Engaging Place Names

Nations, and the places that define a country, say a lot. In their own surreptitious way, they’re as visual as the artworks they describe.

The visual on the e-mailed gala invitation from Art Museum of the Americas intrigues, as all good art does, but begs some questions. Is this a screen grab from the featured video, or what?  There is no text, just a small identification in the lower right-hand corner stating the artist’s name and his country of origin Trinidad and Tobago – that’s all the explanation I needed to begin to understand the visual and want to learn about the event being announced. Place names are evocative, and every reader will conjure their own collage of images. Art Museum of the Americas has a mission to fulfill in identifying its works and programs by country. But in any museum, the names of places, towns, or regions enrich the visuals around them, whether in a label, digital or print material.

Museum of Arts and Design, in New York, identifies the objects in its store by the American state in which the artist/designer resides. Museums I visited in London and European cities identify on wall labels the “Born,” “Died” and “Lives in” cities of the artists on display.

Environment matters, and it piques a visitor’s imagination to learn where artists live – one place or many in the course of a lifetime —  as they search the physical world for intangible inspiration. One of the first questions people ask when they meet some new is: where do you live, where are you from. It’s a connector, and a fool-proof way to engage with a stranger.  It works for visitor engagement, too.

Museum Branding 2nd Edition cover

Museum Branding, Second Edition, contains new chapters on How to Find your Brand Identity, Digital and Social Media, Events, E-mail, Tours, Public Relations, Academic Museums, and Databases.

Education, Engagement & Colored Pencils

Educating children paints every other branding program into a corner. Children think hard about every new idea, tell their parents, inspire their teachers, convince their friends, and grow up with enduring memories of your museum. Telfair Museums sends their brand into the schools by donating art supplies to a local Savannah, GA school, where vibrant paints and watercolor tubes can tangibly impress principals, and school board members, as well.

There’s more to this project, which invites members to come “Face to Face” with education at a reception where the price of admission is art supplies. Read this art supply list and picture the possibilities:

Colored pencils, 12 pack
Pencils, 12 pack
Charcoal sticks, 12 pack
Glue stick, 4 pack
Watercolor (tubes), set
Watercolor paper (any size)
Drawing paper (preferably Rives or Canson)
Canvas boards (any size)
Acrylic paint

The list is detailed, instructive, and verbally vivid. Adults suddenly can see the education that Telfair provides. It’s a smart way to reinforce the brand to members, and introduce it to non-members (for whom the admission ticket is 4 instead of 3 items on the list!)

What’s more, there’s a list of local art and office supply stores to make shopping easy, and involve local partners for the brand.

Count the stakeholders: students, teachers, education administrators, parents, friends, and local businesses. A lot of people are now engaged in Telfair Museums’ brand promise.

 

Museum Branding 2nd Edition cover(small)

Museum Branding, Second Edition, contains new and updated chapters on Education, How to Find your Brand Identity, Digital and Social Media, Events, E-mail, Tours, Public Relations, Academic Museums, and Databases.

 

Jobs & Hiring

Take a look at the pages of your website titled Jobs, Opportunities, and Careers. Would anyone want to walk down the street to your museum and plan to spend the next 2,000 hours there? Architects intone, rightly, about the building and its resonance with the community. Do you talk about your community to the young people looking for a job that captures their ideals, or the volunteers who can pick and choose their enthusiasms? Your museum’s community has a brand, and when it comes to workers that brand helps explain your own.

Here are a few communities that surround some large and small museums throughout the country. They pulse with individuality. I’ve never seen a museum that didn’t reside in a Place worth honoring and look beyond to a one worth knowing.

Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University

Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University

The new Whitney Museum of American Art overlooks the fabled Hudson River and New Jersey’s palisades and factories; yes it’s in New York City, but it truly does encompass all America. In the Midwest, the Block Museum on Northwestern University’s campus features floor to ceiling windows with a view of that Great Lake, Michigan; you breathe a little deeper when you see it, expanding a little more. In the tiny town of Elmhurst, Illinois, the front porch of the Historical Society lets you hear the endless freight trains roll by. The sound is as nostalgic as the history inside.   My favorite is the American Museum of Natural History, on Central Park West in New York.  At the entrance is a heroic bronze statue of Theodore Roosevelt astride a horse and overlooking a colorful line of food trucks on Central Park West.

Views give pause for thought. From the top of the Arab Institute in Paris, one sees the eternal rooftops of Paris. At the Menil Collection in Houston, step out on the gallery and see a different milieu, a Houston neighborhood of modest ranch houses. In Davenport, Iowa, the Figge Museum of Art will give you a visual tutorial of the mighty Mississippi which flows past.

We are where we live.

Museum Branding 2nd Edition cover(small)

Museum Branding, Second Edition, contains new chapters on How to Find your Brand Identity, Digital and Social Media, Events, E-mail, Tours, Public Relations, Academic Museums, and Databases.

 

Branding in the Subject Line

“Cocktail Chemistry” says the Subject line in the e-mail from Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. When you open up the message – how can you not? – you’ll learn about an evening of on-the-rocks geology and hospitality. Cheers to OMSI, a science museum that understands how to brand itself.

