Building For a Post-COVID World: 5 Marketing Strategies Museums and Attractions Can Implement Now

The last year has been unlike any other for museums and other types of attractions that rely on foot traffic. The global COVID-19 pandemic pushed tourism down to a minimum, effectively wiping out the main revenue source for thousands of otherwise successful businesses and non-profit organizations. 

Long-term reserves, alternative fundraising sources like Zoo drive-throughs, and short-term government assistance can’t last forever. Fortunately, there is light at the end of the tunnel. COVID-19 cases have been declining across the United States for months now, with ongoing positive news about vaccinations providing more optimism across both public health experts and the museum and attractions industry.

We’re not health experts. But, as marketers, we see the potential of a summer that, as some experts predict, will be comparable to the Roaring Twenties after the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918. After more than a year of quarantines and self-isolation, newly immunized with vaccines, large swaths of the population want to travel again. And the perfect time to prepare for that trend is now.

Of course, we won’t see a future in which the COVID-19 pandemic is simply forgotten. Rather, we predict a more cautious, but still optimistic summer. Through these five marketing strategies, you can prepare for a future that, while still uncertain, should finally bring some much-needed revenue and foot traffic back through your physical space.

Illustration of a hand popping a bubble that contains a person looking at their phone

1. Prioritize Awareness-Based Marketing

Let’s face it: over the past year, our priorities have shifted. Even the toilet paper panic and bread baking craze of March and April 2020 seem like things of the past. Your audience could be forgiven for not really thinking about the museums, amusement parks, or other attractions that used to be on their bucket list.

Now is the time to start changing that. Especially in colder climates, as the weather begins to warm again, your audience will begin to research their next trip. According to one survey conducted in January, less than half of Americans now believe that leisurely travel is still unsafe, and more than half are in a “travel-ready” state of mind once again.

That means now is the perfect time to start building up awareness of your core offering once again. Think about reaching your customers through a few core digital advertising tactics:

  • Social media advertising, focused on segmented audiences within your target demographic.
  • Search engine advertising, especially when based on travel-related keywords in your area.
  • Video advertising, designed to get the attention of your audience on channels with heavy noise.
  • Programmatic display ads, visually representing your brand to an audience ready to think about travel.

This is only a sampling of options, of course. These types of ads tend to be the best way to get your name and value proposition in front of your audience once again, which is a major win in the current environment. When they keep you in mind as they begin thinking through their travel plans, the potential for them to book a trip with your attraction on the itinerary increase drastically. 

Read our in-depth post on digital advertising for museums and attractions for more information.

2. Build Your Email Subscription Lists

Modern digital marketing is complex, but can often be boiled down to a simple truth: if you get your audience interested enough to get their contact information, your chances of success increase drastically. 

That’s the essence of inbound marketing, which prioritizes relevant content as a way to hook your audience and prompt them to subscribe to your email newsletter or fill out another type contact form. With new leads in your database, you can send automated marketing emails as well as engage in more targeting messaging on an as-needed basis to meet and exceed your audience’s expectations.

As potential tourists and visitors begin to make their travel plans, now is the perfect time to engage in this type of strategy. Getting your audience into your CRM system or contact database now means you’ll have significant opportunity to follow up with updates, promotions, and other relevant content once summer nears and travel restrictions begin to lift.

To accomplish that feat, you need to offer something of value. Perhaps the most notable piece you could offer is just what we’ve mentioned above: a promise of updates and special promotions once more clarity over summer travel plans and the overall COVID-19 situation exists. Pushing that promise on your core digital channels, from your website to social media, will get audiences who now have you in their minds again interested in signing up and staying in the loop.

Beyond that timely tactic, other core lead generation opportunities will continue to exist:

  • Email newsletters that update your audience about happenings at your attraction and/or within your area of expertise.
  • Long-form content, like eBooks, focusing on topics your audience is interested in.
  • Podcasts and webinars on the same topics, inviting in experts or influencers your audience wants to hear from.

One additional option: turning your virtual visit and engagement tactics into lead generation opportunities. Many museums, for instance, have built virtual tours and educational materials for would-be visitors of all ages over the past year. Keeping them free but placing them behind a contact form can turn those would-be visitors into leads that you can leverage for valuable follow-ups.

3. Start Working on Long-Term Marketing Initiatives

Not all marketing promises instant results. Some long-term marketing strategies, however, have the potential for significant returns down the road. With summer travel still months away, now is a great time to begin putting these long-term measures in place to begin working towards the pay-off.

Two tactics are especially worth highlighting: search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing. Let’s dig into each of these in more detail.

