The MMIAM Journey

A blog about the Master of Management
in International Arts Management program

Creating Brand Identity in Art Museums: A Case Study (Abridged)

by Sofia Pusa and Liisa Uusitalo

Based on the experience of three modern and contemporary art museums in Helsinki, the authors discuss how to create brand identity in art museums. The combination of marketing and art has long been considered ill matched, according to the assumption that marketing will automatically degrade the inner value and distinctiveness of art and favour only the most popular and superficial. However, as shown by several studies on arts organizations, skillful marketing can contribute to cultural education and attract the interest of new audiences – in other words, upgrade the audience’s competence instead of downgrading art. Brand identity carries the museum’s purpose and can be evaluated on the following dimensions: product, person, symbolic and organization-related.

When the museum is perceived as a product, attention should be paid to both the core product (collections and exhibitions) and the augmented product (museum services, such as the museum shop or educational programs). When the museum wants to differentiate itself, it may create a brand personality through references to specific persons or user groups (artists, art enthusiasts, designers) with whom consumers may identify.  When the meanings associated with a brand become widely accepted, the brand can be said to represent something beyond itself: it becomes a symbol, something that embodies the visual imagery, a logo, a slogan, a metaphor or a meaningful heritage story. Finally, a museum brand may represent a whole organization, with its unique set of values, culture, behaviours, assets and skills, that delivers the museum experience to the customers.

KIASMA Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki.
KIASMA Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki.

According to the museum and marketing directors interviewed, the marketing role in museums consists often of promotion through traditional exhibition-based advertising. Museums use their websites and social media to expand their visibility due to their cost-effective and powerful nature. As well, the museums’ ability to advertise depends on their partnership arrangements, for example with television stations. Management of networks is perceived as an important part of a museum’s brand management by maintaining relationships with other cultural organizations, sponsors and financial partners.

By using new creative approaches, museums can strengthen their brand identity and gain visibility. Creative marketing can comprise cross-over events such as lectures, concerts, films, DJ evenings, and even skateboard design competitions. Creative marketing seems to be most efficient when it is built on the unique features of an ongoing exhibition and, at the same time, supports the museum’s brand identity.

In conclusion, the brand identity of a museum is based mainly on the scope and type of its collections and exhibitions. This suggests that museums act fairly autonomously in planning their core product. Exhibitions are meant to “surprise” visitors by providing art experiences thus far unknown to them. This proactive strategy is particularly true for museums of contemporary and modern art. The implications of this research are that museums could broaden their perspectives and, in their marketing activities, progress from exhibition-based promotion towards a more comprehensive brand-identity marketing.

Read the full article in the International Journal of Arts Management, Volume 17, Number 1, Fall 2014.