It makes sense. If
you understand your audiences, you better understand why they visit your
museum. And if you better understand why
they visit your museum, you can serve your audiences better.
But figuring out how to be a visitor-centered museum can be challenging. How do you ask them what they want? How do you know they are telling you what they really think? How do you do research on a tight, or non-existent, budget? How do you help visitors feel that the museum is important to them and their communities?
To dig into these issues, our March Museum Conversation focused audience research, and our guest panelists came from two very different museums with very different budgets. Yet the goals for both organizations were to serve their audiences better. Here are a few takeaways.
- It is all about the visitor experience. Matt Sikora, of the Detroit Institute of Arts, shared with us that all aspects of the visitor experience, from making them feel welcome and comfortable to helping them feel a more intimate relationship with works of art, must be addressed to ensure that both expectations, and your mission, are fulfilled. At the DIA, they wanted to anticipate and understand the deeper motivators to visit in order to inform the museum's reinstallation plans. The goal is then to facilitate those experiences, and reinforce those motivators, for your visitors, thereby increasing visitor satisfaction, to hopefully yield return visitation - and research can help determine if you are satisfying those visitors . . . or where you are falling short.
- Repeat visitation, and the word-of-mouth of those visitors, is key. Both Matt and Bruce Courson, of the Sandwich Glass Museum, talked about how if the visitor experience is good, visitors are far more likely to return, and far more likely to tell others to visit. By discovering, and then focusing on what brings visitors to the museum in the first place, you can help create the positive experience that drives the repeat visit and the positive word-of-mouth. As Matt said, it does not have to be the blockbuster exhibition but it does have to address why guests visit on a deeper level. And as Bruce noted, advertising is far less effective, and far more expensive, than good word-of-mouth.
- Audience research does not have to be expensive. Bruce uses his parking lot as a venue for audience research. By posing as a tourist and asking exiting guests “Excuse me, I only have about an hour – is it worth go through here?” he has learned what works . . . and what doesn’t work, in his museum. This information greatly informed their recent expansion and installation of glass-blowing demonstrations. It was, and continues, to be a simple, yet effective, way of discovering what visitors are thinking.
We would love to hear more from you on this topic! How has audience research helped your museum? What struggles are you having tapping into visitor motivations? Any questions you would like to throw out or any insights you would like to add? To continue the conversation, just click on the “comments” link below
Finally, our thanks go out to our guests who shared their time and thoughts during this call, and to those of you who submitted questions to our guests and listened in.