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Monday, March 30, 2009

Museum Innovation To Connect With Customers

The New York Times published a special section on Museums on 3/19/2009. Did you see it? It's filled with interesting innovations on how to connect with customers [a.k.a. customers, visitors, audiences...]

The articles that particularly appealed to me were:

+ Wish You Were Here by Carol Vogel

+ When the Gallery Is a Classroom by Dorothy Spears

+ Putting a New Emphasis on ‘Family Friendly’ by Karen Berman

I encourage you to read all three as they may inspire you with new ideas for your business.

To prove my point, here are some highlights.

Wish You Were Here offers several examples of unusual - i.e., really non-traditional - museum programs. Imagine combining Yoga and Art. Preposterous? Not if you are taking part in "Put the oM in MoMA." The reason: MoMA wants to connect with people.

The Hammer Museum in Los Angeles has organized a bike night around the screening of Breaking Away. Doesn't that sound like a blast? If you attend, would you let us know what you thought of it?

Museums have been forced to reexamine and reinvent themselves given the economic downturn and I applaud these creative solutions to draw visitors in. The article quotes the Met's director, Thomas P. Campbell: "This is a good moment to refocus and reinvigorate... we want people to know we're here and have been for 138 years. We're a place of infinite experiences." [The Met hosted over 20,000 different type events in 2008.]

Yes, museums certainly are - although they might not have been traditionally considered 'hip' or exuberant experiences. More like introspective and cerebral and perhaps more about the past than the present or the future.

Museums are rethinking their web presences, experimenting with 'new forms of marketing' and 'expanding public programs.'

This I consider particularly exciting: museums "have adopted the same mission: to transform the once-hushed museums into vibrant cultural centers where the activities go far beyond what's hanging on the walls." Wow!

Even advertising has changed from focusing on special blockbuster type exhibits to showing people "we're a haven, a place to explore, discover and find inspiration."

What that means is that museums have the potential to transform themselves into community centers. Isn't that a powerful way to showcase culture? Make it come alive and create renewed relevance for visitors in a much more inclusive and participatory way?

The benefit for museums is tangible: if audiences feel that they are being listened to, respected and served, they will be more willing to visit and give money in exchange.

Not too different from what retailers should be thinking about for their customers...

Other interesting points:

+ facebook pages to draw younger audiences to museums [e.g., the Brooklyn Museum even has a new social networking based tier of membership]

+ using the web to add dimension to an exhibit [e.g., the Walker and Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes or the Hammer which has extensive videos/podcasts]

The Brooklyn Museum of Art, BTW, has 10,449 records available online from its collections! And, then, definitely check out the Brooklyn Museum bloggers! Talk about bringing art to life...

The Walker Museum has a whole section dedicated to social media interaction.

MoMA encourages you to register to create your own collection of favorite works [look at bottom of page].

As with all things, don't forget the basics. Like expanding your hours or staying open on Holidays.

What I really like about In When the Gallery Is a Classroom is the desire to move "away from the authoritarian voice of a museum" and moving toward one where "everyone's perspective is valid, by providing a vibrant, intellectually rich - and safe - destination for young people from the local community." Imagine transforming a museum from a mausoleum to one of lifelong creativity and relevance [not too far removed from our need to reinvent our businesses so our experiences remain relevant].

The way to do that is "by creating an environment that's as warm and open as possible." Read about the Miami Art Museum's Brick by Brick program that connects artists, designers, educators and students and check out Brick x Brick, the program's blog.

The article brings up, particularly at the Cleveland Museum of Art, an increase in transparency - offering a behind-the-scenes perspective on the museum's activities. The better visitors can understand what you offer, the more they can be involved and derive value from you. I love the deliberate attempt to involve teachers to better expose children to the creative type of thinking that museums can offer.

"Putting a New Emphasis of 'Family Friendly'" describes others innovative approaches to attracting families into museums to ensure that younger generations become interested and find relevance. Here's the challenge: "people don't expect the museum visit to be passive. They need more than three dry sentences of wall text."

That's also our challenge in retailing. We offer primarily a passive experience, and it's a turnoff.

As you think through your retail experience, consider what museums are doing. There's plenty to be learned about Refocus Product: Retail As Curator & Less But Better, but even more when you consider how museums are reinventing how they connect with customers.

I'm really intrigued. Are you?

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