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Are You Not Entertained?!

Damián Ortega's Controller of the Universe (2007)

Redefining the Product: Museum Edition

As a museum professional, what exactly is your institution selling?

As a visitor, why do you pay to go to the museum?

People are motivated to visit museums for different reasons and museums are adapting (rebranding) their offer to the various wants and needs of their audiences. Art installations, cafés, restaurants, boutiques…the experience our grandparents knew no longer exists and it’s “forcing the industry to redefine itself as a place of entertainment as opposed to education”.

“Are you not entertained?” – Gladiator (2000)

So as we witness this evolution, it might be time to define what exactly it is museums offer their visitors – what good or service are they exchanging for an admissions fee.

Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ is how they get people to buy their shoes. The American Museum of Natural History, just by its name, has us paying for a visit through the human and natural world. And Disney sells stories which they then translate into merchandising.

Museums are storytellers too. Their job is not just to display art(-ifacts) but to help interested audiences understand it. The better the story around an exhibition, the stronger the engagement and the more meaningful the experience. Take the Guernica exhibition currently showing at the Musée Picasso for example. It’s the story behind one of the most famous works of art in the world and it’s laid out in easily digestible chapters giving audiences a good understanding of the context around its creation.

So for all the talk about audience engagement brought about by the realities of a competitive attention economy, it’s more important than ever to clearly define what exactly they’re offering.

Is it access to the permanent collection?

Is it storytelling through exhibitions?

Is it the best coffee or the finest food in a beautiful setting?

Is it the experience of doing all of the above?

Or is it the social value of simply going to the museum?

A clear, digestible value proposition could be as simple as (a) we have the most beautiful/provocative/valuable art, (b) we tell the best stories, or (c) we’re the best cultural experience around…

Visitors at LACMA, 2017

Imagine ‘Musée d’Orsay: The World’s Best Impressionist Collection and other exhibitions’, or ‘LACMA: Serious and Fun, Inside and Out’.

Audiences are busy, have a dozen easily attainable options at any given moment, and want to feel good about whatever it is they end up doing. That makes them a very selective bunch (think high opportunity cost for all of you who studied economics), so to be in the top quartile of those dozen or so options means the messaging has to be concise and competitive.

It’s all about how museums communicate the important work they do to maximize the impact they have on current and future visitors. Without it they’ll continue losing ground to those eleven other easily attainable options.

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