Cultural Content: Personas and segmentation

Cultural Content: Personas and segmentation

By Georgina Brook


Georgina Brook, Senior Content Strategist at One Further starts from the assumption that 'all models are wrong, but some are useful' in this insightful look at how to categorise digital users.  First published on the Cultural Content newsletter of digital specialists One Further.

There’s a great quote from statistician George Box “all models are wrong, but some are useful.”

This seems a good place to start when thinking about audience segmentation.

Let’s think first about the reality of all the different users that in some way interact with a single cultural institution…

A petri dish full of alphabet spaghetti

It’s a big messy soup of infinitely complicated variables. Any one person is unique and fantastically complicated; from a biological, cultural and psychographic perspective.

So how do we get from this messy soup of extremely complicated individuals to a useful model of who we are and aren’t attracting?

To build helpful models – helpful simplifications of the (extremely complicated) reality – we need to know what are the significant variables. How can we ‘type’ people in a way that matters?

What I’ve tried to do below is lay out the different models I’ve seen used in the sector and in what scenarios they are useful.


Paddlers, Swimmers, Divers

Image source:

What is it?

This is a system for categorising different types of users depending on the level of information they need at any one time.
  • Paddlers want concise information – so, in the context of a website homepage, this might be a high-level overview of who you are and what differentiates you from other cultural institutions in the area. Paddlers don’t typically spend a lot of time on a webpage.
  • Swimmers are a bit more motivated than paddlers to start with but don’t try their patience. They may want to know specific details or spend a small amount of time finding out more about something of interest.
  • Divers - Divers want details. There’s typically a misconception in the sector that people don’t read long articles. Divers do. And - good news - Google likes ‘in depth’ articles. We generally recommend between 1,500-2,000 words. That doesn’t mean waffle but do treat a topic in detail and with clear section headings so divers can quickly understand what’s being covered and skip to any particular areas of interest.

What’s its usefulness to digital content teams?

I find this three-part system quite a simple way of getting across the idea of progressive disclosure in the context of writing for web. Not everyone needs to know everything all at once. That can be kinda hard to handle.

It’s good for

✅ Writing for web training particularly the point around using different amount of detail in different parts of the site

For example, on a landing page you will likely want to include a concise overview of the child pages. This will help paddlers get a sense of what's in this section and whether it's interesting. It'll also help more motivated users like swimmers and divers get where they want to more quickly.

Whereas on detail pages you want to begin with a high-level summary. And then use subheadings throughout the piece. The piece itself can then go into detail. This allows less motivated users to get a sense of what's there and gives divers the detail they want.

✅ Since this system is also used in in-gallery interpretation (for example in the V&A’s ‘Ten Point Guide to Writing Gallery Text at the V&A’) it may already be familiar to curators.

It’s less useful for…

  • Marketing - this system doesn’t tap into motivation
  • Audience development - there’s not much clue in here as to WHY users are more/less engaged

Browsers, Followers, Searchers, Researchers

What is it:

This is similar to swimmers, divers, and paddlers, but contains more of a sense of the capacity in which a user might interact with you.

What’s its usefulness to digital content teams?

This is pretty similar to swimmers/divers/paddlers, but I think it also conveys more of the reasons why someone might be engaging with your content; for example, if they’re a ‘researcher’ they’re likely to be on your website in a professional capacity, whereas a ‘searcher’ may be more of a hobbyist.

I use this when I’m trying to articulate at a high level who a page is for, or the different kinds of users a page may be for and how to accommodate their needs.

I’ve also used this segmentation model for categorising more detailed persona types. For example (below) – here’s a typical ‘audience index’ I might create for a web project. Browsers / followers / searchers / researchers group more specific ‘types’ (who are represented in yellow and red spots for current and potential audience types). In this example, I’ve plotted all types on a spectrum of motivation (along the horizontal axis) and familiarity with the organisation (along the vertical axis). I’ve then plotted individual visitor type depending on where they sit against these two parameters. These include new visitors, regular visitors, teachers, members, staff and peer curators.


A digital audience index like this shows you how a segmentation system can help group individual pen portraits of more distinct types (like ‘members’). CC-By-SA.

Falk (2009)

What is it?

In Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience, John Falk presented five museum ‘types’.

These are:

  • Explorers: Visitors who are curiosity-driven with a generic interest in the content of the museum. They expect to find something that will grab their attention and fuel their curiosity and learning
  • Facilitators: Visitors who are socially motivated. Their visit is primarily focused on enabling the learning and experience of others in their accompanying social group.
  • Professionals/Hobbyists: Visitors who feel a close tie between the museum content and their professional or hobbyist passions. Their visits are typically motivated by a desire to satisfy a specific content-related objective.
  • Experience Seekers: Visitors who are motivated to visit because they perceive the museum as an important destination. Their satisfaction primarily derives from the mere fact of having been there and done that.
  • Rechargers: Visitors who are primarily seeking a contemplative, spiritual, and/or restorative experience. They see the museum as a refuge from the work-a-day world or as a confirmation of their religious/spiritual beliefs.

What’s it used for?

I’ve heard of others referencing Falk in museum education teams; so in the context of those thinking about how to pitch different kinds of learning experiences.

What’s its usefulness to digital content teams?

I find the Falkian model the best system in terms of having recognisable types. We can recognise in ourselves when – for example – we’ve landed on a museum website in the capacity of a professional, but then started looking at a current exhibition a friend or relative would like (here jumping roles to the Facilitator type).

Falk’s system also allows for the fact that you can be different types both in your lifetime and even within the context of one visit.

Audience Spectrum

What is it?

