Digital Advertising for Museums

Museum and attraction marketers know “if you build it, they will come” is simply not true. Even the greatest exhibits will go unnoticed if you don’t know how to effectively get the word out to the local community and out-of-town visitors. Learn how to use digital advertising for museums to make a difference when it comes to getting people in the door.

Word of mouth can only get you so far. The challenges modern museums face are plentiful, from declining visitor numbers to increasing competition from other attractions and opportunities. In this environment, paid advertising becomes an important tool.

Digital Advertising for Museums

Make no mistake: unpaid, organic marketing efforts are also important. Your website, especially when optimized for relevant search terms, is crucial. Having a social media presence and an email marketing strategy that keep your visitors engaged and communicate the essence of the space are also essential.

Digital advertising for museums doesn’t replace these efforts, nor does it replace the traditional, in-community marketing that smaller museums and attractions have become so adept at. Instead, paid ads offer a crucial addition to the overall marketing mix: a more reliable, structured way to reach your audience, from getting their attention to ultimately convincing them to visit.

It’s not as easy as setting up a few ads and hoping for the best. Effective digital museum ads are structured to guide your audience throughout the funnel, creating a comprehensive system of messages that ultimately gets them in the door. This guide will help you build this system in a way that maximizes your marketing ROI.

Step 1: Understand the Value of Digital Advertising for Museums

Let’s face it: museum marketing budgets tend to be very limited. That’s why the first step has to be a comprehensive understanding of why you should invest in paid ads to begin with. Consider these five reasons to invest in paid digital ads:

  1. Expand your reach. Even spending a few hundred dollars on a Facebook campaign can get your message in front of thousands of potential audience members you wouldn’t otherwise reach. You no longer have geographic or demographic limits, or have to rely on your audience finding you.
  2. Reach targeted audiences. Reach matters little if you can’t focus on your target audience. Fortunately, you can leverage digital ads to reach audiences with a specific interest in what you offer. Facebook alone offers hundreds of segmentation options, from age and gender all the way to recent travel and purchasing information. Meanwhile, Google allows you to focus on exact keywords and phrases that relate to your museum.
  3. Cost-effective outreach. Compared to more traditional means like radio and billboards, digital ads across platforms tend to be extremely cost-effective. As mentioned above, you can stand up an ad or campaign for as little as $100 and still reach a good segment of your audience.
  4. Opportunities across the funnel. We’ll dive into this piece more throughout this guide, but it’s important to understand as a general benefit of digital ads. You can create campaigns that accomplish anything from just spreading the word to actually getting visitors through the door on opening night.
  5. The value of a Google grant. In its effort to support non-profit organizations, Google (responsible for more than a third of all digital ad revenue) offers significant financial support to entities like museums. The search engine giant offers grants that match up to $10,000 in ad spend every month for 501(c)3 organizations.

These points make digital advertising for museums a no-brainer solution for any museum or attraction looking to gain a consistent audience and revenue stream. Feel free to use them as a business case to your supporters or supervisors to ensure that you have the budget necessary for the below opportunities.

Step 2: Build Your Audience and Targeting Opportunities

The general benefits of digital advertising for museums are clear, but it’s important to understand one caveat: you will only succeed if you know exactly who to target. Defining your audience and understanding how to target them should thus be your first step in building successful digital marketing campaigns for your museum.

It starts with defining your target audience to make sure that you find the people who look most like your potential and ideal visitors. Once that step is complete, take a close look at some of the targeting and segmentation opportunities that digital platforms offer to get your message in front of the right people. These are your options.

Existing Lists of Your Members

Almost every digital platform, from Google to Facebook, now allows for targeting based on email accounts. Upload a list and the network will match its contact info with that of its users, with a typical match rate between 50 and 60%. You can then show ads specifically to the matched users.

Lookalike Audiences

This step involves uploading your audience lists but allowing the platform to make a judgment call. For instance, Facebook Ads Manager will take an uploaded list and look for shared demographic and interest-based characteristics. You can then target ads to other users on the platform who share those same characteristics.

Demographic and Behavioral Targeting

In addition to basic demographic targeting, you can focus on more advanced behavioral options as well. That might include the followers of pages for other museums or interests in topics your museum focuses on.

Geographic and Time-Specific Factors

Ready to get even more advanced? By leveraging networks like Facebook or through advanced keyword targeting, you can reach users based on not just where they are, but where and when they’re traveling. Among other things, that enables you to get your ads in front of tourists while they visit your city.

The Nuances of Intent

Targeting users based on intent has been somewhat of a holy grail for digital marketers. If you know what your audience will do, you no longer have to guess what they might do. Knowing intent is becoming increasingly possible with access to search and content history, allowing you to build more specific audiences and messaging.

Step 3: Generate Awareness Through Eye-Catching, Current Campaigns

Effective museum marketing means embracing smartphone culture and building avenues for user-generated content. Done right, you can use paid ads to support these efforts to generate more awareness among members of your target audience who may have never heard about you.

