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Who is your audience?


You need visitors for your museum to be a success. However, not everyone will want to visit. Understanding your visitors – and who you’d like to attract – is essential: who they are, where do they come from, their likes and dislikes. This can help you build a stronger museum that appeals to more people.

Who goes to museums?

This all depends on where you are and what you have. A major city museum with a large and diverse collection will have a larger pool of people to draw from than an isolated rural museum with a specialist collection.

When projecting how many visits your museum will attract it is very easy to overestimate which can have serious consequences for the viability of your organisation. There are several data sources that will help when predicting how many people may come to your museum and in targeting any promotional activity you might carry out.

New museums are entering a very competitive market. Scotland has a population of over 5.3 million of which a third visit a museum or gallery at least once a year. However, even established museums, who have had time to develop their products and marketing, only secure a small percentage of all visits.

Who will come to my museum?

Knowing who your visitors are will help you to plan exhibitions, events and help you target your marketing activity. In the first instance you could use local population data such as the Census (last carried out in 2011) to identify the scale of potential audiences. Speaking to similar or neighbouring museums or attractions may also help you to estimate visitor numbers.

Once you are up and running, make sure you put systems in place to find out who is visiting your museum and to get some feedback on their experience. Monitoring visitor numbers through patterns of ticket sales, asking front of house staff to informally identify the types of people coming in (eg. Groups, couples, families), using Gift Aid postcode data to identify how far visitors are travelling, and carrying out visitor surveys may all help.

However you find out the information, make sure you know what you want to do with that information, and remember to set time aside to analyse it all and discuss your response.

It’s also vitally important that you abide by the new GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) guidelines (25 May 2018) when keeping or using data.

Remember to segment

When analysing information on who is using your museum, you will probably find they are not all the same. For example, you wouldn’t treat a family with young children the same as you would an older retired couple. They will want different things.

Try to classify your visitors into different groups based on where they live, what they like, what age they are. This is called segmentation and will prove very useful when you are running promotions or wanting to communicate with them. The group you put them in will dictate what you offer and how you speak to them.

Legal references

If you are keeping personal data on visitors or audiences and planning on using these for any activities, you will need to ensure you abide by the GDPR guidelines which came into effect in May 2018.

Learn more

Culture Republic is Scotland's audience development agency, and their website holds a raft of resources around the topic.

HLF: Thinking about audience development is a resource produced by the Heritage Lottery Fund as guidance when applying for one of their grants. However, the information is useful to anyone looking to develop their audiences.

The Information Commissioners Office website is the best source of information on the GDPR guidelines introduced in May 2018. These are important if you are storing and using data on individuals.

Scotland’s Census paints an important picture of Scotland's people, their characteristics and behaviour. The last census was run in 2011 and is run every 10 years.

VisitScotland: Tourism Statistics can help you to identify where visitors to your region are coming from and their behaviours while they stay. In addition, they have produced a Visitor Survey Toolkit for those wanting to find out more about their existing audiences.

Scotland’s Towns Partnership: Understanding Scottish Places is a collection of freely accessible information that helps you to better understand your local area and those that live in it.

MOSAIC Scotland is a paid service from Experian that allows you to profile your audiences based on location, preferences and behaviours.

Culture Hive has developed an audience persona template for cultural and creative businesses which might help in classifying and segmenting your audiences. They also have audience development guide which will help if you're looking to expand the audience that uses your museum or services.