As many of us are now shifting back to focusing our marketing efforts on in-person visitation, I want to discuss an elementary travel building block that is sometimes under-appreciated.
As organizations in the tourism space, we spend a lot of time creating materials designed to capture people’s attention and convince them to spend their limited time at our facility. This is time well spent, as the battle for people’s attention is as competitive as ever, but it’s only one step toward ultimately getting people to your museum. Let’s look at a specific moment that happens in every city, every single day. Someone sits in a hotel room and searches “Things to do” in TripAdvisor, Google, Yelp, or any number of other sites. They scroll through the options, and because your museum’s offerings and promotional materials are compelling, they put you on their shortlist of places they may visit.
So what happens next? The time between when a prospect adds your museum to their ‘list’ of potential activities and when the prospect actually shows up at your door is called the barrier field. Barriers are obstructions that interfere with what would otherwise be a smooth path from learning about your museum to walking through the doors. Often people that genuinely found your promotional materials attractive never make it to the facility due to barriers.
The main point to understand is museum prospects don’t go from interest directly to visit; they go from interest through barriers to visit. Barriers create prospect attrition similar to how insects reduce the amount of healthy crop a farmer is able to harvest. In this article we will discuss how every organization can reduce barriers and ultimately increase visits with a few simple steps.
Gain Prospects Interest -> Address Barriers -> Successful Visitor Acquisition
Barriers come in three forms. Let’s get back to the people sitting in the hotel deciding which organizations will get their limited and valuable time and money. They have decided that your museum sounds compelling. Now barrier one is going to enter their mind. This is called the “basics barrier.”
- Are you open?
- How much is admission?
- Is it inside or outside? How do I dress to stay warm?
- Is it a safe area of town? Is the attraction safe?
- What are the COVID rules?
- Can we take pictures?
- Do I have to pre-buy a ticket, or can I get it at the door?
- Will it be jam-packed? I don’t like crowds, especially when my son is with us?
Why these are barriers? When someone is deciding if they will visit your museum based on the limited information they can learned from travel sites and your website, their level of visit commitment is relatively low. Your museum is not the reason they came to town. They did not read an article from a source they respect, or have a trusted friend recommend your museum. They simply read a description, saw some pictures, and a few reviews. While this level of commitment is a necessary step, it will only withstand a low-level of process frustration before the prospect decides to do something else.
As such, there are a few barriers related to basic information you should keep top-of-mind. First, if they cannot locate the answers to these questions, they will eventually give up. This is an important and often under-appreciated point. There are a few psychological elements at play here. First, most of us are familiar with digital optical paths. Optical paths (or visual paths) have been a topic in digital marketing for decades. For example, when someone is shopping online and can’t find the information they are looking for, they may abandon the shopping cart depending on their commitment to the purchase and a few other considerations. This is also true when people are trying to find information about your museum. But it’s only half the story. When someone is on their favorite travel site or your website, and they can’t find information they perceive as basic within an amount of time they perceive as reasonable, they will give up the search not solely due to frustration, but also because they perceive your organization is not putting in the necessary effort to communicate with your audience effectively. They connect their inability to find the information they seek with their perception of your offerings quality. Years ago, I was involved with a customer survey in which one person we spoke with said, “If I struggle to get information, I perceive that there will be other hassles when I arrive. I don’t want to deal with that.”
The second barrier is called the life dynamic barrier. If a husband and wife with a five-year-old daughter and a dog are traveling together, they need to know if your attraction is safe for kids and if kids typically find your attraction interesting. A museum I visited years ago saw many parents with kids as they were close to an amusement park. To address barriers related to kids, they created a section of their website called “A Kids at the Museum.” They allowed two of their employee’s kids to walk around with video cameras and turned it into a fun video that showed kids enjoy the museum. The couple in this example also need to know if they can bring in their dog. At the museum where I work, we cannot allow pets in our galleries, so instead our front-of-house team offers to watch your pet while you visit as long as they are in a carrier. We have gained many admissions this way over the years and the pet owners are always highly appreciative.
The third barrier is the proximity barrier. The proximity barrier includes everything related to geography. How far is the museum from our hotel? Is it near places to eat? Is it taking us farther from our next location? Is parking difficult? Remember that the prospect’s commitment to visiting your museum is limited. If they get stuck in traffic on the way, they may decide it’s not worth it and do something else, especially if they drive past something else compelling. A museum was three blocks away from one of the busiest intersections in a large city, and depending on where you came from and how you traveled, you may have had to cross three lanes of traffic. To address this barrier, added a section to their website with specific driving recommendations.
Adding special driving instructions to your materials can also be a helpful step if one of the highly used driving apps sends drivers to the wrong place or if your museum entrance is difficult to find. If a driver misses your entrance, do they end up in a confusing intersection of one-way streets in heavy traffic? These are all situations that can lead to some people giving up and deciding to do something else. If you address these barriers in advance, you minimize these issues and ultimately get more visitors through the door.
So how do you address barriers? First, you need to keep barriers top of mind. As discussed earlier, it doesn’t matter how good your promotional materials are if you are not effectively addressing barriers. Have a team meeting in which you take the visitor profiles you have created for your marketing initiatives and walk through every minute between when each prospect persona comes across your profile on a travel site and when they show up at the museum. Brainstorm every barrier they may come across and how you can address it. Second, this needs to be an ongoing discussion. Make a master list of barriers your prospects come in contact with and post it in a location that employees frequently pass. Make discussions about barriers and how to reduce them a common meeting topic. Also, make sure you publicly celebrate the wins with your entire team! One of our big wins at my museum came from our maintenance person. We were losing visitors because our two parking lots are on different sides of the building, and sometimes people do not realize the second one exists. Some visitors would see no parking spots available in the front lot and give up. We addressed this barrier by putting up more prominent signs communicating where there was additional parking during peak travel months.
Do the exercise above and make barrier reduction a focus of your promotional efforts and you will welcome more visitors.
Writer’s Note– Barriers such as the ones listed above impact all businesses. I’ve done versions of this exercise with retail stores, online service providers, and even a department of motor vehicles. Even if you are not in the tourism space, do this activity with your team and see how you can address barriers and increase the number of people that consume your produce.
Article by Frank Bennett, originally published at www.WorldClassMuseum.com
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