A newsletter on progress-space research and audience development for cultural leaders. One reader calls it, "sometimes funny"

A reader replied to Monday’s letter with some terrific questions. They kindly agreed to let me share our exchange here. Here’s their message followed by my thoughts:

A quibble: the idea that market research is by definition based on demographics is a very old definition of market research.

And also: why can’t market research discover people’s life goals? And why can’t we segment audiences based on their areas of desired progress, as you call it? And, pushing further, can we correlate life goals/desired progress with demography? I suspect so, in some way. Look at Explorer Quotient- much of it is based on visitor agendas that correlate, I think, with what you’re calling progress. And EQ segments do correlate to demography in many cases.

Much of what you propose rests on a definition of progress that I don’t fully understand. How is progress different from visitor motivations or benefits sought? We have been tracking those (and hopefully responding to them with our visitor offers) for yonks.

That definition of market research as being based on demographics may be old, but it’s still commonly practiced at cultural organizations today.

Typically, even the most forward-thinking market research is focused on the buyer’s journey — that is, the individual’s relationship with the organization. It assumes there is already a level of awareness, or the organization is striving to raise awareness. In the latter case, we’re not in the Problem Space — we’re searching for a solution to an organizational challenge rather than seeking to understand people’s goals. Foundational research seeks to understand people’s goals without regard for the organization’s ability to support those goals (at least at first).

Progress is related to motivations. It might be a bit more nuanced, though, in that it speaks to the three different kinds of goals people pursue (experience, end, and life goals). This notion of progress also builds on Alan Klement’s thinking on Jobs To Be Done theory, which is not something I’ve seen much of in visitor studies discussions.

I think visitor typologies tend to emphasize experience and end goals — in other words, satisfying momentary or short-term goals of those who have a relationship with the organization rather than the fundamental progress a certain group is seeking.

For example, take these two questions:

  1. How is our museum supporting art students?
  2. How can our museum help people become successful artists?

Question one evaluates the impact of the organization on an existing audience segment.

Question two is focused on the possibilities ahead for people who may or may not have a relationship with the museum and how the museum can support that life goal.

It may seem like a subtle distinction, but if one museum is in the habit of asking question one and another is in the habit of asking question two, I think they can wind up in very different places over time — though, in the beginning, they seem to be headed in much the same direction.

Follow either trajectory for long enough, and you won’t even be able to spot the other path on the horizon.

Tomorrow, I’ll share some more challenging reader feedback, this time related to the role of demographics in problem-space research.

Thanks for reading,



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