As we all deal with varying degrees of decreased visitor numbers, it is more important than ever to increase current supporter involvement and gain new supporters through efforts beyond physical visitation.  In today’s article, I will discuss the importance of using email marketing segmentation and automation functionality to increase current supporter engagement and take people new to your museum from awareness to brand knowledge and involvement.

A few things before we dive into this topic; First, I have had several conversations since the pandemic started about ways to expand a museum’s brand reach when very few people are traveling.  While museums are typically a ‘hub and spoke’ model organizations, with a first visit as the ‘hub’ and our other programs and offerings as the ‘spokes,’ it is possible to create museum awareness through means other than visitation.  This is a topic for another article, but museums often build followings through combinations of SEO, social media campaigns, 3rd party media, influencer campaigns, variations of live video campaigns, digital advertising, and more.

Back to email, before getting into segmentation and automation, I first want to mention something elementary.  Email is still the number one digital way to communicate with your audience.  At a minimum, everyone should have a system for capturing email addresses and sending email communication.  If you do not, this should be high on your list of improvements; especially during the pandemic when out of sight often causes your audience to wonder if you are still in business.  If you are physically not open, your emails are the core of your entire existence.

Every one of us receives more email than ever have before.  By percentage, the average person opens fewer emails than they did even two years ago.  The average person opens less than 3% of promotional emails.  Think about your email habits.  How many promotional emails a day do you delete or ignore even if they come from organizations you support?   If you want to achieve high user open rates on this day of email overload, you must create emails that talk specifically to each individual’s interests.  Instead of simply sending the same email to everyone on your list, you are attempting to communicate in mass and have each of the communications appear like you are having a one-on-one discussion.  To do this effectively, you need to invest in an email automation platform.  I know you may be thinking, ‘We can’t spend extra money right now,’ but every museum I have seen take this step ultimately ended up making far more money than they had invested within 12 months.

By segmenting and automating your email experience, you take each user down a customized information path that matches their interests.  For example, start with a general email that features four articles on four primary museum areas, one on adult education, one on an upcoming in-facility exhibit, one on youth education, and one on an upcoming digital exhibit offering.  The people that clicked on the digital exhibit offering will receive subsequent emails diving more deeply into digital programs, the people that click on youth education will get more emails about youth education programs, and so on.  This is where automation comes in.  You can preschedule email sequences.  For example, if someone shows interest in digital education, you can preschedule an email a week later, specifically about the next digital education opportunity that sends automatically.  Then you can schedule a third email with a headline like, “A few seats left for the digital workshop Jane Smith on painting animals.” This is only an example; the critical point is that you can schedule all of these to send automatically based on people’s interests.  Automation is basically an ‘if-then’ function.  If someone clicks on this link, they will get this email next.” There are several benefits to structuring your email campaigns in this manner.  You are making specific offers to people who are most interested in increasing the number of people who sign up.  When you send pointed, detailed emails in a sequence to people that have shown interest in the general topic category, you get significantly higher results than you do when you send more general/less specific emails to everyone on a list.  Also, since you send emails that more directly resonate with recipients, your email open rates increase, your email unsubscribe rates decrease as people receive fewer emails that are not relevant to them, and your overall audience loyalty increases.

Segmented automation is also an excellent tool for your fundraising efforts.  You can aim the language of specific fundraising efforts to the audiences that are interested in those topics.  For example, you can write four versions of your annual appeal fundraising letter based on user interest.  If a user consistently engages with youth education, you can focus their appeal letter on their donation benefits to youth education.  Even if you are new to segmentation, you can start from scratch and still get a meaningful return.  Simply send an initial fundraising letter that touches on all of your museum’s service categories with links to how donations aid each specific category.  You can then use the click-thru information from that email to inform the language in your subsequent campaign emails.

I recommend the following automation process.  When someone gives you their email address or when you first start your segmenting strategy, send a series of three emails that overview the museum’s mission and core programming.  This series of emails are commonly called ‘onboarding or upramping.’  I cannot emphasize how vital an automated onboarding process is to a museum.  When you send a sequence of onboarding emails, you take someone from museum awareness to elementary brand understanding, which is one of the most critical steps toward long-term involvement.  There are many best practice articles available to guide you through developing onboarding emails.  What each user clicks on in the onboarding emails informs the path you send them toward going forward.   For example, if they are interested in exhibits.  The next email can be a deeper dive into the upcoming three exhibitions; the one after that can be an interview with a curator or artist involved with an upcoming exhibit.  The third can an offer to see the next exhibition one day early at a special VIP event, or a special access live zoom discussion with the featured artist. There’s a lot you can do with segmentation.

In addition to the segmented emails, I recommend sending an email everyone on your email list receives in a ‘newsletter’ format at least once every two months that summarizes everything going on at the museum, reiterates the mission, and discusses the importance of supporting the museum.  I like to add a ‘Note from the Director’ with mine, but this is up to you.

Increase your email effectiveness with email marketing segmentation and automation and watch your involvement, loyalty, and revenue increase.

Writers Note -This article is specifically about the benefits of email segmentation and automation.  Your email strategy is part of your larger communication strategy, which may include content, social media, video, live presentations, even text message campaigns; regardless of what other tools you use, consider email your digital anchor.

Article by Frank Bennett, originally published at

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