Uncertainty and Your Museum

How reducing the uncertainty throughout your user experience will lead to more visitors and a better overall experience.

Museum strategy

Uncertainty and Your Museum

One of the first things I do with any museums I’m helping is an uncertainty analysis.  Pretend you are a person that saw an advertisement for your museum and is considering visiting for the first time.  Now walk very slowly through the mental process from an initial impression to either phone call or website, to the driving experience, the parking experience, the front entrance, purchasing tickets, all the way to entering the galleries.  As you go through this process, stop and ask yourself what questions come to mind.  You will have two levels of questions.  First, you will have logical questions like ‘what are the hours?’  Second, you will have emotional questions like, ‘Is this going to be good enough to drive downtown through traffic.’  On the logical questions, walk through how easy it is to find the answers at that moment.  If it’s challenging to find the hours, for example, they will eventually stop trying.  On the emotional questions, I like to draw mental pictures.  As someone is deciding on potentially visiting your museum, they are building a mental picture of the experience, which creates an instant emotional response.  They picture standing in your gallery with their family, what the experience is like for each one of them, and how they will feel at that moment.  In the exercise, we spend a lot of time building these mental pictures based on many different potential visitor types.  The more vivid the mental image, the more you can tap into the emotional experience and figure out where the uncertainty lies.

As you go through this process, you will run into many moments of uncertainty, including:

  • Will my family enjoy this?
  • Are we the types of people that this ad is aimed at?
  • Will we be out of place?
  • How much does it cost?
  • What are the hours?
  • How do I get tickets? Do I need to buy them in advance?
  • I was there five years ago, will it be the same or do exhibits change?
  • It’s downtown, are their parking issues?
  • Is it kid-friendly?
  • Will we be the only adults? Seniors? Etc?

As humans, when we are uncertain, our brains go into hypervigilant status in an effort to decrease the uncertainty.  We make decisions much more quickly and less diligently at this moment.  Our brain just wants the uncertainty to go away because it is causing us to feel anxious.   Anxiety is produced in the amygdala, which is part of the deep emotional brain.  We feel anxiety when signals from the amygdala overpower the cognitive brain.  Back to your museum, the more uncertainty a person’s brain experiences when considering whether to visit your museum, the higher the anxiety, the less likely the person is to move forward.  Uncertainty leads to anxiety, and anxiety leads to decision retreat because retreat is the easiest path away from uncertainty.

A great example of uncertainty reduction is the Netflix new member signup page.  The most important words on the Netflix sign up page are “Cancel Anytime.”  You see this prominently displayed right in the middle of the page; this is a response to uncertainty.  A person sees an advertisement for Netflix. They go to the signup page, as they are considering trying it, they ask themselves, “Will it be difficult to cancel.”  The answer reduces uncertainty, and in turn, empowers the prospect to move forward.

It would be best if you did the same experiment regarding your in-facility experience as well:

  • Where is the area to buy tickets?
  • Where is the sign with the pricing and options?
  • Where do I start the tour?
  • Did I miss a section?
  • Where is the gift shop?
  • Can I take pictures?
  • Who do I go to when I have a question?
  • Where are the exit doors?

Keep in mind, this is all happening in one of the emotional centers of the brain.  Some of the bullets listed may sound irrelevant, but they are more relevant than you think.  For example, a lot of people feel more comfortable when they know how to leave a building, not because they are logically concerned, but rather because it reduces their anxiety.

Uncertainty is an enemy of both good marketing results and good in-facility experiences.  Conduct a structures uncertainty analysis at your museum at least a few times a year, and keep uncertainty top of mind when you create new advertisements or make significant changes of any kind.  You will see more visitors and an improved experience by focusing on uncertainty.

Article by Frank Bennett

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