Audience Spectrum is a segmentation system from The Audience Agency. It separates audiences into the following categories:

  • Metroculturals
  • Commuterland Culturebuffs
  • Experience Seekers
  • Dormitary Dependables
  • Trips & Treats
  • Home & Heritage
  • Up our Street
  • Frontline Families
  • Kaleidoscope Creativity
  • Supported Communities

These segmentation profiles are derived from large datasets around the UK’s population’s attitude to culture. As well as these 10 established segments, Audience Agency released 20 new subsegments in 2022.

Until 2023 Audience Spectrum was the de facto segmentation product for local authority cultural organisations and those reliant on National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) funding. Arts Council England has since replaced The Audience Agency's Audience Finder with PWC’s Illuminate, but with that currently paused and no new segmentation in place, Audience Spectrum remains the common language for arts organisations. The Audience Agency have responded to the above by replacing Audience Finder with Audience Answers.

What’s it used for?

One of the key differences between this (and MHM’s Culture Segments, which I talk about next) from the systems above is it has mapped the population against it. That makes it much better for audience development as you can see not just who you're talking to but how that maps against the population as a whole.

If you’re a local authority institution you can use their Audience Finder tool to compare how your audience breakdown compares with the segmentation in your local area. So if you’re mainly attracting affluent ‘Metroculturals’ from London, but your local population is mainly more working class ‘Frontline Families’, then – as a local authority institution – you can see what socio-economic profiles you could do with developing.


Screenshot from the Audience Spectrum map (requires login) showing the most dominant segment in the postcode

Most NPO organisations in the UK will also be using Audience Spectrum in their in-gallery surveys of audiences, so running a similar survey online is a great way of doing a comparison between the extent to which your online and in-person audiences overlap or not.

I’d use Audience Spectrum for digital audience development:

  • If I was already using it for in-person audiences
  • To analyse what types (particularly socio-economic and geographic) audiences I am and am not reaching

What’s its usefulness to digital content teams?

Again, I wouldn’t find this segmentation tool helpful in every scenario. If I was trying to think about areas of the website and how to make them more user-friendly, it wouldn’t be terribly instructive for me to rewrite the collections page for a “Trips & Treats” (particularly if none of that type of audience is finding their way to that page anyway). As with MHM, it’s also difficult, in the context of web copy to think What does writing for ‘Home & Heritage’ / ‘Trips & Treats’ mean?

TL;DR Audience Spectrum is a useful way to type users socio-economically and geographically. It’s useful for thinking about the equity of your services and how accessible they are across different class brackets in the UK. They’re less useful for international audiences or for thinking about the user needs of different parts of a cultural website.

Many thanks to Kate Fitzgerald for her additional notes and reporting on this section.

Culture Segments

What is it?

Culture Segments is a psychographic profiling tool from the consultancy Morris Hargreaves McIntyre (MHM). This categorises potential visitors into 8 types based on their motivation to engage with culture. The types are:

  • Enrichment
  • Entertainment
  • Expression
  • Perspective
  • Stimulation
  • Affirmation
  • Release
  • Essence

They also have a handy quiz on their website so that you can ‘type’ yourself.

What’s it used for?

Culture Segments is designed to map the ‘types’ who are and aren’t motivated to come to your venue. That makes their segmentation tool useful for identifying unconscious bias. In many of MHM’s case studies, they find that cultural organisations tend to be good at attracting segments similar to themselves. This kind of profiling, done at an organisation-wide level, can help you be more deliberate about segments you are and are not communicating your offer effectively to.

What’s its usefulness to digital content teams?

Digital campaigns, for example email, membership and marketing campaigns which are attempting to motivate a particular activity or action.

It’s worth noting that it’s difficult to identify Culture Segments in the abstract. This system will be difficult to implement in a digital context if the organisation as a whole is not already using it. It’s also a proprietary tool. You’d be in breach of copyright if you tried to run identify the Culture Segments of your audience without commissioning MHM to do the work.

As with Audience Spectrum it’s less useful in the context of writing informational webpages.

To summarise

My attempt to synthesize 2,000 words into a table…
  • Paddlers / Swimmers / Divers is a simple way of dividing up audiences by how much motivation and familiarity they have with the topics you cover.
  • Browsers / followers / searchers / researchers is a similar grouping system that allows you to separate audiences into different groups depending on the capacity in which they interact with you
  • Falk - Falk’s original (2009) model is neat – it unites recogniseable user types (e.g. ‘facilitator’ as parent) with the typical scenarios in which you might interact with a cultural institution. It allows for the fact that we will engage with museums and cultural institutions in a different capacity even over the course of one visit. You can see how his segments can work nicely in a user story that we might use for web planning.
  • Audience Agency’s Audience Spectrum is a way of visualising the socio-economic profile of your local audiences, and what that means in terms of their receptivity to different kinds of culture. It’s UK-specific but interesting to get a sense of who you are and aren’t talking to in a local area.
  • MHM’s Culture Segments is a way of profiling audiences by their attitude to culture. It’s more useful for psychological profiling in the context of a desired behaviour change and audience development than for content designing webpages and content editing stories.

Ultimately there’s no silver bullet. Just the infinitely complicated reality (see audience soup at top of page). What model works for you depends on what you want to use it for.

Ultimately you’re probably going to want to have a small number of archetypes (for which you could use one of these structures. This archetype can then help you organise more detailed pen portraits that sit beneath (see OF graphic above). But how much detail and which types you work up will vary depending on what you’re using a segmentation system for.

Head and shoulders Georgina Brooke

Georgina Brooke - Content Strategist at One Further.

Many thanks to Chris Unitt and Kate Fitzgerald for their input on this piece.

First published in the Cultural Content newsletter of digital specialists One Further.
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Resource type: Guide/tools | Published: 2024