Helping People Persuade Themselves

Seth Godin made a post recently suggesting that the most effective persuasion occurs when we persuade ourselves.

The purpose of the memo or the table or the graph or the presentation is to create the conditions for someone to make up their own minds. Because it’s almost impossible to make up their mind for them.

This post seems to dovetail pretty well with the “Jobs to Be Done” theory Ruth Hartt espouses for arts marketing. This is the idea that people purchase things that they feel will solve problems they face. These needs are more complicated than just food, shelter, clothes, etc. The statement the food, shelter, clothes, etc., make about you and make you feel about yourself may factor in. So in that regard it may not be a product or service people purchase, but time spent with others, spent recharging, spent improving knowledge and expertise, etc.

As Godin says, the approach and tools you use to communicate with people has to facilitate them convincing themselves that what you offer will meet a need, solve a problem, complete a job to be done.

Ruth made a mock up video along those lines a couple years ago.  Some of the things Godin identifies as being barriers to self-persuasion are similar to issues Ruth has identified in arts marketing. They all have to do with mistakes people make when telling their story.

Godin writes:

Sometimes, we are entranced by our own insight, or impressed with our communication tools. We let facts, formatting and filigree get in the way of a good story.

And sometimes, we’re afraid of our power, so we bury the lede too far, letting ourselves off the hook by not influencing someone else.

Once in a while, we do the opposite. We say what we mean so clearly and so directly that the story disappears and the facts bounce off the inertia and self esteem of the person encountering them.


Mind Blowing How Much Close Family And Friends Add To Attendance Experience

Some pretty compelling evidence that we should be encouraging people to participate in arts and cultural activities with family and friends. Colleen Dilenschneider and the folks at IMPACT released some data about whether school group visits to exhibit and performance based experiences translate into visitation as adults. (subscription required)

The answer is pretty shocking (my emphasis):

People who visited as children with their families generally do find cultural organizations to be welcoming, while folks who visited with groups are somewhat on the fence when considered as a collective.

Perhaps the most jarring finding is the lack of significant difference in welcoming perceptions among those who visited with school groups (or other groups) and those who did not visit as children at all. Visiting a cultural organization with a group generally did not impact attitude affinities as an adult.

They break out this data across a number of graphs in terms of household income and exhibit vs. performance based experiences and the results are consistent. Similarly, responses to intent to visit and the extremely important willingness to recommend to others followed similar trends. People who attended with family and friends had more positive responses than those who attended with groups or never attended.

It is important to note this data doesn’t separate out those who participate in longer term experiences like camps, residencies, classes, outreach programs.

The folks at IMPACTS have some theories about why there is so little difference between those that only have experiences with groups and those that have never visited as children. I encourage people to take a look at the article to learn more about this. They probably wrote 2000+ words on the topic and include a number of charts. I am just reaching 250 words here–including what I have quoted.

Thinking back about my own experiences as a child, I suspect that the modeling behavior of adults has a big impact on children. There are things I assumed about my life arc based on my perceptions of my parents and those of my peers when I was a child that I was surprised to learn were erroneous when I grew up due to the expectations they stated and modeled.

In the context of this data, it seems even more important to reflect on how we can make it easier for families to make the decision to attend. Really, I suspect that if you did the same research on 30-50 year olds who said the friends they made in college helped get them in the attendance habit, you would probably find a similar level of willingness to attend in the future or recommend to others. You might not find the same raw numbers as those whose parents/grandparents/neighbors took them, but socialization will probably still be a factor.

Facilitating the ease of decision making requires examining every aspect of the experience from programming, promotion, ticketing experience, parking, the welcome, concessions, and the departure.

You And Your Audience Don’t Agree On What It Means To Be Entertaining

Okay, to start 2024 off with something to ponder for the whole year, I want to direct you to a piece I wrote on ArtsHacker a couple weeks ago about how your definition of entertaining as an arts professional may not match your audience and community’s definition.

All credit to Colleen Dilenschneider and her colleagues at IMPACTS Experience whose research showed (subscription required) that the most entertaining exhibit based entities in the world are Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial followed by the Gettysburg National Military Park and then The Louvre.

