Frank Oppenheimer, from the Exploratorium, David Baker

Frank Oppenheimer, from the Exploratorium, David Baker

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:
Engaging Community
The Content of collections
Research
Museum Programming (Education)
Exhibition Evaluation
Museum Marketing
, (Earned, Owned and Paid)
Exhibitions

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.

Small Museums with a strong brand:
Mutter Museum
Museum Jurassic Technology
MODO

Medium Size Museums with a strong brand:
Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History
The American Visionary Art Museum
Museum of the Moving Image

Large Museums with a strong brand:
Guggenheim
The Getty
Smithsonian
MoMA
San Diego Zoo
Monterey Bay Aquarium
American Museum of Natural History
Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
DIA

Resources:
Built to Last
Please Understand Me
Paul Watzlawick
Experience Economy 
Constructivist Learning Theory