Carnegie Mellon's Arts Management & Technology Labs Interview with Cuseum: Digital Membership

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Our CEO was recently interviewed by Carnegie Mellon University’s Arts Management & Technology Lab about our latest product. Read on for rest of the story!

Drew Porter (AMT Lab): Brendan, please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Brendan Ciecko: Thanks so much for having me today. My name’s Brendan Ciecko, I’m the Founder and CEO of Cuseum. We’re a company based out of Boston that works with museums, public attractions, and nonprofits to help them both with visitor and member engagement.

DP: Next, tell us a bit about your organization, Cuseum, and what you do.

BC: We do everything in our power to help museums succeed using software. I was working with a number of museums five or six years ago, and saw how painful and frustrating it was to fulfill their number one priority of engaging and educating the visitor, and started to take note of the growing impact that digital has in our lives. It’s the way that we see the world, learn, communicate, and socialize. So we built software that made it really easy for museums to leverage mobile for their onsite experience. In many ways you can think of it as a digital docent, or a mobile guide, or a mobile app. That was our first product, and we’re really proud to say we’ve been able to help over 100 museums around the globe enrich visitor experience using our software.

DP: Tell us a little bit about your latest product.

BC: We recently launched a new product, digital membership cards.

We started to hear from more and more of our customers, and other museums, who were interested in optimizing the process around membership. What happened was, as we had so many museums that are using our core products for engagement, the question started to arise: “Hey, can you incorporate membership cards into the app?” We wanted to take a step back and look at what the trials and tribulations, processes, etc. were within the membership and fundraising departments. As we started to dive deeper and deeper into that space, it became very clear that the way that membership is being fulfilled today is costly, takes a lot of time and energy, and it’s not very efficient.

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We looked at the postage, the paper, the plastic, the printing. It all really started to add up. Then when you add in time and labor on top of that, and the inconvenience on both sides, to the museum and the receiving member, it painted a picture that this was a really big problem that needed to be solved. So, we created a piece of software that plugs into their existing customer relationship management system, their CRM, to make the magic happen.

DP: For a given organization, what sort of upkeep or backend maintenance can they expect when they’re running the digital membership offering such as this?

BC: This particular product is pretty hands-off in terms of any manual work, or sophisticated workflows that need to be created. That was one of the things that we were really looking to address. A lot of the software that museums use today for membership, fundraising, development, and ticketing  is fairly customized and robust. We didn’t want to create something that added more weight to those solutions; we wanted to create something that was plug and play.

This is literally something that can plug into the existing customer relationship management software, their CRM, and from there the magic happens. There’s not much that needs to happen on the museum side when it comes to setting it up. When it comes to maintenance, there is no maintenance. It’s a completely automated system. Once the setup happens, there’s really nothing that needs to take place to continue the process. We’re really looking to streamline those workflows and to give museums a tool that helps automate parts of their job.

DP: We briefly touched on some of the features and the way the app works, are there any additional features or functionality that you and your team are hoping to implement into the app as it continues to grow?

BC: Absolutely. Our ears are always open to both the museum and the visitor. As we start to get more and more digital membership cards out into the wild, I can only imagine the ideas that will spark and spur from that feedback as well as it being used in very high volumes at a wide demographic range.

There are a couple of things that we’ve been thinking about. Naturally, we’re very interested in the loyalty component within the museum space, looking at the relationship between the member and the museum. Museums are critically interested in things they can do to bring a member back to the museum, and to have that member bring their friends. We’re exploring that aspect, and you can be certain there will be some new features created to explore this area.

DP: In rolling out a digital membership program like this, can a museum expect to reach all of their different audiences equally, or have you seen it work better when they target more tech savvy users or just their traditional user base?

BC: The way that museums are approaching the initial deployment of the cards has been very interesting to watch. There are some institutions that are taking a completely digital-first approach, saying “we’re discontinuing our physical membership cards to provide you the best convenience and best experience with our museum. If you’re interested in continuing to receive that physical card, you can opt-in to receive it.”

We’re also seeing museums launching it in a way where you can still get both, you need to opt-in to get the card, or with ties to a long-term initiative to phase out membership cards gradually. We’ve been really surprised and excited to see the various ways that museums are approaching it. It is going to enable new types of memberships to emerge, especially ones that are exhibition based, or month to month oriented. The cost of producing and mailing a physical membership card would outweigh the gain of serving such a short-term path. We’re very excited about how museums are looking to this as a means of facilitating a number of different goals they have.

DP: You mentioned briefly that the digital membership offerings help organizations to save time and money. How quickly have you been seeing organizations have that turnaround to start saving money on these sort of membership programs?

BC: We did significant amounts of research before even thinking about starting the development of the software for this product. We collaborated with MIT Sloan School of Management in doing a lot of intensive quantitative analysis. We did a cost-benefit analysis to understand what it currently costs today in terms of all of the materials, postage, time, printing, additional staff, and so on for the current process. The numbers are just staggering. The amount of time and money that it costs the museum was very alarming. Our product slices and dices that number. It’s something that’s very attractive, flexible, and affordable for institutions to see ROI the moment that they go about integrating this. Then taking into consideration aspects of reduced membership churn by increasing renewal rates, you’re looking at an even higher return on investment.

DP: How integral is Cuseum staff during the implementation process and then afterwards?

BC: We assign a dedicated Partner Success Coordinator to each institution that we work with. We lay out a plan with a number of different milestones that we schedule to get them to that launch date quickly and efficiently. In those beginning phases we have someone who’s working side by side with the museum staff to get everything lined up and ready to go. After that point, we check in monthly to deliver updates. Whether it be “hey how are things going”, or “hey there what a significant increase in adoption this month”, or feature improvements. We try to be as hands on as possible. We see that that’s where great value can be added where we’re not just a software vendor, we’re truly a partner. We like to build the success as a service approach into everything we do.

DP: Hopefully we’ve peaked the interest of some of our listeners here. If their organizations are considering a switch to digital membership, what are some of the first steps they should take?

BC: We’d love to speak with each and every one of you. Check out our website cuseum.com. We have a lot of information available about the advantages and benefits of leveraging digital membership cards. We also have a fun little video explainer, which is a short and sweet way of diving deeper and getting a sense of all things involved in the process of converting to digital memberships.

DP: Wonderful. Once again Brendan thank you so much for taking some time to speak to us about Cuseum’s digital membership offerings.

BC: Thank you! Thanks for having me.

Interview by Drew Porter, Chief Editor of Interactive Content @ Arts Management and Technology Lab