Matthew Petrie

It’s time for mobile

Matthew Petrie, 10.04.2014
Research from NHM shows audiences are mobile-enabled
Enough has been written about smartphone ownership in the context of museum visitors. The vast majority of visitors of all ages own and bring a smartphone to a museum. And yes, the UK is still a leading smartphone market.  

On average, more than half of any museum audience is mobile-enabled. And the majority of these mobile visitors use their smartphone during a visit to help them “experience” a museum.

These activities, not surprisingly, mirror what consumers use their smartphones for in everyday life: accessing email, social media and taking pictures rank high in museum activities as they do in general usage. But relatively few visitors, from recent studies conducted, seem to be accessing museum-provided content with their mobile.

Fusion Research + Analytics carried out research at the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London last year. Understanding the Mobile Visitor showed that although very few visitors expected to use their smartphone before their visit, many found themselves on their devices during a visit.

For example, one in 10 NHM visitors had logged on to the museum’s Wi-Fi service, despite an intentionally low-key promotional effort (only two small signs in the treasures gallery). One-fifth accessed the internet through their own data provider, demonstrating a clear market acceptance and need for museum-provided Wi-Fi and content.

In speaking to your mobile market, it pays to define and profile a target audience. For example, the NHM found that younger visitors under 35 years old should be the primary target audience of its mobile technology offer as they are more likely to have and use their smartphone in relation to their museum visit.

There is almost no debate worth mentioning regarding audience reach between visitors accessing their personal device or renting a museum-provided guide. Personal mobile devices reach a majority of visitors versus the small but dedicated museum-provided guide audience.

And there are clear distinctions between their motives – smartphone visitors generally want basic information in bite-sized pieces while museum-provided guide audiences crave a more immersive experience.

Promotion is essential in making visitors aware of museum-sponsored content. Visitors do not search for museum apps when preparing for a visit. With more than half of visitors equipped with a mobile device and a clear willingness to use these devices, even modest promotion in key areas will have a large impact.  

There are key takeaways from the NHM’s mobile research that can be widely applied to museums’ ongoing mobile evolution.

Firstly, take deliberate but simple steps in growing mobile content by offering basics that will appeal to a large proportion of your audience. That said, museums should pinpoint a target market (for example, visitors under the age of 35) and position features, content and benefits to that specific group.  

It’s important to measure your progress. Establish baseline benchmarks before you launch a mobile initiative and then measure any changes in awareness and impact six to 12 months later.

Be realistic; it’s unlikely that a mobile offer will drastically alter the museum experience. But without even modest promotion it’s almost guaranteed very few will ever use it.  

Finally, just do it. Many museum mobile programmes have been launched in the past year. Learn from them and apply key insights to your mobile strategy. 

Matthew Petrie is president and founder of Fusion Research + Analytics