Curators may be sceptical but branding is vital for museums

In this useful article published on The Guardian Culture Professionals Network, Robert Jones talks about how thinking about brands has evolved in museums and how it is part of museums thinking more deeply about what they stand for and sharing this more clearly with their visitors and stakeholders, in the experience they offer as well as in how they communicate.

The Tate and British Museum are among institutions that have adopted brand thinking – taken seriously, it can help our scholarship reach more people.

The people who run museums have, over the past 20 years, learned to love the word “brand” – it’s now seen as an essential tool for leadership. But behind the scenes, some curators remain suspicious. For many, brand is a dark force bringing control, conformity, corporatism and crassness. It’s the B word. The BBC’s brilliant self-referential comedyW1A, with its terrifying brand BBC consultant, serves to confirm the worst suspicions. Who’s right?

If brand is what you stand for, then the truth is that there have always been museum brands. Institutions like the British Museumthe Met andthe Prado have always had a strong identity: a reputation, following and clear expectations about what you’ll find there. However, until recently, this tended to happen implicitly and organically; almost accidentally.

Three things have changed that. First, museology; the science and practice of organising, arranging and managing museums, has changed the emphasis from collections to audiences, and from objects to stories. Second, television and the internet have provided competition, and have led audiences to expect a much more vivid and interactive experience. Finally, governments have insisted that museums get better at attracting wider audiences, and at funding themselves.

All this has led cultural organisations, in various ways, to think more deeply about what they stand for, to manage their identity more deliberately, and to externalise it more clearly – both in the way they communicate and in the experience they offer visitors. It’s a way for museums to win audiences and funding, to sign up partners and to unify and energise their own people. Read more…

Robert Jones is strategist at brand consultancy Wolff Olins and teaches at the University of East Anglia – follow him on Twitter @RobertJones2

Curators may be sceptical but branding is vital for museums | Culture professionals network | Guardian Professional.


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