You may be thinking, “yeah this doesn’t surprise me, I have seen those pictures of people taking flirty selfies at concentration camps, this just reinforces that people have no sense of decorum and are just centering themselves.”

But that isn’t what the IMPACTS research is indicating at all. While some arts organizations and professionals may see the term entertaining as roughly synonymous with Superficial, Trivial, and Frivolous experiences, the top adjectives people use to describe places like Normandy and Gettysburg in open ended questions are Inspiring, Beautiful, Meaningful, Powerful, and Moving. As Dilenschneider writes, people associate entertainment with meaningful experiences, not meaningless ones.

Often, the context and setting contribute to the sense that an experience is entertaining. So the solemnity and scope of cemeteries and battlefields tend to create meaning for an experience. Similarly, arts districts and famous neighborhoods lends a heightened sense to experiences.

From Dilenschneider’s piece:

People believe the Sydney Opera House to be the most entertaining performance-based organization in the world, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that every single performance presented within its walls is reliably and equally entertaining. Instead, this location may be most strongly cited because the art, architecture, and iconic nature of this space extends beyond individual performances. Similarly, seeing a performance “on Broadway” contributes to higher entertainment scores

Now not everybody operates in an iconic venue or district and that is fine. As I wrote in my ArtsHacker piece:

….when asked what entertaining mean in the context of cultural organizations, “something you want to share” and “unique” followed terms like “inspiring, engaging, meaningful, relevant, and fun”. It is absolutely possible to create experiences which are meaningful, relevant, unique and something people want to share within the context of a smaller organization in a manner that larger organizations are entirely unable.

Take a look at the ArtsHacker piece for more info and consider subscribing to Dilenschneider’s page. She and the IMPACTS team have consistently provided some great data interpretation, particularly during the Covid pandemic. I barely touched on all the content and commentary they provided on this subject.


War Cemeteries Are The Most Entertaining Places In The World, Just Not In The Way You Define It

Providing Attendees With A Happy Ending

About a year ago, I wrote about a post Colleen Dilenschneider made showing a link between museum gift shops and museum memberships.  She recently wrote a similar piece about how gift shops can help cement relationships and good impressions in museum-goers.

She presents data that shows people who visit museum retail spaces report higher levels of satisfaction than those that don’t visit those spaces. She admits there is a chicken and egg element to this data because it isn’t clear if people who are already satisfied with their experience are then choosing to visit the shop or if visiting the shop is generating an increased level of satisfaction for them.

Dilenschneider suggests that it may not matter which scenario is in operation:

If people who are having better experiences are more likely to go into the store (to experience one of the best parts of visiting a museum retail shop), then that’s fantastic. They are further heightening their experience and paving the way for positive endorsements – which are key for motivating attendance. Alternately, if someone isn’t having a good experience and they enter the shop and have a better experience as a result, that’s fantastic as well.

Even if you aren’t running a museum or have a retail element associated with your arts related experience, Dilenschneider cites some data which is very much relevant for you. She references studies conducted by behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman who

“…explained that “our memory of past experiences (pleasant or unpleasant) does not correspond to an average level of positive or negative feelings but to the most extreme point and the end of the episode.” …He discovered that humans don’t often remember much of an experience accurately. Instead, we primarily remember how we felt at the peak of the experience, and at the end of it.

Organizations with well-executed retail experiences may be grateful for the peak-end rule, as it means people who visit the shop before leaving the museum have a greater likelihood of departing with a more positive view of their entire visit. (Those with difficult parking situations, on the other hand, may be less enthused about the peak-end rule…)

It is not always possible to control the peak experience of the evening–it could be the dinner before they arrived, a pleasant/unpleasant interaction with another attendee as easily as it could be the predictable crescendo experience everyone else in attendance had. The end of the experience is more frequently within our scope of control –although as she mentions bad parking/traffic can be among those defining final moments. There is an opportunity to influence someone’s willingness to return by investing attention into the quality of experience as they depart.