Audience segmentation and research has become a hot topic in museums, especially when it comes to crafting appealing offerings that are customized to different kinds of visitors. On September 10, the Whitney Museum of American Art started offering a new membership called "Curate Your Own," in which members select one of five specialized "buckets" of benefits in addition to core admission and discount benefits. This isn't just a prototype; the Whitney expects to transition all basic level memberships to segmented memberships over the next several years. I sat down with Kristen Denner, Director of Membership and Annual Fund, to learn more about the program's development and the museum's goals for its future.
Our goal is to sign up 2,000 new CYO members in the next 12 to 18 months, and to convert 25% of those 8,000 current individual and dual members to the new structure. It's not about upselling as much as it is about getting to know more about them and giving them a customized experience. A lot of our current members are excited about this and want to switch. This conversion is really important and it's just the beginning... our larger goal is to eventually get to 100% of our basic members being CYO members.
How does the transition work for current members?
Members can either upgrade their membership by paying the additional $10 (individual) or $5 (dual) to add a CYO benefit package to their current benefits for the year. Or they can pay the full amount for a CYO membership and have their renewal date pushed forward a year with the new benefits.
People can also buy more than one package if they want--do you expect many people to do that?
Not the majority, but we're already seeing a few. In fact our very first CYO purchase was a gift membership that was purchased with three add-on benefit packages (so the recipient of the gift will pick which packages he/she wants). We're also getting some where people pick one additional package.
It sounds like this will make lobby membership sales a lot more complicated to pitch.
It's true; this will extend the conversation in the lobby. But we've been working on signage and training to make the transition as smooth as possible.
How do you plan to change your communication strategy once these segments are in place?
This is really what I'm excited about. Currently, all I know about a basic member is whether they are an individual or a dual. They are one person or two people. That's it. When the CYO membership becomes more prominent, I'm going to know who's interested in which kinds of opportunities. We'll be tailoring enewsletters and invitations to different groups. It will cut down on waste both environmentally and financially, and we’ll be able to communicate relevant information to our members, which is a better experience for them too.
Do you see these segments as changing the way members are encouraged to move up the donor ladder? For example, is the "philanthropic" series seen as more likely to become high-level donors than others?
Actually, the philanthropy series is mostly made for people who told us in research that they really just want the core benefits of membership. They think the other benefits are nice, but they're not going to use them. They just want to visit the museum whenever they want and they want to support the Museum’s mission.
With regard to moving up the donor levels, some of our new member benefits piggyback on higher-level benefits that used to not include basic members. For example, "social" CYO members will get four tickets to our summer opening reception. "Friend" level members at the $250 level get tickets to all our openings. So if a social member really likes the party and wants to know how they can go to more of them, the friend level may be a natural progression for them.
You've mentioned that this was a really challenging project. What were the biggest challenges?
Funding a research project that was serious. We had never done a real research project in membership before. It was a really worthwhile investment, especially as the museum is moving to a new building soon. We worked with a fabulous team from Lucid Marketing for the research--I can't recommend them enough.
And then the other thing that was challenging was just the logistics of coordinating all the different departments to come together and make this happen. We had so many smart people from education, curatorial, web, operations helping us, and we just had to make sure the project was institutionally supported and that we could really make it happen.
Well, I hope that six month or a year from now, you'll be back to report on how it's gone. I'm really curious to learn more about what segments are most popular and how people respond to the program overall.
Absolutely. What people do is often pretty different from what they say. And as you can imagine, we're pretty curious about it too.
Kristen will be responding to comments and questions here on the blog. If you are interested in this topic, you might enjoy this interview with John Falk and Beverly Sheppard and Chapter 2 of The Participatory Museum.