A visit to the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (MSI) is not a passive experience. Since 1933, housed in the former Palace of Fine Arts originally built for the 1893 World’s Fair, it has welcomed over 190 million guests as the Western Hemisphere’s largest science museum.

MSI welcomes “guests,” not visitors, and treats them as such. A guest is someone you’ve invited to make themselves at home, to enjoy themselves through direct interaction with their space.

“We are alive, loud, and interactive,” says Steven Beasley, MSI’s Senior Director of Digital Experience. “We’re a place of engagement.”

Steven says that’s why it’s important the Museum of Science and Industry sends emails that engage guests, too.

Keep reading to learn how the Museum of Science and Industry:

  • Found the right tools to send the right messages and engage people one-on-one
  • Uses ActiveCampaign and Salesforce to manage (and act on) 350,000+ contacts’ data
  • Uses email automation to engage past guests – so they come back and re-experience the ever-changing museum

“A few years ago we realized we needed to be more sophisticated with how we send emails”

“We outgrew Mailchimp. We needed something more sophisticated.” – Steven Beasley

“It’s important to engage people on a one-on-one level,” says Shawn Hackett, MSI’s Manager of CRM. “People expect that now. And your message needs to be right; if it’s wrong, people notice. We care about our guests and we want to show that.”

The Museum of Science and Industry has always been a quick adopter of new tech and digital strategy. They embraced email marketing early on (and far beyond what many of their museum peers were doing).

MSI began their email strategy with Mailchimp — but Mailchimp limited the Museum to sending basic email campaigns to their entire list.

“A few years ago we realized we needed to be more sophisticated with how we sent emails,” Steven says. “Mailchimp was simple. Too simple.”

Why did MSI need to be more sophisticated?

They didn’t want to email everyone the exact same messages: Without the ability to set conditions or segment their list, they couldn’t create personalized customer experience automations (CXA). MSI needed a way to collect and consolidate information about their 350,000+ active contacts.

They found their solution when they chose ActiveCampaign as their CXA platform and Salesforce as their CRM platform.

MSI email subscription

If you have 350,000+ active contacts, chances are they aren’t interested in the same things. So why would you send them the same email? Content that’s not relevant gets ignored: Let your subscribers decide what emails they get.

ActiveCampaign + Salesforce: “Use the right tool for the right job.”

“By using ActiveCampaign with Salesforce, we don’t have to manually transfer data. There’s no wait. The Museum of Science and Industry can immediately connect with guests.” – Shawn Hackett

The Museum of Science and Industry uses Salesforce as their customer relationship management (CRM) solution: The platform stores data about guests and members.

“ActiveCampaign is what we use to act on that data,” says Steven.

Shawn explains that Salesforce gives the Museum complete visibility into what their guests want. The CRM makes raw data readable for employees in multiple departments:

  • Marketing
  • Membership
  • Finance
  • Education

A custom ActiveCampaign integration narrows that data down to just the information MSI needs to send personal, targeted emails to their contact list.

The Museum of Science and Industry collects data on guests from several different sources. The data syncs from Salesforce to ActiveCampaign, and is used for personalized email engagement.

MSI ticket purchase

When you buy a ticket on the Museum of Science and Industry’s website, they use the information you give them to personalize future email communications.

Why are multiple systems better than one?

“As we adopted digital tools across the Museum,” explains Steven, “We learned that it’s better to integrate 2-3 systems that are each the best at what they do — instead of one tool that tries to do too much and does it poorly.”

“We roll data up into a nice clean view, then synchronize it with ActiveCampaign so we can better message guests,” adds Shawn.

Why is it important to have clean data?

“We need a 360-degree view of guests,” Shawn explains. “Part of that view is making sure data is clean and current. Families change, lifestyles change. We need to update our info so we know who our guests are at any time…a 10-year-old snapshot isn’t who they are now.”

MSI hallway guests

Market research is how you periodically check in with your audience. MSI sends surveys that help keep their guest data current.

How does the Museum of Science and Industry get their first snapshot of new guests?

When is the right time to personalize your customer experience?

“We’d like to think the bronze doors are the front doors to the Museum – but it’s actually the website.” – Steven Beasley

A couple years ago, the Museum of Science and Industry had a realization: Their website was their best opportunity to connect with and learn more about their guests. With that in mind, MSI relaunched their website — and increased the percentage of ticket purchases made online from 15% to 50%+.

That means MSI now has a lot more contact data. More data means more work (and more time required to do it)…right?

Steven explains that nonprofit organizations (like MSI) have limited staff, so tools that let them do more (in less time) are crucial. “ActiveCampaign lets us be higher touch with the staff we have.”

“When you don’t have to send 6 routine email campaigns, that frees up time to expand our strategy and personalization,” Shawn says. “We have time to understand who we’re talking to, so we can analyze them to learn what works — and what doesn’t.”

When you understand your customers, you provide a better guest experience, so it’s important to get the ball rolling as soon as possible. As Shawn says: “Our guests aren’t waiting for the “right” time…it IS the right time.”

“MSI has a large list – ActiveCampaign lets us manage it,” adds Shawn. “With advanced search and automation I don’t have to manually manage our list. I can focus on strategy.”

“I can create any automation I can think of. I like to dive in, so ActiveCampaign’s flexibility from easy to complex has been very nice.” – Shawn Hackett

Teachers don’t want member updates or PR emails. What do they want?