Just imagine if you, as a viewer rather than a writer of museum e-mail blasts, were scrolling through the avalanche in your inbox. Would you stop at the one titled “Update” or the one offering a mixed drink?

OMSI knows how to intrigue without for one moment forgetting its brand.  Any museum can send an e-mail with a Subject line of “News” or July Calendar.” Here’s how the Telfair Museums announces its calendar: “Check out what’s in bloom this April at Telfair Museums!”

Emails are powerful marketing tools because they put you in total control of your brand: no intermediaries as in social media; no waiting to be found, as with a website; no outdated news as with print materials. You control the Date, Time, To, From, Subject, and Message.  And remember, with electronic mail there’s no place for your logo on the return address. You emphasize your identity in the creativity of your Subject line.

It takes longer to write a Subject Line with personality, but you’ve striven to find your brand identity, and here’s an important place to think harder and show it.

If your name is distinctive, then a Subject Line announcing “News from the Battleship New Jersey Museum” works fine.

Specifics work well, too. You can’t be too specific in marketing, because viewers read with their egos – looking specifically for what interests them. If the specifics are on brand, you will capture eyeballs and engage readers before they even open the email. Here’s a Subject line from South Dakota Agricultural Heritage Museum:

“Pioneer Girl, Easter Cards, and Land in Her Own Name Exhibit“

It targets and engages all in one long line. Length is not a problem; you can pack a lot of worthwhile information into a Subject line. Send a trial email to yourself to prove it.

Caution: be aware of Lazy Language lines like these:

New for Mother’s Day. Season Opening next week. In addition to being shallow and uninformative, sloppy Subject lines provide a weak structure for bold thinking.  Merely listing Updates and filling in calendar spaces depict a museum in maintenance mode rather than full speed ahead.

Small museums, particularly, benefit from vivid Subject lines. They don’t change exhibition as often, or present as many events as larger museums, but when they do, their communication should shine.Museum Branding 2nd Edition cover(small)

 

Museum Branding, Second Edition, contains new chapters on E-mail, How to Find your Brand Identity, Digital and Social Media, Events, Tours, Public Relations, Academic Museums, and Databases.

 

Branding with Events, and Not Sheepishly

South Dakota Agricultural Heritage Museum offers a regular series of events to bolster its agricultural-heritage brand in conjunction with its exhibition, “The Unspun Tale: Sheep in South Dakota.” July-December 2016.

This museum, in Brookings, SD,  never fails to shear away the ordinary and create sharp new ways to tell agricultural stories that go beyond its exhibitions. There are other formats to use and, as all good museums now realize, this one sows its ideas through a full calendar of events that reinforce its mission.

  • fiber arts workshop
  • kids’ crochet groups
  • plant dyeing projects

Each reaches out to a wider, different range of people; all of whom come to the museum to
interact with it. Yes, interactivity includes in-museum experiences.

Events are critical to museums’ success. Events attract many different kinds of people, engage them longer, encourage return visits, and (if you want) raise some extra money through fees. Importantly, events add new names and visitor information to your database, so you have a range of motivations to use in bringing these audiences back for more.

 

Museum Branding, Second Edition, contains new chapters on Events, Digital and Social Media,  Finding your Brand Identity, E-mail, Tours, Public Relations, Academic Museums, and Databases.

 

 

 

Branding & Building

 

Petersen Automotive Museum

Petersen Automotive Museum

Your building is the biggest logo you have, and the Petersen Automotive Museum’s building hits you head-on with its brand-oriented facade. To the uninitiated, this is prototype camouflage, the optical wrapper put on new model prototypes so they can be road-tested without being fully recognized. Car buffs will get the connection, of course, but more important, all visitors will recognize the building as they draw near.

Here’s the reverse of building recognition: the excellent museums that get passed by because they look like every other surrounding structure. Google maps help, of course, but you’ll need to enter the exact address. And GPS does not correct for buildings hidden down leafy campus drives, or ones whose entrance actually is around the corner.

How to get noticed without the prop of a big budget PR?  The Burke Museum in Seattle identifies itself with a towering totem pole. The Dali Museum in Sarasota, Florida, welcomes visitors with an iconic melting clock bench. The Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum in Jamestown, NY, unfolds a sandwich board outside the entrance.

Identification is a powerful thing, not just for Where but for What.  The visitor finds where they were going, and also what they wanted to see.

 

Museum Branding 2nd Edition cover

 

 

 

Museum Branding, Second Edition, contains new chapters on How to Find your Brand Identity, Digital and Social Media, Events, E-mail, Tours, Public Relations, Academic Museums, and Databases.

 

Women in the Arts: branding on the stairs

There are so few museums devoted to women artists (a 1989 Guerilla Girls poster asked if women had to be naked to get into the Met) that the National Museum of Women in the Arts is already a unique brand. So I’m focusing on one little touchpoint of its branding: the donor wall on the stair steps.

Donor recognition on the stairs of the National Museum of Women in the Arts

Donor recognition on the stairs of the National Museum of Women in the Arts

For all the words written about women making great strides, or climbing as high as they want to go, here’s a visual to match: the names of donors on the treads of each step curving up the marble staircase. No walls for these artists – only upward and onwards.

