Make your museum website sticky by harnessing marketing psychology

When we think of driving traffic to websites, we often focus solely on new visitors. But if you think about it, returning visitors are more familiar with your museum and your brand, and are much more likely to engage with you, for example by signing up to your newsletter, making donations, buying tickets or visiting your museum. Given that, it makes sense to invest some time into developing a strategy in order to make your website ‘sticky’ so that people keep coming back and marketing psychology has a whole host of tools you can use to do just that.

Whilst there may be ethical implications to consider when leveraging psychological techniques in order to drive user behaviour, I would argue that this has been a staple of all marketing, both digital and offline for centuries. Add to this, psychology in marketing can be used for good rather than nefarious purposes – think ‘encouragement’ rather than ‘manipulation’. A seminal marketing campaign comes to mind that illustrates this point especially well. It wasn’t until the 1870s that tooth powder, and later toothpaste, started to be mass produced. Before then, people would sporadically buy the product but repeat purchases were uncommon and tooth decay was rife. Things changed almost overnight when Colgate & Co. added mint flavouring which caused the user to form a psychological association with the act of brushing. Users became used to the taste of mint and it acted as a reward mechanism. Sales took off and the daily brushing of teeth became commonplace.

One might say that we have become addicted to the habit of brushing our teeth and most of us feel terrible if we do not do this at least twice a day.

Think about the websites you visit regularly. What is it about your favourite sites that keeps you going back for more? Often FOMO (Fear of missing out) can be a driver behind visits to news sites and social media. As social animals, we want to know the latest news and what is going on with our peers and leaders, and the fear of missing out and general nosiness is a strong driver of online behaviour.

One specific example whereby psychological marketing is used online is the “pull down refresh” gesture on most touch screens when you reload the page. Adam Alter, an addictive technologies expert says “You pull the lever to win a prize, which is an intermittent action linked to a variable reward. Variable meaning you might win, or you might not . . . The delay, and the expectation, is part of the psychological experience – ‘What am I going to get this time?”

This ties in with a key reason people revisit a website – they are looking for something surprising, something different. There’s always a chance that you will visit a site and find something unique and interesting, a reward.

One final psychological tool I’d like to mention is reciprocity, that is the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit. It has been proven time and time again that people feel a sense of indebtedness when they are given something for free, often resulting in a reciprocal act. Charities do this when they send you a letter asking for donations along with a free pen, a tactic proven to increase donation amounts. The need to return a good deed is hardwired into our brains and marketeers know this.

So how can we utilise these psychological techniques in a positive way that is beneficial to museum visitors as well as the museums themselves?

To start with, it is a good idea to make your content unique, interesting, and occasionally surprising. This will create a psychological expectation of reward, encouraging repeat visitors. Ensure that a significant amount of your content is people-focused in order to tap into people’s need to know what others are doing. You can then deploy reciprocity by offering something completely free to your visitors, such as a downloadable educational pack or other resources. When doing so, it is often best to try to productise digital assets by giving them physical presence through branding – make the item you are offering appear as a real, offline product. For example, on an ebook you could use a 3D graphic template to make it look like a physical book.

Ultimately you want to drive more repeat visitors by getting your users to sign up to your mailing list as this is a fantastic way of retaining interest long term. This should be a relatively easy task since you have already provided your users with interesting and free content and a social platform whereby they can find out about their peers and leaders. That said, don’t assume your visitors know where and how to sign up, so make sure you have a clear Call To Action.

Who is doing this well?
One example of a sticky site is the social media and news aggregator website Reddit. The site consists of niche channels called ‘subreddits’ and a homepage that is relevant to the country and interests of the user visiting. News articles are submitted and voted upon by contributors which keeps content fresh, engaging and often surprising. Comments encourage conversations and this forms the social aspect of the site. There are also giveaways and celebrity and leader interviews in the form of AMAs (Ask Me Anything) as well as other features that encourage communities to form. Reddit is one of those sites that once you become a member you find yourself spending far too much time on!

About Heritage Creative
Heritage Creative is a specialist web design agency focused solely on the heritage sector. We are deeply passionate about preserving our heritage through the power of the internet. We pride ourselves on designing outstanding, high return, strategy-led websites that look beautiful whilst being highly accessible and easy to use. As well as the many wonderful organisations, charities and private companies we have worked with, we also have a wealth of experience working with funding organisations which are the mainstay of much of our heritage work. We have a track record of successfully delivering English Heritage, Lottery Funded and Arts Council supported projects as well as those led by local county councils. We offer a totally free, no obligation discussion about your website – you can come to our design studio or we are just as happy to come to you!

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