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by • 9 May, 2019 • PeopleComments (1)7201

When your museum isn’t attracting people

It might be that they do not know about you

(Which probably doesn’t have to do with the number of advertisements you put in front of them. People may not care to know about you.)

  • Because the story you tell is not essential to your audience

(The fact that your peers think your story matters doesn’t mean it matters to anyone beyond your immediate peers. And they may be lying.)

  • Because you are telling your story to the wrong people

(There is a vast difference between a story that matters to tourists, locals, designers, businessmen, activists, students, job seekers, etc.)

  • Because the story you tell is not something people are buying right now

(You may be selling a product (contemporary art, local history) while your audience wants an experience, or an experience when they’re looking for connections, or relationships when they need a place to be alone.)

  • You may be telling your story in the wrong place

(Your building may be a barrier to success.)

  • You may tell it in the wrong way

(You may be authoritative when you ought to be humble, explaining when you need to be listening, doubtful when you’d better take a clear position.)

  • You may tell it at the wrong time

(Most people work during office hours.)

  • You may not be the one who is supposed to tell your story

(In which case it isn’t ‘your’ story at all.)

It might be that they think you are irrelevant to them

  • Because the story you tell is removed from their daily concerns

(How many people in your immediate community share the same values, ideas, and purposes that are expressed in your story?)

  • Because your story does not relate to societal developments

(No museum is an island.)

  • Because you are not a trusted source

(In which case, rather than anything else, invest in building trust.)

  • You may not be recognized as a leader

(You do not have to be a leader, but it changes everything about how you work with your audience.)

  • You may not even be a leader in your community
  • Or, of course, it may simply be that your marketing message is off

(And this may be rooted very deeply in your organization.)

It might be that you have put up barriers for people to come

Consciously, such as entry fees, opening hours, limited public transport options.

Unconsciously, because of your parking policy, dress code, front desk staff, the three little steps before you can reach your front door.

(Just because your doors are open, does not mean they are welcoming to all.)

Every single organization has barriers. You can decide to help people overcome this barrier, help them in, give them a hand, but that requires you to do the work.

It might be that they did come, one day, but never returned

  • Because they felt lost when they visited
  • Because the coffee/toilet/restaurant/way guards approached children did not live up to expectations
  • Because they weren’t invited back

(If you’re one of the museums that has invested in a visitor journey, does it include a loyalty loop?)


That’s it, that might be all of it.

Either, the story is wrong, or the storyteller is wrong. (Your audience is never wrong.)

Both of these can be broken down into many different parts.

It might be that you use the wrong technology, or technology wrongly.

You may feel your story is hugely important, but in fact, it matters only to a small niche audience.

Somebody else may be telling your story in a much better, more relevant, or more visible way, or simply be more respected in your community.

Or you may be perceived as too important for the small stories you tell.

You may have a problem in your team, and the wrong people are telling the story, while your most talented storytellers are crafting Twitter updates or doing collection management. (This happens more often than not.)

It could be that you said something in the media years ago that was not completely honest or respectful.
And equally, it could be that you never said anything of any import to anyone.

Maybe your organization and your story are perfect, everything is going well, apart from one tiny little experience right at the start of the story which ruins everything (no parking spaces, an overly stately entrance, being open every day but Tuesday).

I know this is a long list. But the good news is that once you find what’s broken, you can fix it.

A lot of this can be called marketing, PR, storytelling, but too often, when faced with problems like these, we end up spending time redesigning a logo or rebranding an exhibition, instead of doing the hard work of telling a story that matters and being a trustworthy storyteller.

(Our Quantum Culture Workbook helps you find the right questions and then helps you answer many of them.)

(This post is inspired by this post by Seth Godin, who has been a great inspiration to me throughout my career, and who will be speaking at MuseumNext New York later this year.)

Header image: LiliGraphie / Shutterstock.com

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