Making museums experiential

The first time I realised how much do ‘experiences’ matter was in 2014, while travelling around Hokkaido, Japan.

 Abashiri prison, which located in Northern Hokkaido, was established there because of its geographical isolation. Now, it transferred from prison to museum where everyone can visit and explore mysterious prison world. In this museum, visitors can experience the prisoner’s daily life, the work they did in real costumes, and even eat the meals which they provided to prisoners. I spent a whole afternoon there and had lots of fun. Until now, I still remember every detail I saw, although I didn’t pay much attention to the explanation on the wall.

Hence, I started thinking, why this visit experience is special to me, and how did they make my experience that different and unforgettable.

This year, I read some articles about experiential marketing, then I realised actually what makes Abashiri museum special is ‘making a unique experience’. (also see my previous blog: What is experiential marketing and why does it work)

We visit a museum, not only just because we seek for knowledge, but also look for the unique experiences and escape from reality. (Which is also what Pine and Gilmore applied – “escapist”) When we pull ourselves out of real world, we somehow find more relaxed after it. For example, after watching a movie or going to amusement park, my stress was always released, since in these specific spaces, I’m not ‘me’ anymore. I don’t have to consider my role or vexation, but merely enjoy the immersive environment.

Experiential marketing is not only wildly implemented in the business world but also in arts and museums field. The original purpose of the museum is to keep the collections and to educate visitors. Therefore museums are exactly the places where ‘experiences’ are provided, and they are facing the time to transform.

Marketing entered the museums at 70s, yet museum marketing is still a young field in arts marketing. (Komarac, 2014) The usage of marketing strategy in museums still needs to be developed. In the beginning, museums rejected new technology, which is actually an important element in experiential marketing. Nevertheless, the attitude was eventually changed due to the potential they saw, such as virtual museums or edutainment. (Komarac, 2014) Nowadays, Mediation Device is one of the most common used facilities in Museum. It provides virtual elements or simulations. (Jarrier et al, 2012) Besides, museums could provide tours, workshops and programmes in order to accommodate visitor’s need.

As business brands concern costumer as their priority, nowadays, museums also use marketing strategy and focus more and more on their visitors. It shifted from traditional “curators’ dictation” to “visitor orientation”. (Dirsehan & Yalçın, 2011) To achieve this, experiential marketing could build an immersing learning environment for visitors. According to the findings of a research by Ober-Heilig (2014), enhancing experiential design in museum has a ‘significant and large effect’ on attracting low-involvement visitors. In this research, the participate rate in two museums are measured and compared. One museum is a non-experiential museum, and another is experiential museum. As the result, low-involvement visitors showed higher engagement in experiential museum.

 ‘Cultural institutions have a responsibility to serve as patrons of great architecture -the most public of the arts. They should be among society’s most creative and contemporary agents of architecture, whatever their mission in preserving the past.’ Said by Thorsell (2007) the director of Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) launched a project with this principle in order to deal with the reduced government finding and declining attendance with new design in 2000. Through this project, the architecture of the museum was changed. They adopted Libeskind to design the new layout of this museum. He is an architect who designed for Jewish Museum Berlin and Imperial War Museum in London. His crystal design was adopted and a new space for multi-functional activities was created, as well as coffee shop, family restaurant and wider gift shop. Also, the programmes for different age group were provided. Through this project, ROM became one of the most local representative museums.

I go to museums quite often. I found that some museums actually have very great stuff to display with well-organised content, while their visitors only spend very little time there. It is true that many people consider museum as a ‘boring place’, where only collections are displayed and patience is required. However, lately museums are transformation into a different kind of places, where visitors are able to learn, have fun, and even relax through the experiences provided.

