Audiences within audiences

In Museums on November 1, 2014 at 10:15 am

A large part of my work time is spent thinking about audiences.

We tend to think of audiences in terms of theatre-going audience, but in the wider heritage and cultural sector we use the word audience to mean anyone who interacts with an organisation – museum visitors, library users, participants in community arts projects etc.

It’s only when we truly understand who the audience for a cultural product is that we can create content that’s suitable for them. It might not be rocket science, but it’s really important. There’s little point an art gallery putting on an academic display if their main audience is mums and prams. Likewise there’s little point offering soft play if you’re audience is professors.

Those are rather extreme examples. And the kinds of organisations I work with tend not to have just one audience – that’s why we talk about audiences. Plural.

The trend over the last decade or so has been to carve the audience  up into audiences – something we might call an audience segmentation. This can be done in a variety of ways. You can sort your audience by gender; by age; by postcode. You can arrange by height order, if you like (not actually as silly as it might sound if you’re a theme park!)

Audience segmentations are generally arrived at in a more though way though. A motivational segmentation might look at why people come to your institution. A behavioural segmentation will respond to what they do when they are there. Or you could combine them both.

It’s only by doing audience research that we can arrive at these segments. And then we tend to give the individual segments hilarious titles such as ‘Cultural Explorers’, ‘Learning Families’ or ‘Inspiration Seekers’. Names aside, it’s a really useful way of thinking about who your audience – and audiences – is/are.

The majority of orgasniations I work with who use a bespoke segmentation might have, say half a dozen key groups that they look at. It means when they’re planning a project they can consider how each of the segments might behave, what their needs are, how they learn and what their expectations might be. Great stuff.

But at a conference this week I was introduced to the notion of micro-audiences. These are segments within segments – or even tiny groupings of people who move between segments. Dr Who fans. Electronic music fans. Great British Bake Off fans. Ex-pats. Diplomats. Red-heads. Transsexual wheelchair-users. Public transport fans from Oxfordshire. Weavers from Perthshire. Left-handers from Northern Ireland.  etc. (NB: at least two of these are audiences I have worked with recently.)

Now there are audiences within audiences, I’ve got a whole new working philsophy to get through. And it’s going to take some time. But if you’ve been playing with the notion of micro-audiences of late, I’d love to hear from you.


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