Diversification is hard. Here’s how to strategize.

As a visitor experience planner, market analysis is part of what I do. That is to say, I help parks, museums, aquariums, zoos, and historic sites to identify who their visitors are, and who their visitors might be in the future. And I help them figure out how to reach out to them and how to establish positive relationships with them to advance their missions and ensure their sustainability. Diversification is part of that.

But here’s the thing.

Something a bit wild has been happening lately. I dive into the data, and I identify who your existing audiences are. I describe them demographically and psychographically. I often create market personas to help you visualize who these people are.

And sometimes, as you might imagine, those personas are older white people. Or wealthy white families. And I say, “Here’s Margaret and Jeff. They represent XX percent of your market. Here’s where they live; here’s why they come; here’s what they enjoy.”

And when I file my report, i get a request back to change their photo to look more ethnoculturally diverse.

Face, meet palm.

That isn’t how it works. That isn’t how it works. That isn’t how it works.

If I describe your markets as wealthy and white, it’s because they’re wealthy and white. If I include them in your target markets, it’s because you have indicated a need to maintain and nurture your existing audiences because they pay your bills.

If you want to diversity your audiences, then we can do that. We should do that. I can help you do that. But you know what? Switching out the stock photo isn’t going to do that.

If diversifying your audiences is your goal (and it absolutely should be, given that many of us are still attracting audiences that are whiter and wealthier than their greater communities), then you need a bit of a strategy to do so.

You don’t need a new stock photo. You need an audience diversification plan.

And one of the first questions we’re going to grapple with is, how do we keep our existing audiences (because we still need Margaret and Jeff’s support and the revenue they bring us) while attracting new demographics? How do we know which resources to dedicate to old markets, and which to dedicate to new?

Resist the urge to pivot entirely.

Some of the organizations I’ve worked with, when presented with a directive to diversify their audiences, decide that the way to go about it is to drop everything and pivot toward that new audience with all their resources. Thus, the existing bread-and-butter audiences don’t get a cent spent in marketing, advertising, outreach, nothing, because this year it’s all about Gen Z, say.

And that is not how it works either. Just because Margaret and Jeff already know about you and patronize you doesn’t mean you can stop inviting them to visit you. It would be great if we could save that money, but… think of how the business world works.

You may have heard of a little company that sells athletic footwear. Their name is Nike. They’ve been around forever and everybody knows about them, right? So they no longer have to spend anything to tell people about themselves, right? No. Wrong. Even though 95% of online shoppers already know who Nike is—their market penetration is outrageously high—Nike spends billions on marketing—like 10% of its massive revenue on advertising. Some of it is for new audiences, sure. But a lot of it is to people like you who have already heard of them, who have already bought their products, who have been looking at their lavish ad campaigns since 1992.

Striking the balance

So there’s some strategizing to do here, right? You have your existing markets who still need attention. They still need outreach, advertising, and product.

Then there are the new audiences you want to attract. Say, it’s an ethnocultural group that is growing in your region. Maybe it’s a group who have always been here but you’ve done a poor job of reaching them in the past. Maybe it’s youth. Maybe it’s the LGBTQ+ audience. Whoever it is, they’re going to need a strategy and they’re going to need a budget.

Think of that strategy happening on a couple of fronts. You’ll need to do research first, to understand who they are, where they are, how they travel, how they spend, how they use media, and all the rest.

You’ll need a promotions budget—because those people probably have different media habits, and they will certainly respond to a slightly different message than your old audiences. They will need to literally see themselves in your promotional products. Yes, you’ll need a new photo shoot (and money spent on good photography is always money well spent.)

You may need to update your interpretive plan, too—if you discover that this new audience has different attitudes, expectations, knowledge, and misconceptions about your content and your stories.

New audiences, new product: diversification

Then you’ll need a product development budget because the new audiences might require a slightly different visitor experience program than the old audiences. They might have different patterns of visitation, different group sizes, different dynamics, different tastes, a different level of knowledge and experience with your resource.

Lastly, along with that product development, you’ll need product delivery. Programming. You’ll need to take that new product and train your people to deliver it to your new audience. Of course some of your existing programs might work for them; others might work with a few minor tweaks; others will need to be developed from scratch.

So this is starting to look like a bit of an ambitious undertaking, isn’t it? And where will these resources come from, to do all this work?

This diversification stuff costs money and time.

If you’re lucky, you’ll get an infusion of cash from somewhere to cover your audience diversification plans. But more likely, you’re going to have to carve this budget out of your existing promotions and product development budgets.

That’s right: that budgetary pie graph that had your old markets in it? Margaret and Jeff occupying half the pie, and their cousins the Murphy family occupying the other half? You need to carve out third piece of that pie for the new audiences. You’re taking resources from the existing markets and you’re dedicating them to the new markets. Read that again. if you’re trying to diversify, and you don’t have a new influx of cash, you need to take resources (research, promotions, product development) from your old markets and dedicate them to your new markets.

And that’s risky, right?

What’s the right mix? How much can you afford to take away from the markets that pay your bills, to dedicate to an audience that will likely be paying your bills in the future? Businesses are made or broken on decisions like this every single day. And i can’t tell you what the magic formula is—there isn’t one. It depends on how quickly your markets are changing. If your social landscape is transforming quickly, you need to react quickly. If things are stable in the communities around you, you probably have a bit more time.

Spend more on marketing.

The only blanket advice I tend to give is that you should probably be spending more on promotions in general than you are. I give that advice because, outside of zoos and aquariums who spend quite a lot on marketing, the rest of us still don’t spend enough. Parks and historic sites hate spending money on marketing. Seriously folks: between 10 and 20% of your entire budget—including salary—should be going toward marketing.

Now, how much of that to spend on diversification vs how much to spend on penetration with existing markets? Again, that’s a tough call. It’s a case-by-case thing. What I can advise you is to start cautiously and test as you go. Don’t jump full-on into a campaign without floating trial balloons in the form of a lot of AB testing (testing two versions of something with a single difference between them.)

Pro tip: Facebook is really good for testing. True it’s not as powerful as it once was. But you can run AB versions of ads and messages on Facebook for next to nothing, and see results within a few days. And despite popular perception, there are still non-Boomers on there; there are still diverse audience on there. At least enough to get you some preliminary insights.

Diversification: you can do this.

So get to know your new markets. Strike a focus group, and use them. Ask the members of your new community how they travel, what they like, how they consume media. Test your stuff on them. Evaluate as you go. Try different programs on them. Show them A/B versions of ad campaigns. You’ll learn a lot, and you’ll make some new friends.

It sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t it be great if we could just keep doing all the things we’ve been doing in the past, and just switch out the stock photo of the people?

Yup, it sure would.


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Get monthly (ish) updates via email from Don Enright. I write about interpretation and visitor experience. I never sell or share my lists.

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