It’s almost impossible to see the wood from the trees when it comes to digital marketing. Try a Google search for useful hints and tips and you’ll find so much stuff it’s very hard to determine which suggestions are noise and which are signal.

As with anything else in this gnarly, imperfect world, there isn’t a single “do this, get results” tip: almost everything is dependent on context. If you’re a single person marketing a small museum on a shoestring, you’re going to have a very different outlook to someone in a national gallery with a multi-million-pound campaign budget.

That’s why the three ideas here aren’t specifics. I’m not saying “do X on Instagram and you’ll get great results”. Instead what I’ve laid out below are three traits that tend to be the bedrock upon which successful cultural heritage marketing campaigns work best.

Know what you’re marketing…

It sounds stupid, doesn’t it? Just imagine a situation in which you start working for a marketing department for a museum that has just opened a new paid-for exhibition. It’s obvious, surely, that you’re there to sell more tickets?

Well, yes, the big picture is going to be exactly that. But the means by which you go about marketing the exhibition is based on a bunch of factors. Firstly, you need to understand exactly what it is about your exhibition that sets it apart from the competition. Have you got objects and stories that no-one else has? Is this about a particular learning experience for schools? Figuring out the uniqueness, the thing that would have someone reaching for the “buy ticket now” button is one of the first jobs that any good marketeer needs to do.

Next, you need to think about what content assets you have, can adapt, write or commission in order to substantiate your claims about your content. If you’ve already got content assets – video or photography for example – does it say the right things in the right way? If not, what is it going to take to adapt these assets? Do you need to re-shoot, edit or otherwise change the content you’ve got? Can you afford the time and expense to do this, or would you be better off focusing on written content or something else?

…and who you’re marketing to

Underpinning the message and content you develop should be a deep understanding of your audience. No matter how much is written about this (and there is a whole internet full of audience-focused advice), it still amazes me how often people approach their digital presence without focusing intelligently on the people they’re trying to market to.

You can start by focusing on user personas. Make up some names and types of user who you want to appeal to, then try and fill in the gaps about their lives. How would they browse the web, where would they spend their time online and what particular motivation would tip them over into hitting that call to action? Once you know that your target market is 30-something, female, affluent and lives in London, you’ve got a better chance of pitching your campaigns at that group of people. Tools like YouGuv are absolutely amazing at helping you get a good understanding of particular demographic traits.

Do some user testing with anything you create – whether a website or new marketing campaign. This doesn’t have to be hard: Steve Krug, in “Don’t Make Me Think”, possibly the best-known book on usability there is, points out that user testing can be done with your mum, gran, brother or son. You don’t need a lab with eye-tracking, expensive testing technology or a complicated test script – just a bunch of people who are your potential audience. Sit them down in front of your site or campaign and ask them to do whatever it is you need them to do. Spot what works, what doesn’t, and tweak accordingly.

Have a contextually relevant channel strategy

The nitty-gritty about how you take your assets out and get them to your audience is a tactical thing which carries lots of “it depends” disclaimers. However, once you’ve identified the potential content angle you’re bringing to the party and have determined who your audience is, you’re in a much better position to work out which of the [many] channels is likely to work best.

There is a huge range of research out there to help you determine where to pitch your marketing efforts. People like the Oxford Internet Institute produce regular information on how people use the web, and services like Statista do an incredible job of pulling useful information into a single place. Googling for particular things like “Facebook demographics 2017” will give you some useful insights too – but beware of old or biased reports, and make sure you cross-reference a few sources too before hanging your entire marketing strategy off a single source of information!


The great thing – in fact, really the thing that sets digital apart from anything else – is that it is something that can be consistently monitored and changed. Remember that cyclical diagram from my post on digital strategy when I talked about putting something together, trying it, measuring results, then constantly revisiting and tweaking until something strong emerges? That’s what digital does best.

Entrepreneurs have talked for a long time about “failing fast” – so much so that’s it a widely derided approach nowadays. As many point out, setting out to fail is a terrible strategy. The cyclical approach isn’t about setting out to fail, but it does carry the same hallmarks of the “fail fast” idea: ultimately this is about launching a thing then honing it over time until it works better than it did before. It’s less about failing fast, more about accepting that change is a powerful thing that needs to be embraced.

Do what works – if it doesn’t work at first, change it until it does, or kill it off and start again until it does.