Museums and the Mouse

Walt Disney World

By Blaire Moskowitz

Museums and the Web 2014 was full of interesting presentations but one really stuck in my head: Seeing the Forest and the Trees: How Engagement Analytics can Help Museums Connect to Audiences at Scale.  As I sat there listening to the speakers, I began thinking about how big data was being used not just at the DMA but other attractions as well.


Big Trends, Big Data

Every so often, a series of trends begins to converge.  As Big Data became prevalent in politics and consumer products, it was only a matter of time before these trends crossed into the cultural realm.  Enter DMA Friends, the revolutionary way the Dallas Museum of Art is connecting audiences at scale while learning about visitor behavior.

Engagement: Going far beyond the simplistic attendance statistics that most museums use, DMA Friends is an engagement platform combining both a technology platform and in-person visitor experience.  Visitors participate in designated experiences and gain credit for their involvements, which can be redeemed at later visits.  In short, this experience economy creates a vested interest in the institution and encourages repeat visits.

Visitor Rewards: With 50,000 visitors already joined and 12,000 rewards awarded to participants, the program has been a major success.  And, with all of these participants, it means that the data culled (21.8 million discrete fields annually) is allowing the museum to restructure their offerings to reflect the actual behaviors of visitors.  DMA Friends is not only a brilliant piece of market research but a revolutionary way for museums to know its visitors.


But what does this have to do with a mouse? 

Disney has recently implemented “Magic Bands”.  Advertised as the most personalized experience at Disney yet, for adults, it’s a single item to replace the Fastpass card for skipping lines, a credit card replacement allowing you to buy anything from food to souvenirs, and even acts as a room key and for kids, it’s a way to have costumed characters know your name and birthday creating some bit of clairvoyant magic.

Mass Data Collection: The bands are actually a billion dollar experiment on mass data collection in the tourism industry.   Disney is tracking where visitors are and how they are acting – everything one eats, buys, or rides is being analyzed by a data scientist.

Suggested Itineraries: From there, it is anticipated that Disney will be creating suggested itineraries for the most popular combinations.  On the initial registration, MagicBand users enter in a visitors name, age, and favorite character – and then by experiencing the park, Disney staff can compare the demographic data to any number of data points, from what one ate to the souvenirs they bought.

RFID tags: Even more fascinating is the way they are now able to analyze and correct crowd control: Using the RFID tags, Disney staff can determine if wait time at attractions is too long, look up the characters that the line-waiters like most, send out a person dressed as that character and persuade people to join that character away from the line in another activity – thus reducing the wait time of the attraction and making for happier visitors.


So Museums Audiences are Disney Audiences?

While there are some distinct differences between DMA Friends and Magicbands, the premises are surprisingly similar – to create a club for visitors to join, provide these visitors with a series of benefits, and collect the data at the end, allowing the attraction to gain unparalleled market research.   In both cases, the initial implementation was crucial because it would dictate the public’s perception.  Interestingly, for DMA Friends, early focus groups expressed an awareness and concern about personal information.  Responding to this concern, the museum created an opt-in default, and collects minimal data initially.  By contrast, the Disney Magic Bands are imbedded with RFID, which actually do track visitors. Yet most visitors do not seem to realize the full extent of the data collection and instead focus on the magic of the improved focus on the visitor experience.


What does this mean for us?

With both programs in their initial launch we will have to see how they each turn out.  Can DMA Friends be sustained long term? Will Disney invest even more money in the MagicBand experiment?  Can DMA Friends and MagicBands learn lessons from each other? And, how will other cultural institutions and tourist attractions utilize these concepts to harness visitor attention?  Those will be the questions for this coming year.

As DMA Friends and Disney have implemented their data analytics experiments, we too are thinking about Big Data. Who is listening for the longest time?  In what language and about what types of artwork and artifacts?  How do visitors actually behave when listening to audio?  Museums and the mouse might just have more in common than we could have imagined.

- author