Museums & the Digital Revolution: Consumer Trends in Mobile and Interactive Technology Integration in Museums

As museums and the visitors they attract are evolving, is this a space looking for increased digital and mobile interactivity?

Last year, Thinkwell released the company’s first Guest Experience Trend Report revealing the growing trends among Theme Park guests and their use of technology when they visit Theme Parks. Surprisingly, the results revealed that younger guests were much less concerned with mobile integration and that families and older guests primarily have an appetite for consumer-oriented mobile integration in theme parks.

This report inevitably led Thinkwell to think about this topic in relation to the company’s other specialized fields. We asked ourselves if we thought these results would carry across the various market segments in which we practice. With such high focus on technology and mobility in our lives today, are guests looking to integrate technology into their visitor experiences? Museums and the visitors they attract are evolving, so Thinkwell asked, is this a space looking for increased digital and mobile interactivity? The 2014 Trend Report honed in specifically on the current museum guest experience and visitors’ expectations and desires for such digital and mobile integration.

Thinkwell began a nationwide survey analyzing behavioral patterns in relation to guest experiences in museums. The survey reached over 1,400 museumgoers and found that 69 percent of the respondents bring mobile devices (tablets and/or smartphones) with them while visiting a museum. Of that 69 percent, a total of 73 percent used their device during their visit, most notably to take photos. Similar results were found in last year’s report on theme park mobile integration.

Though museums are using indoor GPS systems in conjunction with apps to push location-appropriate content to visitors, tailored to the exhibit they are in, Thinkwell is only seeing about 32 percent interest in such a feature. This result explains why over half of museum app users have uninstalled or not installed an app due to concerns about personal information, and 19 percent turn off the location tracking feature on their cell phones. Results show that this consumer market is not extremely eager for location-aware app advancements to enhance their in-museum experiences.

WHAT MUSEUM GUESTS LIKE
When asked to rank what they find to be the most beneficial features of museums, respondents chose as their top three: educational for me and/or my family, the ability to see real art and artifacts, and the content of the exhibits. Guests are visiting a variety of museums, from art to history to zoos and aquariums to get the personal satisfaction of bettering themselves and their families through education and learning.

The desire to see real art and artifacts contradicts a report from last year that suggested guests would be satisfied with highly accurate reproductions, as younger generations gravitate towards content and experiences, rather than originals. Our findings show that across all age demographics, guests highly value access to the authentic artifacts and art pieces available at museums, citing it as the second most important aspect of museums.

In regard to features that could improve a visitor’s experience, 42 percent would like to see more interactivity incorporated, and 40 percent of respondents feel that the use of audio related to a topic or object would be beneficial. Interestingly, a small minority of respondents would like to see an increase of adult-only extended hours and events. The interactivity guests seek is not limited to those found in digital devices. Visitors are interested in social and personal interactions that break beyond the four walls of the museums, with activities such as: after-hours events, classes and presentations from artists and subject-matter experts for children and adults, and kids crafts. They are more interested in increased human interactivity than in digital integration such as mobile apps or 3D printed, touchable objects.

On average, visitors spend a total of three hours at museums per visit. Not only do respondents ages 18-44 spend more time per visit than those ages 45 and up, they are also more likely to visit museums more often. Forty-four percent of respondents ages 18-44 visited museums 5 times or more during the past two years, while only 32 percent of those ages 45 and up did so.

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WHAT MUSEUM GUESTS DO NOT LIKE
While Thinkwell had many findings in the annual Guest Experience Trend Report pointing to the positive qualities of museums, we also found that over 57 percent of visitors are highly concerned with cost of entry for museums today.

Other negative factors affecting museum visits included overcrowding and outdated content. Respondents felt strongly about having newer exhibits and special events as encouraging factors of repeat visits. Overwhelmingly however, 88 percent of respondents ranked their last museum visit as quite enjoyable or better.

Some believe that digital integration in the museum space is necessary to expand the experience both virtually and in terms of new types of physical space to engage those accustomed to interacting with a screen. However, Thinkwell’s findings reveal that the museum space is one used to escape screens and the digital world. Guests are focusing more and more on the authenticity of the art and artifacts.

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MOVING FORWARD
In an increasingly interconnected and digital world that gives easy access to infinite amounts of data and information, the value and role of museums has come into question. While it’s clear that museums need to adapt to shifts in technology, guests still look to them for authority and authenticity. Digital technologies can be helpful to museums in order to supplement their content, but visitors still crave social interactions, personal enrichment and access to original, authentic objects. Custom experiences can be tailored to the individual, but guests still want those experiences to take place in a physical space with real live experts there to teach them and answer questions.

“We believe the best way to engage visitors in an experience is to have them participate in stories they can relate to and that are authentic and compelling,” said Craig Hanna, Chief Creative Officer of Thinkwell Group. “Museums are competing not only for time but also attention. Consumers can get content from their mobile devices. Museums need to do what they do best—present authentic content in a meaningful way that connects with their core constituencies—while also incorporating digital technologies to keep those experiences fresh and up to date with consumer expectations.”

“The results of the survey are fascinating and, for museums, heartening. Real stuff, real stories, real human experiences: it’s what museums do best, and it’s what visitors crave,” said Cynthia Sharpe, Senior Director of Cultural Attractions and Research for Thinkwell Group. “In conjunction with the fantastic research done by Jay Greene’s group at the University of Arkansas at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art regarding the value of field trips and the importance of facilitation, it bolsters the approach of using personal digital technology as a tool in the storytelling and educational arsenal. The educational and emotional impact of seeing real artifacts and experiencing great interpretation is paramount.”

Survey Respondent Demographics

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Qualifying participants were United States residents over the age of 18 who had visited a museum/exhibit in the past 24 months. Of the 1,407 respondents, 42 percent were male and 58 percent were female. Nineteen percent were between the ages of 18-29; 26 percent between the ages of 30-44; 28 percent between the ages of 45-60; and 27 percent are 60 and above. Household incomes ranged between $25,000 and over $150,000. Less than 1 percent held less that a high school degree, 6 percent held only a high school degree, 29 percent had some college or an Associate degree, 40 percent had a Bachelor’s degree, and 27 percent had a Graduate degree. The survey found very little correlation, if any, between gender or location and current mobile behavior or interest in increased mobile integration for museums experiences.

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