SEO, put simply, is the process of optimizing your entire website so that it’s more easily found on search engines like Google. That requires implementing a variety of tactics:

  • Keyword research to understand the type of words and phrases your audience typically uses when searching for something related to your industry.
  • Content optimization, building high-quality content designed to naturally integrate and add value to the keywords found in your research.
  • Backend optimization, which includes optimizing your website’s code to be as user-friendly as possible. For instance, you need to optimize your website for speed and mobile-friendliness to be ranked highly in search engine results.
  • Off-page optimization, the process of gaining search authority through backlinks to your page. Guest blogs and partnerships with other, related websites tend to be a top priority here.

As you might imagine, optimizing for all of these channels can get quite complex. That’s why it typically takes at least six months to start seeing results from your SEO efforts.

Content marketing is, in many ways, closely related to SEO, though it also goes far beyond. The term describes a strategic emphasis on valuable content, designed to pull in your audience rather than pushing your messaging to them through paid ads. 

Effective content marketing is about more than just building a blog for your website. It’s about building a content infrastructure, from your blog and long-form content to your social media presence and email marketing, all making sense together and all working to get that valuable content in front of your audience.

Getting to that point, again, takes time. You need to strategize your content calendar, build the actual content, and wait for results to come in. Again, waiting for that positive ROI typically takes at least six months. Working on both SEO and content marketing now can help you get it running full-steam, drawing in your audience just as visits are beginning to pick up once again.

4. Publish Your Plan for Welcoming Guests

The new normal might be a wholly overused phrase at this point, but it’s still worth breaking down exactly what that means. The truth is, the tourism and travel industry will likely never go back to where it was in 2019. COVID-19 has created a cultural and mindset shift that will be reckoned with for years, if not decades to come.

Yes, guests are getting more excited about traveling and visiting your attraction once again. But when they do, they’ll likely become more mindful of health and safety precautions than ever. They’ll be keenly interested in what each attraction, museum, or hotel does to ensure their safety and minimize the potential for contamination.

Accommodating that need goes far beyond marketing. But, done right, it can become a crucial marketing tool. On the organizational leadership level, it’s time to start thinking through exactly how you will operate when travel picks back up. That plan might include any of the following, though it certainly won’t end there:

  • The measures you’ll take to keep your facilities, especially areas like bathrooms, clean every day.
  • How you’ll handle hands-on exhibits or other high-touch parts of your attraction
  • How you’ll keep foot traffic at a manageable level.
  • Any requirements for masks or other safety accommodations that have become commonplace in 2020.
  • How you’ll let your audience and visitors know if the facilities will need to be closed, and how they can expect to be reimbursed.

Some of this plan is likely just adjusting what’s already been put in place this past year. Putting it in an easy-to-read, skimmable format helps your audience gain confidence that visiting your attraction will not compromise their safety. You can then promote it heavily on your website and to your email subscriber lists, acknowledging their need for transparency and safety communications.

5. Learn From Your Virtual Experiences

Those virtual experiences we mentioned above are not just going away once COVID-19 is contained. A significant number of your would-be guests will still be hesitant to travel or visit your attraction. And even those who do will likely appreciate a virtual augmentation of their physical visit.

A virtual tour might be the perfect decision factor for your audience as they plan their visit. But it could also be a way for them to augment their visit, showcasing areas they might want to avoid because of foot traffic or limited time. The same is true for any other virtual experiences, from live webcams to educational materials and more.

The key here is to not treat an onset of travel and tourism as a clean cut from the past year. Instead, use the newly built virtual experiences and learnings you have received from them to create a better, more integrated, experience for any member of your target audience, virtual or not.

The result, in many cases, will be hybrid experiences that include some virtual and in-person components. Through modern smartphone integrations, from mobile apps to digital maps, that integration can become more natural, allowing your audience to pick and choose their preferred type of visit and customize it to their needs.

Ready to Build Your Marketing Strategies for a Post-COVID Future?

Your attraction, like most in the industry, is likely still reeling from the current and recent effects of COVID-19. That’s a major challenge, but it can also become an opportunity. In fact, building up awareness of your brand and investing in tactics that pay off long-term while adjusting your marketing strategy for current sensibilities could give you a core advantage over other attractions that just aren’t ready to take that step quite yet.

It’s never too early to get started. As enthusiasm is finally beginning to swing in favor of travel and tourism once again, staying ahead of the curve means being able to put your attraction in the mind and at the forefront of your audience’s thinking as they plan their next trip.

Of course, you don’t have to be on your own. In fact, we’d love to partner with you to make it happen. While we’re not public health experts, our experience in the museum and attraction space has paid major dividends over the past year, difficult as it may have been. It also allows us to partner with organizations who are now ready to jump in and begin to vie for visitors once again. 

So let’s talk. Let us know about your marketing needs, and we’ll help you build a plan that will get you ready for a post-COVID environment. Contact us today to start the conversation.