Book Review: Life Stages of the Museum Visitor
" Why are 7-year olds especially important to museums? Are museums really a "necessary evil" to some moms? Do natural history museums have a disproportionate impact on young children? What is going on with ultra-wired Generation Y and museums? How do we engage older audiences even more deeply? Researchers Susie Wilkening and James Chung of Reach Advisors use their latest data from surveys of 30,000 Core Visitors to answer these questions and more, defining "Museum Advocates" and explaining how these highly engaged visitors could determine the future of your museum." (Life Stages of the Museum Visitor caption.)
Though published in 2009, this book still holds some key insights into the museum visitor of today. The authors, who work for a market strategy and research firm in the United States, spent two years analyzing 30,000 survey responses from core museum visitors. What are "core museum visitors"? These are people who visit the museum on a regular basis and financially support museums. They also discuss a sub-group of core museum visitors, the museum advocate; people who are members, repeat visitors, and are significantly more involved with the museum than the typical core museum visitor. Wilkening and Chung dive into these types of visitors much more in-depth as well as break down each age group, generation, and gender in terms of how they interact with museums and their motivations for going (such as older men versus young mothers).
Finishing up at 150 pages, it is easy to read and understand. I found it very enlightening to see observations I have made be supported by a survey and studied in-depth. Through interviews they discover what kind of experience (ie guided tours, first person interpretation etc) each sub-group are looking forward to in a museum and expectations they place on the museum to provide a great experience (such as seating or washrooms), one that encourages them to become repeat visitors, a part of the core museum visitor group.
At the end of the book, Wilkening and Chung identify 6 trends that they see out of museum visitation:
1. The Changing American Population (this could also be applied to Canada and Saskatchewan). The composition of the population is not only changing in age but in ethnicity too.
2. Respite and Retreat - museums as a source of rest in an ever busy and buzzing society.
3. Authenticity - visitors are looking for something real.
4. Extremely Creative Consumers - museum providing outlets and generating creativity among the Generation Y.
5. Incubator of Innovation - museums being a source of inspiration.
6. Narrative - museums telling a story and drawing people in.
If you want to know more, I encourage you to read the book!