Communicating the value of children’s museums

(Reading time: 3m, 47s)

Children’s museums are in a peculiar position because they serve two masters. They have to do all the things for the children, but the parents are the ones who leave the reviews on Yelp. The museum develops content for kids but has to sell to parents.

The situation is similar to traditional enterprise technology sales. A hardware or software company develops a product that will be used by employees, but they often sell to an IT manager who may never use the product herself.

Children's museums want to produce great products for children, but they need to market and sell to parents.

Does that make communicating a distinct value proposition even more important?

(A value proposition communicates the organization’s unique value to a particular audience. Where mission or vision statements often focus on the organization, a value prop is focused on what matters most to a segment of the museum’s audience. Value propositions are a recurring theme in these letters. This most recent article on value propositions may be the best introduction for new readers, but this topic comes up so often, I need to create a more comprehensive resource on value propositions for readers — Homework.)

When you visit a lot of museum websites, you’ll see a list of event or programs on the home page. Museums hope that the activities will be enticing. You won’t see a value proposition — an enduring statement that expresses the why behind all those activities anywhere.

If children’s museums are trying to entice parents to come to a place that is primarily for the child’s benefit, will (at least some) parents need more than a list of fun activities to be persuaded to visit or become a member?

That’s a research question I’d like to explore in the future.

For now, let’s take a look at a children’s museum that is doing a better job of communicating enduring value to visitors — one that has carved out space amidst all the summer camps and special events to say, “Here’s what we offer that’s special and can’t be found elsewhere.”

Head over to the Please Touch Museum, and check this out:

The Please Touch Museum’s website reads: “We Build Brains.”

“We build brains.”

Visit the About page and you’ll see that again along with this:

Please Touch Museum’s mission is to “Change a child’s life as they discover the power of learning through play."

The value proposition — “We build brains” — is a distillation of their mission statement. You can see how it might resonate more with parents. It’s simple, it’s direct — almost aggressive compared to the mission statement — and it’s a promise the local playground can’t compete with.

Compare that to the Long Island Children’s Museum’s website.

Here again you’ll find all the usual suspects — what’s happening today, admission info, links to particular programs — but the closest thing to a value proposition is the headline: EXPLORE. PLAY. CREATE.

The Long Island Children’s Museum’s headline reads: Explore. Play. Create.

Those things have value, but… They're activities aren’t they? And they’re a bit vague. Can’t I explore, play, and create at home?

I suppose you could “build brains” at home, but “We build brains” is far more active.

“Explore. Play. Create.” is rather passive. Here’s what you can do, we’ll be the host.

(I kind of doubt that the folks at LICM even think of this headline as value proposition. It’s just the closest thing to an evergreen call-to-value that I see on their home page. But we have to work with what’s available — just like the parents who visit the site.)

The Please Touch Museum’s tone is distinctive. There’s a dash of “take it or leave it” in the statement “We build brains.” It feels almost like a warning: “We’re going to make some serious progress while you’re here.”

I love that.

Head over to the LICM’s About page and you’ll find a mission statement:

Connecting all our communities’ children, and those who care for them, to one another and to a life of wonder, imagination and exploration. Here, children discover their passions and their relationship to the world we share.

And a collection of core values:

  • We value creativity and the importance of play
  • We embrace diversity.
  • We are dedicated to respect and access for all.
  • We are committed to excellence.
  • We nurture cooperation and kindness.
  • We value the trust of our community and continually seek to earn it.

There’s no better example of how mission and values statements differ from value propositions.

Somewhere in that mission statement there may be a value proposition, but to get there, you’d need to dig into what resonates with parents and what’s unique. Again, can’t children “discover their passions” at the library for free? A value proposition aims for distinction.

And that list of core values is very org-focused. You can say you value diversity and excellence, but what’s in it for me — the parent?

As I’ve said in previous letters, there’s nothing wrong with mission or value statements. I’m not saying they’re not valuable. But I think museum leaders need to understand that those statements are usually not very audience-focused, and it’s important to find ways to adopt the audience’s perspective. That’s where a value proposition comes in.

I’m sure both these museums do an amazing job of providing unique value to patrons.

I do think one is doing a better job of communicating that value, though.

What do you think? Write back and let me know.

Have a valuable weekend,

Kyle