Creating Visitor Experiences : Strategies for Museums

Whether you’re coming back from a holiday or a dinner date; whether its a wedding or conference, the first question people ask you is ‘How was it?’ It does lead to ‘What did you eat / see / etc’, but chances are people will always remember the answer you gave to the first question. This simple human need for experience is something the world’s biggest brand and the smallest startup are focusing on, and it’s only fair, that museums must re-invent strategy to include this one word: Experience.

‘How relevant is our content?’

‘Does our Museum provide meaningful visitor-experiences?’

‘Do we provide an experience people can’t get elsewhere?’

If you can say a proud Yes, to each question then this post needs your help (please share your ideas so other Museums can learn)
If you were not sure about any of the questions above, or tried to think of a Yes / No, then read on, because this is a long post.

One thing I learnt in my brand-management class is that : No one buys what you sell. They buy what is of value to them. Think about it with respect to your favourite brands. There is always a cheaper alternative, but you probably place value in the quality / environment / customer handling, ease of access etc. These are part of the experience.

This post points also out simple ways  on How-You-Can-Do-It!

How Museums can build an Experience Strategy : for better Visitor Engagement

Pine and Gilmore coined the term Experience economy around 20 years ago. This matrix by them is something I’ve found very helpful while designing engagement strategies for museums and cultural institutions.


Experience Mix : What works for you?

Use any one of the four E’s or a combination in a way that works for your Museum. If you notice, the horizontal and vertical axis : 2 parts are about engaging audiences passively (Entertainment and Esthetic), and 2 are about engaging them actively (Escapist & Educational). You can also consider whether you want your visitors to be immersed (physically or virtually be part of) in the experience  or be absorbed (occupy attention) by it!

Every museum is different and so there’s no one-size-fits-all suggestion I have. It would be a great idea to create your own Experience Mix.

Featured Image : Make-a-pose Experience at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Entertainment Experiences

To design the Entertainment-experience, ask yourself:

What can you do to make visitors stay longer? What would make their visit enjoyable and fun? Specifically, how do we improve guided tours and labels to make the visit memorable?

You could experiment with such labels for some of your masterpieces – They are surely going to make your audience scoop out more information!

Editable, real-time label-displays allow for an interactive, audience-led experience, with choice of font and language, and easily updatable content.

The Heritage Transport Museum (Manesar), Virasat-e-Khalsa (Anandpur) and the most-recently created Partition Museum in Amritsar and are some of the Museums that leave people with amazing memories, even though they don’t have to actively DO anything. A passive engagement works for these museums as they narrate effectively, using a great mix of art and technology, speaking of which the Light & Sound Show at Delhi’s Akshardham too, pull in crowds like anything be it summer or winter.

Undeniably, Museum Guides are the most important people (also because of their direct connection with audiences), but perhaps their approach could be modified to question, to probe, to poke, to converse rather than aiming to inform. For example: “Can you spot the …. It’s apparently believed that..Have you ever experienced…” or simply put, their tone could be more fun, combined with theatrics!
I was recently at the Piramal Museum of Art and Sneha Shah [the Exhibition Director for “Likeness Without Reference”], kept asking questions, probing visitors to observe the artworks more carefully, throwing in hints and clues and asking them to spot the difference. Needless to say, people couldn’t get enough of it, and for once, I noticed people actually take notes of things they didn’t want to forget (or perhaps they wanted to social-media it later).

Sneha Shah, Manager (Piramal Art Foundation ) leading an art-walk at the Museum

You can also create tweetable information labels and fun facts for active participation. Museums are missing a HUGE opportunity to have visitors create word of mouth : ALLOW Photography – at least in some zones! Here are some examples:


Snap ‘n’ Share : There is an old saying that “life imitates art. We want YOU to do that. Take a picture of yourself at the gallery at post it to Instagram and Twitter with the tag <insert your museum name>


Twitter Encouragement : They say a picture is worth a 1000 words. But what if you had only 140 characters? Get in touch with your inner poet and be inspired by these works of art. Then share it on Twitter with the tag <insert museum name>


On your Museum blog or social media, share images that visitors have taken at the museum. Visitors love that sort of acknowledgement.


Other Examples: Concerts, Plays, Storytelling etc.

Education Experiences

A common trend in the Museum sector is to host art/craft workshops. While that’s great to begin with, don’t put all your eggs in the Workshop basket!  If you have a budget, invest in a website which has interesting things to do for adults as well as children (you can always ask us for help).

If you don’t have a budget, then position your museum to include activities for all age groups, parent-orientations and spruce up the galleries with games, colouring sheets and activity cards or even technology based kiosks.visitor-experience-strategy

Educational Experiences could also include treasure hunts and tech-based guided tours. Moving beyond Audio Guides, we recently experimented with  sensory-wall games, Conservation-Animation Games etc and it is amazing how people react to tech-savvy museums.


Basically, create experiences where people want to learn– where they are inspired to dig up more information [ and then make sure that SEO leads to pages you’ve created or are part of ] Have a look at what MoMA did:


The thing about creating such informational-experiences is this : everyone wants to be known for ‘spreading valuable information’  amidst their peer group!

Other examples: Lectures, Workshops

Escapist Experiences

This one is my favourite. I definitely feel very strongly for museums that transport you into a different time and era. In India, the only museum that has come close to doing that has been Place Hampi – the museum at the Jindal Township – Kaladham in Hampi. From the moment you enter, you can hear the ‘sounds of Hampi’, and while the display is only photographs, the technology support is great. There’s a 3-D show on the Hampi Monuments too! This Museum is specially meant for those business travellers who may not have time to visit the Hampi site and so, the experience has been crafted in a most immersive way.


