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.

Supermarket Self-Checkout And Loyalty

I came across a study conducted by researchers at Drexel University , (well one is an alum that teaches at University of San Diego), on whether using the self-checkout lane at a supermarket results in less loyalty than using the lane where the employee processes purchases.

I was curious to see if there are any lessons to be learned for arts ticketing in terms of online purchasing vs. in person purchasing. Even though a large portion of tickets are sold online, something I have noticed over the last five years or so is that greatest concentration of ticket sales in a period of time tends to generally be during the hours the ticket office is open.  I was hoping to get some insight into whether there might be a trend toward people wanting more personal contact during the purchase experience.   In the context of increasing conversations about loneliness, it isn’t too far-fetched to imagine a shift away from interacting only with machines.

The researchers conducted studies with five slightly different designs to try to control for things like what people were accustomed to doing at the supermarket, whether people felt rewarded for the choice of check out, number of items being purchased, and intentionally priming participants mindset by reading different texts before going shopping.

Basically, while people who felt they were being rewarded for using self-check out, whether it was due to some benefit or being primed by a reading passage, tended to feel more loyalty and satisfaction as a result, the biggest factor was actually number of items being purchased.  The more people exceeded approximately 15 items, the less satisfied and supported they felt by the supermarket while using the self-check lane.

That seems pretty logical given the small amount of space you are provided to bag and stage groceries in a self-check out lane. The more items one purchases, the greater opportunity to encounter errors. I imagine this is even more likely when trying to ring up produce which may not have been effectively labeled or indexed for look up. Often there is only one person monitoring 10-15 checkout stations and you have to wait while the staff member assists others.

The researchers note there is a lot more research about self-check out that needs to be done since there are many factors in play. Some researchers have looked into issues like perception that you are contributing to the loss of jobs by doing self-checkout. Then there is the related question about why you aren’t getting any incentive to do an employee’s job. I have seen some great videos for clothing self checkouts where people experienced a great deal of frustration removing the anti-theft tags on top of having to remove hangers, fold and bag.

Probably the clearest lesson here for arts organizations is that people need assistance the more complicated their transactions become so you always need to provide an opportunity for purchasers to speak to a live person.  Certainly it is frequently impractical to provide live assistance 24 hours a day, but having the availability of live help posted clearly and repeatedly can help people feel supported.

This may sound blatantly obvious, but in the last few months I was in a conversation in which someone commented that venues in some countries have completely ended staffed box office hours outside of performances. I may be misremembering slightly and the phones were staffed and there are no walk up interactions.  Certainly, other countries have different cultural expectations  about customer service.

FTC Proposing Transparency Rules For Ticketing Fees

A couple hours after I made my post about an article addressing the problem with “drip fees” in the UK and the psychology that reinforces their use, I saw that the FTC is proposing new rules to address junk fees, which are the same as drip fees in the UK.

FTC Chair Lina Khan said in a statement that “by hiding the total price, these junk fees make it harder for consumers to shop for the best product or service and punish businesses who are honest upfront.


A new rule with more precise language can do a better job with specifics, the agency argues:

It is an unfair and deceptive practice and a violation of this part for any Business to offer, display, or advertise an amount a consumer may pay without Clearly and Conspicuously disclosing the Total Price.

….and now this new proposed FTC rule could force other businesses in different industries, from airlines to hotels, to follow suit

If successful, the new rule could put an end to bait-and-switch tactics, which consumers have told the FTC that they’re constantly experiencing. Consumers have also said they often don’t know what certain fees are for.

Other articles about the proposed rule include examples of some of the arcane abbreviations associated with added fees that people couldn’t decipher. It was noted that the rule wouldn’t get rid of all the added fees resulting in cheaper prices, but it would force businesses like concert venues, hotels, and airlines to disclose full prices upfront.

As I mentioned in my post last week, the rule will need to be written well to eliminate loopholes which will allow for the addition of fees not covered by the rule. It should also be noted that hospitals have been required to provide transparent pricing for common procedures since 2021, but a recent study revealed only about 1/3 of hospitals are in compliance. So there needs to be real enforcement of the rules as well.

NYC TKTS Booth Turns 50

On June 25, the TKTS booth in Times Square turned 50. I have written about some precursors to the discount ticketing booth The whole history is pretty fascinating, especially if you view it in the continuum of online ticket resellers.

The AP ran a story about the history of the booth. The recent $18 million renovation in 2008 resulted in the slick, glass enclosed booth with the amphitheater like seating area. However, the original booth was an abandoned trailer donated by NYC Parks Department placed with the goal of stabilizing the seedy neighborhood. I remember that original booth…and the seedy neighborhood.

Mayers and Schiff were given just $5,000 for the capital budget, and they rented scaffolding to go around the booth. They wove a translucent plastic fabric with the iconic logo among the bars and clamped spotlights on the frame.


They thought it would stay up for a year or two, at best. Instead, it won design awards and lasted decades. Their influence can be seen in the abbreviated, vowel-less apps and company titles of today — Flickr to Unbxd and DNCE.

I get a kick out of the idea that this cobbled together structure won design awards.

If you have been to Times Square recently you know it is the riotous center of activity with costumed characters available for paid selfies and people urging you to buy tickets to specific shows. The atmosphere can tend to be a little off-putting. However, the TKTS staff are not permitted to advocate for a specific show, but instead can make recommendations of multiple shows based on the genre of show you might like to see. Or you can ask other folks in line for recommendations since it can take up to 45 minutes to get through the line.