How audience segmentation can enrich the visitor experience

Some people working in heritage sites/visitor attractions baulk at the idea of pigeonholing their visitors but used in the right way, audience segmentation can help you design a richer, more personal experience that targets your traditional customers or indeed new groups.

The VISTA AR project has developed a workbook to accompany sites in a reflection on their Business Model. This includes finding out as much as possible about visitors using traditional surveys (online or face-to-face) in order to develop a profile of the people who come to the site. This enables sites to target potential visitors with specific new experiences (being careful not to drive away traditional customers in the process).

Visitors can be understood in a variety of different ways:

The Visitor Intelligence tools we are developing go a step further than these traditional approaches. The above data can continue to be collected  but the VISTA text analysis tool gives deeper insights into the psychographic profiles of visitors and the geolocation tool marries this with insights into spatial behaviour – does the visitor tend to follow traditional routes around the site or do they prefer to roam more freely?.  For example, they capture the aspects visitors experience as “irritating”: these aspects can erode the benefits of the visit. Since the experience is different for each type of visitor, it is important to identify the irritants and increase the value for each audience. For example, teenagers are known to seek stimulation and a less verbal approach. A stimulating experience that is overly verbal might be counterproductive with this age group. It is essential to understand the experience sought by each type of visitor if the site is to develop an appropriate value proposition.

Whilst traditional segmentation based on demographic or geographic data is useful, there are many other aspects by which you can differentiate your visitors. The particular context involving the visitor at the time of visit is relevant and may change depending on circumstances. For instance, if someone is visiting in a group, their primary motivation may be to spend some quality time with family or friends. If alone, the visitor may be seeking to learn something particular about the site, or to take a break from their daily routine and have a peaceful, contemplative experience. Furthermore, segmenting according to spatial behaviour can also be useful. For instance, some visitors might tend to follow linear routes through the galleries, while others may roam freely and cluster around specific exhibits.

Take visitor motivation for visiting a cultural heritage site. Since each person ascribes different meanings to the site, they have varied motivations for wanting to visit it, thus making it possible to break visitors into six groups[1]:

  • Explorers: Curiosity-driven with a generic interest in the content of the site. They expect to find something that will grab their attention and fuel their learning.
  • Facilitators: Socially motivated. Their visit is focused on primarily enabling the experience and learning of others in their accompanying social group.
  • Experience Seekers: Motivated to visit because they perceive the site as an important destination. Their satisfaction primarily derives from the mere fact of having ‘been there and done that’.
  • Rechargers: Primarily seeking to have a contemplative, spiritual, and/or restorative experience. They use the site as a refuge from the work-a-day world.
  • Hobbyists: Feel a close tie between the sites content and their professional or hobbyist passions. Their visits are typically motivated by a desire to satisfy a specific content related subject.
  • Community Seekers: Those with a strong sense of heritage and/or personhood. They view the site as an important part of their heritage and identity.

The identities above are the ones that we are using within the project to develop visitor profiles. Visitor responses collated via the visitor app and the review capture form are aligned with these identities. These motivations can be assessed against other visitor data, e.g., age, size of visiting party, or spatial behaviour. For instance, a woman in her early 40s may have a particular interest in sacred art, and spend most of her cathedral visit learning about the unique sacramental artefacts on display. Her partner, also in his 40s, may partake in the visit to allow her a chance to engage with her hobby while he watches over their 5-year-old child, eventually spending most time in the cloister garden or in the café. Their other 14-year-old daughter also joins, but spends most time looking for the best spot to take a picture to share on Instagram, finally deciding on a view of sunlight shining through the stained glass windows.

[1] Falk, J. (2009). Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

The scenario above reveals 3 personas:

While the above example is anecdotal, it illustrates the variety of characteristics and features that make up your visitors. Using the VISTA visitor intelligence toolbox provided in the workbook, sites should be able to reach a set of visitor segments based on statistical data. Each of these segments have different characteristics, visiting behaviours, and motivations for visiting the CHS. Having this understanding is fundamental to designing meaningful experiences that meet target audiences’ expectations and desires.

