Attracting visitors – benefits versus features

Focussing on the benefits of your offer to visitors is a useful step to moving to a visitor focus, explains Colin Mulberg.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many museums and heritage venues are re-assessing their relationships with their audiences, including understanding the viewpoint of their visitors and what makes a great visit for them. Looking at the benefits to visitors instead of the features of your venue and exhibits is a valuable place to start.

Focussing on visitor benefits instead of venue features is often part of a wider internal shift away from looking inwards at collections, objects and displays. It helps trustees, management, staff and volunteers across your organisation to look outwards at your visitors, what they want from a visit and the experience they have when visiting.

Features are a traditional way of talking about a visit and describe and/or explain. This could be when a historic property was built or its famous occupier, the themes and extent of collections, key highlights or special/notable objects. Features feel safe and reassuring, as they are based on facts and museums and heritage venues are good at them.

However, features look at what you have – your viewpoint. They are based on what you know and understand and what you find interesting. For many visitors, features are a limited form of engagement and are not particularly persuasive.

In contrast, benefits explore what visitors will get out of engaging with you – they do something for visitors. Benefits give motives to visit and/or to part with money, especially setting out what visitors will gain from you. To be a benefit, the gain must be real and have strong appeal, so it speaks directly to your audiences; it is on their terms and takes their viewpoint. Benefits are mostly immediate, especially when compared to historical features.

Benefits can be general; for example, shared quality time and social experiences when meeting up with family and friends have become a priority for many due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Benefits can be transactional (e.g. Friends can jump the queue) but also aspirational (e.g. increased wellbeing; feeling more relaxed; creative fulfilment; inspired; uplifted; improved self-esteem; creating worthwhile memories).

Benefits are particularly valued by visitors when they solve or avoid problems. This could be ensuring they get good value (and avoid poor value); helping them to see the best (and avoid the mediocre); making the most of their valuable time (and not wasting it); reducing effort. Families have a recurring problem to keep their children amused over the long summer holidays and most museums and heritage
venues are well placed to solve this.

Understanding and creating visitor benefits requires sustained work. It is the result of taking a long hard look at the visitor offer and why this is attractive for particular audiences. Often it helps to answer a series of questions: What can visitors do or accomplish with this? What are the results for them? How does this improve visitors’ lives? Another useful approach is to ask the Five Magic Words of Sales for each audience – ‘What’s in it for me?’

Features do not have to be abandoned totally as they can add credibility and substance. But it pays to follow the marketing mantra, ‘Features tell, but Benefits sell’. It is a focus on visitor benefits that will help venues to reach out to different audiences with compelling offers that give strong reasons to visit.

Colin Mulberg is Director of Colin Mulberg Consulting, specialising in improving the visitor experience for museums, galleries and historic properties/sites.