to a conclusion that Colleen and team cautioned against. They note that while it appears that younger groups might be focused on mission related benefits, that just may be a result of the fact they haven’t been marketed to for as long as the older generation.

However, consider that a person born before 1980 has a bit more experience being marketed to by cultural organizations. These folks have simply been around longer! Maybe they’ve been a member or subscriber to more cultural organizations!

Either way, when we ask a person who’s been in market longer about their top membership benefits, they may be more likely to think before responding, “What have I been told are the top benefits of membership?” These folks may have more opportunities for recall, while a younger Millennial or adult member of Generation Z may have fewer marketing data points to draw on. They may be better able to answer the question based on their own experiences and what they value rather than what they’ve been told to value as a top membership benefit.

This said, since a younger segment of the population seems drawn to mission related benefits, that is what marketing for them should be oriented toward. Later in the article they show why people motivated by mission related reasons tend to have stronger relationships with organizations than those motivated by transactional benefits.

They list a similar distinction between those identifying as BIPOC and those that don’t. However, they include a caveat that there are a lot of flaws inherent to the limitations of racial self-identification questions on surveys that blur nuance.

From the data they do have, membership benefit priorities for non-Hispanic whites are free admission, priority access, members only functions, supporting the organization, supporting the mission/program.

Priorities for BIPOC identifying are: free admission, belonging to the organization, support of organization, support of mission/program and priority access.

Similar to the generational comparison, they suggest there is a possibility that since many arts organizations have only recently begun to focus on marketing to BIPOC communities, the group has been predominantly getting messaging focused on belonging and other mission driven goals and not transactional benefits.

Colleen and team transition into talking about why mission driven members are better than members driven by transactional benefits. Among the charts they feature which breaks out responses for exhibit (museums, zoos, gardens) and performing arts based organizations, people who are mission driven tend on average to spend more on their membership/subscription than transactionally motivated members. (i.e. purchase a higher tier subscription/membership).

Those motivated by mission related benefits tend to perceive their membership as more valuable than those tranactionally motivated, even though they spent more money than the latter group. And the mission driven folks tend to renew memberships/subscriptions more reliably.

Excitingly, research shows that younger and more diverse members are generally more mission-motivated than members who fit the more traditional profile. The takeaway may be simple: Highlight supporting the organization and its mission as a primary benefit of membership. Not necessarily instead of transaction-based benefits, but alongside them.

At the very least, it may be helpful to stop underestimating the importance of your mission in securing attendance and cultivating supporters. Your mission need not be the kale hidden within the sugary fruit smoothie of discounts.

Champagne In The Ladies Church/Restroom

I was somewhat amused by the story of a museum in Tasmania that had a lawsuit brought against it because one of its exhibits was intentionally designed to exclude those who did not identify as women. The experience of being excluded or welcomed was part of the exhibition.

It was designed to take the concept of an old Australian pub – a space which largely excluded women until 1965 – and turn it on its head, offering champagne and five-star service to female attendees, while refusing men at the door.


The museum had responded by claiming the rejection Mr Lau had felt was part of the artwork, and that the law in Tasmania allowed for discrimination if it was “designed to promote equal opportunity” for a group of people who had been historically disadvantaged.

The person who brought the suit claiming it was a violation of Tasmania’s anti-discrimination law, won the case on that basis.

The exhibit had been closed since that ruling, but last week I saw a follow-up article stating the lounge is being turned into a restroom and a church in order to take advantage of a legal exemption to maintain the original exclusive intent. Envisioning the space operating as a restroom and church is the part that amused me most. And then I read the additional irreverent plans the artist has for the use of the room and I had a little cackle.

“There is a fabulous toilet coming to the Ladies Lounge, and so in that sense the Ladies Lounge will operate as a ladies’ room.

“It’s a toilet that is celebrated the world round. It is the greatest toilet, and men won’t be allowed to see it,” Ms Kaechele said in Australian media reports.

Some of the key artworks, like the ones by Picasso, will be moved into the museum’s existing ladies toilet to ensure “uninterrupted viewing” while she applies for other exemptions.

And only on Sundays, men would be allowed into the space – to learn ironing and laundry folding.

“Women can bring in all their clean laundry and the men can go through a series of graceful movements (designed by a Rinpoche and refined by tai chi masters) to fold them,” she said, in an interview published by the museum on Tuesday.


“Thanks to the ruling, we have no choice but to open ourselves to a whole range of enriching experiences – spiritual, educational… to discover fascinating new possibilities, and to become better,” she said.