22 May 2014

No, not that B-word.

This B-word has to do with another popular and debated topic in the museum and non-profit world: branding. Americans are exposed to hundreds of logos and brands (also referred to as “identities”) on a daily basis. Some speak to us (I, for one, get excited seeing a Starbucks logo) and some just pass us by without notice. Branding and logos/identities are most commonly associated with corporations and for-profit companies, but the truth of the matter is that museums can benefit tremendously from having a great logo and good brand image.

The Guardian in the United Kingdom recently published an article discussing this, called “Curators may be sceptical [sic] but branding is vital for museums”, written by Robert Jones. In the article he pushes for the acceptance of the branding movement by museums, writing that museum brands function as an extension of a museum’s mission and purpose. He cites the Tate and British Museum for having strong brands and well known presences in the museum world and in London, establishing “…a reputation, following, and clear expectations about what you’ll find there”.

Branding a museum is a critical step in establishing a presence in the ever-changing and ever-challenge museum sector. Museums nowadays are in direct competition with shopping centers, sports venues, restaurants and bars. Without a fresh, distinct logo and brand presence, how can a museum hope to stand out? This rings especially true on social media, which is becoming the dominant form of communication and marketing that savvy institutions are participating in. With a relevant and appealing identity, museums stand a better chance to compete for tourism dollars. Museums have always been, and always will be, primarily educational institutions–but that doesn’t mean that they should show restraint in getting their name out there. After all, the more people visit and patronize a museum, the more that institution gets to fulfill its mission and educate its public.

We here at Thinking Outside the Square are big proponents and supporters of museum branding and logos/identities (for obvious reasons). We specialize in branding museums and  retail environments and believe that strong marketing with well-planned retail can further a museum’s mission. A museum’s logo and the handling of its brand is the best way to spread the message of its mission, its presence, and its capabilities to people in modern times.  One museum that stands out in that respect locally is the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site. Their logo consists of the letters “TR” accompanied by the image of Roosevelt’s pence-nez glasses and signature mustache–immediately recognizable and distinct. The Buffalo History Museum’s new rebranding uses the Greco-Roman facade of the museum as its signature image–again immediately reminiscent of the museum.

With this brand on retail items, every piece that is bought and taken from your museum store instantly becomes mobile marketing for your institution. If a visitor bought something, it more than likely means that they had a positive experience and will be willing to talk about it if asked! This starts the cycle of spreading the good word about your museum and the experience it offers, and provides an avenue for discussion and return visits.

The article can be found here: http://www.theguardian.com/culture-professionals-network/culture-professionals-blog/2014/may/01/curators-branding-tate-british-museum?CMP=new_1194. Like Jones says, despite that some museum professionals are wary, branding is a positive thing–“But branding taken seriously is a good thing. In the end, the fundamental role of brand in museums is not to dumb down, but to help scholarship reach more people. Few curators are against this.”



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