Marketing: An Interpretive Approach

As a visitor experience advisor, I find that a lot of my work revolves around helping parks, historic sites, and museums do a better job of communicating who they are in an inspiring way. Naturally, as a life-long interpreter, I am a huge believer in the content-based approach. I’m not alone in this; content marketing (the idea of using your site’s interpretive content to build awareness, trust, and affinity) has been taking the marketing world by storm in the last ten or fifteen years.

What Doesn’t Work

What I seem to have trouble communicating to my clients is that simply nagging your readers with transactional calls to action (‘Attend this program’) or perfunctory announcements (‘We’re now open Thursdays’) just doesn’t cut it. Nobody wants to read your emails nor your social media feed if that’s all you’re producing.

I think there’s a certain amount of magical thinking going on with this kind of communications approach: “Even though I personally scroll right past all this marketing spam all day long, when I put it out for MY site, it’s DIFFERENT and everyone will SURELY read it because MY stuff is inherently fascinating.” Give your head a shake, my friend. Nobody is reading your dry announcements.

Why content marketing?

A good content marketing program accomplishes a bunch of things for you. First and foremost, it establishes your brand (and brand is just another word for reputation.) Do you want people to understand that you’re knowledgeable? That you’re top experts in your field? Then put out content that proves it.

Do you want people to know that you’re passionate about what you do? That you are approachable and accessible and fun? Then write interpretive content that inspires and amuses and captivates. Write in a voice that you know your readers relate to and appreciate.

A Case Study in Doing it Right: The Tyrrell

So let’s look at the Tyrrell Museum’s Facebook feed, shall we?

(Note: I don’t have any personal nor professional ties to the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology at the moment; I’m just a fan. I think the last project I did with them was in like 1998.)

The Tyrrell’s social media feed is a rotation of genuinely clever dinosaur (or other science) memes; interesting and slightly nerdy palaeontology stories; spotlights on their collection; occasional ‘meet-our-staff’ features; and program advertisements.

And here’s the thing: those program advertisements appear with a ratio of about one in five posts. That is to say, they publish at least four truly fun and interesting pieces, just for the reader’s interest, before they nag you to do something transactional.

Humorous dinosaur meme
This kills me. (Illustration by Julius Csotonyi)

Here’s why I think it’s a great mix: the memes establish their voice as fun and a little bit cheeky; the palaeontology stories prove that they know their stuff and know how to communicate it to lay people like me; and the ‘meet the staff’ features show a) they care about their staff and b) they hire people who are passionate and interesting—people I might want to meet when I travel to Drumheller, Alberta to see that place.

So why is everybody else in our business publishing nags, nags, and more nags? Why are we wondering why people aren’t commenting on and sharing our posts? BECAUSE NOBODY WANTS TO SEE YOUR DRY ANNOUNCEMENTS, BRENDA. Publish some meaningful content.

Pure, nerdy content… with zero naggy calls to action.

Content marketing builds trust, credibility, and affinity.

Imagine people actually looking forward to receiving your emails every month. Imagine people sharing and commenting on your social media posts. Imagine people wanting to be part of your site because they see themselves, their interests, and their values in what you communicate.

Get busy.

Get monthly (ish) updates via email from Don Enright. I write about interpretation and visitor experience. I never sell or share my lists.

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