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Museums, consumer trends and COVID-19: taking stock of the world we find ourselves in today

The way we consume and interact with content has been thoroughly put to the test over the past year. Let’s look at how the broader economic and social climate tallies with what we’re seeing in museum consumer trends.

Dave Patten from the Science Museum perhaps put it best in a recent virtual meet-up for MuseumNext when he said:

“If you always just look to museums you just get what museums have always done. There are people doing a host of interesting things in a whole variety of different fields . . . You can never look too widely for ideas. The challenge is just to stay up to date with where all that stuff is going.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us all to make some big adjustments, including brands and businesses. From making the move to digital platforms, to considering the needs of the customer like never before, processes and practices have shifted for both the short term and the long term.

While the arts and culture sector has undoubtedly been hit hard, we should also be looking to some of these other sectors to understand their challenges; observe how they have exploited new opportunities and use the broader experiences in society to help understand where we go next.

COVID-19 and business

As a result of the pandemic, most B2B seller interactions have moved to a remote or digital platform, and research from McKinsey reveals that the vast majority of businesses would happily keep things that way beyond the COVID-19 crisis. In fact, only 1 in 5 B2B brands say they hope to return to in-person transactions, even if that was their primary sales model before the pandemic occurred.

And this is a sentiment which is shared by the customers. Between 70 and 80% of buyers now claim to prefer remote human interactions and digital self-service. Reasons given for this seismic shift include: ease of scheduling, savings on travel expenses, and improved safety.

Across the globe, businesses are finding that their newly digital sales models are boosting market penetration and increasing reach as they look to serve customers swiftly and effectively. This improvement is particularly prominent in France, the UK and Brazil, where there has been a 22%, 17% and 19% rise in effectiveness, respectively.

Has the way we consume culture changed forever?

The business world is becoming increasingly digital, but do the same rules apply to culture? Surely seeing artists, artworks and shows in the flesh cannot be effectively replaced by screen-to-screen interactions?

For the most part, this is true. Bookstores in particular have been casualties of the pandemic, as well as theatres. However, there have been instances of digital success within the cultural sector.

Large scale productions have successfully made the move to home screens. The premiere of animated film Trolls 2: World Tour last year marked the best digital premiere in history, while the One World: Together at Home concert featuring Lady Gaga, Stevie Wonder, the Rolling Stones succeeded in raising upwards of 17 million euros for the World Health Organisation.

Things have been harder for the smaller scale cultural institutions who have had to adapt without the huge digital following to fall back on. Yet even then there have been success stories that we can look to for inspiration. Social media content creators specialising in comedy, poetry, art and more have all seen a boost in interest and following over the course of the pandemic. Similarly, podcast listening is estimated to have grown by 58% in 2020 as content consumers have looked to broaden their horizons, find entertainment, better themselves or simply gain greater control over their passive listening habits.

The role of museums in the pandemic

Like other businesses and establishments, museums were forced to close their doors in Spring 2020, and, in many cases, have only experienced rare and fleeting periods of opening since. As such, digital exhibitions have taken centre stage throughout the pandemic. This has been a tough adjustment for many museums, but it has arguably made art more accessible than ever before.

Even the biggest and most esteemed museums in the world have had to think outside the box in order to keep interest alive, including the Louvre, the Van Gogh museum and the Guggenheim. The Louvre’s Mona Lisa: Beyond the Glass exhibition used VR and digital platforms to their advantage by allowing remote fans to get truly up close and personal with the world’s most famous painting. The masterpiece is famously hard to get a good look at in-person, thanks to the permanent hub of excited tourists surrounding it. There is even a limited 30-second viewing period per person enforced by the museum.

Through VR, viewers can now take as long as they like exploring every brushstroke the painting has to offer. In this instance, being further away from the painting brings you closer than ever.

In another example of digital prowess, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York recently partnered with Verizon to produce a series of virtual art and gaming experiences based on their collections, and 4G and 5G smartphone users are able to participate with the exhibit from home. The Met Unframed is billed as an opening of virtual doors that will provide digital and augmented reality access to the museum’s masterpieces.

Whether you’re inclined to look outside of the museum space for ideas or have found ample inspiration within the sector over recent months, one thing’s for certain: nobody is able to stand still as a result of the tumultuous 12 months we have just endured.


About the author – Tim Deakin

Tim Deakin is a journalist and editorial consultant working with a broad range of online publications.

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