Reaching new audiences is often a key priority for organisations’ audience development. It involves ensuring that a wide range of people are aware of your organisation and what you do, and understanding them so you can connect and develop relationships with them.
Developing new audiences is a way to ensure the longer-term sustainability of the organisation and is also typically a requirement of accreditation and many funding streams. You want all new audiences to feel welcomed, that you provide a comfortable and accessible place (in-person or virtually) and programme for them that fits their interests and needs, and at a time and location that works for them. The National Lottery Heritage Fund’s guidance on inclusion is a good place to start when developing new audiences.
For example, if your research has found that a key barrier to engagement among a target audience group is low awareness of your venue, a marketing campaign can be the solution, without the need to change your actual products or services per se.
However, for other groups you need to develop something new or bespoke to overcome their barriers to engagement. For example, developing an outreach programme to take to care homes as they are not able to visit your venue.
This guide will focus on reaching new audiences (whether that be through broadening or diversifying) using digital marketing techniques and methods, without fundamentally changing your products or services. It will cover:
- establishing your goals;
- identifying new audiences;
- understanding new audiences;
- reaching and engaging new audiences, all using digital marketing techniques strategically.
Start with identifying and defining what you want to achieve. Audience development can involve a range of aims, from big quantitative targets to smaller interventions which focus on learning outcomes or the quality of audience experience for a smaller number of people.
‘Reaching new audiences’ can mean different things to different people and organisations, and there’s not a right or wrong approach that universally applies to everyone. It’s worth reflecting on these questions:
- What do you mean by ‘audiences’? Are you just referring to in-person visitors, or also digital audiences? Do you count social media followers as digital audiences, or only those who attend digital events? How broad is your definition of audiences – do you include volunteers, stakeholders and donors or simply visitors?
- What do you mean by ‘reaching’? Is it enough that the reach on your social media channels increases, albeit it transitorily (i.e. the total number of people who see your content)? Or do you want the connection to be longer-lasting?
- What do you mean by ‘new audiences’? More of the types of audiences you already have, or audiences who don’t feature amongst your current audience base?
- Why are you doing it? Is your priority engagement or income generation? A combination or something else? If you are driven by financial necessities, you need to consider which audiences have the most potential to drive income (and compare cost-benefit analyses or return on investment) – for example larger audience segments with barriers to engagement that you can overcome more easily.
- What do you mean by ‘engagement’? Are you talking about digital engagement or in-person engagement? For some organisations a simple social media engagement will count (a share, comment or like). For others, digital engagement requires something more substantial, such as attending a Zoom talk or downloading an education pack. And some organisations only value in-person engagements – people through the door at their venue or attending their events and outreach.
The introduction to digital marketing guide goes into more detail on setting goals and SMART objectives.
Before you can identify new audiences to target, you need to be clear on who your existing audiences are. You can get this information from a range of sources, some digital, some offline. For example, booking/ticketing data, postcode requests, in-person or online visitor surveys, website and social media analytics. What does this information tell you about your current audiences? Who are they? Where do they live?
And how does your data compare to other organisations and the local or national population (depending on your target area)? The Office for National Statistics and local authorities share population data, and national tourist boards and local destination management organisations have data on tourists.
There’s a lot of free sector data, including the Audience Agency’s Digital Audience Survey findings, Museums Audience Report and Audiences for Visual Arts report; DCMS’s Taking Part Survey; the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions’ data; and many regional museum development organisations share benchmarking data. Organisations that are signed up to the Audience Agency’s Audience Finder will have easy access to population and sector data via the dashboard. You can also commission an Area Profile Report from the Audience Agency to find out more about the demographics and cultural engagement of a catchment area that’s bespoke to you.
For example, you feel your organisation has a strong family offer but currently, your research shows that only 6% of your visitors are children under 16 years old, compared to 16% of your local target population and an average of 25% in other comparable venues. This highlights there’s a potential to grow your family audiences.
See if you can group the new audiences into segments. Revisit the questions around why you want to reach new audiences and your organisational goals, to help you identify which group(s) to target. If resources and time are limited, choose one new audience group with the most potential to begin with. Diversifying and creating new products and services for new audiences is usually the most costly and riskiest strategy.
It’s useful to build up a picture of your new audiences. For example:
- What (if anything) do they know about your organisation?
- Demographic information, such as how old are they and where they live.
- How would they travel to your venue?
- What information sources do they use when planning a day out or similar?
- What are they looking for in a day out or activity? What factors affect their decisions?
- What digital content (if any) do they enjoy or find interesting? On which platforms?
- And crucially, what are their main barriers to engagement?
If you don’t know, you can consult them, through an online survey, an online (or in-person) focus group, or an interview with relevant community leader(s) or gatekeeper(s). Participants should receive compensation for their time and input (such as optional entry into a prize draw for an online survey, a voucher for participation in a focus group). As they are new audiences, you might have to think creatively about how to reach them – just posting on your existing channels may not be enough. Asking relevant stakeholder and partner organisations to share your requests can work well, as can a well-executed social media ad, delivered only to non-followers with a specific profile.
