By Tony D’Andrea, PhD, Director of Planning and Research at SJG
As the summer is in full-swing, families enjoy more outdoor activities. Among a variety of options, museums “from A to Z” (arts, aquariums, natural, thematic, zoos, etc.) provide a very special case, as it speaks to leisure, education and tourism industries altogether. From archives of cultural artifacts, they have been refashioned as spaces of discovery in multimedia settings. Moreover, they are invaluable assets in the strategies of leading cities and socially responsible corporations seeking to connect with professional elites and local communities. Yet, as a category, museums are often marked by a strange paradox: high interest and low usage by the population.
Museums from A to Z are generally considered to be a very good value entertainment. They occupy the top-tier of attractions in any list mentioned in industry research reports. The basic perception is that your family can learn and have fun at the same time. This also holds true in the opinion of Hispanics. Curiously, the highest levels of interest in museums are to be found at the opposite ends of the Hispanic acculturation spectrum. Affluent “new Latinos” attend museums as part of a polished lifestyle, whereas immigrants seek opportunities to learn about their new homelands while also complementing their children’s education. As noted by Jim Legg, San Jose Group’s EVP of Leadership and Innovation, “this is about enjoying one of the noblest expressions of the American Dream. And it also shows how entertainment and education may come together in this growing segment of the U.S. population.”
However, museum attendance has been declining since the early 1990s. As measured by the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts, 22.7% of the U.S. population visited a museum in 2008, down from 26.7% in 1992. The decline is also seen among ethnic minorities. Although comprising 16% of the U.S. population, Hispanics make up 9% of museum visitors. Likewise, African Americans comprise 11% of the population but only 6% of the audience. (Interestingly, museum attendance appears to increase during leisure trips: when at home only 14.5% of Hispanics attend museums yearly, against 25% who report to do so when traveling). According to the American Association of Museums, the low attendance of minorities derives, in part, from a history of exclusion. The question then is, what can be done to revert this situation?
Two approaches have been successful in driving multicultural attendance. First, creating better content is essential for connecting with people. Community-related exhibits in line with the FUBU (“for us, by us”) concept tends to produce positive results, particularly among African Americans. Second, though essential, great content is not enough: effective communication strategies are necessary to produce noticeable results in the competitive entertainment landscape. In the Hispanic case, niche direct marketing can be used to address affluent Latinos, while Spanish-language TV, radio and print ad is effective among first generation Hispanics. For example, by employing a well-crafted communication campaign, the Monterey Bay Aquarium increased the proportion of Latino visitors from 8% to 24% in over three years. Similarly, the San Jose Group leads the Hispanic digital and PR campaign for the Illinois Office of Tourism, increasing website visitation by 139% in 2010 alone.
Entertainment, tourism and culture marketers, both in private and public sectors, can capitalize on new opportunities, as illustrated by museums from A to Z. The development of multicultural segments is almost mandatory nowadays: Hispanics comprise a 1.3 trillion-dollar consumer market on the rise. Yet, Hispanic marketing is much more than language translation, and requires professional expertise for effectively communicating with a populational matrix of various social, cultural and national backgrounds. Furthermore, consumers of all ethnic backgrounds are looking for added-value opportunities, in which entertainment, culture, art and education can come together. Marketers who are able to combine such distinct realms of life into exciting and meaningful experiences will be ahead of the game in the marketplace.