We’ve been conducting research into how audiences are feeling about returning to events, and what they’ve been doing in the meantime, for over a year now. Indigo’s first survey, After the Interval, was launched in April 2020, and we’ve now involved almost 700 cultural organisations and heard from almost 600K audience members.
So as the sector prepares for reopening, the main concern I hear from cultural organisations is around audience confidence:
- Will people be happy to return after so long?
- What sorts of measures will they expect to see in place and for how long?
- What about vaccine passports or testing in order to come?
As we can see from our latest data release from March, customer confidence is increasing, but it’s pretty fragile - and we have seen it fluctuate quite a bit, and quite quickly.
76% of our respondents haven’t been back to a cultural venue or event since at organisations are planning now will be the first time audiences have been in a cultural venue for quite a long time.
Even with the encouraging movement in March there are a significant number of people who are open to persuasion, but will need a lot of reassurance: 60% haven’t got any bookings in the diary and ⅓ aren’t planning to book within the next 6 months.
What I think we’ve all discovered through the last year is that different people have different ‘tolerances’, anxieties or concerns. And the sorts of reassurances they’ll need might be quite different.
Looking through the research we’ve done over the past year, including some pre- and post-visit surveys for the short time when venues did open, and our work talking to customers directly through audience panels, we think there are five areas of reassurance that you must give audiences in order to build confidence.
The 5 Reassurances for Audiences
1. Health & Safety Reassurances
Will I be safe?
At a very basic level people will need reassurance that you’ve put in place the relevant safety measures to keep them safe.
So, of course, you’ll need to tell them all the usual stuff about hand sanitiser, masks, one way systems etc, that we’re all now very well versed in.
2. Access Reassurances
Can I get there? Can I get in easily?
Given that it’s been so long since people attended, they may need reminding of the stuff they previously knew so well – where to park, whether the public transport options have changed – or even (as they have in Birmingham where I live) whether the whole city centre is completely different.
And then of course there are customers with access needs. We know from our analysis of responses from customers with disabilities that they are worried their needs will be forgotten:
“I do hope that disabled people will be considered in all plans for the reopening and rethinking of cultural venues.”
This includes how disabled patrons will be treated if queuing systems or timed entry are in place; how they will access wheelchair spaces if you’re doing socially distanced seating. So if access was central to your mission before, it needs to be really high in the list of reassurances now.
3. Financial Reassurances
Will I be protected financially?
As we’ve reported many times before, two of the key concerns of audiences around their financial risk when booking tickets are:
"What happens if the event is cancelled due to Covid restrictions or if I can’t attend because I or someone else in my party is ill, or needs to self-isolate?"
The levels of importance customers place on refunds and exchanges are pretty high: 61% say it would be important to have a refund and 45% an exchange if they couldn’t attend due to Covid.
Many organisations already have policies in place that cover this off – but perhaps it was a bit hidden in the T&Cs and needs highlighting.
4. Social Reassurances
Can I enjoy an experience with my social 'bubble'?
Early on in our research it was clear that if people were attending as a household group (or now rule of 6), they really wanted to sit and socialise together within that bubble whilst staying away from other groups.
How is your seating facilitating that? I know those who did cabaret style seating last year did really well on this, for example.
But it’s not just about seating in the auditorium. They want to know if and how they can have a drink together safely in the bar – how will that work? Do they need to reserve a table, pre-book their drinks – or in fact will there be no drinks, or no interval?
We’ve recently done some work with pointOne on how important the Food and Drink offer is as part of the return to venues and this could turn out to be a main decision point for some audiences.
So it’s really important to be able to show images of people enjoying time together safely – get photos as soon as you can!
And seeing others attend safely and happily will be crucial – perhaps use the stats from your post-experience survey to reassure those who are waiting for a bit to see what happens.
5. Brand Reassurances
Will it still be the organisation I love going to?
We’ve conducted quite a few audience panels on zoom during the last year, and one of the main concerns from people we spoke to was whether the organisation was still going to feel like the organisation they knew and loved.
They were concerned that it would be ‘too sanitised’ and not welcoming.
Some of the things we know venues have done are:
- Having people at the door, welcoming and reassuring visitors as they arrive – as the moment of arrival seems to be the biggest point of anxiety
- Staff wearing badges saying ‘how can I help?’ so that they still look approachable, even if wearing a mask
- Creating quirky signage – to make it less ‘scary’ and more ‘on brand’
Different reassurances for different audiences
So when you’re planning your comms around re-opening, we think if you use these five reassurance themes, you’ll be getting it right.
And of course, some of these will be more important to some audiences than others. We know, for example, that in general younger people have been less worried about the health and safety, but much more concerned about the financial and social risks of booking, or for needing to travel by Public Transport; for disabled audiences, safety and access are much more important.
So it’s important that you cover off all of these to ensure you’re giving all the reassurances that someone needs.