Elevator Pitches, and What They’ve Got to Do with Museums

Looking to improve your visitor experience? Here’s how elevator pitches can help your museum to succeed.

Elevator pitches hold the key to unlocking the full potential of your museum or attraction.

Elevator pitches hold the key to unlocking the full potential of your museum or attraction.


I’m totally convinced that an elevator pitch is the key to unlocking the full potential of your museum of attraction. How can I be so sure? I’ve seen the power of them in the commercial world. Oh, and your peers are increasingly starting to use them too.

For those not familiar with an elevator pitch, it’s the idea that to explain a concept successfully, you should be able to do it to someone in a lift (sorry to my US readers for straying into UK vernacular) between floors i.e. it needs to be short, sweet and simple.

Twenty years in the marketing industry has given me plenty of experience of the power of elevator pitches but in marketing we buff them up and call them ‘brand essences’ – an explanation of the purpose of a brand in just a few words.

Why do marketers spend so much time (and often money) trying to get their brand essence right? Because if gives their brand a clear focus and direction. A brand essence will inform a brand’s design, its promotion, its packaging, its distribution and its pricing. If every aspect of a brand is consistent with its brand essence, consumers will know what they’re buying and can easily and succinctly tell their friends why they should buy it too. And other stakeholders – like staff – can use that essence as a filter to make sure they make the right decisions to keep that brand consistent.

What has this got to do with museums and heritage attractions? I think elevator pitches would help give them a focus which would improve their overall visitor experience. In fact, some already are.

A few years back, I went to an excellent talk at the Visitor Attraction Conference given by the then Director of Gardens for the RHS, James Rudoni. He explained that the RHS’s ‘brand essence’ was ‘Horticultural Excellence.’ Demonstrating this, and helping visitors to achieve this, was the core theme behind everything the RHS did – from the experience in the gardens to what they sold in the shop.

I know too that the National Trust has an initiative called ‘Spirit of Place’ – an attempt to encapsulate the core appeal of an attraction in just a few words. Once expressed, the ‘Spirit of Place’ is used to inform everything – from the way that attraction is promoted, to the visitor experience to the merchandise that’s sold in the gift shop.

Some museums and attractions I’ve been to lack this focus . I’m not sure why I’d go there and even when I’ve been there, I’m not sure I can explain to others why they should go. Crafting an elevator pitch gives you focus. It may mean things moving from the active collection to the archive that don’t fit in to the core experience, but if that means telling a simpler, more coherent story to your visitors, I think it’s worth it. Let me give you an example

A few years back I went to the Royal Air Force Museum in North London. What do you expect when you go to the Royal Air Force Museum – a museum which tells the story of the Royal Air Force, right? Except, it didn’t.

The first part of the museum, and frankly the most jaw dropping gallery in terms of exhibits, told the story of the early pioneers of flight before the RAF was even founded. And many of the exhibits after this gallery, interesting though they were, had everything to do with the innovations in flight, and nothing to do with the RAF.


If the custodians of that museum went through the same exercise in the manner that commercial marketers do, I’m sure they’d come up with an elevator pitch/brand essence/spirit of place (or whatever you want to call it) more like ‘innovations in flight’ and maybe even re-name their museum ‘The Museum of Flight.’ Then the name, the collection and the story the collection is used to illustrate are all aligned. I know why I should be going, what I get when I arrive is consistent with that expectation and I can tell my friends and family what I learnt and why they should go there.

Elevator pitches/brand essences aren’t easy. Explaining the purpose of something in just a short sentence of phrase is challenging – remember Mark Twain ‘I would have written you a short letter but I didn’t have the time’? But I would encourage you to try. Get it right, and it opens up a Pandora’s box of opportunities and new thinking which will get the footfall rolling and the tills ringing.

How to Keep All of Your Museum Visitors Happy, All of the Time (Well, Almost)

The key to visitor satisfaction is understanding your visitors and what they want from a day out. A little audience segmentation is handy here, courtesy of our friends at the National Trust.

A robust segmentation model is the key to understanding your visitors.

A robust segmentation model is the key to understanding your visitors.