Here’s what this form of donor recognition accomplishes: a startling break from the usual, a warning of changed expectations up ahead. So much novelty in an elegant old-world building! This pretty interior might zig and zag more than one thinks.  It takes real strength to cut through softness, and the art in this museum, all made by women, cleaved many walls.

Washington DC Natl Museum Women in Arts curving staircaseMy favorite artist was Louise Elisabeth Vigée LeBrun, a French artist who earned handsomely painting portraits of the aristocracy. She made enough to support her widowed mother and siblings, and this was in the late 18th-early 19th centuries. Moving ahead 350 years, the current exhibition, contemporary photography by women from Iran and the Arab world, exhibits another kind of artistic strength: the shock of looking into some ordinary lives, lived in ordinary ways we haven’t been told to expect.

 

 

Museum Branding, Second Edition, contains new chapters on How to Find your Brand Identity, Digital and Social Media, Events, E-mail, Tours, Public Relations, Academic Museums, and Databases.

 

 

Museum Branding, Second Edition, contains new chapters on How to Find your Brand Identity, Digital and Social Media, Events, E-mail, Tours, Public Relations, Academic Museums, and Databases.

Brand Buzzword: Relevance

Relevance. It’s such an overused term. All museums aim for relevance in a culture that oozes news 24/7. But the Newseum, in Washington, DC, claims news and its dissemination as its brand.

Newseum, Washington, DC

Newseum, Washington, DC

The Newseum reminds visitors of its mission, dedication to free expression and the five freedoms of the First Amendment, by inscribing in on its façade. You can read it from a hundred feet: the right to religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.  Read them while you’re reading, watching, or clicking on today’s news and get a new meaning of relevance.

As a brand touchpoint, the Newseum’s building is impeccable: a towering building, all glass and transparency, that signals to the weary tourist that they have indeed arrived at the right place It stands out like a headline from the imposing facades of its neighbors, the National Gallery of Art and National Archives building. One gets the feeling that if you walked by at midnight, through the windows you’d see news people working away on the breaking news.

The Newseum also proclaims its brand in a more personal way; 50 daily papers are displayed in glass showcases that line the approach to the front door, papers from cities in all 50 states. On the day I was there they included Boise’s Idaho Statesman, Nashville’s Tennessean, and El Paso Times. Each gave a front-page slice of Americana for that date in history, the variety so visible and so free.

On the Newseum’s website are these words, from James Comey. FBI Director:

“What a democracy should do when there’s a collision of values is talk about it.”

I love museums that encourage you to talk.

Museum Branding, 2nd Edition

Museum Branding, 2nd Edition

 

 

 

 

 

 

French Museums & Centuries Old Brands

Toulouse, in the southeast of France, just hosted a conference, at which I spoke — in English– on the importance of branding American museums to distinguish them to their local audiences. . For French museums, branding distinguishes one museum from another for the tourist market.

Quelle difference! Although I don’t speak French well, I read it, and even the titles of the talks pushed my thoughts in new directions.

For starters, consider the buildings that hold French collections. The French exhibit their objects and tell their stories in glorious structures built for other purposes. In Toulouse, two museums are in ancient churches, one is in a “hotel particulier,” or city mansion, and another occupies a centuries old slaughterhouse. Heritage is a given.

Fondation Bemberg, Toulouse, France, houses European art from the 16th century to the present.

Fondation Bemberg, Toulouse, France, houses European art from the 16th century to the present.

Respect for the existing structure honors the objects within; it says, we don’t forget. We pay similar homage In the United States when we put our historical societies in existing old buildings. On a much larger scale the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened its modern and contemporary art galleries in the existing Breuer building, and calls this space The Met Breuer. The heritage of a great architect and building is honored.

A building with its own heritage adds to a museum brand twice over: it adds a distinctive identity for local visitors, and it’s already familiar. For American museums competing for loyalty and support, those are two strong assets.

Margot Wallace is the author of four books on museum marketing: Museum Branding, Research for Museum Marketers, Writing for Museums, and Museum Branding, 2nd Edition..Museum Branding 2nd Edition cover

French Branding: that’s the ticket

With so many museums in every city, and so many cities nearby, how’s a museum to stand out. One way is on the tickets. The imposing building stops you in your tracks; the pretty little ticket stays in your pocket. It’s a memory of the museum, a souvenir that goes home with you.

Toulouse three museum tickets

Toulouse, France. Museums for archeology, art history covering 600 years, and science. Each wonderful and, yes, I remember each one perfectly.

French museums compete in entirely different arenas than American ones do. They vie for visitors, and they have one chance to entice them. We rely on locals, who will return often.  That’s where a stub in the pocket becomes such a good branding tool. It’s a reminder to return, more impactful when it has a picture on it.

French citizens customarily visit their local museums on school field trips; one and done. Americans return often for new exhibitions, programming, lectures, and events. Both cultures have to compete daily for the time-pressured visitor. However, for American museums that need repeat visitors, brand loyalty depends on a good experience. The stub represents a visit already taken. In that sense, the little piece of paper carries a lot of weight.