Take Advantage of the Ten Cultural Trends for 2012

JWT Intelligence has just released its Ten Trends for 2012 based on surveys of Americans and Britons and interviews with experts and influencers.  If you can’t afford to buy copy of their full report for $250, here’s a summary plus some suggestions for taking advantage of them:

  1. Navigating the New Normal:  The economy won’t be back to the way it was for some time, so consumers are now becoming price conscious by habit.  Consider stripped down offerings (such as smaller sizes of products in your museum store) or some access at lower cost (such as a “grounds only” admission fee).
  2. Live a Little:  Although they don’t want to pay a lot, visitors are becoming anxious to splurge on a few good things responsibly.  Adjust your programs so they promote both the fun experience and extraordinary aspects of your site (and be sure you can deliver it–just saying your tours are fun and extraordinary doesn’t make it so).
  3. Generation Go:  20-somethings are struggling to find jobs but technology has encouraged many to become their own bosses.  This entrepreneurial-minded generation will seek social activities that help with networking and business development.  Are you willing to provide an after-work jazz and wine reception or a workshop on community revitalization opportunities to attract this overlooked audience?
  4. The Rise of Shared Value:  Business are adopting socially conscious models that combine for-profit and non-profit sensibilities.  Museums and historic sites are already focused on a non-profit mission, we just need to make that much more apparent in our programs and activities.  Don’t just say, “please join as a member” or write a separate column about it in your newsletter.  Instead integrate it into your tour by talking about membership dollars at work, the recent successes of your volunteers, or a current preservation challenge.
  5. Food as the New Eco-Issue:  The public has become aware of the impact of their purchases on natural resources and the environment, so make it easy for them to visit and feel like they’re making a difference (historic sites are the ultimate recyclers!).   For example, offer locally-made products in your store, encourage caterers to use local ingredients, provide recycling cans at events, and replace plastic bags with paper.  For more ideas, check out the connections between museums and food that Reach Advisors has been exploring most recently with the Atlanta History Center.
  6. Marriage Optional:  Marriage is no longer considered a requirement for women to be happy and successful.  So how might you take advantage of this?  Check the language used in your tours and materials to see if there’s a subtle bias against single adults or women working outside the house.  Who’s depicted?  Just happy families?  How are women in the past described?  Only as happy homemakers?
  7. Reengineering Randomness:  No matter where you live in America, it’s becoming monotonous.  Every mall has the same stores, every newspaper has the same stories, every historic house has the same tour–or does it?  You will attract attention by breaking through the monotony.  That’s why visitors love watching archaeological digs, visiting animals, or taking a behind-the-scenes tour.  What can you do to encourage discovery and serendipity at your site?
Screened Interactions:  Touchscreen interactions are increasingly common (indeed, have you ever noticed children touching the tv screen?) so you might want to consider how to use them in educational programming.  It’s still too expensive to be readily adopted by most historic places, but how would your tour or visitor center change if the visitor brought their iPad–what could they do with it to better experience your site?  Would you even let them use it during the tour?
  9. Celebrating Aging:  This continues the long growing redefinition of old age.  People may want to feel young, but they don’t necessarily want to be young.  Again, check to see how older adults are described or depicted at your site and consider offering programs that might suit their interests (see Road Scholar for ideas).
  10. Objectifying Objects:  The ubiquitous digital world has made experiencing real objects quite special and appealing.  Finally, something that puts the advantage into the hands of every museum and historic site in America–or does it?  We’ve worked so hard to avoid touching to preserve the objects that the experience in most places is intellectual, not experiential.  I’m not advocating you suddenly take down the velvet ropes and let visitors sit on the sofa, but think about ways that hands-on encounters with objects is possible.  For example at the Pope-Leighey House, visitors sit on reproductions of Frank Lloyd Wright’s chairs so they can experience the views in both seated and standing positions–they’re intentionally different!  At President Lincoln’s Cottage, Victorian-era chairs are used for seating at specific places in the tour–they provide visitor comfort with the right appearance at a cost much less than reproductions.  At the Getty Museum, they pass around a sheet of prepared tortoise shell so you can see and feel what it looks like before it’s used as a veneer on furniture.

Wow, just ten items but so much to consider.  Remember, you don’t need to do all ten–just a couple will put you way ahead of the pack.

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