In case you missed the latest in movie reboot news, the 2006 comedy classic “Night at the Museum” is heading for theaters later this year. The reboot of perhaps the best-known movie ever set inside a museum is reflective of a similar reboot happening post-COVID inside many cultural institutions that are now questioning missions, their customer and overall purpose.
In other words, museums are starting to think more like brands, and it’s a good thing. Even before COVID, museums’ authority as stewards of culture has been greeted with increasing skepticism, as audiences seek more exploration of “controversial” topics and intersectional viewpoints. Additionally, both retail and museums are location-based experiences that have been disrupted by both technology and pandemic-related customer behavior changes. With both industries losing their footing due to decreased traffic into public spaces, both need to innovate.
So given that museums and brands are largely facing the same core challenges with consumers, are there strategiesthat brand marketers and museum executives can learn from each other? The answer is a resounding yes.
Museums would be smart to consider incorporating some of the sophisticated audience research techniques that branding pros have been using for years to improve the effectiveness of their messaging. Understanding what’s important to their audience will enable museums to create more relatable experiences featuring contemporary and intersectional subject matter that’s grounded within their subject area.
Brands, on the other hand, get that they're competing against just about everything else for attention, and act accordingly, employing every tool they have in their arsenal to give them an advantage. Brands constantly look at data to explore new ways to get their audiences’ attention and provide new paths for engagement.
The second mistake museums often make is not considering audience insights by curatorial teams when developing an exhibition. Museums would benefit by getting better tuned in to the feelings that drive visitors to them, and focusing on reflecting those feelings back to them in the form of exhibits and experiences they feature. When the museum experience is not developed with the visitor’s experience in mind it can be read as "cold" or "aloof," which can cause a disconnect between what the institution is trying to accomplish and how visitors experience it.
Conversely, marketing professionals could learn from museums how to develop experiences that are thought-provoking and unexpected. Bold branding experiences, whether digital or in real life, that reflect a brand’s values can have a big impact on the audience's perception of a brand.
A "feel-good" marketing strategy is fine, but for challenger brands looking to break through, consider taking a lesson from museums and challenge your audience’s assumptions using honesty, authenticity, and transparency. Most marketers’ instinct is to focus on things that are easy, positive and fun; but in our increasingly polarized world, that can quickly start to feel inauthentic. Long-term relationships can be built with audiences by talking about the things that matter to them.
Museums often turn a blind eye to the technologies that could make their institution more relevant. Brands know how to use that technology, but lack the ambition to use it to truly challenge their audience and create experiences that take the brand to the next level. Success is often measured by short-term metrics like views or clicks, rather than looking at engagements as one step in a long-term relationship.
There are lessons both could learn – and they would all would no doubt be easier to figure out than exactly how those exhibits come to life in “Night At The Museum.”