Founded in 1972 by John E. du Pont with his personal collection of bird specimens from around the world, the Delaware Museum of Natural History (DMNH) now includes a world-renowned collection of approximately 113,000 bird, 6,000 mammal and 2 million mollusk specimens for scientific research purposes. The Museum also features an eclectic mix of natural history exhibits and award-winning educational programs for the public. However, after more than four decades without major enhancements, the Museum must now align its mission, programs and exhibits to meet the needs of a 21st century audience.
The Museum’s goal is to become a place and resource that inspires the next generation to make the world a better place. Through compelling cutting-edge exhibits, hands-on learning experiences and top-notch educational programs, DMNH aims to achieve this vision and move confidently into the next decades as a modern museum, ever relevant in a changing world.
Behind the Scenes
Founded in 1972, the Delaware Museum of Natural History has its roots as John E. Du Pont’s private collection of bird specimens. Since that time, the Museum has evolved as a research center and an educational resource for school groups and, to some extent, the public, but it has not kept pace as a destination capable of competing with 21st century destinations.
Getting Ahead of the Curve
The Museum realized that in order to develop an effective strategic plan to reach its long-term goals, a comprehensive market research initiative would need to be undertaken. The goal of the research would be to reveal how the Museum could boost its current visitor experience enough to increase current revenues through admissions, membership and event participation and to cultivate interest and support for its long-term goals.
Two Fold Strategies
The results of the six-pronged market research study—materials review, benchmarking, one-on-one interviews, telephone surveys, intercept surveys and focus group discussions—provided top-line findings that informed visitor services and branding initiatives to improve the Museum’s current situation and yielded high-value recommendations for its strategic plan, now moving forward as a major capital campaign to bring the Museum up to 21st century standards.
Schultz & Williams has been engaged in a full range of planning, development and marketing projects for DMNH, including strategic and business planning, marketing and capital campaign studies, and fundraising activities. First and foremost, the Museum needed help uncovering ways to enhance the visitor experience now in order to build attendance and execute cost-effective marketing initiatives that would mobilize near-term investment and engagement, and more importantly, build long-term support for its future vision.
While DMNH has kept pace with innovative educational programming, attracting regional school students and special interest groups to the Museum, its appeal as a visitor destination has been compromised by dated exhibits, a lack of thematic collections, minimal visitor services and low-impact interpretation. Furthermore, specific constraints have prevented investment in marketing initiatives at a sufficient level to penetrate the market and motivate the public to visit the Museum and support its cause and vision. In addition, one of the Museum’s biggest challenges is its location in a highly competitive market that includes an abundance of current, high-profile, popular family destinations and events, all vying for attention, attendance, members and donors.
Schultz & Williams conducted a market research study that consisted of a review of the Museum’s current marketing materials, internal interviews, on-site intercept surveys, telephone surveys and a benchmarking review. We also conducted focus groups with four distinct audiences: parents and grandparents who visited the Museum with children 4–11 years old; recent visitors who came without children; parents and grandparents who have not visited the Museum; and teachers from within 25 miles. The goal of the research was to understand the Museum’s real and perceived strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges, and to provide explicit direction on how to build on the Museum’s strengths now in order to generate interest and revenue to support its strategic plan and future growth.
The results of our research over many months indicated that most important for the Museum, as well as for its future, was to create a “culture of marketing” that permeates and energizes the entire Museum operation, thus improving the quality of every visitor experience and public encounter in order to boost attendance, membership sales and donor interest through positive word-of-mouth advertising.
Top-line findings from the market research yielded 12 high-value recommendations for the Museum’s strategic plan and uncovered ways for the Museum to build on its current strengths to enhance its products and services in the short term while planning for its future. Specifically, the research results identified key target market segments and provided essential data to inform strategies and timelines for executing visitor-centric, programmatic and marketing recommendations over an 18-month period. They were designed to expand outreach and improve the visitor experience through special events, enhanced interpretation, wayfinding additions, modest exhibit upgrades, visitor services training, website improvements, social media initiatives and community outreach. Through specific marketing tactics and consistent messaging informed by the research, the Museum is able to improve its public outreach at minimal cost and positively impact the visitor experience.