Culture in Lockdown. Part 3: Covid Audience Mindsets

Culture in Lockdown. Part 3: Covid Audience Mindsets

By Andrew McIntyre


In his final thought-piece on Culture in Lockdown Andrew McIntyre shares Covid Audience Mindsets, a crucial new model that maps, illuminates and segments your post-lockdown audiences.

Here’s the painful truth: not all our organisations are going to make it through this crisis. But, those whose plans are most Audience-focused will have a huge advantage over those whose focus is mainly on adapted presenting formats and the logistics of safety.

In Part 2 of this think-piece, The 7 Pillars of Audience-focus, I shared a practical planning framework to transform your re-opening plans into urgent, radical experiments in Audience-focus. In this, Part 3, I’m sharing Covid Audience Mindsets, a crucial new model that maps, illuminates and segments your post-lockdown audiences.

We really need a map

Let’s start with what we all already know: the world has shifted off its axis. This pandemic has shaken the ground under our organisations, and those without deep community foundations are in danger of collapse. The audience is just as shaken: people are suffering financially, emotionally and psychologically. That’s triggered a seismic shift in what people want from culture and a complete recalibration of their perception of how risky a cultural visit might be.

As we enter this brave, new, post-lockdown world, we’re going to need a really good map.

But, where are we going?

We’re not trying to build a map showing the way back to 2019. That’s a very different time zone. If we headed for the last known location of the audience, we’d find they’re not where they used to be. First of all, we need a survival map. Then we need to set our compasses on a course to somewhere better: a more Audience-focused future.

So, what kind of map do we need?

Already, we’re being offered three types. Commentators are offering us a political map that charts the challenging new financial and regulatory terrain. Logistical planners are offering us a physical map of detailed, practical, socially-distanced safety measures. And a plethora of research agencies are offering us mass audience tracking surveys, plotting a basic demographic map of actual lockdown activity and imagined future visitation.

All three are useful. None of them are what we really need.

What we really need is a new human geography. A fundamental base map of the new landscape, this time not drawn from our point of view as cultural producers, but seen through the eyes of our audiences. A map that gives us plenty of latitude to try new things. A fully-contoured map that transcends flat, featureless demographics and instead elevates the startling psychographic differences in the way that audiences are reacting to Covid.

In short, we need a map of Covid Audience Mindsets

Building this better model

Working with our many international museum clients, the Everyman and Playhouse theatres in Liverpool UK, Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater in New York USA, Malmö Live in Sweden, and informed by in-depth responses from over five thousand audience members, we’ve been busy building and refining a model of these Covid Audience Mindsets.

We didn’t rely on standard survey demographics. Instead, we harnessed the power of the free Culture Segments system to reveal the deep-seated values and beliefs that underpin people’s cultural engagement. We used need-states modelling to discover how the lockdown has changed what different audiences now seek from culture. We employed behavioural psychology to explore people’s emotional resilience and risk propensity. And we asked deeper, more qualitative questions about how lockdown has affected people, really listening to the heartfelt responses they shared with us.

We identified a hierarchy of three core factors that, in turn, frame, shape and determine each segment’s post-lockdown decision-making:


This is the realm of the deep-seated values, beliefs and personality traits that frame and segment our relationship to culture and society. Covid hasn’t changed any of this – in fact, it has pressure-cooked each segment into a more extreme version of itself. Because it’s based specifically on these drivers, the Culture Segments system is, by far, the most useful way to understand the why and the how of people’s future engagement with us.


What has changed are people’s immediate need-states: the social, intellectual, emotional and spiritual outcomes they want most from their post-lockdown cultural experiences. Lockdown has confined us, restricted us and distanced us, all in the constant shadow of a looming threat to our health and prosperity. Conversely, it’s amplified what we value most and our sense of community.

While the Segments’ underlying needs still diverge, lockdown has coalesced everyone’s needs around two common desires: joy and human connection.

How long this convergence will last is debatable, but anyone planning their re-opening should take note.


Weighing the anticipated rewards of engaging with culture against all the risks involved is complex. Personal circumstance – health, caring responsibilities, location, employment and finances – are all great modifiers. They make this deliberation much less rational and far more emotional than it was pre-Covid. Segment by Segment, this either fuels or curbs people’s underlying enthusiasm for returning to our venues and events. Uniquely, Culture Segments reveals these startlingly different patterns.

Covid Audience Mindsets: Segment by Segment

There are 8 distinct Culture Segments, each defined by the deep-seated values and beliefs that frame the way they engage with culture.

Understanding how each segment will respond to your post-lockdown offer will be crucial. Here’s a summary of how each has engaged during lockdown, sees their digital future and is approaching re-opening…

ESSENCE are core cultural visitors: discerning, confident, independent and arts-essential.

In lockdown. Shutting down culture has been like cutting off oxygen. Digital content has been a lifeline, though not a patch on the real thing.

Digital futures. It will only ever be an extra: a wrap-around enhancement.

Re-opening. They can’t wait. Essence favored social distancing before it was fashionable, so exclusive access with limited numbers is their perfect proposition.

STIMULATION love big ideas: they’re active, social, experimental thrill seekers.

In lockdown. Our digital frenzy has given them an infinite buffet of all-you-can-click content – a smorgasbord of cool stuff.

Digital futures. They’ve discovered new sources to feed their habit.

Re-opening. They are primed and ready. Especially if you’re offering new ways to engage or new places to do it.

PERSPECTIVE are happy in their own bubble: settled, self-sufficient, focused and contented.

In lockdown. Digital offered depth — time to explore a huge back catalogue of what they’re fascinated by.

Digital futures. Understanding their often minority specialisms is the key to engagement.

Re-opening. They trust their own rationality and will readily return for anything that speaks to their passions.

