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Museum Branding in 10 Steps

The Who 1967
The Who 1967

I never loved the Beatles, not to say they are not a wonderful musical group, just not my thing. For me I prefer the Rolling Stones or the Who, that is just me. There is no apology needed for likes and dislikes, as my mother used to say, “it is fine to say “No, thank you””.

I never loved the Whitney Museum, again not to say it is not a wonderful museum, but not my thing. I prefer MoMA or the Guggenheim. Yes, I know they are very different collections, but those are my likes and dislikes.

It is important to understand that every community cannot include everyone. Different people belong to different communities.

Below is a list of “how to build a museum brand in 10 steps” or  “Museum Branding in 10 steps” :

1. Founders – It all starts with the personality of the founders. Understand the founders individual and group personality and if a key component to the brand is laking from the group, consciously add those personalities to the mix of people.

2. Community – Understand your target audience. Age, income, religious beliefs, social beliefs, distance from the venue, interests and non-interests.

3. Segment Community – Once you understand your targeted community, segment the community. The 2-5 year old user has different requirements than 5-7 year olds; 20-35 year olds have different requirements from 30-40 year old family audience.

4. Segment Requirements – Understand the requirements of each segment.

5. Create a loop – Ask each targeted segment of their needs, listen. Test, and make changes. Repeat. Your “loop” can be used for testing all aspects of the museum from ideas of new exhibitions to on floor programming, donor requests and collection acquisitions.

6. Share the vision – Build and share the brand vision.

7. Cull – In the process of building and sharing the vision you will loose staff and community. That is fine. Be realistic, trying to build a brand for a historic house in a community of 10,000 people and expecting to attract 300,000 visitors per year, is not an issue of brand, but of expectations.

8. Staff Selection – The most important impact on brand is staff selection. Even more difficult to change than institutional culture is brand. We can all sense a less than genuine brand, when the staff and brand are not in alignment, there is a inconsistency. When I go into REI, I believe the floor staff use the equipment, when I go into Big 5, I have no confidence that the people who work there use the merchandise.

9. Refine – Starbucks has now removed the word Starbucks from their logo, the brand is now so strong we all know the logo and all that it embodies without the company name. MoMA, is seldom written out (Museum of Modern Art), the four letters have become an embodiment of the brand. Reduce your brand to it’s core.

10. Let the brand out – I love the City Museum, the Museum of Jurassic Technology, The Mutter, The Yale Art Gallery and DIA, (to name a few). I am happy to promote each of the venues, I am an enthusiast (an unpaid enthusiast). I don’t receive any payment from any of the mentioned venues, they have never been a client, but I am happy to spread their message and share their brand with others. Encourage others to spread the brand.

You will notice there is no mention of logos or color schemes above. A logo is a symbol of a brand a way to communicate brand. Brand is is much larger than graphic design and logos, it is the embodiment of an institutional culture.

About Mark Walhimer

Mark is Managing Partner of Museum Planning, LLC, a museum planning and exhibition project management firm of interactive educational environments for Science Centers, Children's Museums and Natural History Museums. You can reach Mark at mark@walhimer.com.

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