A few crucial tips can help you get to that point:

  • Focus on creativity. Museum visitors tend to embrace creativity, so don’t be afraid to play around with the messaging and visuals to tell your audience more than ‘visit us.’ Good ads get results; great ads create word of mouth and encourage your audience to share them among their own followers.
  • Get that attention. Generating awareness is impossible without catching the eye of your audience. Turn images into artwork, play with the coloring, or just switch up the angles. It never hurts to get some inspiration from what other museums are doing, digitally and otherwise.
  • Build some videos. Video content tends to be highly effective, paid or unpaid. If you create the right videos, you can push them out through paid ads on platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. Meanwhile, over-the-top (OTT) video allows you to place digital commercials in front of highly targeted audiences on streaming services like Hulu for a fraction of the cost of traditional TV.
  • Showcase the experience. What is it like to visit your museum exhibit or attraction? What does your typical visit involve? Use your ads to showcase this experience. That might include a hyperlapse video showcasing the exhibit, a behind-the-scenes tour after dark, or other creative ways to get the attention of your unsuspecting audience.

Generating awareness means capturing attention. If you can do that, you’ve taken the first step in making sure that your audience enters your funnel and that you’ve established future contact down the road.

Step 4: Increase Consideration Among Interested Audiences

Generating awareness, of course, is only part of the battle. If that awareness never turns into tangible interest, you won’t see the ROI you need to help your museum succeed.

In this step, you go beyond that initial awareness. Here you specifically target the audience that already knows about you, through seeing your ads or following you on your social media accounts. That means refining your targeting, messaging, and ad types accordingly.

Leverage Retargeting Opportunities

Let’s start with the basics of retargeting, which describes a targeting mechanism available on all digital platforms that allows you to focus on potential visitors who have already shown an interest in your museum. By placing a so-called retargeting pixel, you can show your ads specifically to recent web visitors or app downloaders.

The implications for the consideration stage are significant. While your awareness-driven ads might prompt your audience to visit your website, retargeting draws them in deeper.

You know they’re interested now. It’s time to get specific.

Focus Your Messaging on Event Detail

Retargeting gets your message in front of the right audience. But of course, the message has to be right too. If you’re reaching interested audiences, it’s on you to satisfy their interest.

You can accomplish that by focusing on a variety of message types:

  • Details about upcoming exhibit openings and other special events.
  • Highlights from the individual exhibits that leave your audience wanting to learn more.
  • Specific opening times and dates that allow would-be visitors to make their plans.
  • Facebook event ads that push your audience to take action directly on the platform.

With this captive audience, specificity is almost always better. Give them information up front so they can see how it fits into their plans.

Step 5: Close the Deal With Decision-Based Ads

We’ve reached the bottom of the funnel, the crucial point at which your audience makes a go-or-no-go decision: should they visit your museum or enjoy your attraction, or not?

Awareness and consideration-based ads fill your funnel to get to this point. But that doesn’t mean your digital campaigns have to be complete. In fact, you can still influence this final step with the right types of ads and messaging.

The Convincing Power of Special Offers

The ads in this funnel stage have one goal: to give that final nudge. Special offers can play a major role in getting to that specific point.

It might be an early-bird special for the first few days of a new exhibit or opportunity. Another option is a membership offer that allows for extra perks such as return visits. We’re psychologically predisposed to respond positively to special offers, and decision-stage ads allow for an effective way to get these offers in front of your audience.

Leveraging the FOMO Element

One specific type of offer that’s worth highlighting in closing the deal and driving the decision: FOMO. Short for ‘fear of missing out,’ it’s a proven marketing principle that becomes invaluable at the decision stage.

Time-based special offers, like the early opening special mentioned above, are one way to leverage FOMO. You don’t have to stop there, though. User-generated content, especially from users your audience considers influencers, can have the same general psychological effect: if others are going, should I really stay home?

In digital museum advertising, FOMO should be used judiciously. It only remains credible if you don’t constantly change discount deadlines or push every new exhibit as the latest and greatest. But used selectively in ads, it can become a powerful tool to drive that visit decision.

Step 6: Measure Your ROI to Maximize Digital Ad Potential

Building ads throughout the funnel allows you to create a more strategic marketing effort that should, in theory, drive more visits. That doesn’t mean you have to hope for it. Instead, the final step in building your comprehensive digital ad campaign is to measure the ROI of your efforts.

Whenever possible, connect your ads to that next funnel step you want and need your audience to take as the core KPI:

  • Awareness-based ads are successful when they drive consideration, measured through web visits and ad engagement.
  • Consideration-based ads succeed when they show a clear path to the decision, like visits to a pricing page or calls for booking.
  • Decision-based ads should lead directly to actual revenue through ticket purchases and advanced booking.

A comprehensive campaign designed for the entire funnel should have revenue as its ultimate goal to drive true ROI. That requires analytics tools such as geo-conversion lift, measuring not just online conversions (an undoubtedly crucial part of the equation) but also actual foot traffic to your location.

Building this type of campaign is not easy. It requires careful thought and planning, as well as the right tools. At the same time, the effort will be well worth the investment when your attraction sees a significant increase in revenue and foot traffic as a direct result of your full-funnel digital ad campaign.

You don’t have to do it alone. With our help, you can build comprehensive campaigns designed to help your museum or attraction gain awareness and revenue to sustain and make a regional name for itself. Drop us a line to start the conversation.