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  • Writer's pictureMaria Malichoutsaki

Museum branding: a game changer

Today I’d like to tell you a story of love and hate: Museums and Marketing.

For some dark reason, marketing seems to be for many museum professionals a not-enough-sophisticated function that transforms the museum into something commercial and mainstream. Many museums only turn to marketing when the budget and visitor numbers are in a free fall..

Palazzo Reale in Milan. Photo: Malichoutsaki

Fortunately, in recent years more and more museums are strengthening their marketing departments with the aim of ensuring creativity, communication, and sustainability. Αt its best is a channel of communication and dialogue between the museum and the visitor. Among other reasons, the globalization of visitors and the decrease in government funding has established the necessity of new business models in museum management. Museums can no longer rely solely on their collection in order to promote and communicate their vision and values. They have to face the challenge of creating a brand strategy that establishes a link between them and the community.

Branding strategies generally consist of two main aspects: goals that branding aims to fulfill such as visibility, attention, loyalty, and tools needed to achieve these goals such as identity, information, personality, emotion.

Two important concepts that each museum should analyze and research in order to create a successful brand are the brand identity and the brand image.

The brand image refers to the visitor's own image of the museum, while brand identity can be identified as the way that the museum views and represents itself.

Pusa et al., 2014

Many mistakes occur when museums take for granted that their brand identity is ideally in agreement with their brand image.

Surveys can help museums to identify how's their brand image perceived by the audience and if it successfully overlaps with the museum's identity. Then when the museum professionals receive and analyze the necessary data they can propose a suitable strategy. Personally, I see the brand identity and brand image as an addition to the narrative that you want to characterize your vision and your identity as a museum.

Visitors experience and brand loyalty

In the museum sector, customer loyalty is very important. It has the same importance as in the business sector, but here instead of customers, we deal with visitors, and instead of having a product we have a cultural product or even better a cultural experience. Museum professionals today tend to be more and more interested in analyzing the patterns and behaviors that can convert a "one-time visitor" to a "loyal visitor", or even better a member. By observing and understanding the visitor's needs and by analyzing what they want we can diversify their experiences and provide unique visits capturing diverse audiences. This is one of the ways to strengthen the museum's credibility and at the same time maintain the existing loyal visitors and gain some new ones by reaching a wider audience.

Revisit and Recommendation intention

More and more museums today consider visitor satisfaction as their primary goal. Visitor satisfaction leads to revisiting and recommendation intention which leads to long term profits that ensure sustainability.

This satisfactory experience can be achieved in different ways according to the type of the museum, the visitors themselves, and the mission and vision of the museum. For example, many museum visitors seek social experiences. From their point of view, museums are places of meeting and socializing with others or places that they can simply watch other people and have the feeling of belonging in a group. Other visitors seek recreational and learning opportunities, while others want to be able to connect and apply what they see in a museum to their everyday life and learning. All these said visitors are not only seeking great collections, visitors today seek variety. For this reason, museums should provide a complete satisfactory experience from providing a high-quality artistic program to morning meditating sessions. Satisfied visitors are a key element for creating a long-term sustainable museum.

Museums, as institutions that seek a sustainable future, cannot stay away from this reality in order to engage with their audience and society in general. Now museums can share their future events and plans, receive feedback from the visitors, and create a dynamic direct dialogue between the museum and the visitor. If museums want to stay in contact with their visitors they should create a carefully planned and designed strategy in order to build their brand image and loyalty.

Need some tips about your museum branding? Here are some suggestions:

Pay attention to the details

Every little detail is extremely important to your museum's brand image and the way it is perceived by the public. You don't have to necessarily implement big and bold changes in order to see some great results. You just need to design every new initiative in conjunction with an overall strategy considering the goals you want to achieve and evaluating its progress in every step.

Create a homogeneous image for all your activities

This is a very important point. You don't want to confuse your audience. You want to present a single homogeneous image, adapted by all your museum activities, starting from the website, to the design campaigns and your shop. Everything should dictate that all these follow the same vision and represent the same museum. The magic phrase here is: "good communication flow". Your internal communication strategy should be efficient enough to keep all the employees up to date with all the latest marketing decisions. All the departments should maintain excellent communication and collaboration in order to achieve a successful branding image result. This is something very challenging especially in the context of a fast-paced environment with constantly shifting priorities and needs, as is the reality of an active museum.

Don’t be afraid to experiment

Experimentation is definitely scary and includes a high risk but great things never come from comfort zones. In my opinion, one of the great advantages of a small institution is that it has the chance to experiment, fail, try something new, and have a smaller cost than a big institution with a high reputation. By experimenting with new tools, collaborations, ideas, campaigns, and events your institution can potentially have some great impact and positive feedback.

Follow the trends but keep your identity

It's very easy to fall into the trap of adapting something that it's not aligned to your vision and identity just because it's a trend and everyone does it. This is something that happens very often especially with the new technologies in the museums. Museums tend to spend really a lot of money on apps, interactive screens, and QR codes without thinking about the integration, the maintenance, and the training that is needed in order to fully receive some impact from these tools. Another example is some fancy marketing campaigns and events that might be incredibly designed but don't add anything to your brand identity and vision.

Invest in young people

Successful marketing campaigns require a lot of working experience but don’t hesitate to involve some young people in your team. They can prove to be a key factor by bringing fresh ideas on the table.


I cannot stress this enough but creating and conducting surveys is crucial to understand and analyze your visitors (and your non-visitors) behavior. Don’t fall into the trap of ordinary standardized surveys. Be innovative and creative so you can get some precious data that can be used as a tool to enhance your visitor's experience.


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