Emotional moments are what make a memorable experience at a museum and lead to an increase in word of mouth marketing. This is one of the concepts that the Royal Armouries in Leeds has been exploring in order to offer more meaningful experiences to its visitors.

At the Museums + Heritage Show the Royal Armouries, along with six other museums, heritage organisations and consultants, will share its insights on visitors. It will show the results of its work with an audience research company that has been exploring what happens to people on a visit, the pace of a visit and also how to create that ‘emotional moment’.

“It’s not just the ‘wow’ factor for the sake of it, it’s about creating emotional impact and experience, which could be quite moving,” says Colin Mulberg. “The key thing is all the talks are examples of not just understanding visitors or compiling research but actually using it to drive change. There can be a tendency to do a bit of visitor research, often for a funding bid, and then it just sits on the self. These talks, however, are about using this insight to make a difference on the ground – putting research into practice.”

Mulberg says that museums and heritage attractions have learnt a lot about the power of emotional moments through the First World War commemorations, exhibitions, events and activities. He says that museums have been working on drawing visitors in emotionally and figuring out how and what that looks like, how it feels and also how visitors value that experience. At the Royal Armouries, staff are trying to answer these questions to structure the whole visitor journey so they can decide where these emotional moments happen.

The Royal Armouries in Leeds have been researching the effect of 'emotional moments' in museums

“People tend to remember and value something that engages them emotionally, which can change their relationship with a museum. So the Royal Armouries are trying to work out how they can get those moments into a visit. It’s about giving opportunities for visitors to create personal meaning.”

Mulberg worked on the re-development of the National Football Museum in Manchester where they realised early on that they needed to deal with events and disasters such as the Hillsborough disaster of 1989, which saw 96 fans die in a crush at an FA Cup semi-final match (Britain’s worst sporting disaster). He says the museum realised it would be criticised for leaving it out but that it had to deal with the subject in a different way and in a different format from the rest of the displays. The subject is consequently tackled in a room separate from the main displays and includes a poignant film with specially-commissioned music. The AV presentation  was backed by the Hillsborough Support Group.

The nature of these kind of experiences, says Mulberg, is different to simply viewing an object in a case – it makes the museum offer multifaceted and adds to visitors’ reasons for coming. “The talks are all  useful examples of how understanding your visitors can lead to physical change, from venues across the country, from a variety of types of organisation and size. There will be many different approaches to using visitor insight to make a difference on the ground.”

In this respect, Birmingham Museums Trust have used audience research and participation to grow and diversify their audiences at different venues. This approach has had an impact in a number of areas, including strategic planning, project development and grassroots community involvement in exhibitions and programmes.

Visitor first 

One of the talks from the SS Great Britain in Bristol reveals how the museum has put the visitor first across a range of departments and how this has transformed aspects of the organisation and what it offers visitors. This has improved the visitor experience, interpretation and marketing and has affected large projects as well as small-scale changes.

“The ss Great Britain for example, has decided it will be visitor focused: it will put the visitor first and is actually working through  a range of areas where they can make a difference to the visitor. This includes improving the visitor experience across the whole of a visit, interpretation, how you engage different types of visitors and give them what they want. This then feeds into marketing – how you reach out and tell visitors what you are offering and align it to the experiences they are after. They have looked across the organisation and have a rolling programme focusing on the visitor.”

The talks will also look at how small- and medium-sized museums can benefit from cost-effective audience development. The de Havilland Aircraft Museum will provide a case study on how smaller venues can learn how to conduct their own visitor research and benchmarking, interpret the data and then implement changes on a tight budget.

An often overlooked area when it comes to understanding visitors and their behaviour is where their needs conflict with the functional requirements of museums including security. At the show Securitas will examine how to manage the differences between the security needs of museums and heritage venues and the wishes and wants of visitors, including looking at training, communication and resolving difficult situations.

The Museums + Heritage Show 2017 will take place on May 17-18 at Olympia West in London. For a full listing of all the talks and times click here and to register for a free place at the Show click here.

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The Museums + Heritage Show takes place at Olympia London on 17-18 May.To register your free place at the show click here.