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Finding New Loyal Audiences in the Context of Covid-19 Pandemic and Racial Injustice Crisis

Jeanne Mulot | Advisory Board for the Arts

Introduction

Advisory Board for the Arts (ABA) is a research and consulting company for cultural institutions across the world. Facing this year’s Covid-19 pandemic and social movements, we saw that the arts truly were at a crossroads and it became clear to us that we needed to shift our attention to supporting this urgent need. Therefore, we conducted a research study to understand the reasons why people ‘hire’ an arts ticket by applying the theory of ‘Jobs To Be Done’ (Ulwick and Osterwalder). Developed by Clay Christensen, the theory suggests that people are less interested in the products they buy than in what products provide for them: they buy to get a job done. This point of view allows you to step into the customer’s shoes and go with them as they go about their day, always asking the question as they do something: why was it done that way? 

The goal of our research was to answer the question: what can performing and fine arts organisations do today to reach and build new audiences via their digital offerings? We discuss jobs that have emerged or become increasingly significant during the pandemic, protests, and social unrest; and the prospects for arts organisations to meet the moment by reimagining a strategy for innovation centred on the changing needs of audiences.

Methodology

We used three sources of data to inform our conclusions. First is a large scale survey conducted in March of 2020, pre-pandemic, to understand the motivations behind arts ticket purchase. This survey was taken by roughly 5,000 arts attendees, and was developed based on a set of 25 in-depth interviews conducted with arts attendees using the ‘jobs to be done’ interviewing technique (Jobs to be done). Next, once the pandemic had changed audience behavior globally, we conducted a second set of ‘jobs to be done’ interviews with 18 consumers of digital content, to understand how and why they consumed that content. Third, ABA partnered with La Placa Cohen and Slover Linnett on a survey to help arts and culture organisations understand what audiences’ needs and preferences are during the pandemic. This national survey, Culture & Community in a Time of Crisis: A Special Edition of Culture Track, fielded from April 29 to May 19, 2020, became one of the largest arts and culture studies ever undertaken in the U.S with 124,000 respondents (Culture Track). 

Results

The results of the ABA survey on arts motivations gives insights on what audiences were looking for through their cultural consumption before the pandemic. As expected, the primary motivation was to ‘see a performance executed at the highest quality level’ for 30% of respondents (Figure 1). Other motivations were listed, such as ‘connecting with something I am passionate about’, ‘having an entertaining escape from the day to day’, or ‘connecting with family and friends in an enriching environment’. However, these motivations were far behind the first in frequency, when it comes to live performances.

Figure 1: Primary Motivations to Attend

However, when we looked at motivations to consume digital arts content during the pandemic, we found a very different set of motivations, or jobs-to-be-done. Our interviews revealed many new ‘jobs’ that have emerged in the pandemic and several that have increased in importance. To identify where arts organisations have the greatest opportunity to deliver value to their audiences during this time, we looked at these jobs on two dimensions: 1) the urgency of the need for this job compared to pre-pandemic levels and 2) how much people are currently relying on arts organisations to help them fulfill that need (Figure 2). This led us to four categories of jobs arts organizations could fulfill for consumers, in order of importance:

 

  • Less urgent jobs that people are not yet fulfilling with the help of arts organisations. Examples include having a deeply immersive experience.  Sadly, arts audiences struggled to immerse in the small screen of digital content.
  • Less urgent jobs that people are fulfilling with the help of arts organisations. Examples include being entertained or having an escape. Arts organizations are meeting these needs, but are they satisfying?
  • More urgent jobs that people are fulfilling with the help of arts organisations. Examples include giving kids a creative outlet or giving time meaning.  There is real opportunity here and we’ve seen innovation in arts organizations’ education and community engagement departments to meet it
  • More urgent jobs that people are not yet fulfilling with the help of arts organisations. Examples include connecting with others socially or connecting with family and friends. Here is where the greatest opportunity lies.

Figure 2: ‘Jobs’ Expressed by Interviewees

The large-scale Culture Track survey underscored the importance of connectivity as a critical job for arts organisations to help fulfill during the pandemic. When survey-takers were asked what they miss most about cultural experiences during closure, their number one response was ‘spending quality time with friends and family’. In contrast, ‘experiencing artworks or performances in person’ ranked only 6th (Figure 3). 

However, audiences do not feel they are getting this connection through digital cultural experiences right now. In fact, the largest gap between what audience members miss most about cultural experiences and what digital experiences are currently providing is ‘spending time with friends and family’. The message from both data sources is clear: our audiences are craving connectivity, and we are not yet delivering it.

Figure 3: What People Miss Most About Cultural Experiences vs What They Are Getting from Digital Culture Experiences

Implications 

There are two clear conclusions from the data analysis.

  1. Focus arts digital efforts during the pandemic on creating connectivity

As people continue to process the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on their lives and begin to experience recovery, they carry with them profound feelings of disconnection, worry, and boredom. Cultural sites can re-emerge as centres of public well-being, togetherness, and positive experience. We offer several examples of initiatives from cultural organisations to support connectivity in our article ‘Creating Connectivity for Audiences During Closure’.

  1. It is critical to understand audience motivations to inform your digital strategy 

Digital forms of culture are a virtual gateway between new and current audiences, artists, content creators, and organisations. With the increased use of online activities during the COVID-19 crisis come new opportunities to reach those who might not have physically participated in the past. Digital offerings can also attract and appeal to a wider and more diverse range of audiences.

Further research should be made on the evolution of audience needs in the long term, after the COVID-19 pandemic is over. We are now additionally living a crisis of racial injustice and tragically, the Culture & Community in Crisis survey confirmed the disproportionate impact the pandemic is having on people of color. When asked ‘In general, what kinds of changes would make arts and culture organizations better for you in the future?’, people choose, in majority, areas of improvement linked to inclusivity and community, such as ‘friendlier to all kinds of people’ (24%), ‘treat their employees fairly and equitably’ (20%), or ‘more diverse voices and faces’ (18%). They want and expect cultural organisations to play an active and inclusive role in their community. Understanding audiences’ motivations and needs is a first step towards diversity, equity, and inclusion improvements.

References

Ulwick, Anthony W., and Alexander Osterwalder. Jobs to Be Done: Theory to Practice. Idea Bite Press, 2016.

« Jobs To Be Done ». Advisory Board for the Arts, 2020, www.advisoryboardarts.com/jobs-to-be-done.

Culture Track. « Key Findings from Wave 1. » Culture + Community In A Time Of Crisis: : A Special Edition of Culture Track, July 7, 2020, https://s28475.pcdn.co/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/CCTC-Key-Findings-from-Wave-1_9.29.pdf.

« July 22 : Creating Connectivity for Audiences During Closure ». Advisory Board for the Arts, July 2020, www.advisoryboardarts.com/july-22-creating-connectivity-for-audiences-during-closure.