Preserving Memory Through Branding: Museums Brands as Vectors for Advocacy, Promotion and Public Programming

Preserving Memory Through Branding: Museums Brands as Vectors for Advocacy, Promotion and Public Programming

Marta Massi, Chiara Piancatelli, Roberta Ghilardi
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7429-3.ch020
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This chapter examines the role of museum brands as the connective tissue of several museum activities, including advocacy, promotion and public programming. Albeit broadly examined with reference to businesses, branding is rarely looked at in the museum context. By providing a review of the literature on museum branding, supported by extracts from interviews with museums managers conducted in the 2008-2018 period, the authors emphasize how the role of brands has progressively become more critical in the museum context and how brand management processes are increasingly developed in order to support museum activities. The chapter emphasizes how museums are not only institutions aimed at preserving their collections, but also organizations that should build an active relationship with their publics. Brands are, therefore, described as relational tools that can help museums to manage the relationship with their different stakeholders, including donors and funders. Managerial implications and future directions are outlined.
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Museums are memory institutions traditionally aimed at collecting, preserving and promoting their collections for the benefit of the community. While the former two activities do not have a relational dimension for museums, in that they imply that museums function as a mere “repositories of information and objects” (Garrod & Fyall, 2000) or ‘warehouse for artworks’, without engaging visitors or audience, the latter requires an active engagement with the public (Holter, 2018). Recently, museums have been evolving from “exclusive, imperious and didactic” institutions to “more inclusive, accessible and dynamic” organizations (Dornan, 2017). Not only should museums preserve their collections, but, most importantly, they should guarantee active access and usage to them, by communicating their heritage to their publics. Museums should “place audiences on a par with collections” (European Commission, 2014, p. 5-6). While old conservation approaches were aimed at protecting heritage “by isolating it from daily life”, new approaches focus on “making it fully part of the local community” (European Commission, 2014, p. 5). In this way, conservation becomes “more people-centred” (European Commission, 2014, p. 5). Otherwise, the mission of a museum (as a memory institution) would not be completely accomplished, i.e., the memory would not be preserved and conveyed appropriately. In this sense, a brand oriented museum “recognizes the brand as a distinctive resource, beyond the collection (or product) it represents” (Evans & Bridson, 2006, p. 1).

However, museums struggle with promoting themselves and their offerings. Owing to an innate idiosyncrasy and aversion towards marketing and other promotional activities (Kolb, 2000), most museums do not actively promote their collections, thus missing their chance to attract not only visitors, but also potential donors and funders (Stebbins & Hartman, 2013).

A consequence of such an idiosyncrasy towards the use of marketing tools is, indeed, the limited use of brand, defined as the “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers” (American Marketing Association, 1960; Kotler, 1991, p. 442; Kotler & Keller, 2006; Evans, 2017). Brands represent not only a hallmark and a recognizable sign, but also a value system and the weltanschauung of an organization, aimed at identifying unequivocally and uniquely itself and its products. Brands embody the very essence of the organization, its identity, mission and values. Businesses such as Kellogg’s and Starbucks have developed their brands so well that they have become synonymous with the product category they represent (i.e. Kellogg’s stands for cereals as well as Starbucks stands for coffee). The same is true for some organizations in the museum sector (e.g., Guggenheim and Tate).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Advocacy: The act of giving public support to an idea, a behavior, or a specific initiative; it is a political process by an individual or group of people who aim to influence public policies or the allocation of resources for a project.

BRAND: The unique and distinctive sign and value system identifying an organization, or a product. Embodies the very essence of the organization and is the expression of the identity, mission and company’s values.

Public Programming: A calendar of museum-related events, including exhibitions, conversations, guided tours, projections, educational and performance events that complete the artistic offering of the museum and emphasize the multidisciplinary, open and transversal character of art.

Promotion: All the communication activities aimed at stimulating the demand of a company's products. Promotion is not only aimed at incentivizing purchases, but also at influencing consumer perception of the company and its products, helping to consolidate the brand image and to foster consumer loyalty.

Fundraising: The action of raising money to support or finance a project or a cause. It is mainly used by nonprofit organizations.

Crowdfunding: A type of fundraising; a collaborative process through which a group of individuals financially support a cause or an initiative. It is a bottom-up microfinance practice that mobilizes people and resources. It can be used to support different causes, including arts projects.

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