In our November Museum Conversation on Curated Brand Experiences, our savvy panel of five brand curators shared with us great strategies and tactics for ensuring that your visitors have the best experience possible at your museum. All the panelists agreed that brand is not just the name, logo, tagline, and advertising, but it is every touchpoint a visitor has dealing with a museum, before they arrive, while they are there, and after they leave. All those combine to create the brand experiences. The bad news is that this is a lot, but the good news is that it does not take a large budget to successfully curate the brand experience at your museum. Here are a few takeaways:
- Don’t be bashful about your brand. As Darren Macfee, Executive Director of the Lincoln Children’s Museum noted, the marketing should not stop at the front door. Instead, take those efforts to attract visitors and extend the branding inside the museum walls so that visitors always know where they are, what the museum is about, and the role of the museum in the community.
- Hire the most enthusiastic, passionate staff possible. LeAnne Ruzzamenti, of the Crocker Art Museum, commented that interactions with front-line staff can make or break a visit, so hiring those that are excited and curious about the museum will help ensure that they pass on that enthusiasm and knowledge to visitors. She also noted that hiring front-line staff tends to almost be an after-thought, but that instead it is one of the most critical hiring decisions staffs at museums can make.
- Brand is not a picture, but a personal connection. And as Phillip Bahar of the Walker Art Center explained, it only has meaning when it is filled with a personal experience with a product, exhibit, program, or event. That is, the brand is only formed when it helps people connect to art, science, history, and each other. Our challenge is then to create that personal connection between the visitor and the museum. And linking back to LeAnne’s comments on staff, it is the Director and the executive team that must set the tone for the employees to deliver on the brand promise.
- The Museum can be the third place. At the George Eastman House, as Eliza Kozlowski shared, the café and store were remodeled to blend together, with lounge areas, so that visitors could have a sense of a “third place" (after home and work), especially in the evenings for theater goers. This amenity area has become the hub of the museum, and it is where people congregate and relax at some point in their visit. This sense of “third place” can also be heightened by giving members special stickers to wear during visits, which alerts staff to the fact that these individuals have invested in the museum. The warm welcome they then receive only heightens the sense that the museum is one of their places.
- Retail has become theater, entertainment, education, and experience, said Alison Worthington, a senior marketer at Starbucks, and that has changed people’s expectations so much that for many, the choice is between going to a museum or going shopping, because the experiences are not as different as they initially appear. So every detail of every touchpoint must be perfect because you are only as good as your last experience, and if you can incorporate surprises and delights (such as random free admissions or “pay it forward” programs when customers are given free admission passes to give to someone behind them in line) into those touchpoints, then your brand will only strengthen.
We would love to hear more from you on this topic! What successes have you had at your museum on these issues? Any questions you would like to throw out or any insights you'd like to add? To continue the conversation, just click on the “comments” link below
Finally, our thanks go out to our guests who shared their time and thoughts during this call, and to those of you who submitted questions to our guests and listened in.