EXPRESSION are people people: committed, generous, creative and community minded.

In lockdown. Digital offered an opportunity to stay (sort of) connected to the people and cultural organizations they love.

Digital futures. Hold them closer. Curating this online community would build huge brand equity.

Re-opening. They want to support you but, at first, might just wait and see.

ENTERTAINMENT are looking for fun: leisure opportunities that are mainstream and popular.

In lockdown. The internet was a recommendation engine – our more viral efforts offered moments of entertainment and distraction.

Digital futures. Seeking highlights – will only connect if our content gets on the populist radar.

Re-opening. They want to escape lockdown. They may be there when the zoo opens. Disneyland Shanghai’s re-opening tickets sold out in minutes.

RELEASE feel time poor: busy, prioritising, ambitious but seeking escape.

In lockdown. Digital offered value for time – an efficient way to fit some (highly recommended) culture into their stressed lives.

Digital futures. Remote consumption suits them, as long as it’s from trusted sources.

Re-opening. Culture not a priority, but if there’s one unmissable thing to see or do, they may be willing.

AFFIRMATION like to do the right thing: they’re diligent, cautious and spend their time well.

In lockdown. Digital offered safety, a de-risked opportunity to try things from inside their protective bubble.

Digital futures. Being able to try before they hazard a visit (financially or medically) could become a key part of their visit decisions.

Re-opening. They are playing it safe, taking no risks and waiting it out.

ENRICHMENT see the present through the past: heritage, tradition, narrative and nostalgia.

In lockdown. Used the internet as an extra TV channel, making handpicked appointments to view high quality, established content from trusted sources.

Digital futures. The convenience of home viewing is very appealing but difficult to monetise in this price-conscious segment.

Re-opening. They’re happy in lockdown and feel safer staying that way for the duration. They’ll see you on the other side.

Mapping the order of return

To understand the order in which the Segments are willing to return to your venue, Covid Audience Mindsets can plot how each of the Culture Segments in your own audience is responding to Covid, using deep-seated personality traits like emotional resilience and risk propensity. Venue-by-venue we can build accurate maps of the order in which your audience will return. This example map uses data from a specific venue study. For them, Perspective and Stimulation are obviously the first Segments to target. Yours may show a different pattern.

Deeper than demographics

Our study mirrored the generic findings of the mass tracking studies: most people will return, but not immediately; hygiene measures are not as influential as social distancing enforcement; and neither is as important as Covid testing, tracing and treatments. Older people are generally a little more anxious and avid attenders will return sooner than casual ones. That sounds right.

But, unlike demographics, which tends to average out and flatten audience patterns, Culture Segments reveals stark differences in Covid responses. That’s because it’s based on how people think and why they do things.

Rocket fuel required

Here’s a practical example… all the generic tracking surveys are saying that about one-fifth of the audience will return as soon as restrictions are lifted. The problem is, it’s the same across all age groups. Good luck using that to plan. But, Covid Audience Mindsets can pinpoint the exact Culture Segments that make up that fifth, providing the vital, missing detail to add rocket fuel to your re-opening.

OK, so how can I use this?

This depends on the kind of audience insight you had before Covid and the amount of budget you now have available. We realise that, for many, that will be little or nothing.

I’ve got little or no budget…

For those with a working knowledge of their Culture Segments but no budget for further research, the Segment-by-Segment section above gives you a decent head-start for a basic strategy.

If you’re new to Culture Segments, there’s still a lot of useful insight you can use. The basic system is free and there’s lots of information and practical case studies sharing the results on our website.

To support the sector’s recovery and to repay, in the best way we know how, some of the endless generosity and faith the sector has shown us over the past twenty years, we’ve committed to offering up to 50 organisations a completely free, one-hour consultation to help them plan for recovery. Anyone canapply.

I’ve got a small budget for urgent research…

Some organisations have the budgets to commission us to undertake large-scale, in-depth studies. Others may have the in-house skills and expertise to tackle this kind of psychographic study themselves. But most won’t. If you can find any budget for research, it will be well spent. There’s no substitute for your own research study that profiles your own audience’s Culture Segments, asks questions about your own planned offerings and focuses on your own venues and locations.

Your own Covid Audience Mindsets Survey

For those that need help, we’ve designed a low-cost Covid Audience Mindsets Survey. It will give you a better understanding of eight factors crucial to your forward planning:

• the Culture Segment profile of your audience including members and subscribers

• how each Segment has engaged digitally with you during lockdown

• how to leverage their digital engagement in future and in the real world

• your own Covid Audience Mindsets map revealing the order in which the Segments would consider returning to you — who to target first

• under what circumstances and safety measures they’d visit you and which would spoil the experience

• what they now want from engaging with you — socially, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually

• how its changed their relationship to you

• how you can best communicate with each Segment

For those previously heavily reliant on transient tourists or on students and who now need to rapidly build their local audience, or for small groups of venues sharing a local audience, we have developed a ‘market’ version of the study based on a local catchment population survey that may be better suited to your needs.

Putting this tool in your hands

Although MHM works with cultural organisations in fifteen countries, we‘re physically not able to help everyone.

But we’ve taken an ethical decision to offer the Covid Audience Mindsets Survey at-cost to up to 50 cultural organisations. Again, anyone can apply.

What we do next will shape the sector for the next decade. To make the right decisions we need a detailed map of this new audience landscape. Let’s find our true north before it all goes south.

Andrew McIntyre, Morris Hargreaves McIntyre (MHM)

MHM has established Audience Matters, a ‘hive-brain’ forum of over a thousand colleagues across the sector and around the world, sharing their lockdown practice and strategising future plans. All are welcome to join.

Useful links:

Find out more about Culture Segments

Find out more about the Covid Audience Mindsets Survey

Resource type: Articles | Published: 2020