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Research & Planning for Museum Marketing Success

This article is about laying the groundwork and planning for your museum marketing success. We’re going to have you digging out analytics, thinking about your strengths and weaknesses and looking at audiences.

It can feel a little overwhelming with so much information to look at, so it’s important to say that you can take this at your own pace.

Research is an essential phase of developing your marketing plan, but it can be tempting to jump past this and move on to the more action oriented activities, but we’d encourage you to not to do that.

What you’ll learn from the research will shape all your activities going forward. No two organisations are the same, so this is critical to your marketing success.    

Organisational Analysis 

The first step in developing any comprehensive digital marketing plan is looking introspectively and analytically at your own Museum.

Gather together all the key information on your digital marketing activities, like which social media channels the museum active on, number of followers, best performing content, click throughs, website referrers and paid media.

This is a good habit to get into. I like to record all the content I’m publishing across different channels on a monthly basis and annotate this with the stats. This can be a great tool to look back on to build up a picture of what works and what doesn’t.

For example by doing this I found that Twitter posts featuring pictures of people got substantially higher click through, that’s been useful in shaping content going forward.

Put this together all the information you feel is important in a report along with any other important statistics, for example is the information there to link marketing activities to income generation? 

Next, it’s prudent to do a SWOT analysis. If you’re not familiar, a SWOT analysis is taking a careful look at your organisation and identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Let’s break it down a bit further. 

What is your organisation doing well?
What are you most proud of?
What have your most successful campaigns been?
What programmes are most notable?
What valuable feedback have you gotten from visitors/patrons?

Which aspect of your organisation is most vulnerable?
Which organisational strand is lacking strength/momentum?
What might your competitors identify as a weakness for your organisation?

Which areas of your organisation have the most potential?
What would you like to see done better/more efficiently for the future?
Where is there room for growth?
Which audiences offer the most promise?
Which departments offer the most promise?
Which communities would your organisation most like to work with?

What are the real threats to your organisation?
Internally, are there faulty processes or inefficient practices?
Externally, are there fierce competitors?
Is there a financial threat to your organisation’s sustainability?
Is there a concern over prolonged relevance/interests?

These questions provide a solid jumping off point for your own SWOT analysis. However, they can and show be significantly expanded upon. This exercise is best done visually and in a team setting with your entire organisation. Other departments/staff members will most definitely have varying opinions on the SWOT of the organisation and everyone’s input is valuable, especially within an organisational analysis context.

This is also a great way to get sceptical members of staff onboard with your marketing activities, by asking their opinion they’re often more open to what marketing can do for the museum. 

Who Are Your Museums Competitors 

Let’s assume that you have a good idea of who your competitors are… They could be other museums but they’re just as likely to be other leisure activities such as shopping, cinema, sports or even staying in and watching Netflix.

Whoever you’re competing against you should have a basic idea of who it is that you are up against in terms of drawing in and captivating your target audience(s). Take a look at current and previous marketing campaigns from your competitors. What are they posting on social media? Do their blog posts have a lot of hits/retweets? Write down some aspects of their marketing that you think are working, and some that you can clearly see are not. 

It’s worth speaking to other museums about their best practices and how they have or have not met their marketing goals. We can learn a lot about effective marketing methods by sharing successes/opportunities for growth within the sector and most marketing professionals within museums realise the value in opening up an honest line of communication. 

Museum Marketing Goals

Marketing is all about goals. Having set targets will provide some much-needed guidance about what kind of marketing your organisation should pursue and help to set realistic expectations and outcomes.

What is your organisation’s ultimate goal when it comes to marketing? 

Your marketing goal(s) is a targeted and measurable metric that is behind ALL of your marketing efforts. All of your campaigns and marketing efforts should be tied to this goal(s). Your organisation is essentially wasting time, money and shooting in the dark if that’s not the case. 

Marketing goals should be based on how you can support your museums mission. For example, the mission of Tate is “to increase the public’s enjoyment and understanding of British art from the sixteenth century to the present day and of international modern and contemporary art.”

So everything that Tate does from the work that they exhibit through to what they put on YouTube is done to help them to achieve this mission.

Refer to your SWOT analysis in this instance and make sure that your marketing goals are aligned with your strengths and opportunities sections, whilst keeping in mind the weaknesses within and threats to your organisation. It’s not singularly the job of the marketing person/department to define these business goals, liaise with other departments and make sure that your organisation is aligned on what these business goals are. Next, you can form the marketing goal(s) from how the business goals will be achieved.

For example, if your organisation had the following business goals….

  1. Increase brand awareness
  2. Bring in new visitors
  3. Expand international audience
  4. Secure funding
  5. Engage younger audiences
  6. Expand educational programming
  7. Increase beneficial partnerships

Then, the following marketing goals would be helpful in achieving those business goals…

  1. Increase website traffic
  2. Diversify online and physical audiences
  3. Increase numbers of international social media followers & website users
  4. Demonstrate concrete value of organisation
  5. Experiment with and infiltrate millennial dominated digital platforms
  6. Dedicated and targeted educational-programme awareness campaigns
  7. Raise sector profile by increasing PR and social media interactions

A great way to make sure that your goals are realistic and attainable is to put them through the SMART test. Are your goals “SMART?” 

Are the specific and targeted? Are they measurable through analytics or another method of data collection and measurement? Are they actually attainable or are they more of a pie in the sky dream? Are they realistic with the amount of staff, time, and money that you have? Also, are they time-bound, or do they all have a certain ideal completion date attached? 

The SMART test is a classic way of setting goals that will further your organisation rather than leave you caught up in the weeds. It’s imperative to make sure that all of your goals are up to snuff with the SMART test. 

Who Is Your Museums Target Audience?