Transformation from museums to theme park and the difficulties

Zbuchea (2015) suggest, what museums could learn from theme park is making a “tunnel experiences”, where visitors have no contact with the real, present world and are forced to concentrate on only the objected presented in front of them. Moreover, museums should use storytelling conbiming with educational programms, which help visitor understand the topics more deeply. Using experiential marketing in museums could attract media and visitors and make them see museums as creative and dynamic organisation. (Zbuchea, 2015)

 There are still some concerns about it since the nature of museums is not the same with businesses or theme parks. Besides increasing sales, cultural institutions have much stronger culture consciousness (Zbuchea, 2015). Unlike business brands, museums cannot design the theme as they like. The information for exhibition has to be based on existing material or background. In addition, Museums which implement experiential marketing strategy could be beneficial for attendance and educational purpose; however, they have to be careful not to transform themselves in pure entertainment. Many marketers suggested that museums should adopt the way to operate amusement park. While here raises an issue that high culture (museum) and popular culture (amusement park) (Balloffet, 2014) Curator should be careful about the balance between education and entertainment. Also, as Zbuchea (2015) addressed, not all the museums are suitable to adopting theme park techniques, thus the existing guild lines would a difficult to be used.

In terms of audience experience, as Pine and Gilmore (1998) indicated, no two people have the exactly same experience from the same interaction between the events. It always depends on individual’s memory and mindset. Zbuchea (2015) also mentioned that many of the audience already have their own vision on the past. Take history museums as example, everyone has one’s own perspective on history, especially visitors from all over the world and with diverse backgrounds. It could be a challenge for history museums find a balance. Moreover, low-participate visitors consider museums ineffective in motives to relax and recover, and activities. (Ober-Heilig, 2014) How to please and attract more audience is the key problem that should be carefully considered by planner.

Although there are many elements should be considered, making experiences is still an effective way to increase costumer involvement. Cultural institutions like museums should adopt the new trend and create more user-friendly, more audience-oriented experiences for visitors. Strategy executors in museums could design the experiences through the principles mentioned and bring these experiences into marketing strategies. As the result, through experiential marketing, museums are able to transform into a place where educate visitors and provide entertainment, then finally attract more potential visitors and even increase the sales.


 Balloffet, P., Courvoisier, F, H., Lagier, J. (2014) ‘From museum to amusement park: The opportunities and risks of edutainment’, International Journal of Arts Management, December 16(2), pp.4-18.
Dirsehan, T., Yalçın, A. M. (2011) ‘Comparison between Holistic Museum Visitors and Utilitarian Museum Visitors’, International Journal of Marketing Studies, November 3(4) pp.78-94.
Hayward, P. (2004) Leisure and Tourism: Heinemann GNVQ Intermediate, Bath:
Heinmann Educational Publishers
Jarrier, E., Renault, D,B. (2012) ‘Impact of Mediation Devices on the Museum Visit Experience and on Visitors’ Behavioural Intentions’, International Journal of Arts Management 15(1), pp.18-29.
Komarac, T. (2014) ‘A New World for Museum Marketing? Facing the Old Dilemmas while Challenging New Market Opportunities’, MARKET-TRŽIŠTE, 26(2) pp.199-214.
 Leighton, D (2010) ‘Challenging the traditional culture vulture: Experiential marketing in the cultural tourism sector’, in: ATLAS Annual Conference: Mass tourism vs Niche tourism, November 3-5
Misiura, S. (2006) Heritage Marketing, Oxford: Elsevier, Butterworth-Heinemann
Thorell, W. (2007) ‘A Clear Case for Crystal. ROM’, Magazine of the Rotal Ontario Museum, summer, P34-25.
Ober-Heilig, N., Bekmeier-Feuerhahn, S., Sikkenga, J., Baumgarth, C., O’Reilly, D. (2014) ‘Enhancing museum brands with experiential design to attract low-involvement visitors’, Arts Marketing, Vol.4(1/2), pp.67-86.
Petkus, E. (2004) ‘Enhancing the application of experiential marketing in the arts’, International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, l.9(1), pp.49-56.
Turi, A., Brunet, J. (2009) ‘The Renaissance of the Royal Ontario Museum: Architecture Meets Experiential Marketing’, International Journal of Arts Management, 11(3), pp.74-82, 88.
Zbuchea, A. (2015) ‘Museums as Theme Parks – A Possible Marketing Approach?’, Management Dynamics in the Knowledge Economy, 3(3), pp.483-507.
Making museums experiential

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