Questions about urgency

(Reading time: 3m, 30s)

A new list member asked a question this week (shared with permission):

We have a music theater that produces 300 shows a year. While it is a huge effort, we do well selling tickets for theater. How do we take those practices/lessons from theater ticket sales with its built-in urgency and apply it to museum admission sales where there is rarely urgency beyond monthly weekend programming and special exhibition?

So, theater performances let the museum communicate urgency — there are limited availability and continual change with these kinds of events. But the core collection may not change all that often. The practices around theater ticket sales likely rely on communicating urgency, so one question is:

How can the museum convey a sense of urgency where there is none?

I don’t know the answer, but the question got me thinking:

The museum’s core galleries may not change all that often, but what if the lenses through with people view those galleries could change?

I started thinking about tours next.

How is the museum handling tours today?

Are there just one or two kinds or tours? Are they all written from a single perspective and scripted? Are they heavy on facts and designed for “everyone”?

One opportunity might be to change the nature of tours, which could let the museum show the collection in new ways.

Could the museum recruit expert tour guides, each with a unique perspective on the collections? There are lots of assumptions here — For example, is the museum prepared to give those expert guides the leeway to communicate their unique perspectives? If people at the museum worry that a tour would disappoint or even repel a certain kind of visitor, that could be a favorable sign. It’s hard to delight and surprise some people without disappointing others. But the museum would have to be prepared to allow for that kind of differentiation.

Another assumption is that the museum would do some research into what motivates people to take (or not take) tours today. To increase chances of success, the museum could talk with different types of visitors and study their behavior to find out things like:

  • What makes someone decide to go on a VIP tour today?
  • Why do some people not go on tours?
  • What do people remember about the different types of tours the museum currently offers?
  • Are people who visit the tours section of the website more or less likely to purchase a ticket?
  • What are the social dynamics around tours, and how do those dynamics influence the decision to purchase?
  • And so on

In a way, the museum would be working with visitors to help develop a different approach to the tour experience.

The goal of the research would be to increase the chances of success as the museum tries to find a new way to generate change in a fixed context.

It would be best to start small — After you’ve done some initial research, you might circulate information about the project and see how visitors respond. Write about it on the museum website and put up a form that lets people sign up to learn more through the museum’s newsletter if they’re interested. Be prepared to change the plan at any time.

The goal of this expertise-driven approach to tours is to create the kind of limited availability you find from a theater performance. The museum’s collection stays the same, but the experience of that collection changes based on the more limited availability of those expert guides.

Then, the museum could promote those experiences sort of how they promote theater performances.

Should the museum try to convey a sense of urgency where there is none?

Trying to convey urgency suggests that the museum is trying to get the same or similar kinds of people to come to the museum, perhaps more often.

Another approach is to try to get different kinds of people to come to the museum.

I remember some testing I recently did on a museum’s website.

As the test participant was completing the tasks, she kept commenting on the museum’s other offerings.

“You can have birthday parties at a museum?? … Oh my God, they have sleepover parties? And you can walk around and see the museum at the same time? I’ve never seen a museum like that. My nephews would love that. I’d want to know if they have a handicapped entrance because I’m in a wheelchair …”

None of this had anything to do with the task she was completing. She was genuinely surprised that a museum like this — a children’s museum — even existed. (Yes, that's an anecdote and people can always tell you what they think you want them to say, but that doesn't mean museums don't have a stodgy image to overcome among some members of their communities.)

More urgency may be the answer only when you’re trying to attract the same kinds of people who are already attending concerts and museum events.

A different approach to increasing admission sales would be to ask, “What prevents people from considering purchasing admission to the museum? Who isn't even aware of the value of the museum's offerings? Who is pursuing activities that are adjacent to the museum's offerings but is not coming to the museum today? …”

Are those questions you’ve explored at your museum? When was the last time you tried to answer them? What did you learn?

Let me know in a reply. Always happy to hear from you.

Thanks for reading,

Kyle