Brand is the glue that holds together a successful museum, it gives visitors a comfort level and engages audience. Building a museum brand is often an unintentional output of a founder, sometimes it is a well crafted form of communication. This series of blog posts will examine how to craft a brand that touches on every aspect of a museum.
I have a friend Mark. He and I have been friends since the first day of kindergarden forty-five years ago (I will be 50 this year). I know Mark as well as anyone in the world, I know how he walks, what makes him smile and his interests. Every time I see Mark, it give me a sense of place, I know who I am, I know how to act and I get a sense of comfort. When Mark, my wife and I go out for dinner, the dynamic changes and we are now a group and the dynamic has changed. When Mark, my wife and I go to a dinner party, we have now joined a larger group and there are too many variables for me to know the expected behavior of the group. This is where brand comes into play, a way to help people with expectations and predict outcomes.
Businesses are the same (yes, museums are a business), a founder hires a staff and most often the founder finds board members and staff that reflect his personality. Most often the culture of a museum can be traced back to the personality of the founder. Brand is the output of a culture, both intentional and non-intentional. I love the quote “You cannot not communicate”. Even when we do not wish to communicate we are still communicating.
I am working on a book “How to Start a Museum”, and I have been struggling with how to create a framework for the book. I believe brand is the framework for all museums. Many will disagree with me. They will say that museums are based around a collection or a mission statement, I say it is a narrative that engages audience. Narrative is the story of an exhibition or program, “museum voice” is how the museum communicates brand.
This idea of brand touches every aspect of a museum, including:
The Content of collections
Museum Programming (Education)
Museum Marketing , (Earned, Owned and Paid)
Back to Mark. When I get together with Mark, I know how to act, it would be out of character to go to a dance club with Mark. If we went to a dance club it would be a joke and we would become silly, because it would be out of character for both Mark and I.
I loved the old Exploratorium. For me, central to the brand was the vision of Frank Oppenheimer of making science accessible. I loved the rough and tumble approach, the plywood exhibits just rolled out of the exhibition shop. At the old location, it was dirty and messy, a place of passion for science exploration. The old Exploratorium allowed me to “own” the content, the content became accessible.
As a next step I will start to describe how to build a new museum around this idea of brand and how existing museums can recraft themselves with a strong brand. Future blog posts will examine each aspect of the museum around the idea of brand.