Let's get personal

By Jon Young

31st July 2015

Creating a bespoke visitor experience (and telling them about it). Our thoughts on TrendsWatch 2015.

Earlier this month, Elizabeth Merritt from the Center for the Future of Museums published TrendsWatch 2015, the fourth edition of a series of fascinating reports that discuss societal trends and how these apply to cultural institutions. Last year’s report discussed, amongst other thing, the emergence of the sharing economy and multisensory experiences. This year’s edition reflects on ‘the rise of ethical’, personalisation, the landscape of risk, wearable technology and the slow movement.

In the chapter ‘It’s Personal: one size does not fit all’, Trendswatch discusses the growing personalisation of our purchases, content and experiences. Whether custom-made headphones, Amazon recommendations, 3D printers or health plans, our interactions are becoming increasingly tailored to our needs. Personalisation, the report states, is driven by technological and cultural changes. Faceless technology creates a need for personal attention and also provides the means for individuality. One-to-one art coaching and bespoke museum tours demonstrate how the phenomenon is extending to cultural venues. Tailoring to the individual often relies on collecting masses of data, which may be a barrier to attractions on a budget. The Dallas Museum of Art initiative of offering ‘free membership’ to visitors in exchange for personal information is a creative and cheaper way of achieving this. But for those for whom even membership is a challenging undertaking, there are other options.

At BDRC we regularly conduct bespoke attitudinal audience segmentations for visitor attractions. The segmentations allow venues to split their audiences into distinct groups, to enable them to shape their marketing, retail and experiences. Although segmentations do not personalise to the individual, they do define groups of people by what is most important to them. So in this sense, organisations have already started the personalising process.

However, the trend towards personalisation is as much about the consumer knowing they are receiving a personal experience as it is about the experience itself. Segmentations are great at providing the latter, but visitors are rarely (if ever) aware that they are receiving this special treatment. A logical response to the personalisation trend is for venues to communicate to visitors they are receiving an experience tailored to their needs. Venues with attitudinal segmentations can ask visitors ‘golden questions’ and recommend experiences that best fit with that audience’s preferences. Venues without segmentations may want to try the Arts Council’s on their website. If asking golden questions is too onerous then a simple ‘main motivation’ question (as we use in our ALVA Benchmarking study) could be used. A ‘tick-box’ visitor would be pointed to your must-see collections, ‘Social Mindset’ visitors to your café or outdoor spaces. ‘Topic Interest’ could be directed to specific collections that reflect their preferred subject. Alternatively, you may want to segment by life-stage, visitor origin or previous visits.

How you segment on-site will obviously depend on resources and your type of venue. Our research demonstrates the importance of knowledgeable staff in driving positive experiences, so we recommend you use them where possible. Staff bring experiences to life and provide layers of information that visitors won’t find on placards or on the internet. I recently visited the British Library’s Magna Carta exhibition and was fortunate to speak to the head curator before entry. His tips on the four must-see artefacts added to my understanding of the exhibition, boosted my enjoyment and, of course, made me feel a bit special. Last year, I had a similar experience at the Tower Of London after the Yeoman Warder tour and speaking to a member of staff in the Crown Jewels exhibition.

The elephant in the room of course, is that many venues and visitors dislike the concept of forcing an experience or a stereotype. Art, for example, is all about self-discovery and personal interpretation, so segmentations can be viewed as restrictive. Clearly, individual venues will need to shape the level of individual attention to their audience. But the reality is that society is moving in this direction and for many, a personalised approach is required or even expected. Personalised doesn’t need to constrict or to be seen as negative. It is a positive thing – it is about suggesting, helping, explaining and connecting. Above all, it’s about providing a much better experience.

Our opinions