Content experiments for audience research and development

(Reading time: 3 minutes, 25 seconds)

Yesterday, I asked what newsletters from museums or cultural institutions you all subscribe to and read with enthusiasm.

List member Aylin Tito wrote in with a few links:

I love Aylin’s suggestions — I’ve been following Colleen Dilenschneider with interest for a while.

I still wonder if there are any newsletters out there that are written by museum staff (either individuals or perhaps a small group) that express a compelling a point of view for a particular type of patron.

I realize now that those four criteria — newsletter, museum staff, point of view, segment-focused — make for a super specific type of content, which may be why I didn’t hear back from many of you. (Thanks again, Aylin!)

I wouldn’t include blogs. I know I mentioned Nina Simon’s blog yesterday — but only because it was the closest thing I could find to what I have in mind.

Blog content is its own beast. I think one difference between a blog and a newsletter is that a blog requires no opt-in, which means organizations can so easily slide into publishing content willy-nilly without any particular audience in mind. “It’s on the website and the website is for everyone!”

So, I’m still eager to hear from more of you about what newsletters you follow.

In the meantime, yesterday’s letter reminded me of a report from Reach Advisors: To Ultra-Curiosity … and Beyond! Children’s museums, motivations, and memories results from a national study of museum-going households (PDF). (Thanks for sharing, Cynthia!)

For today, let’s focus on one insight from the study, which I’ll summarize like this:

Moms take their kids to children’s museums for the kids — not for themselves. They aren’t “engaged” with the museum. A visit to the museum for many moms is a matter of setting their own interests aside and satisfying one or more goals they have for the child.

The study results suggest that children’s museums could benefit from finding ways to make the museum a destination that appeals to moms, not just kids.

If I imagine myself as a decision-maker at a museum that has received this report, I’d wonder how we might do that.

Assuming it’s a direction we want to take, how can we go about capturing moms’ interests and making the museum a place they want to visit for themselves and not just their kids?

And how can we do that in a way that minimizes risk because, while content isn’t cheap, neither is developing new programs or exhibitions?

Research would be the first step. You’d want to find out what interests the moms who visit your museum. (“Mom” is a category that is itself too broad, but let’s simplify for now.). What are they reading? What do they worry about? Where do they spend their time with their kids when they’re not at your museum and why?

Then, you might read what they’re reading and visit those places they visit — IRL or online.

You’d be examining the broader context to understand what they value — not just what they value about your museum.

It would help to have a feedback mechanism to test what you’ve learned and support continuous learning.

And here’s where we come back to the newsletter.

A newsletter is both a one-to-many and one-to-one communication channel. You can try out ideas with lots of people (hello!) and then jump into private conversations with them. You can learn from them when they reply.

A newsletter can be part-product, part-research-tool. It’s a thing that can provide value in itself and a way to generate ideas as to how you can more effectively reach an audience on their terms.

I also wonder if a targeted and appealing newsletter could be enough in itself to cultivate a stronger relationship with the audience. If so, you could eliminate the need to invest in new programming or exhibition content that (you hope) appeals to parents as much as kids. That seems far riskier than testing a weekly newsletter written for a particular audience.

I was hoping to find cultural institutions that might be thinking about newsletters (or any sort of content) in this way. If you think of any, let me know.

Have a good weekend,


PS. Last month, I wrote about how few museums communicate value propositions on their websites (see parts one, two, and three.)

The Museum Store Association’s website is a perfect example of this. I found myself at a loss as a first-time visitor to their site — I saw no description of what unique value the association might provide for members. I could gather from their name that they are an association for museum stores, but beyond that I saw nothing about enduring value.

This is something that gets my blood flowing, so I made a quick video to show you what I mean:


(As always, the video has captions so you can watch silently, and, if you’re like me, you’ll want to use the speed controls to speed things up a bit.)

Kyle Bowen