OPINION10 September 2014

Segmenting a cultural audience

Opinion UK

The Museum of London’s director of communications, Antony Robbins, describes how an audience segmentation sharpened the museum’s customer focus, and how these insights have been shared with other cultural organisations around the world.

At the heart of this success is a much clearer focus on our visitors. It’s vital that we are able to put ourselves in the shoes of all of our audiences and that we really understand what makes them tick. Why do the people who come here continue to come? What stops others from visiting? How do we need to change our offer to engage with Londoners and people from across the globe?

Like all successful visitor attractions, at the heart of this success is making a successful emotional connection with our visitors. We want people to love us. To this end, in 2012 we commissioned arts research company Morris Hargreaves McIntyre (MHM). The company’s analysis delivered fresh insights to help improve the visitor experience at our two museums – one on London Wall, in the Barbican, and the other at West India Quay in the heart of London’s Docklands.

The resulting report drew some interesting conclusions about how our brand could better connect both with contemporary London audiences and regular museum-goers alike. We had a quite a bit of feedback on the friendly welcome visitors get and praise for the stories we tell through our collections. People loved some of our more recent exhibitions, especially Jack the Ripper and London Street Photography. But there was tough love too. The research showed us that visitors struggled to navigate their way around the complicated brutalist architecture of our London Wall building and the busy street scape around it.

Visitor segmentation

At the foundation of our new research was the identification of eight different types of visitor. This analysis cuts across the traditional lines of age and demographics and, instead, seeks to better understand people’s preferences and motivations. With this new-found knowledge we then devised our new audience segmentation strategy, which we called We are London. We divided our eight visitor profiles into three distinct segments – a leading, core and experimental audience.

Our leading audience of cool ‘London Insiders’ and sophisticated ‘Cultural Connoisseurs’ are happy to rub along together. This group comprises our pioneers: these are the people who like to be ‘first in’, leading where others follow. They communicate through word-of-mouth and, by extension, through social media, particularly Twitter, Facebook and You Tube. They want to enjoy exclusive access, a sophisticated offer and a nuanced approach to curation. They also want galleries free of screaming kids and bemused tourists.

Naturally, there is something of a natural tension between this leading audience and our core audience of regular museum-goers. These include overseas tourists, who represent nearly half of all visitors at our London Wall site. They also feature ‘Learning Families’ who seek out entertainment as well as education and Day-Trippers looking for a nice day out with friends and family. The other key group within this core audience are people we call ‘Self Developers’. They tend to be a slightly older, perhaps more conservative group. They are keen to learn new things but value tradition at the same time. Some of these people are retired so they work hard to make a more limited budget stretch further.

Our audience strategy was launched nearly two years ago. The evidence suggests we must be doing something right: last year’s exhibition The Cheapside Hoard: London’s Lost Jewels saw over 130,000 visitors. (The hoard, in case you didn’t know, is one of the most exciting treasures unearthed in London. Its 500 pieces were discovered by workmen in 1912 in the heart of the Square Mile).

In response to visitor feedback, ambitious plans are now afoot to create an attractive and welcoming entrance to the museum at street level. The aim is to make the arrival to the building – and indeed to the Barbican estate – a nicer experience on an altogether more human scale. Our aim is to re-invent the entire area as a vibrant cultural hub to rival those of the London’s South Bank and the brilliant transformation of Kings Cross. Watch this space.

This type of audience research represents a significant investment for us. But the museum sector is a collaborative one so, in this spirit, we’ve shared these new insights with others, including the Maritime Museum, the European Commission and the Corporation of the City of London. We’ve even spoken to museums overseas, including those in Brazil, Sweden and Denmark and have shared our findings also with some of the UK’s smaller private companies like Moulton Bicycles and Belazu Foods – who share some of our passions as well as our ideals.

Antony Robbins is director of communications at the Museum of London.


10 years ago

Really interesting article on understanding and reaching a very diverse audience. I'd be really interested to understand how the theory translated into practice - were there media strategies or staggered opening hours for each group (for example the Cheapside Hoard exhibition was well reviewed in business print titles)?

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10 years ago

I agree with NickD - You identified many groups in your very diverse audience. A museum is for everyone - and yet your challenge is to find a way to get each of these groups, with different preferences, into your establishment. I am also curious as to the implementation of the strategy. I would suggest sending out 'premier' access to the 'first-in' group, so they can have an uninterrupted experience.

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10 years ago

NickD and Ashley - you ask some very pertinent questions. So, editor permitting, you've prompted me to seek to follow up with a second article later this month - after we launch our Sherlock Holmes exhibition on 17 October. Watch this space -and thanks Antony Robbins

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