Recently, I also experimented with VR and other technology based games and experiences and I’ve never seen students so happy about visiting Museums. If you can transport people into a different era, then well – half the purpose is solved – they’ll keep bringing back more visitors and be the regulars themselves!

Transport people back into medieval times by allowing them to experience earlier processes

If you aren’t so gung-ho about technology, then  a little bit of fashion play with costumes, and wigs never hurt anyone. People have been going gaga over the 3D Art Museum in Chennai simply because they can be transported to different times and in the process, get the craziest pictures too!


Check out excerpts of this visitor survey : there’s a considerable number of people who actually visit museums to get away from their monotonous schedule, etc.

I hope you do believe us when I tell you that there were people who filled out our visitor surveys indicating they come to museums so they don’t bump into people they know! Haha!

Esthetic Experiences

This one has got to do with the overall mood and physical environment. For a Museum, its infrastructure and location matter – these are tangible; but the intangible aesthetics are equally important to engage the visitors’ imagination.


While Corbusier designed Sanskar Kendra (Ahmedabad) and the Govt. Museum in Chandigarh to be free-flowing spaces with adequate natural lighting, museums from colonial times do have a reputation for having amazing room for experimenting with exhibition design and lights.  CSMVS Mumbai has already created these kind of spaces where people can sit and paint in the gallery (even if they’re not carrying any material) ; the Chandigarh Museum has an entire Child Arts Gallery plus a great library open to all. The Harappan Gallery in the National Museum too, offers space for you to just sit and watch a screening too.

The Collection Wall at the Cleveland Museum of Art lets Visitors make their own trails, and mark their favourite objects! Isn’t that a brilliant way of building personal-connects?

But can interior-based experiences be made more exciting ? And how can Museums benefit from understanding their visitors’ interior preferences?

Right now, at this moment I am quite excited about the answer to this. Imagine, what if visitors could be greeted on their phone the minute they entered the Museum? What if an artefact could say “hello” to them? What if YOU as a Museum could see the pattern in which visitors move in the museum and engage with galleries? Yes, we’re currently working on all this and more, so I can safely say it is possible and lends a museum / gallery a whole new aura!

The ultimate visitor-experience would be something that caters to all four – Entertainment, Education, Aesthetic and Escapist, but it may not always be possible. Worry not, start somewhere and you never know what note you hit.

If you’re not convinced about why your Museum should draft strategy around the Experience Economy, read on. If you’re already convinced and love the ideas, share this with a museum-professional you know or throw in your “experience” of designing experiences! It would be great to know if you found this helpful in any way.

Why Museums should Draft Strategy around building Experience

Based on a conference on Museum Marketing held 16-18 March in New Delhi / Also Read 7 Reasons why Museums should Share More Experiences and Less Information by Peak Experience Labs

1. Because Data is a great, but Experience is better.

Today, at the click of a button, a toddler can use Siri to dig information.  In such times, it would be dangerous to claim that the only purpose of a Museum is to give out information. For years we have all agreed that Museums are the keepers of all data – but in the face of the digital trends reigning our world, how do we keep visitors attracted to the museums through information without being preachy? The answer lies in creating an unforgettable discovery experience which should ideally have a “wow” factor!

A visitor looks into the interactive information panel at Place Hampi Museum

2. Because Experience Economy is a real term, and it’s happening NOW.

Believe it or not, but it is this “E” word that has us paying 300/- for a coffee! It is also this E word, on which the entire success formula of ventures like AirBnB is based.Pine and Gilmore – the men who coined the term ‘Experience Economy’ argue that businesses must orchestrate memorable events for their customers, and that memory itself becomes the product — the “experience”.

Well, at the museum, our product IS memory and all we need to do is convert it into an experience.

We have got to admit that we live in a world where Instagram is all set to become the number 1 app – something people use to record their experiences. People want to be surprised, pampered, and awestruck, and they want it NOW. By that, I mean instant gratification – and while museums may be keepers of the past, they need to respond in the “now”.

3.  Because People have other options – Competition is everywhere.

If you thought that fairs , shopping festivals or movie halls aren’t competition to the museum, think again. In my city, there are more people going boating at the lake or gymming than those coming into the Museum. Why should people prefer Museums over other commitments? I know you’re probably thinking I’m being too optimistic,  but it’s possible.


4. Because Experiences are what Millennials Crave

Whether you like it or not, but millennials are the target audience that will help us survive, grow and reach new heights.  Don’t believe me? Read  Why Millennials matter, and how to engage them by Krystal Young from the Getty Museum.

5. Because Museums need to remain relevant

With a great Museum collection comes the big responsibility of maintaining it, and keeping it alive and kicking. Why should the average visitor care about a 2000-year old toy-cart? Can an experience be built into the cart to provide a personal connect with the visitor?

6. Because not every object has the “X-Factor”

When I take workshops at the museum, I realise that not every object has the power to excite people using the usual observation-games. Sometimes, we need to go beyond and build an Aha-moment around a museum piece.  For example, when people looking at a painting were told about Lalita Lajmi (the artist) featuring in the Aamir Khan starrer “Taare Zameen Par”, their faces just lit up! Then they wanted selfies with that painting!

7. Because museums have ONE BIG ADVANTAGE


There are a zillion wisdom-quotes that tell us how other peoples’ experience can make us wiser. Well, Museums fortunately hold the key to contributing to visitors’ personal growth and learning by way of using their collection in simple ways! Used effectively, collections can tell us about love, friendship, business and trade, and even yourself! etc.

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