A group I've written about before—Museum Hack—is revitalizing art institutions by telling vivid stories to their audience. "Storytelling establishes a universal way of communication," they write. "And because it invites audiences to fill in the blanks with their own experiences, it helps to set emotional connections..."
Recently, they dissected a membership letter from the American Museum of Natural History in New York. While praising some portions of it—a clear offer, focus on benefits, matching landing page, usage of bold and italics—they did not hold back on criticisms. Here are a few lessons they relate that can help publishers in their subscriber/member communications:
Don't devalue your product. The museum letter starts out big: "In our wildest imaginations, we'd be hard-pressed to come up with a world as rich in wonder, diversity and drama as the real one that we actually get to live in and explore. This Museum lets you explore more of it." Then they offer a $20 discount on membership.
Writes Museum Hack: "Comparing the magnificence of nature to a $20 bill feels cheap and disingenuous! Membership letters are more transactional than donor letters, but we feel that writing a story into a letter is more than just a donation tactic. Stories are powerful."
Personalize when possible. The letter opens with Dear Friend. "While there's a risk that using a first name is too forward, the opposite (Friend) is just as risky and feels more forced," they write. "Personalization goes beyond names." They suggest that a reference to the locale someone lives can be reassuring. For publishers, recognizing someone's loyalty can be important, or if the person attended one of your events.
Be careful of giving too many options. A link is provided to a page listing the museum's many membership options. Wow! "It's a classic example of the paradox of choice," writes Museum Hack. "More options make it more difficult to say yes and make the experience of choosing far less enjoyable."
I wrote about my recent vacation yesterday. One highlight was a week-long cycling adventure. What did I love besides the scenery, nice people and exercise? The guide led us to every restaurant—what a pleasure not to have to choose where to go!
Tell a story. "A good test for a story is to ask yourself, 'Will my readers be able to tell a friend what was in the letter a week after they read it?'" Museum Hack writes. "Or, 'Would they want to tell someone?' Good stories are capable of being remembered."
In their most recent report on keys to excelling digitally, The New York Times talked about this. "In covering their niches, reporters must think engagement and involvement. Knowing about investing, farm products or construction isn't enough anymore. There's enough data to tell a reader more—why they should care and how they can act."
Appeal to emotion. "The letter itself never mentions what a magical place [the museum] is for children or how adults can share these experiences with their children," Museum Hack writes. "We respond to emotion," consultant and speaker Amy Africa once told a SIPA crowd. "We have bartenders in our brain and they're constantly mixing cocktails to become faster and smarter and more involved. We are not thinking machines that feel; we are feeling machines that think."
Focus on what matters most today. Museum Hack thinks the museum missed an opportunity to emphasize their relevance in the world of climate change and keeping habitats untouched. Similarly, if publishers can relate something they're covering to a greater issue, they can hit an emotional chord.
"Stay true to your brand and true to your voice," none other than Kevin Spacey once told a room full of marketers, "and audiences will respond to that authenticity with enthusiasm and passion."