Thursday, June 3, 2010

Branding for Cultural Institutions

I recently had a conversation with a colleague about branding. "Branding" is how we help make sure that what we want to project to the world is how the world sees us. It seems that everyone is branding these days. College grads are even "branding" themselves for their job search. Be sure of this, the new generation is even trying to figure out your brand. Are you someone they want to stick around and listen to or are you irrelevant to their lives?

What is your brand? We want our museum / library / archive to be a vital community entity. We know cultural institutions are important because they stand as a testament to the community's sense of self, they hold useful educational materials, they allow citizens to review their past so that they can better move into the future... whatever value you perceive in yourself, branding helps you better express it to the public. Branding yourself tells onlookers in direct and simple ways what they can expect from you. Branding makes your value clear and straight forward rather than nebulous.

I like the word nebulous. It is a bit ethereal and makes me think of misty places that I can wander and find wonderful things. But I know that most people are not like me. I am told this a lot by those closest to me when I wonder why other people do not want to spend the entire day at the bookstore. I am also reminded when others do not want to do things like stop to see the marker on the side of the road that tells the history of a general whose house once stood on a nearby hill. Can you relate? If you are a wanderer, you need to clip or refocus your habits once in awhile for those who do not easily wander with you.

Give your message clearly. Express what value you have directly to your public and do not suppose that they will just see your value. Make yourself interesting in a couple of sentences. Think mission statement, bulleted key words, tag line, and logo. Having a "brand" makes you appear more focused and credible. Try to tie your brand directly to your audience -- to do so requires that you know a little about them. To which communities do your collections and programs appeal and why? How can they connect to you emotionally?

How do you motivate them to come in the door, stay and come back again? Give them a piece of your brand. Make it match their own perceived personal brand.

Though branding aims for quick, meaningful descriptions that connect with an audience, branding does not necessarily happen in one shot. Use multiple media and deliver multiple connected thoughts. Let people see you again and again with an appealing message or interesting related ideas. If you stay on track, your appropriate audience can then fit you nicely into their world, perceive your value and even help convey that value to others.

People are judging you and that can be very uncomfortable. Give them some tangible, well conceived ideas to help them form their ideas about you rather than letting them come up with vague (or nebulous) interpretations of your identity and what you represent.

1 comment:

  1. Another great post! Branding is an often misunderstood part of what all organizations should do. The more clear the brand, the easier it is to attract both visitors and donors. Thank you, Melissa, for making such a clear and compelling argument!