Building connections: Must-see Museums free membership

We’ve really embraced Culture Segments...The insights and framework they provide for communicating with audiences has been invaluable in the success of our Must-see Museums membership scheme.

- Sheryl McGregor, Head of Communications, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

Building a community

Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums (TWAM) – a consortium of nine museums and galleries in the North East of England – needed an effective way to gather audience data and develop their CRM database

But they wanted to do more than just set up a mailing list: they saw an opportunity to build loyalty and a sense of community among their audiences, increasing their engagement with the organisation, and, over time, developing deeper, more fulfilling relationships with them. 

The TWAM team were up for doing something different, taking a risk on a bold experiment: what would happen if they launched a membership scheme that was completely free to join?

With real audience insight at the heart.

TWAM knew that a psychographic, values-based segmentation system would enable them to speak directly to potential members’ deep-seated needs and motivations for engaging with culture. It would let them tailor their messaging according to what members wanted from engaging with culture – rather than on their demographics or past behaviours. 

So, they partnered with MHM to use Culture Segments to drive their membership programme, Must-see Museums. At MHM, we love the chance to try something new so we were thrilled to get involved.

Must-see Museums is a free, mass membership scheme. It’s an inclusive, inviting offer that anyone can join. As part of the sign-up process members provide their email, information on their interests, and answer the Culture Segments Golden Questions

Segmented communication yields powerful results

Every month, TWAM send out eight different versions of their email newsletter – one for each Culture Segment - using messaging tailored to appeal most to what that segment is hoping to get out of engaging with culture.

For example, Stimulation emails play up the exciting and new, never-seen-before elements of venues and exhibitions. Those for Release emphasise the chance to relax and escape everyday stress through visiting venues. 

It’s rare that we’d recommend organisations work with all eight Culture Segments but the beauty of Must-see Museums is that every member is segmented - so why not send everyone a bespoke email? The Must-see Museums team soon became experts in writing for each Culture Segment. 

TWAM’s segment-targeted messaging has maintained click-through rates for monthly e-newsletters at an average of 25-30%. Messaging targeting different segments with offers – such as tours and priority bookings – has also been successful.

Priority booking for family seasonal events, such as Christmas train rides and film screenings have been particularly popular, giving the museums a head start on ticket sales. TWAM has also learnt what does not work; they were surprised to find that discounts for events, shops and cafes are not as popular with members.

A great start…

In February 2017, six months into the Must-see Museums membership, TWAM asked MHM to evaluate the scheme so far.

The results, based on an online survey of members, were extremely positive. Members felt:

  • they had increased and broadened their engagement with TWAM venues through joining.
  • more connected with TWAM as a result of the scheme, and were very keen to recommend it to others. 

The research also identified that TWAM could build on this success by doing even more to make members feel they truly belonged to something, and by increasing awareness of in-person member benefits such as priority booking.

We recommended continuing to target members with messaging and offers tailored to their Culture Segment as a way to deepen engagement with the scheme even further.

…on an exciting journey

Fast forward to February 2019: Must-see Museums has increased its membership five-fold, to over 20,000, having experimented with and implemented a number of different techniques to increase sign-up to the scheme.  

In May 2019 the Great North Museum will host Dippy on Tour from the Natural History Museum, London. TWAM offered priority booking for Must-see Museums members and within a couple of weeks gained 7,000 new members. Must-see members booked 19,000 Dippy on Tour tickets in the first two days they were on sale.

And they’re not done yet

TWAM is continuing to develop the Must-see Museums membership scheme, which is still only in Phase 1.

Future plans include a loyalty system through which members get rewards for engaging with TWAM venues. Another possibility is introducing an alternative paid membership offer, where members access a wider range of benefits via a small monthly subscription fee.

Whatever happens next, it’s clear the experiment is paying off. Must-see Museums is going from strength to strength and with Culture Segments at the heart, it’s delivering deeper, more mutually rewarding relationships for members and the organisation. 

Want to talk to us about your own membership scheme? Get in touch.

Image used with permission, copyright Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums. 


Lorna is MHM's Head of Insight. She oversees the quality of the insight processes across the company...

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