We’ve chosen to use target audience here instead of target marketing. It’s important to speak to your audience as people, relate to them, valuing their opinions and prioritising creating and sustaining a dialogue with them. Purely viewing them as a market, a particular demographic that you are marketing your programmes and events to won’t build that lasting relationship that results in authentic and loyal followers. 

We have an article dedicated to how to identify your target audience(s) here. We’ll encourage and give you the tools to complete comprehensive background research to find out who you should be speaking to in pursuit of meeting your organisational marketing goals. You need to be able to demonstrate to your organisation why those audiences are relevant and worth pursuing. 

Museum Audience Strategy

Your audience strategy should clearly and succinctly identify how your organisation will reach the target audience(s) which we will define later this week. What differentiates your organisation from other similar ones? What can YOU offer your target audience that simply no one else can? If you are working within a collections-based organisation, this a good time to look at how your collections and mission are relevant to the target audience(s) you are looking to bring into your organisation. How will your target audience see themselves within the context of your institution? 

If your target audience isn’t engaging with your organisation currently, or is but within a very limited capacity, now is the time to figure out WHY this might be, and come up with a strategy to remove the roadblock. It isn’t always easy to complete this step, but it’s necessary to take a hard look introspectively to identify the reason why you need to employ these marketing strategies to bring your target audience(s) closer into the fold. 

Museum Marketing Budget

Money, money, money! Let’s get down to the nitty gritty about talk about what fuels all of these marketing goals, hopes and dreams. It’s money, which most arts and cultural organisations do not have in spades. You or your department may already be on a very limited budget and the prospect of approaching the organisation to ask for an increased budget to attain important marketing goals can be very daunting. However, have some peace knowing that all of the digital marketing strategy steps you’ve taken above can be used as concrete proof that you’ve done your homework and that this budget is necessary to carry out your strategies and achieve organisationally-beneficial goals. 

It’s important to wrap your head around some key figures and to be realistic about how much money is within the marketing remit. Consider all of the different facets of marketing which we’ll showcase below, but keep in mind that these may not all be applicable to you. Be sure to invest your money where your audience is and stay aligned with your marketing goals. 


  • Print ads (papers, bulletins, programmes)
  • Digital ads (website banners, pop-ups)
  • Print pieces (brochures, postcards, 1-sheets). Consider mailing costs in this estimate. 
  • Digital content (e-newsletters, e-books, case studies, videos, social media graphics)

Public relations

  • Television, radio advertisements
  • Press releases
  • CPD – conferences, webinars, courses
  • Interview costs

Social media

  • Facebook advertising
  • Twitter advertising
  • Instagram advertising
  • YouTube advertising
  • Google advertising (but not if you are a nonprofit!, read about Google Ad Grants for Museums here)


  • Website hosting and maintenance
  • Email marketing platform
  • Graphic design/video editing software subscriptions (Adobe CC subscription etc…)


  • Computer
  • Camera
  • Microphone
  • Tripod

The above list is exhaustive and may not be 100% applicable to your organisation. That is totally okay! Use it as a jumping off point and don’t get tempted to spread your organisation too thin at first. Choose a few things to budget for in each category that align with your marketing goals and then monitor the success of those methods. Invest more money and time in the processes that are bringing your organisation closer to it’s marketing goal(s). 

Now, there are plenty of free marketing tactics that are not only popular and viable, but also proven effective. Good word of mouth can be time-intensive, but worth it’s weight in gold. It’s impossible to control what people might say about your organisation and who they say it to, but if your organisation continues to pump out clear, meaningful and relevant content, chances are that people will have nothing to say but positive things!

Building meaningful partnerships with the marketing departments of other organisations can also be extremely valuable and can often result in free marketing and advertising. Offer to do a materials swap where you display their materials at your organisation and they display yours. This can also work with social media sharing and reposting. If you offer up good will and sector support, chances are that other organisations will be willing to do the same. 

Implementing Museum Marketing

Deciding the way in which your marketing strategy will be implemented is the final step in creating your comprehensive digital marketing strategy. We’ve advised before to only spend time and money on the platforms that align with your target audience(s), strategies and goals, and that is definitely the case here. It’s impossible to be everywhere at once and so it’s time to pick and choose what is most valuable for your staff and organisation. 

At this stage, it’s possible to divide your marketing strategy into several sub-strategies that are specific to certain social media channels and other marketing methods like email marketing. We would only recommend that larger organisations spend time creating these detailed implementation plans as it can take a lot of time to do and can easily become too complex and irrelevant for smaller organisations. 

You’ll find lots of content about social media on MuseumNext, if you’re just starting to consider this, here’s a guide to getting starting

Sustainability and Longevity 

Now that you’ve got the tools to create a comprehensive marketing plan for your organisation, the next step is to think about sustainability and longevity. Who will be looking after this marketing plan, ensuring that all aspects are carried out on time and effectively? Remember to consider the workloads of staff members and not to be careful not to overload them. Marketing is not a magic wand. The very essence of marketing is showcasing the merits of an institution, promoting events and programmes to the public, enticing people to invest in your organisation emotionally and physically. It’s not meant to be an easy-fix or cure-all for an organisation that is poorly structured from the start. 

If your org isn’t measuring the marketing successes and failures as they come along, then there is no room for improvement, because it won’t be known what improvement truly is! All of the analytics and data will also help to inform how future budgets and time should be allocated. We will spend time later this week and all throughout the course introducing you to ways to set goals and chart your marketing progress. 

All of the time that you’ve now spent thinking about your own marketing strategy and creating it using our helpful guidelines needs to be supported by proper benchmarking and monitoring to ensure goals are met and success is attained. 

Do explore the Marketing section of the MuseumNext website, where we’ve got further articles on all aspects of museum marketing.

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