Monday, April 21, 2008

Visitor motivations, part 1

This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. John Falk for the Experienceology podcast. You can listen to the interview using the player in the right sidebar. I have been inspired by John's work for years. Along with Dr. Lynn Dierking, his collaborator, business partner, and wife, John founded the Institute for Learning Innovation in Baltimore. This museum research firm has produced some incredible information in the informal learning field. John is the co-author of a number of books, including The Museum Experience, Learning from Museums, and Thriving in the Knowledge Age. Recently he and Lynn moved to the West Coast to teach at Oregon State University, where they're establishing a doctoral program in free-choice learning.

UPDATE: John's new book is now available from Left Coast Press (May 2009): Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience.

John's most recent work deals with the role of identity in motivation—for example, why do people come to places like museums? What are they trying to accomplish? What exactly do they learn?

Having talked with literally thousands of visitors, they began to see patterns in the responses. John and his colleagues have been able to sort the reasons for coming to museums into five categories, which are based on people's identity: how they see themselves that day. (It's interesting to note that the same person might have on a different "identity" on another visit another day.) I'll talk about each category in a separate post, as I'm going to explore how an institution might use this information in practical ways.

Group #1—Explorers: These are people who are curious and interested in the subject matter. They like to wander around. They don't have a specific goal in mind, just that they like art, science, or history, and are sure that they'll find something at that type of museum that strikes their interest. They may well have a family in tow, but they "drive" the agenda with their curiosity. Explorers who are museum-goers think that museums are a good place to explore and meet the need of discovering something new. (Note: There may be many Explorers out there who don't see museums as meeting this need, which means that your marketing messages can shift to tell this story and attract them.)

Maps: Explorers may or may not use maps; depending on whether they are "map people" or not (you know who you are). As they like to wander, they might not even use wayfinding all that much.

Audio tours/self-guided tours: Explorers are unlikely to use these, as they don't want to follow someone's else's agenda. The exception is for a special exhibition (blockbuster) where they may listen to parts of the audio-guide to learn more about objects that strike their interest.

Seating: Less important for this group, as they are into wandering.

Museum store: All groups like the store, according to John. My guess is that Explorers might be interested in books or DVDs of general interest, like overviews of the subject matter. Applying souvenir research theory to John's, I think they'd be likely to wander the shop to find something that strikes their fancy, and might be attracted to local products (see Chapter 14 in my book for more details on this).

Marketing: You can pitch your museum to Explorers using language like "always something new to discover." If you are not particularly a tourist destination (they fall into the next category, Experience Seekers), you might be able to increase attendance by reaching new local Explorers through targeted marketing. John believes that segmenting your audience based on these five categories is the most effective use of marketing.

Types of institutions/seasonality: All types of subject matter can attract Explorers. You might have a higher proportion of them during peak seasons.

Coming up in the next post, learn more about Experience Seekers (a.k.a tourists).

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