“ActiveCampaign lets us send email campaigns, automate features, and manage contacts by staff group. The holy trinity. Other tools couldn’t do all three.” – Steven Beasley

The Museum of Science and Industry uses ActiveCampaign to send CXA campaigns to multiple audiences:

  • Guests
  • Members
  • Teachers
  • Donors

As Steven explains, “We use email to have different conversations with different groups. Thousands of teachers book field trips at MSI. We communicate with teachers in a completely different way than we do with guests.”

How do you start a conversation with an email?

MSI’s member welcome series is a great example, because as Shawn says, “Instead of just a card in the mail, we engage them several times with emails: To welcome them, to explain benefits, and to set them up on the right path.”

Welcome series email #1

welcome email series is important: You’re not just saying hello, you’re asking subscribers to make a habit of reading your emails.

MSI welcome series email

Welcome series email #2

What’s the difference between a conversation and talking at someone?

In a conversation, you ask questions — MSI does this with a getting-to-know-you survey in their 2nd welcome series email. The Museum of Science and Industry uses the survey responses to tailor future communications to each contact’s interests.

MSI welcome series email

How does MSI push back against “False Familiarity?”

What is false familiarity? It’s when you’re positive that you’re familiar with something — but actually? You’re not.

Talk to anyone who has worked at the Museum of Science and Industry and you’ll hear the same story play out in 3 acts:

  1. A MSI staff member tells a friend they work at MSI
  2. The friend is excited because they know the Museum well
  3. The friend gushes to the MSI staff member how much they enjoyed their last visit to the museum…20 years ago, in the 8th grade.

Everyone thinks the Museum of Science and Industry is an amazing place — the version that exists in their mind, that is. They remember the Museum as it was the last time they visited, and they think that the Museum that exists today is exactly the same as it was back then.

MSI vintage postcard

A picturephone!? If you remember being wowed by this futuristic concept at the Museum of Science and Industry, it might be time for another visit (source: Voices of East Anglia).

Science and industry are ever-evolving: Why would the Museum be any different?

MSI uses email marketing automation to show past guests the value in coming back. That means understanding the kinds of exhibits guests want to see.

MSI exhibit list

This is just a small selection of the exhibits MSI surveys guests if they’re interested in.

How does MSI re-engage guests so they come back again…and again?

Steven explains that MSI uses segmentation and tags to “re-introduce to guests what is new and different…and what might appeal to them individually. We can see if ActiveCampaign has tagged a guest by what exhibit they’ve seen. If we have a new exhibit that we think will appeal to them, we can take that into account when we email guests.”

What does this look like?

The U-505 submarine is a long-standing favorite at MSI. If a guest rates the submarine highly after a visit, MSI can send an email to the tagged submarine segment to let them know about the 75th anniversary exhibit, U-505 Submarine: 75 Stories.

U-505 submarine

The U-505 is a German submarine built for Germany’s Kriegsmarine during World War II. It was captured by the U.S. Navy on June 4, 1944. It’s one of only 5 WW II-era U-boats left in the world, and has amazed Museum guests since 1954 (image source: Wikipedia).

“We only have so much time to keep someone’s attention when they open an email, so we want to deliver something valuable,” Steven explains. “ ‘Would you like this specific exhibit?’ That’s better than saying the same thing to everyone.”

“As we get more sophisticated in how we engage guests, we can say the right thing at the right time. When guests open an email it should speak to them personally, whether they’re a 22-year-old or a family of 4.”

MSI sends annual check-in email surveys. If you’re a 22-year-old, MSI might send you this survey question: How easy would it be for you to play hookie from work?

If you’re a family-of-four, you’ll get survey questions about family-friendly museum features.

The Museum of Science and Industry also sends emails that encourage more frequent visits (and combat false familiarity).

What types of email engagement works to shorten the lag time between visits?

  • Special yearly events. Yearly events can become family traditions.
  • Reminder emails. MSI emails guests and reminds them of their last visit date
  • New exhibits announcements. MSI sends emails about exhibits that appeal to a guest’s interests
  • One-time-only event announcements
MSI afterhours

Special events like MSI’s Afterhours (where you can grab a cocktail and step onto a submarine) are very popular with adult guests and members.

The Museum’s mission: “To inspire the inventive genius in everyone.”

“We have a weekly call with ActiveCampaign, to talk through concerns and ideas. We’ve had meetings to brainstorm. We like that openness.” – Shawn Hackett

The Museum of Science and Industry’s mission is to “inspire the inventive genius in everyone.”

When the MSI uses ActiveCampaign to get feedback from guests, that influences the Museum to make changes — changes that make it easier to inspire the inventive genius in future guests.

“One of the great things working here,” adds Shawn, “Is that even though we’re behind the scenes upstairs in an office, we can walk downstairs and be involved. You need a break? Go see the baby chicks.”

Or you can stand back and watch as guests enter the Museum. You can witness their eyes go wide and jaws drop in awe.

“It’s active, it’s immersive. You hear laughter as people interact with exhibits,” Shawn says. “This is a place where you can learn…and can play.”

Shawn smiles and adds, “I love creating nerds. My heart knew the Museum of Science and Industry is where I needed to be.”

“Curiosity is what drives society forward. It is the lifeblood of all human progress. So let’s raise our national curiosity levels once again. And together, let’s ensure curiosity does not become an endangered species in our lifetime. Join us. Long live curiosity.” – msichicago.org

Mold-A-Rama

MSI explores today’s science innovations – but keeps tech of the past alive, too. When you visit the Museum of Science and Industry, don’t forget to make a Chicago museum classic: a Mold-A-Rama.