08 December 2011 // Thoughts

10 Keys for Successful Museum Experiences: Putting It All Together

You’ve designed your museum for the audience, accommodated guests of all types and told compelling, personal stories with strong takeaway messages. Your exhibits are repeatable, updateable and provide “only here” experiences.  You connect to your local community and host events that keep them coming back.  With these eight keys in place, you are on your way to make your physical space a dynamic cultural institution.

But sustainability is more than bricks and mortar.  Effective operations, multi-faceted marketing, sterling customer service and a strong vision for the future are equally important in ensuring future success.  These are the topics we will cover in our last segment of Shawn McCoy’s 10 Keys for Successful Museum Experiences.

  • 9. Think as much about marketing, customer service, operations, maintenence as you do on the exhibit experience.

A common mistake that the developers of new projects make is to spend all of their energy on the development of the exhibit experience and forget about other important parameters such as marketing, customer services, operations and maintenance. As stated previously, in order to attract your target audience, you have to begin a strategic marketing and public relations campaign well before you open. Once you attract your audience, your customer service and operations are critical to ensuring that your guests have a positive experience. Your exhibit experience might be fantastic, but if buying your ticket was an ordeal, the wayfinding was confusing and the staff seemed apathetic or rude, the guest will forget about the wonderful exhibits, and never return due to the other negative aspects of their visit. An energetic, well-trained staff who treat visitors as they guests that they are will go a long way toward creating a memorable repeatable experience for you target audience. A commitment to ongoing maintenance is also very important, as broken exhibits and unclean facilities will also cause a negative experience for your guests.

The Field Museum developed a comprehensive marketing campaign around A T-Rex Named Sue.  Sue even has her very own Twitter account!

  • 10. Think about years, 5, 10 and 15 as much as opening day.

Perhaps the most important key to developing a successful project is to think about how the facility will operate in the years after it opens. Too often, those developing projects are so excited about getting to opening day, that they don’t put any planning into how the facility will operate in year 2, 5, 10 and beyond. As the only successful facilities are those that work well over the long-term, you must begin thinking about the long-term operation of the facilities (including a plan for operations, programming, adding new exhibits, etc.) at the outset of the project.


We hope that these guidelines provide a bit of insight how to plan, design and operate a successful museum experience. Museums are a vital part of the educational, social and cultural fabric of the communities in which they live, and their long-term viability is to all of our benefit.

Thanks for reading.  Next week, we’ll turn our attention from museums to theme parks with a return to our ABCs of Design and Project Management, and a blog post sponsored by the letter E…