Marketing and Audience Development in Museums

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In a recent year in the museum industry, with the increase of the operating expense, most art museums have put more effort in attracting more audiences since the admission revenue plays an important role in the total revenue of a museum. From 1990 to 2010, the cost of serving art museum audiences such as the operating and program expense was gradually increasing. According to the AAMD Statistical Surveys, the average operating budget per visit in museums has increased from $21 in 1988 to $48 in 2010. Two decades ago, fewer than one-fifth of the art museums in the country had a Marketing director which is only around 15%, and the percentage nearly tripled by 2000 to 50% (the Association of Art Museum Directors annual salary survey). Marketing, development and membership costs per visit have risen from $0.87 in 1988 to $2.94 in 2000. According to the 990 forms, most of the art museums had significant growth of visitor admissions after the increase in operating and marketing expenses between 1990 to 2005.

There are three major barriers that discourage the general public visits to most of the art museums in the US. First is Physical accessibility which are the physical factors that increase the difficulties to come to the museum such as the public transportation convenience around the museum, whether the museum’s location is far away, whether there is enough available parking space around or the ticket price and entry fees are reasonable and worthwhile for a visit. For example, last winter the weather was extremely cold, my friends and I were driving to the Isabella Gardener museum to see an exhibition, it took us more than an hour to wait for a parking place which made the experience feel terrible and we didn’t realize that it was so hard to find a parking space near the museum.

Another one is the museum's reputation and brand which means whether the museum is worth to go or has an attractive exhibition. In addition, especially for younger generations, whether the museum seems fun to go and has a comfortable atmosphere for them to learn, make friends and share information as groups are important factors that encourage attendance to the museum. If the museum left them a boring impression and didn’t offer them the knowledge they were most interested in, they may not come to the museum again in the future, not even become to a member.

Another reason that discourages visits to museums is potential audience awareness which means whether potential visitors know of the museum's existence or offerings such as whether they are aware of the information about the ongoing exhibitions, the time and content. Lacking ways to send information to potential audiences and worthwhile exhibitions to go is a big barrier for those smaller museums and galleries which don't have a great number of collections and resources as big museums such as MFA and Metropolitan Museum of arts.

According to some surveys, most art museums have similar key marketing objectives. The first and most important objective is to increase the visitor and membership amount, especially younger audiences since the admission revenue is a very crucial part of the museum’s total revenue to keep the museum’s daily operation. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, most US art museums’ visitor attendance decreased by around 5 percent from 2003 to 2012, 65 years old and older were the only age group to increase over that period which made the museums change their marketing strategy goal to attract more younger generations.

The second object is to build the museum's brand which means the values that the museum wants to be known for to increase public awareness. There are currently hundreds of art museums located in the US, how to stand out in these museums has become a major problem for some smaller museums. The ways to cultivate their core competitiveness in the homogenous competition and strive for greater market share is the primary problem that must be solved to build a museum brand. The landmark architecture of a museum can be an important marketing strategy to attract audiences and increase awareness. For example, one of the reasons that the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is very famous all over the world is that its gallery building’s unique design left a great impression on the people. It is the youngest building ever to receive great public recognition and becomes a New York City landmark that attracts millions of visitors all over the world.

Another marketing object for most museums is to increase admission revenue and public expectations through temporary exhibitions. Financial reports of some museums indicate that the more money spent promoting exhibitions is correlated with increased attendance.

There are some promotion tools that most museums will use for marketing strategy.

The first one is social media, according to the news report that there are around 83% of people said they would be influenced by a friend to go to a museum and see an exhibition while their friends posed some beautiful pictures and said they were having a great time in the museum on their Facebook page or Instagram.

Another tool is sales promotion and brand partnerships which includes offering prizes or discounts on admission tickets in collaboration with other parties. The brand partnership is also a great way for museums to improve their public awareness.

For example, the Art Institute of Chicago and the online rental website Airbnb launched a cross-border promotion cooperation program to make an exhibition about Van Gogh together which achieved great success, the visitor amount reached the highest point in the museum’s history. The exhibition called ‘Van Gogh's Bedrooms’ which was a recreation of the famous rooms in Van Gogh’s paintings, and the rooms only rented for just $10 include the exhibition ticket for museum members to stay a night on the home-sharing website Airbnb.

This marketing strategy not only promoted the Art Institute of Chicago but also fitted the marketing philosophy of Airbnb’s “belong anywhere” program.

