Understanding your audiences as the province re-opens from lockdowns

By ATB Financial 23 September 2020 4 min read

A tent in the camping ground at night

As Alberta emerges from the pandemic lockdown, a new wave of research from Stone-Olafson has found that Albertans are still worried and reluctant to be around crowds. 

For non-profit organizations navigating the pandemic, this might seem negative, but there is hope in the data. The findings of The NEW Experience Economy: The Intersection of Arts, Culture, Sports & Recreation in a Pandemic and Post-Pandemic Environment look deeper at Albertan’s attitudes on comfort as things reopening, a shift in spending habits and insights around media messages. 

The ongoing initiative includes six waves of survey results that aim to give leaders in the experience economy—including non--profits—tangible facts about where Alberta is right now in the COVID-19 recovery and ways to start building solutions that enable organizations to adapt and thrive. The report is backed by Alberta-based organizations such as Calgary Arts Development, Alberta Foundation for the Arts, Edmonton Arts Council and others, including ATB. 

Kim Griffin and Mathew Stone from Stone-Olafson share results from the second wave of research completed in July and August of 2020. Outcomes will focus on a few key elements for leaders navigating these turbulent times:

  • Reinforcement about the uniqueness of the situation here in Alberta;
  • Direction on whether to reconnect with your audiences with marketing;
  • The importance of getting back to the ‘why’ of your organization and what motivated people to connect in the first place;
  • The value of innovation in your programming and initiatives; and,
  • The opportunities behind collaborating with new partners. 


Five things non-profit organizations can learn from the results and how they can be proactive in this uncertain market.  


1. Alberta is unique. 

“We are in unique conditions in Alberta with the pandemic and an economic recession together. These are stormy days.” says Mathew Stone. “If your organization can’t do what you’ve always done, the key to succeeding is to go back to the core of what your organization does and focus on the unique benefits and impact you deliver. It can be daunting, but it is an opportunity.” 


2. Audiences are open to marketing messages. 

79 per cent of Albertans have noticed some form of advertising or media coverage about activities available and—even better—there is little evidence of fatigue or hostility towards this type of communication. 

“Audiences are coming around in different ways. In the first wave of research, they were not interested in any media marketing at all. Now, they are very receptive. They want to hear what’s available to them and activities they can do during this time. When you give them those messages they respond and consider you,” says Stone. 

Non-profit organizations can take this opportunity to reconnect with their audience, remind them of their purpose and share how audiences can safely engage with them. Besides regular updates from organizations, the survey found Albertans are responding well to advertising, promotions and deals to entice participation. In any marketing messages you send out, be sure to outline your health and safety protocols to reassure readers and deepen trust.


3. Reconnect your organization to its why. 

A tough reality of this pandemic is that spending on experiences is down across the province. The survey found 87 per cent of Albertans are uncertain of where they will spend, have no plans to spend or have already redirected to other activities. So what can non-profits do? Stone says this incredibly challenging environment has created tremendous change in the industry—and that means new approaches. 

“Every organization has legacy systems, practices, and ways of doing things. Right now, they are unshackled from those things. They have the freedom to deliver transformed models,” says Stone. 


4. Innovation is key: you have a clean slate to try new things. 

Albertans are looking for more modified versions of events/activities (31 per cent), online versions of experiences (22 per cent) or completely new experiences online (21 per cent), according to the research. In fact, about a third (35 per cent) are replacing the activities they used to do with completely new ones. 

“You have permission to try new things,” says Kim Griffin. “Audiences know things aren’t going back to the way they were before. There is no sense in waiting. We’re seeing it is not necessarily the case that people will rush back to the activities they did before. Be realistic about how your audience might come back and really explore new products, offerings and modified versions of things you used to offer.” 


5. Think collaboratively. 

The pandemic has undoubtedly created new barriers to consider and has shifted audience behaviours and habits. Stone says one way to creatively address these changes is to consider partnerships with other non-profits with different audiences than yours. 

“There are a ton more opportunities to collaborate across sectors. There is a tendency to think the audiences are siloed, but the fact is that doesn’t exist in Alberta. Start to look at other organizations for partnerships and don’t think you have to be pursuing the same audiences as in the past. You can get a bigger share of the wallet by going after new audiences,” he says. 

Want to dig into the results? Non-profits can access the full wave 2 report The NEW Experience Economy: The Intersection of Arts, Culture, Sports & Recreation in a Pandemic and Post-Pandemic Environment for free. 

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