We study the interface between museums and their audiences, answering questions about why they visit (and how to draw more of them) as well as about what happens when they experience your exhibits and programs.
That integrated approach spans the traditional divide between market research and exhibit or program evaluation in museums, creating a comprehensive picture of how well the museum is achieving its mission and what can be done to deepen the connection.
To do it, we work with marketing, curatorial, education, visitor services, membership and development departments. We study the full spectrum of museum audiences, from non-attenders in your city or region to current visitors and program participants, members, and donors. Our findings help museum professionals create more effective and innovative experiences, position and target their messages more effectively, and ramp up community and philanthropic support.
What does that look like in practice? Here are just a few of the kinds of research and evaluation studies we conduct in the museum sector.
Visitor tracking surveys
Ongoing, multi-year surveys of your visitors, conducted on-site at your museum. Who's coming, and why? How positively do they feel about the experience? These findings give the whole museum, from guest services to the board of trustees, an evolving picture of visitors' values, motivations and barriers, engagement, demographics, and behaviors. Includes traditional exit surveys.
Front-end evaluation (exploratory research)
Planning a new exhibit or program? We conduct exploratory or "front end" evaluations to understand how visitors or target audiences think and feel about the relevant content areas and what kinds of experiences or approaches would be most compellng to them. Asking broad, creative questions at this stage can open new pathways to innovation.
Once you've developed exhibition plans, interpretive texts, or prototypes of interactives or environments, our formative evaluations bring visitors and target audiences into the conversation about what's working and what's still needed. Can also be scaled up to test plans for a museum-wide reinstallation or a new building.
Summative or outcomes evaluation
Once your exhibit or program has opened to the public, summative evaluation can reveal how well it's meeting the objectives that were set for it — as well as visitors' own objectives. Are people learning from it? Is it firing their imaginations? Which elements are most effective, and which could still use some refinement?
Marketplace and visitor segmentation
We can identify high-potential audience segments within your region's population — segments with differing attitudes, preferences, and behaviors. This is called “psychographic segmentation,” and it can go far beyond demographic targeting to reveal new opportunities in areas from marketing to exhibits and programming.
It may sound counterintuitive, but some of our most valuable research studies involve people who aren't visiting — yet. We ask these potential audiences about their perceptions of the institution in question, barriers to attendance, what they do instead, and what they would need to hear from, and experience at, the museum in order to become engaged.
Membership program research
Museum membership programs are a crucial opportunity to build lasting relationships with visitors. How can your member benefits, levels, messages, and other strategies maximize the value of those relationships to both the museum and the members? Why do visitors join, renew, and upgrade — or lapse? And what can you do to increase retention and revenue over time?
Donor surveys and interviews
Why do individuals give to your museum, and what would make them feel even more strongly about supporting? We study museum donors to understand both the emotional and rational components of support, identify distinct types of givers, and explore the lifetime affiliation cycle.
Social media and online behavior research
How do new media and technology fit into the lives of your visitors and members, and how are they responding to the new content or features that your museum provides (e.g., cell phone tours, podcasts, or web features)? What role can and does social media play in their visiting decisions, brand perceptions, and expectations of your museum?
Positioning/branding focus groups
How is your museum perceived by informal learners and cultural consumers in your city or region? What kinds of messages would help you grow your visitor base or draw new types of visitors and members — while still keeping your core audience enthusiastic and engaged?
Experience sampling studies
Sometimes the best way to learn about particular target audiences is to invite a few of them to the museum as part of a research study, then observe them as they engage with the institution and talk with them afterward. Hearing how non-visitors experience your museum can build empathy and reveal unexpected opportunities to make the museum more accessible and welcoming.
Communications concept testing
Museum marketing is most successful when you bring your target audiences into the strategy and design process. We “test” new messages, designs, and exhibition titles with current and potential visitors to optimize your print communications, website features, and membership materials.
Underserved audience research
Is your museum trying to diversify its audiences or engage nontraditional or underserved communities? Our diversity research solicits valuable insights from individuals, families, community leaders, and partner organizations that can help make the museum more relevant and welcoming to these newcomers. We can also help you demonstrate impact to the foundations and corporations that fund these initiatives.
Competitor/peer best-practices reviews
What can you learn from the successes — and innovative failures — of other museums and cultural institutions? As independent researchers, we can interview senior staff at your national and international peers and local competitors, then systematically profile and analyze the lessons to be learned.
Community stakeholder research
To increase their relevance in a changing society, many museums are reaching out to partner with community organizations, civic leaders, fellow cultural nonprofits, and even for-profit developers and businesses. We can help you understand the perspectives and needs of those stakeholders through interviews, focus groups, and facilitated public gatherings.
In addition to these research services, we also offer a few planning & consulting services to help museum leaders innovate, envision, define, and implement more engaging experiences for the visitors of today and tomorrow.