As data-oriented arts and culture consultants, we often hear from current and prospective clients:
Many efforts to reach Millennials have been well-crafted and in many ways successful, and yet this focus on one particular generation has caused TRG to ask, "What role can Millennials be expected to play in the sustainability of the arts today and in the future?" To answer this question, we turned as usual to data to see what findings we could uncover about this mysteriously under-represented audience.
The national data trends that TRG has found are not based on sampling data with a margin for error. Rather, we directly studied 15.5 million transaction records from 110 performing arts organizations across the country. Under the leadership of Lead Data Analyst Nariman Tulepkaliev, TRG has updated its national data trends and seeks to understand what transactional data (not surveys) can tell us about how Millennials participate in the arts.
1. Millennial attendance is growing as they age into a life stage that has them enjoying higher incomes, while preserving more leisure time.
Among performing arts organizations, Millennials did increase their share of patronage over the past 7 years, however they are still the smallest proportion among cohorts of generations. Generation X also saw a proportionality of attendance increase during the study period, though at a slower rate than Millennials. Generation X is beginning to see over representation in the audience makeup as compared to the general population, a trend that will continue as more Gen Xers move into the Empty Nest phase of life. Millennials, even with the growth observed, are still not participating in the arts at a rate commensurate with the size of the generational cohort.
On average, the proportionality of Millennials, Generation X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation declined 2% over the past 8 years due to significant increase in Generation Z.
2. Millennials are generous and socially conscious, but those habits have not been developed in the arts and culture sector.
We have heard the same anecdotal information as you: Millennials are more generous than other generational cohorts, especially at their age. TRG's research reflects otherwise for the arts and culture, with only 3% of Millennials making a donation during the study period (and is supported by the AFP). The question remains: is this a generational trait or a matter of life stage?
3. Millennials do not exhibit greater loyalty to arts and culture than other generations. They have not yet decided to "go steady" with the arts.
Through our continual study of attendance trends, TRG's definition of loyalty is a combination of characteristics; frequency of attendance being just one.
Additionally, TRG studies the rate of entrances of new audiences into an organization's database, the rate of attendance among current patrons, as well as the exit rate of both new and existing patron groups. In the end, if a patron doesn't stick, they're not loyal. Therefore, attrition is a key indicator of loyalty.
The following charts affirm what we saw #1 above:
- Millennials are growing in their attendance behaviors; you can clearly see this by the dramatically high rate of new-to-file Millennials in the study.
- When factoring in attrition, Millennials have the highest attrition rate of any other generational cohort with only 1 in 4 of those new Millennial attendees transact a second time in the next 5 years.
- Attrition rates are so high both because we in the arts generally do a poor job of retaining our patrons, but also because Millennials are still "dating" the arts. It is unrealistic to try to move someone from infatuation/curiosity to deep, unconditional love after one date. What remains to be unseen is whether Millennial attrition rates will drop as they age into life stages with more disposable income.
“Stickiness” to an organization is not the only loyalty indicator TRG studies; we also look at the likelihood to multi-transact. When studying the behavior of generational cohorts in the realm of donation and subscription, the same story appears: Millennials are giving and subscribing, but not at the same rate as older audiences.
Bottom line: Millennials are in a phase of their life when they are “playing the field” and the field assumes the reasons for these less loyal behaviors are intrinsic to Millennials - it is too early to prove this case. Smart organizations will not resign themselves to an inevitable decrease in loyalty among this group but will rather continue to encourage them to sample work and deepen their engagement. And, it’s wise to remain courting them as they continue to “date.”
When will Millennials be prepared to “go steady”? That’s the exciting challenge – your art can create that connection faster than is typical. But it will take more than one-off parties or experiences disconnected from the art to romance them.