Why visitation-based membership organizations?

On Monday, I wrote that the goal of user research is to increase revenue or decrease costs for clients. There are lots of ways research can deliver economic benefits, but it’s not clear to me that many visitation-based membership organizations think in these terms.

Some people I’ve spoken with are keenly aware that their design systems are hurting revenue. I’ve heard directors complain about the membership and ticketing software they use and that they feel “stuck” with. But for every one of those who is aware, there are ten who aren’t. Most don’t seem to know that design research can have a measurable, positive influence on their organization’s revenue.

The scary thing about being early to the party is that there’s always a chance no one else is coming.

User research and conversion rate optimization (CRO) are well-understood and appreciated in other industries. You can make a killing as CRO expert in ecommerce or software.

So why am I considering focusing on visitation-based membership organizations when there are safer bets to be made?

  1. There is no shortage of design firms serving online retail, software, or similar research-aware industries.

  2. Visitation-based membership organizations serve a variety of audiences in a range of contexts, which means there’s a great variety of interesting problems to tackle. (I like complex problems.)

  3. Most importantly, I have little interest in helping people buy more clothes, open bank accounts, or subscribe to new software. I want to support organizations that help people become better versions of themselves.

Most visitation-based membership organizations are focused on helping people broaden their horizons in some way. They bring social, emotional, and intellectual benefits to the people they serve.

Helping these organizations understand their audiences and increase their revenue give me a chance to use my brain to contribute to a better world and, at the same time, deliver hard metrics in terms of revenue. (I love measuring impact in dollars and cents.)

Based on what I’ve learned so far, I think there are two ways that design research can support museums and other visitation-based membership organizations:

1. At a strategic level, user experience research can supply these organizations with insights into the motivations and behaviors that drive membership and visitation.

The research these organizations are doing today — from satisfaction surveys to exhibition evaluation — are limited in their ability to answer the question, “What should the museum be in five years?” User research can uncover strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities that can’t be found elsewhere.

User research can also help these organizations understand the value of their marketing and communications on a more granular level. Many of these organizations are operating around a giant black box: On one side, employees are feeding in tweets, web pages, newsletters, and collateral; On the other side, they’re watching whether membership and visitation go up or down. There’s little insight into what happens in between. Few organizations are studying much beyond secondary metrics like traffic and social media engagement. Design research can help these organizations make smarter use of their limited budgets by gaining finer control over the inputs that provide the most value.

2. At a tactical level, user research can uncover the fractured experiences that prevent patrons from completing revenue-generating tasks online.

I’m surprised at how few organizations seem to understand that design does indeed influence behavior.

It’s not as if the principles of interaction design only apply to ecommerce websites.

The same usability issues and communication failures that prevent people from doing business online in other industries apply to museums and historical societies. People’s habits and decision-making processes don’t fundamentally change when they stop shopping for clothes online and start shopping for tickets or membership.

Yet few of these organizations seem to be studying the impact of usability, information architecture, or content strategy on their revenue, which reinforces my impression that there are considerable gains to be had in helping them introduce principles of design research into their DNA.

I want to believe that user research can have a positive influence on visitation-based membership organizations.

But I’m prepared to be wrong, and I’d much rather figure that out now before I dive headlong into developing services for these kinds of organizations.

What do you think, {{ subscriber.first_name }}? Can user research help museums and similar organizations? Do you believe that design research can influence economic outcomes? Hit reply and let me know. I'd be grateful for your point of view.

Thanks for reading,

missionKyle Bowen