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Visitor StudiesMarketing and Planning

Exploration Place
Wichita, Kansas

Studies conducted by Leichliter Associates, New York, New York and Research Communications, Ltd., Dedham, Massachusetts, and managed by White Oak Associates, Marblehead, Massachusetts (John Jacobsen, president)
1996 - 2000

Purpose and methods:
The series of studies has used many methods over its four-year implementation. The first major quantitative effort, in 1996, was a front-end or concept study; many smaller qualitative studies followed. These studies are integrated into all stages of institutional development for a new family learning center in Wichita, Kansas: concept testing, design support, prototyping, preview, and summative evaluation. The front-end study, primarily focused on concept-testing, helped the institution to address these management decisions as it narrowed down a range of good ideas into those they could afford to implement: (1) How do we allocate limited time, space, and budget? (2) What is the match between our ideas and those of visitors? (3) Of all of these ideas, which will visitors return to use again and again rather than visiting only once? Researchers employed many strategies used in consumer-based marketing, particularly focus groups. For example, researchers took lists of ideas to specific groups to see what they liked and talked visitors through what they would experience in different galleries.

Sample size:
Sample for the quantitative study was 156, preceded and followed by qualitative groups of 8 to 24.

Major findings:
Visitors interested in the children's area were more disposed to return to "do it again" than visitors interested in the environment exhibits. This finding led the design team to clarify and feature more repeat activities such as the fossil dig in the environment area to provide more reasons for returning. Visitors interested in the interactive digital dome theater were more likely to return for a "new program" and less for another chance to "do it again." The designers understood that exhibits requiring creative input from visitors - designing and testing an airplane or creating a video animation, for instance - will be harder to sell to older visitors, but such exhibits will still be included as they are at the core of the institutional mission. Another finding showed that both grandparents and young children were likely to be attracted to the miniature animated model of Kansas in 1948; this led to introducing narrative elements that will inspire cross -generational conversations among the visitors, and the marketing people identified a marketable feature that they can promote to senior citizens. At the end of the sessions, there were opportunities for additional feedback, which included: (1) keep it reasonably priced so people can afford it; (2) ensure that lines are not long and that we do not feel rushed; (3) keep it updated and present new experiences; (4) make sure the center is well staffed; (5) provide plenty of close and free parking, including shuttle buses for distant lots; and (6) market the center through commercials and the Internet, and if tickets are necessary, make provision for purchasing them by telephone.

Findings also suggested that some visitors are doers and some are watchers. The following recommendation emerged: "Let the people who are interested in creating do so and return frequently to improve their skills. Turn their activity into the entertainment and education of the people who only want to watch. Existing models of this are public sites that install skateboard ramps, which then attract young daredevils and crowds to watch them. The Great Wichita Air Show (a proposed exhibition/program area) should have visitor-created art, as well as community-created model airplanes; in this way it can change daily and seasonally."

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