A newsletter on audience research and development for cultural leaders. One reader calls it, "sometimes funny"

A few weeks ago, I wrote about museums searching for relevance while focusing largely on visitor experience goals.

This week, I’ve been thinking about relevance in relation to audience segmentation.

If you ask an executive director how the museum is studying visitors, you’ll probably hear her talk about tourists versus locals or millennials versus boomers. Sometimes those categories can be a way to suggest audience motivations — Visitor location information may lead to a discussion of what locals want from museum programming and what can bring them back to the museum.

But more often than not, I think demographics may obscure audience motivations, which may make it harder for organizations to develop unique and relevant offerings.

Marketing tools and platforms like Facebook Audience Insights make segmenting by demographics easier than ever. And funding requirements may also encourage museums to study audiences in terms of location, income, ethnicity, gender, and age.

But how important are demographics when it comes to “engaging” visitors?

The progress people hope to achieve by “hiring” the museum may have nothing to do with their age, race, or gender — and progress may be what’s most relevant to them.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Alan Cooper’s different types of user (audience) goals:

  1. Experience goals: How someone wants to feel when interacting with a product, service, or organization.
  2. End goals: What someone wants to get done by using a product or service, or “hiring” the organization.
  3. Life goals: Why someone wants to use a product or service — their deeper motivations and drives. In Jobs To Be Done terms: What progress is the individual hoping to make in their life by hiring the organization, its products or services?

(These correspond to Don Norman’s three levels of cognitive and emotional processing: Visceral, Behavioral, and Reflective.)

Let’s try on an example.

Alex is an art student who visits an art museum one day to complete a drawing assignment.

  1. Experience goals: Alex wants to be able to find a specific painting she’s looking for; she wants to be able to focus while she’s working; she may want to be able to sit down while she works; she wants the bathroom to be relatively clean, and so forth.
  2. End goal: Alex needs to complete her homework.

Those two domains — experience and end goals — are where most organizations focus their attention and resources. Again, the limitations of the tools we use color the nature of the questions we explore. “How was your visit to the museum?” is a relatively easy question to ask and the responses are easier to understand and track over time. But experience and end goals are only a portion of what the visitor may value. And they may be the least important in the big picture.

  1. Life goal: Alex wants to become a better artist and prepare herself for a successful career. This is the progress Alex is seeking — the change in her life she wants to realize, and that’s what fuels the finish-my-homework end goal.

The life goal is the core — it’s what motivates Alex to pursue her end goal and to evaluate her visit in terms of experience goals.

When we look at it this way, we could think of experience goals as being the least important thing we can measure or study.

Measuring what matters least?

Take a look at William Powers’ hierarchy of goals, which I found while reading Alan Klement’s article, Know the Two — Very — Different Interpretations of Jobs to be Done:

The structure of the hierarchy rhymes with Cooper’s three types of user experience goals.

  1. Principals help the individual strive for an ideal self (Life Goals / Be Goals)
  2. Programs are activities that support those principals (End Goals / Do Goals
  3. Sequences are small steps along the way that support programs. (Experience goals / Motor Control Goals)

Klement writes (emphasis and brackets mine):

Be [life] goals have the highest priority; Motor control [experience] goals have the lowest. Be [life] goals are the core drivers of all our actions and decisions. This also means that, no matter how well a Do [end] or Motor Control [experience] goal is fulfilled, it’s a failure if the higher Be [life] goal is not satisfied. It also means that a Do [end] goal doesn’t have to be successfully executed to fulfill a Be [life] goal.

Applying this to Alex — The museum could help her make some progress toward her life goal, even though one day the building is too cold and the bathroom smells. She may continue to hire the museum in spite of a grumpy guard, so long as she’s making progress toward her life goal, and so long as she can’t find a suitable alternative to the museum.

The museum’s advantage then may lie in devising ways to help Alex make progress in her journey, not so much in improving her visit.

Never miss a post — Get letters like this one delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe now

If you are focused heavily on measuring visitor satisfaction, what if you’re measuring the thing that is least relevant to them — at least for some visitors, and perhaps your most devoted visitors or captive audiences? And might a heavy emphasis on demographics perpetuate that imbalance?

Does focusing on the quality of Alex’s experience at the museum encourage us to believe that museums are in the business of helping people like Alex with their homework (end goal) rather than helping them build a career (life goal)?

