Audience Analysis: Research for Audience Development

Brooklyn Botanic Garden undertook a year-round analysis of its visitors. We provided accurate and well-interpreted information to address a variety of issues for long-range planning.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has a large and complex audience. Our work focused on better describing the range of visitors, why they visit, and how they perceived their experience.

The most common types of studies are:
Visitor Analysis
Community ‘Image’ Studies / Market Analysis
Membership Analysis

Featured example of an Audience Analysis project:

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston was a pioneer in defining and analyzing their visitors – probably the first museum to publish an article about the composition of their audience, in Curator more than 40 years ago. So it was not surprising that when they approached us in 2001, they had commissioned substantial studies of their visitors over the previous 6 years (by two different firms). But they wanted help summarizing and interpreting the results. Were those data pointing to trends? Could the results answer quantitative and qualitative questions they were asking? It was not easy to extract the information they were seeking, nor were the data interpreted in ways they found useful.

The first thing we did was to read through, summarize and critique those existing research reports. Significant gaps emerged on how some topics were measured, and the sampling methods raised doubts about whether the results were reliable (e.g., almost all of the previous studies had been conducted during ‘blockbuster’ temporary shows – which is fine if the question you want to answer is who’s coming to those shows, but it’s not so good if you want to know something about the overall audience). This critique led to their request to “do it better.”

Some of our audience analysis projects:

  • Boston Common user study, for the Friends of the Public Garden, Boston MA: multi-method study to determine the composition of the audience and their perceptions of this 50-acre park in downtown Boston
  • MIT Museum, Cambridge MA: a 3-year follow-up of a previous study to investigate whether the audience and their experience had changed
  • The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s Homestead, Nashville TN: studies to improve local attendance, through programming, at this nationally recognized site
  • The Freedom Trail Foundation, Boston MA: intercept study of the composition of Freedom Trail visitors and post-visit perceptions of their experience
  • National Association for Museum Exhibition (NAME): an analysis of members’ awareness of the change in AAM’s renewal process, and perceptions of the journal ‘Exhibitionist’

Our research in 2002-3 initiated two complementary methods to investigate several priorities. Entrance interviews (with a cooperation rate averaging about 98%) documented the composition of the audience – across four seasons, during popular temporary exhibitions as well as in between those shows, as well as during weekends and weekdays. We also defined visitors’ motivations and intentions for visiting. Exit interviews (also with a high cooperation rate, but with a slightly lower rate among members, which we compensated for in the analysis) assessed the extent of visitors’ use of the building, satisfaction with the Museum, perceived value of admission, sources of satisfaction and dissatisfaction, and other topics. We found some big differences, as well as interesting similarities, between first-time visitors and familiar repeat visitors.

After thorough analysis of the on-site audience, the MFA also asked us to conduct a systematic membership survey. The results of both of these research projects have been used in strategic planning as well as informing member services and marketing. We enjoyed seeing some data cited in a Boston Globe article as part of the initiative behind the new exhibition: Speed, Style and Beauty: Cars from the Ralph Lauren Collection. Overall, this is a museum that understands the value of high quality data, and they really know how to apply it.

“The studies conducted by People Places & Design Research have provided us with invaluable information about our visitors. PPDR’s attention to detail, particularly related to research design, gave us great confidence in the results. Thanks to this research, we have a solid understanding of our visitor today and have been able to make intelligent marketing decisions. We still refer to PPDR’s data on a regular basis.”  Comment from Courtney Cole, Manager of Market Research, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston