Families have a lot to consider before making the final decision to go to a museum. How do they make this decision? Why do they make this decision? The current strategy to appeal to an audience is by creating a two-way conversation between museum and visitor; however, this may not necessarily be

Should museums follow a corporate strategy?

The simple answer is…yes!

Due to the evolved sophistication behind current consumer decision making, companies and museums can no longer rely on the linear “funnel” system in which companies and museums depend on the consumer process of awareness, familiarity, consideration, and purchase, in order to gain loyalty. Instead, companies and museums must use a multi-system approach of strategy, spending, channel management, and message.

An important change in strategy is from the one-way conversation in which the company pushes their message and product to the consumer, to a strategy where the consumer reaches out to the company (such as through internet reviews, social media followings, etc). For a loyal customer, the relationship with a company no longer ends with just the purchase. The quality of service after the purchase is increasingly becoming more important. We see this now as Web 2.0.

Through the process of decision making, companies now have the challenge of knowing how to strategise and invest in the most effective “touch points” (the area in which consumers are more open to influence). Different companies could use a variety of touch points such as Branding; Active or Passive decision makers; Changing their market; Using digital marketing just to name a few (Court, et al, 2007).

This two-way conversation is nothing new to museums. Museums around the world have jumped on to the uses of Twitter and Facebook which are full of conversations and audience interactions. However, if a museum wants to reach out to families in particular, online conversations may not necessarily be the best way to interact with them. With this in mind, it is essential to know what attracts the family to museums, why they go, what their expectations are during their visit, and what they hope to leave with. Why families? Our research has found that 60% of the Australian Museum annual visitors are families.

What do families want?

  • Some place free is preferred such as the park, the beach or a friend’s house. If admission to a museum is free, this too may be added to the list of possibilities, depending on transportation access. Generally speaking, the wealthier families were prepared to pay $30-$40 on a family outing (which included transportation, food, souvenirs, etc.) (Kelly, et al 2002).
  • To compromise and balance the varied interests of each family member was one reason why families decided to visit museums.

Top 3 things families come for

  1. Special Exhibition
  2. To “hang out” with friends and family
  3. Research

Another reason can include activities that are for children, yet also contain elements that are of interest to the parent(s). Parents will often facilitate activities with their children when the exhibit allows for a collaborative participation and when they feel comfortable with the information. (Kelly, et al, 2002).

What do families want to see?

  • “Museum-type” displays
  • Live displays
  • 3-D visuals (specimens, movies)
  • Interpretive material other than text panels

A personal/familial quest

Once the family arrives, the visit becomes a personal journey for each family member. It is their personal narrative that shapes the reasons behind what they see and what they take away. Visiting museums has as much to do with their individual characteristics than anything else. They see the exhibits through their gender, age, cultural affiliation, and prior knowledge and experiences. As each family member takes in their different perspectives and aspects of the exhibit, they construct a meaning that can be shared within the entire family (Kelly, et al, 2002).

In 2002 a study was undertaken of family visitors to musuems generally and the Australian Museum and National Musuem of Australia specifically. Survey questions were aimed at understanding more about why families come to the Australian Museum and what they value in their visits. Below is a sample of their findings that focus specifically on the role museums play in families as well as what the families value about museums.

  • Museums are sometimes used as routine for entertainment and education.
  • Regular routines help families manage the demands of young children.
  • Many families visit for a stimulating day and social engagement for adults and kids.
  • Museums provide a space where parents can share community culture.
  • Families will not visit museum if the children did not enjoy their experience.
  • Families want museums to offer stimulating learning opportunities.
  • Families were cost-sensitive and looked for ways museum visits could be more economica

Visitors looking at an exhibition
Visitors to Garrigarrang - Sea Country Gallery Image: Stuart Humphreys
© Australian Museum

What do these values mean to the museum:

  • Spaces, resources and programs should support regular/committed families.
  • Regular programs (weekly, monthly, holiday) will appeal to young families.
  • Support the family day out by providing material for both levels and to foster engagement.
  • Museums play an important role in presenting historical/contemporary topics to which both can engage with.
  • Child-centered spaces, activities, displays, and programs are essential if families are to be encouraged to visit.
  • Age appropriate learning opportunities are essential for meaningful family visits to museums.
  • Museum membership make regular visitation more affordable.

While creating further understanding behind the values families hold for museum visits, it is also important to know what kind of visitor they are: Routine or Non-routine. Routine Visitors may join the memberships and be part of the family based programs and activities. Non-routine visitors are more likely to stay longer than routine visitors.

The highlighted section above show a theme on the strongest values held by families in their choice to visit and pay admission and what they would likely pay a little extra for: Economically friendly, collaborative family participation on a predictable and manageable calendar.

Works Cited

  • David Court, Dave Elzinga, Susan Mulder, and Ole Jørgen Vetvik (June 2009) The consumer decision journey. McKinsey Quarterly, 1-11.
  • Kelly, L. (2010). Engaging audiences: what do visitors want? Blog post March 26. (Retrieved August 5, 2010).
  • Kelly, L, Savage, G., Griffin, J and Tonkin, S. (2002). Knowledge Quest: Australian Families Visit Museums. Sydney: Australian Museum and the National Museum of Australia.