If you aren’t able to do your own research, you can use the sector and national research mentioned above help you understand audiences that you may not be familiar with, or consider applying for funding to help you undertake research and consultation with non-users.
You might find it helpful to create a user persona for each new audience group or segment that you have identified, using the research above. A user or audience persona is an archetypal character that represents your target audience group and can bring the insights about that audience group to life, helping you to make sense of the data and why it matters.
The expression “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got” is worth bearing in mind. If you want to reach new audiences who aren’t currently following or engaging with your organisation, chances are you need to do something differently.
However, doing something new doesn’t in itself guarantee you will attract new audiences. The Culture in Crisis report about the impacts of Covid-19 on the UK cultural sector by the Centre for Cultural Value, found that: “although the shift to digital made some content cheaper and more accessible for existing audiences, it failed to diversify the audience base: what we ultimately witnessed was more cultural attendances from roughly the same number and type of attenders”[i]. This is why it’s so important to understand the new audiences you want to reach as outlined above.
What you do will depend on the new audiences you want to reach and their barriers, as well as practical considerations such as the time, any budget, and skills available within your organisation. Here are a few examples of barriers that can be tackled with digital marketing techniques:
|The barrier to engagement:
Your new target audience group…
|Examples of potential solutions|
|… is generally present on the social media channels that you are, but doesn’t follow or interact with you||
|… can’t easily find the information they need to plan a visit to you||
|… says they didn’t realise…
|… says they don’t find your online content accessible||
Consider which digital marketing platforms and methods you will use – there’s more detail on this in the introductory guide. It’s also worth considering how your messaging can be leveraged. A classic communications framework you might find helpful as a prompt is the AIDA model, which identifies stages a person might go through before they undertake a particular interaction with an organisation, like buying, donating or visiting:
- Awareness: How will you make new audiences aware of your organisation and what you have to offer? How will you grab their attention?
- Interest: How will you pique their interest? How will you make your content engaging and relevant?
- Desire: How do you make your organisation and what it does attractive? How can you encourage or persuade your target audiences to want what you offer?
- Action: What are your calls to action? What action do you want audiences to take and how can you make it as easy as possible for them to do so (‘low friction’), and do so now?
Instead of just talking about the features of your venue or organisation (what it is or has, such as an exhibition or large gardens), highlight the benefits and the experience for the audience. Morris Hargreaves McIntyre’s research on what audiences want when cultural organisations re-opened after the 2021 lockdown was a great example of this, with the top motivations including:
- Escaping and releasing the pressure valve of the home
- Stimulating children’s imagination
- Seeing beautiful things in ways you can’t appreciate on a screen
- Healthier bodies and minds.
Content marketing is a great approach to reach and engage new audiences online. It’s a technique for creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent digital content that attracts and connects with a target audience (current and/or new) online. It is audience-focussed, creating content that meets audiences’ needs, interests and challenges. It doesn’t have to cost any budget and is a great way of building relationships with audiences in a sustainable way.
The content isn’t explicitly about selling your organisation, its products and services. It is of value to audiences, and whilst often educational, its tone can vary from serious to irreverent, poignant to amusing.
An example of a traditional product-marketing approach is a social media post promoting your latest exhibition on Victorian fashion, with a call to action to attend or book tickets. Examples of a content marketing approach around this topic are: a social media post about five ways that Victorian fashion inspires our fashion today, a video on how to recreate a classic Victorian hairstyle, a poll asking audiences to vote for their favourite Victorian outfit, or a photo quiz asking audiences to choose whether each image is from the Victorian era or not.
The two types of content aren’t mutually exclusive, but you want to make sure that the emphasis is on the latter – people don’t tend to engage with organisations just so they can be sold to constantly, you need to earn their interest and loyalty.
Some tips for your content marketing:
- Think about which topics really connect to your organisation and what audiences are interested in and value.
- Create a simple content calendar so you can plan some content in advance and avoid having to worry every week about what to share. Research and map out topics like relevant national days, anniversaries, seasonal themes and hashtags, as well as topics that link to your programme.
- Consider using a scheduling platform so you can batch prepare some content.
- Whilst you need to be mindful of content formats that different platforms prefer (e.g. portrait video and photos for Instagram Stories, landscape for YouTube), aim to repurpose your content as much as you can. For example, there could be an idea that works well as a short Facebook post, that’s expanded into a Twitter thread and a longer blog post on your website.
- Experiment with types of content and themes and measure the results.
- Monitor which content is well received by your audiences and feed this into your future ideas.
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Please attribute as: "How to use digital to reach new audiences (2022) by Christina Lister supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0