It was reassuring to hear that like us, the youth marketing agency Livity (who spoke at our recent audience insight event) don’t use terms such as Millennials or Gen Z when talking to young people. These terms can be helpful for planning, though.

Gen Z (young people up to the age of around 20) take their cues for life from a small proportion of pioneering millennials – those self-made makers, creators and entrepreneurs from the generation before.

They have grown knowing they can’t rely on formal routes through education to find work or start businesses. As the real ‘DIY generation’ they are determined, driven and creative problem-solvers who use visual communications to help them navigate data overload and make fast decisions.

Stepping outside the comfort zone

Following Brexit and Trump we hear a lot about people living in ‘echo chambers’. Because this generation was born into a world that shapes highly personalised news feeds, for them the echo chamber effect is magnified. Variety, surprise and different views may be missing, but I think the arts sector can help young people break out of their ‘loops’, and try something new or go somewhere different. Livity’s ‘Off Road’ project enables young people to take part in totally unique experiences – from falconry to Morris dancing. However, we have to consider why a young person may take a risk and try something new. It may not seem so, but many are risk-averse.

We know that participatory activities are more engaging, but most young people already see themselves as makers; the real excitement is around expertly curated offers. How can you develop opportunities for young people to both attend and create these experiences? Also, as enterprising and altruistic beings, creating offers that can enable young people to build their socially minded, creative entrepreneurial skillset may have real pulling power.

How can you support long-term access? Why would a teenager today pay or even download something when they can stream it or have a membership? We need to be more creative about memberships and loyalty schemes for younger audiences.

We can also loosen up and let go of the need for a shiny glossy end-product. Young people prefer the raw and imperfect because it allows them to feed in their ideas and develop the final offer for you. The fundamental importance of bonding experiences for teenagers has been true for young people whatever the generation; all of these suggestions need to keep this in mind.

Slicker communication

As a sector we need to be slicker and more confident about the communications we use to engage young people, especially as our content is often already so strong. Compared to other audiences, there is less divide between the offer and marketing for young audiences. Let them shape the former and they will lead the latter.

We must continually step outside arts and culture to learn more. Non-cultural organisations speak, think and communicate their ideas in such a different way. We need these fresh perspectives to learn and reflect. The commercial sector has a financially driven incentive to generate accurate insight. Go and seek out wider sector research.

Emerging patterns

Many learning and engagement professionals in the cultural world are experienced at working with young people. But sometimes this expertise is undervalued and we’re not always great at shouting about it. We need to share what we know about young audiences to influence strategic vision and policy within our own organisations.

A lot of what we know about younger audiences is based on smaller pieces of mainly qualitative research and experience-based expertise. It’s really exciting that we are now able to look at some of the patterns emerging from the big data collected through Audience Finder (which now has audience data from over 56 million transactions and 160 million tickets issued, which represents over £3 billion for the arts and cultural sector) – this data is helpful when thinking about ‘millennials’ – people in their 20s and early 30s.

New strategies

As a sector we can’t rest easy. Data indicates that young people are not turning into their parents and will not suddenly spend more or attend more frequently as they get older. Young people of today will have entirely different needs and interests as they age.

We need to consider lifetime engagement strategies for younger audiences. Current formal education policy does not celebrate the arts, so considering informal learning, wider family and community engagement, as well as the role of exploration and play, is vital.

Overall, we should try to take into account how real evidence, our own experience and thinking from beyond the arts world, shapes what we offer and how we engage with younger audiences.

Written by Lucie Fitton, Head of Learning and Participation
First published by Arts Professional, Thursday 2 February 2017.