In addition to this, innovative advertising is also a useful promotion tool for museums to catch public attention. The National Gallery in London renovated the exterior wall of the museum building to a famous painting by Van Gogh with more than 8,000 fresh plants. The program was completed by General Electric (GE) and the National Gallery of England that aimed to awaken public environmental awareness and the idea that art changes a life.

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The lowest cost of promotion tool is public relation such as a press release and media publicity. Through communication with various groups, the museum can manage its image and increase public awareness.

The Minneapolis Institute of Art’s brilliant image marketing strategy was to invite a famous landscape artist to restore Van Gogh's famous painting 'Olive Tree' on a huge vacant grassland near the airport. When the plane flies over the nearby area, the passengers can see the panorama of the painting. This is one of the best museum advertisement idea in the visual art world. It not only created a unique landscape for the city but also showed the importance and taste of the region for culture and art. It also set a very good museum image which was an excellent brand marketing tool to deepen the public's impression of the museum.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’990 forms from 1990 to 2005, visitor attendance was increased after the growth of the marketing budget. A great temporary exhibition may result in increased visitor attendance without increased marketing, but there were still some special cases such as the Art Institute of Chicago has experienced decreased visitor attendance since 2000, even with increased marketing expense.

Marketing frequently is involved in audience experience evaluation, potential visitor research, exhibition design, label design, and the environmental conditions in the museum. Statistical evidence indicates that promoting and designing the exhibition's budget and expense increase will lead to a larger amount of audience. Popular exhibitions can cause an increase in admission and audiences’ expectation of the next exhibitions and membership. For example, The Palace Museum held a temporary high-technology interactive exhibition used new technologies such as virtual reality and 4D huge circle screen to make thousands year of history relevant to a new generation and attract younger audiences. Audiences can feel like walking in the old paintings from the ancient world. Technology made these thousand years’ paintings become more attractive to people and younger generations and become a new way to express art and culture. The exhibition attracted around 1.5 million visitors only in 5 months, some audiences even said they would come to the exhibition for 5 times.

Tate Modern Gallery

The Tate Modern Gallery is a famous international museum located in London about contemporary and modern art.

In the annual report released by Tate Modern in September 2017, thanks to the opening of the new digital space in the Blavatnik Building in June 2016, the Tate Modern received 6.4 million visitors from 2016 to 2017. At the same time, the four websites of the Tate Gallery (Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool, Tate St Ives) had 8.4 million visitor records which reached the highest point in Tate's history.

According to the research, Tate Modern’s audience structure was 70% university educated, 53% international audiences, 16% had specialist knowledge of visual arts, only 10% were families and 18% were younger people, less than 6% were lower income groups. London has a very complicated population structure and is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, but Tate's major audiences were mostly well-educated high-income groups with knowledge about arts, the younger people and children’s portion was very little. The biggest goal for Tate’s marketing strategy was to figure out ways to change this situation and attract younger generations and families to come to the museum.

They used several ways and programs to increase younger audiences’ awareness.

Tate has launched a new application that was designed to enable visitors to lead their own journey around the galleries on their mobile phones. This new app provides a more behind-the-scenes and personalized experience than a traditional museum audio guide for visitors. In addition, visitors can also find the gallery’s nearest places to eat, shop and hang out after the visit which was very thoughtful.

In addition to this, the gallery posted 500 international artists' and studios’ working videos online which attracted millions of people to watch. They also opened a program called Tate Exchange program and two additional interactive digital spaces in the Switch House of Blavatnik building, it was like a drop-in laboratory without reservation and any fee, visitors could experience, create arts and make friends by using fun technologies and art materials. Through collaboration with more than 60 cross-border organizations and corporations, the museum attracted more than 230,000 viewers in the program’s first year, many of whom have never visited any art space before.

In addition to this, the gallery also held a Late at Tate Modern program which was to provide great concerts and cheap beer and drinks for thousands of audiences at night of the gallery to attract younger audiences.

To increase the portion of families, the gallery also put their cafe on the first floor and connected it to the beautiful park where children can have fun with some activities to make it more family-friendly. There were other efforts they made on their website since media plays an important role in marketing audience strategy. Their website has a relatively new family and kids’ activity page, and they have also produced a lot of short videos about children's educational workshops on social networks.

This marketing strategy plan had a very positive effect which has increased the admission of younger audiences and families to around 40% in total.

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Marketing and Audience Development in Museums. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 20, 2024, from
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