The only way is… heritage: Thinking about different audiences and marketing to them

Whether you want to ‘get down with the kids’ or engage more with the elderly, Heritage Open Days offers the perfect opportunity to attract new audiences to your venue.

© Heritage Open Days - Visitors in a gallery

First and foremost, this is a FREE event. I’ve written FREE in capitals, because I suggest that’s how you write it on any publicity – shout about the fact. Everyone loves a freebie, more so in these cash-strapped times and Heritage Open Days being a free event will encourage new visitors for sure. If you regularly charge an entrance fee but offer a great visitor experience, it’s amazing how many will be happy to return under normal circumstances – and they’ll tell their friends and family too.

If you are running a print campaign to promote your Heritage Open Days event, keep it simple. Don’t overload potential audiences with too much data, else they will turn-off before they’ve even turned-up. Succinctly list what your venue is about and make sure you include all the special goings on during the period.

If there are specific activities for certain groups on offer during Heritage Open Days at your venue (i.e. families), make sure they are clearly labelled on any print. Oh, and don’t forget to clearly state opening times and how to find you, as well as the name of your venue. You’d be surprised how many leaflets you see out-and-about without one of those pieces of information on them!

Social Media help attract young people

Another way to engage with new audiences before, during and after Heritage Open Days is through social media.

Platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have revolutionised the way we interact with potential and existing visitors, offering an extension of the work we already do within our venues.

For those who are a bit clueless as to what social media is and how it can benefit heritage attractions, there are plenty of help guides available on the web, such as this one, or the video below's a personal favourite:

Social media is key to cracking young audiences, as 93% of teenagers and 93% of young adults (18-29) are actively online, with 70% of Generation Y (those born between 1979-1995) having a Facebook profile.*

I could write several blogs about the possibilities of social media encouraging new audiences for Heritage Open Days, but in short, make sure you have a profile on Facebook and Twitter. Arguably the most popular social media platforms, they can spread word what you do quicker than a press release, expensive newspaper advert or mail shot campaign.

Update Twitter once a day if you can and post on Facebook a few times a week (less is more on Facebook, as otherwise you can run the risking of clogging a user’s feed with endless updates). You can simply use social media to mention upcoming events, but behind-the-scenes information (such as facts and pictures) keeps visitors wanting more and, more importantly, wanting to come and see the venue for real.

However, just like in reality, you have to encourage users back to your social media site to build a relationship with your visitors. So, if you’re an art gallery, you wouldn’t simply post; ‘here’s some photographs of artwork in our collection that reflects weather.’ You would put; ‘here’s some photographs of artwork in our collection that reflects weather. What’s your favourite season?’ It encourages users to relate their thoughts and link them with the paintings on show in the gallery.

As well as the two sites mentioned, platforms like YouTube and Flickr allow you to host audio-visual content. This may sound like a daunting prospect for many, but most basic digital cameras are good enough these days for video content and a basic knowledge of Windows Movie Maker or the like can offer another potential insight into the work you do.

Don’t worry that your visitor will not want to visit your venue after a ‘virtual’ experience. After all, there’s nothing like the real thing. Furthermore, companies make trailers for films, highlighting the production’s best bits, yet people still flock to the cinema to see the full-length feature.

Don’t forget to promote your social media links on any print you do, as well as putting them in e-mail signatures. It’s also a good idea to become friends with like-minded venues on Facebook on Twitter. For example, if you work for a heritage railway, befriend other heritage railways and railway-related groups and hopefully they will reciprocate, putting your name into the domain of their followers.

Thinking about older audiences

If social media is crucial in accessing younger visitors, then how do you engage with the older generation? Speaking stereotypically, the elderly tend to be less technologically savvy and you have to rely on more traditional print and word-of-mouth methods to encourage them to your venue. However, with many of the baby boomers now reaching retirement age, Internet useage for the over-60s is ever-increasing, so don't assume older audiences won't enage with you on a virtual level, as well as physical. Regardless, retired people have more spare time and a greater capacity to engage with the cultural sector, so are a key target group for Heritage Open Days.

Groups such as PROBUS, Age UK, U3A, the National Widows Association and the WI are always looking for interesting speakers to address their groups and provide a fantastic opportunity to let people know about the work you’re doing, as well as distribute marketing materials such as leaflets and posters.

Also, nursing and residential homes may welcome you to speak and could also arrange a trip for residents to your venue.

In terms of your venue itself, you may want to get a clear idea of the needs and wants of an elderly audience, to address any queries they may have before they arrive. Accessibility is a key issue for this group, as well as parking or drop-off points. Experience has taught me that mature visitors will also want to know if food and drink is available at your venue and if it’s well signposted. It’s also good to appoint someone as a specific contact for HODs to answer any other questions that may arise.

Keep it relevant

With both young and old, you have to make your venue relevant to their interests. Mature visitors like to reminisce about days gone by, stimulating memory and conversation, and many of your venues will be able to facilitate this. Youngsters, on the other hand, tend to want a more hands-on approach when they visit, whether that be handling objects or experiencing for themselves aspects of the past and relating that to their own lives in the present.

By opening properties normally closed to the public or that charge for admission, Heritage Open Days are a draw for new audiences by themselves. But, by spending a bit of time planning who you want to attract, how you go about doing that and then implementing the plan, you can open your venue up to far more people and visitors you didn’t think would ever come.

*Figures from 2009.