Life goals? Haven’t we already figured those out?

John Falk wrote about the value of thinking about museums in terms of motivations rather than just demographics in Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience. He identified five types of visitors:

  • Explorers: Visitors who are curiosity-driven, looking to learn something new.
  • Facilitators: Visitors who are socially motivated, enabling others’ experiences. (Grandma takes grandchild to the children’s museum.)
  • Professional/Hobbyists: Visitors who feel a close tie between the museum content and their professional or hobbyist interests, motivated by a content-related goal.
  • Experience Seekers: Visitors who see the museum as an important destination. They want to have “been there and done that.”
  • Rechargers: Visitors seeking a contemplative, spiritual or restorative experience. The museum is a refuge from the world.

This seems like a useful framework. Museum leaders could review their communications, for example, and see if they might be neglecting some type of visitor.

But when I look at those categories, I can’t help but channel my two-year-old son and ask, “Why? Why? Why?” For example:

  • Why do rechargers seek refuge from the world?
  • What progress does the museum help them achieve at an identity level?
  • Why the museum and not some other place, like the park or the beach?

How useful is it to classify Alex as a Professional/Hobbyist? If we think of her in those terms, are we still thinking of her as someone who has come to the museum to do some homework — not in terms of career development (identity)?

When we apply Falk’s types to visitors, are we still thinking of a visit more in terms of an activity rather than a progressive journey?

Museums-As-Activities versus Museums-As-Progress

Let’s go back to Klement’s article on two interpretations of Jobs To Be Done:

Customers buy products to “do work” vs Consumers buy products to make a change (and ideally don’t have to “do work”)

The biggest difference between the two models, is an opinion of why consumers buy products:
  • The Jobs-As-Activities model suggests that customers buy a product because they want to “do work” with the product. Therefore, your efforts should be to improving how they use a product.
  • The Jobs-As-Progress model suggests that consumers don’t want to “do work”. What they do want, is to make a positive change in their life — i.e. “progress”. Therefore, your efforts should focus on helping them make that change. Ideally the consumers wouldn’t have to do any work.This difference is a crucial and huge. In the former case (Jobs-As-Activities), there is little or no interest in exploring why people engage in the activity in the first place! It begins that assumption that, for example, “tradesmen want to cut a straight line”.

    However, such an investigation will never help you uncover a consumer’s true motivation…

What if I rewrote that in terms of museum visitors, like this:

The belief that people visit museums for experiential reasons vs the belief that people visit to make a change (and ideally don’t have to visit)

The biggest difference between the two models, is an opinion of why people visit museums:
  • The Museums-As-Activities model suggests that people visit museums because they want to “engage” with the museum. Therefore, your efforts should be to improve the visitor experience.
  • The Museums-As-Progress model suggests that visitors don’t want to “engage”. What they do want, is to make a positive change in their life — i.e. “progress”. Therefore, your efforts should focus on helping them make that change. Ideally the visitors wouldn’t have to do any work.This difference is a crucial and huge. In the former case (Museums-As-Activities), there is little or no interest in exploring why people engage in the activity in the first place! It begins that assumption that, for example, “visitors want to learn something new”.

    However, such an investigation will never help you uncover a visitor’s true motivation…

What happens when we view the museum from this progress-oriented perspective? What if the museum could help people achieve the progress they’re looking for without ever visiting?

Three ways of thinking about museum audiences

Whew — this is a long letter with lots of questions.

I’d summarize by describing personas or segmentation practices like so:

  • Demographics: Useful for some purposes (e.g., advertising); Potentially detrimental to understanding audience motivations and ways that the museum can serve on a deeper/progressive level.
  • Activity-driven: Focused on end goals and activities; Often measured in terms of satisfaction during a single visit.
  • Progress-driven: Focused on life goals and states of being; Measured in terms of the individual’s life journey and identity.

I favor the latter, but I tend to root for whoever I perceive to be the underdog.

As always, I hope you’ll reply to share your thoughts and experiences.

Thanks for reading,

If you liked reading this letter, why not share it?

You’ve successfully subscribed to SuperHelpful Letters
Welcome back! You’ve successfully signed in.
Great! You’ve successfully signed up.
Your link has expired
Success! Check your email for a magic link to sign-in.