In order to increase the overall value of the visit and be truly impactful, the new digital experience should be tailored to meet the characteristics and needs of the persona targeted. Take the persona created in the previous step and think of ways in which the site’s features and story (Storytelling/Content) relate to the persona’s attributes. The aim is to create a bespoke experience for a persona in a way that will meet their profile, motivation and needs.

For example, if the target audience is primarily looking to gain knowledge about the history of the site, the digital experience could highlight historical aspects in its storytelling, or favour certain POIs with greater historical value. If they are visiting the site mostly to spend time with friends or family, the experience could include a social feature that allows for groups to do it simultaneously. If they often navigate the site erratically, consider creating a visitor journey in a modular style, where each POI can be experienced independently, rather than developing a linear narrative.

The National Trust VR mine experience – targeted at Explorer Families

The below value proposition is based on the work we have done with the National Trust Tin Coast to create an experience that appeals to a particular section of their visitors:

As Ian Marsh, National Trust General Manager for Cornwall, said in a recent interview with us, digital interpretation has been around for a while but what people are seeking, particularly with COVID, is a more real experience. For him, the VR mines at Botallack is an “immersive piece of interpretation where you can really experience something yourself. That couldn’t be conveyed in any other way, so I think it is using that blended model and having both elements there that really gets you to that place where you can have a true immersive emotional experience of a landscape that’s changed so much.” The medium allows the visitor to be fully within the mines, an area that is no longer accessible to the public, to see the texture of the walls with the water running down them, to hear the water dripping and to see how the candle light illuminates the parts of the tunnel, changing as you move the VR controller in your hand.

Whilst the technology will appeal to younger age groups, some people may be unsure about using it if it’s their first time and will need reassurance from a dedicated helper as well as the opportunity to acclimatise themselves to a VR environment via an introductory segment. The project will also be buying a Cleanbox system for Botallack, which uses UVC rays to sanitise the VR headset in front of the customer and hopefully reassures them that the equipment is safe to use.


Sites, such as the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery (RAMM) in Exeter, which are funded by Arts Council England, use Audience Spectrum, a tool developed by the Audience Agency which segments visitors according to their attitudes to culture and levels of cultural engagement:


Metroculturals: Prosperous, liberal, urbanites interested in a very wide cultural spectrum

Commuterland culture buffs: Affluent and professional consumers of culture

Experience seekers: Highly active, diverse, social and ambitious, engaging with arts on a regular basis

Dormitory dependables: From suburban and small towns with an interest in heritage activities and mainstream arts

Trips and treats: They enjoy mainstream arts and popular culture influenced by children, family and friends

Home and heritage: From rural areas and small towns, engaging in daytime activities and historic events

Up our street: Modest in habits and means. Occasional engagement in popular arts, entertainment and museums

Facebook families: Younger suburban and semi-urban. They enjoy live music, eating out and popular entertainment such as pantomime

Kaleidoscope creativity:  Mix of backgrounds and ages. Occasional visitors or participants, particularly community-based events and festivals.

Heydays:  Older, they are often limited by mobility to engage with arts and cultural events. They participate in arts and craft making

The RAMM museum currently uses Audience Spectrum in its programming and marketing activity. RAMM promotes itself as a place of exploration and wonder and (outside of temporary Covid-related one way routes) deliberately avoids directing visitors to a particular route. Instead, people are encouraged to explore and discover at leisure, often leading to unexpected encounters with objects and art works. Understanding how visitors interact with these spaces is interesting and useful, but marrying this with audience data enables a richer understanding of how different audience segments behave during their visit to the museum. Knowing which objects are of particular interest or how different audience segments move within galleries is very powerful, both in terms of future planning of spaces but also of promotional activity and use of the space for additional in-gallery activity targeted at different audiences.