Dinah and I spend a lot of our time hanging around museums talking to their visitors to see how happy they are.

Specifically, we’re talking to people who have just experienced one of our interactive exhibits, audio guides or games to find out what they think. And although most are positive, there are some who don’t definitely don’t like what we’ve done.

The first experience we launched was our mobile phone audio tour for Gloucester Cathedral. During the first few week’s we’d loiter just behind the official Cathedral Welcomers, ready to pounce on any likely mobile phone wielding visitor to tell them about the tour. We got plenty to try and most absolutely loved it. But some didn’t like it at all. And it was nothing to do with the concept of using their mobile phone in a Cathedral – it was all to do with how we’d delivered the content.

We’d told the stories of seven people and events commemorated in the Cathedral. Visitors could listen to the stories by dialling a number on their phone. The stories were a mix of mini documentaries, docu-dramas and full-blown dramas.

The positive comments we got included words like ‘powerful’, ‘entertaining’ and ‘moving’. The negative comments we got included phrases like ‘too long’ and ‘get to the facts.’ It was then that the different motivations of visitors to the Cathedral become obvious.

Some clearly had come to the Cathedral on a mission to fact find. They actively wanted to add to their knowledge, had certain facts they wanted to learn and wanted those facts delivered in the most concise and easy to digest manner possible.

Others were less committed to coming to the Cathedral – it was leisure time rather than learning time. They didn’t have a specific agenda and were more open to be entertained and engaged by our stories. They weren’t looking for any specific facts, and so therefore weren’t irritated when the facts were delivered by storytelling rather than straightforward interpretation. Most of the families visiting fitted into these category.

We kept these two segments – the ‘fact seeker’ and the ‘entertainment seeker’ – at the forefront of our thinking when designing future experiences. And it was gratifying to find that, a year or so later when we did some work for the National Trust, that our ‘anecdotally observed’ segments had some basis in empirical fact.

About 5 years ago, the National Trust set about coming up with a new way of segmenting their visitors, largely based on psychographics (personality, values, opinions, attitudes, interests, and lifestyles) rather than the traditional age and demographics.

They came up with 7 segments, described as thus:

Out and About

Spontaneous people who prefer chance encounters to making firm plans and love to share their experiences with friends.

Young Experience Seekers

People who are open to challenge, in a physical or horizon-broadening sense They make and take opportunities in their journey of personal discovery.

Curious Minds

Active thinkers, always questioning and making connections between the things they learn. They have a wide range of interests and take positive steps to create a continual flow of intellectual stimuli in their lives.

Live Life to the Full

Self-driven intellectuals, confident of their own preferences and opinions and highly independent in their planning and decision making; these people are always on the go.

Explorer Families

Families that actively learn together, the adults will get as much out of their experience as the children. To fit in the interests of all family members planning, sharing and negotiation are essential.

Kids First Families

Families who put the needs of the children first and look for a fun environment where children are stimulated and adults can relax; they’re looking for a guaranteed good time.

Home and Family

Broad groups of friends and family who gather together for special occasions. They seek passive enjoyment of an experience to suit all tastes and ages.

Before your mind starts boggling at the thought of creating interpretation for all these different groups, you should know that the 3 most important groups for most National Trust attractions (and therefore probably most museums and attractions in general) are Out and About, Curious Minds and Explorer Families.

For us, it was a ‘eureka’ moment as the Out and About-ers combined with the Explorer Families felt aligned with our ‘entertainment seeker’ group. And the Curious Minds had much in common with our ‘fact seeker’ group. And our experience at the National Trust’s Hidcote Manor Garden backed that up, where Out and About-ers and Explorer Families loved our dramatised audio experience A Walk with Lawrence Johnston, whereas the Curious Minds wanted the history of the garden (and the names of the plants) delivered to them in a more straightforward and concise way.


So what’s the lesson to keeping all of your visitors happy, all of the time? You need to find a way to deliver the relevant facts concisely for the Curious Minds and you need to entertaining ways to engage Out and About-ers and Explorer Families in your story.

How do you do that? By applying a little journalistic practice and a little psychological theory. But more of that soon.