Tag Archives: branding

co-curating the museum brand

Museums are among my favorite things in the world. When I travel, that’s what I look for first: the museums.

While I’m intensively partial to the classic fine arts model, I also very much enjoy a good science museum, and am frankly plain nuts for historical homes and preserved sites.

I love museums because they are some of the most fascinating, complex, and revealing instruments we use to tell ourselves stories about ourselves. How we choose to tell those stories, and which stories we choose to tell, is endlessly interesting to me. (Also, this book basically spells out my central childhood fantasy for all to see.)

I spent some time this weekend at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and it helped me pick up the threads of a conversation I’ve been having with myself since last fall, when I went to the Technology in the Arts conference in Pittsburgh and saw Jake Barton give a keynote on how he was working with museums to design truly interactive exhibits and exhibit space.

Some museums are in the forefront of exploring how social media can help make their storytelling more inclusive, more democratic, more reflective of the many voices rather than the few — all of which either leads to a richer and deeper story, or to a narrative that is confusing and nonlinear to the point of distraction, depending on how successfully it is executed.

Some are holding tightly to the traditional model of storytelling, keeping it in the hands of the few, the specialized, the elite.

So I’ve been thinking about branding, and how cultural institutions like museums go about creating and managing their brands, especially in the changing dynamics of today’s distributed, interactive, co-created world.

How does a museum, with a (presumably) carefully constructed brand, often based largely on its carefully curated collection (whatever that may be), invite its patrons to co-curate that brand? Is that even a desirable goal? Does it depend on the museum, or the type of museum?

How are other museums besides the ones I mentioned here going about answering, or not answering, these questions?

What do you think social media can, or should do, to transform how museums tell our collective story, how they hold their individual mirrors up to ourselves?

I am still having this conversation with myself, but I thought I’d open the floor for discussion. What do you think?


be who you are, and then some

My organization hosted an event this last weekend, with about 150 people — artists, business leaders, community leaders, etc. — in attendance. In the days leading up to the reception, several people called me to ask me what the dress code for the event was.

Now, things are pretty casual on Cape Cod, as a rule. Even fancy events don’t get that fancy. It’s just too much of a beach-and-leisure culture.

But many of the folks asking the question were artists who were being honored or featured in some way, and so my answer to them was “dress like an artist.”

And then they asked me what that meant.

I’ve been thinking a lot about personal branding, both because we just finished leading a class on this (and other) PR-related topics at work, and also because some of my favorite people have been writing about personal brand management lately, too.

A lot of folks get turned off by the idea that they should have a personal brand — that this all sounds way too market-y and salesman-y, especially for artists and other creative types.

Fact is, you have a personal brand. The only question is whether or not you’re aware, and are doing anything actively to manage it.

Your personal brand is nothing more or less than how you present yourself. This means in person, in writing, on the phone, online, at the grocery store when you don’t think anyone is looking — anytime you’re visible, you’re creating an impression.

Does this mean you have to always be “on?”

No, not as long as your personal brand is in alignment with who you actually are.

A friend of mine says of one of her favorite people that, no matter where you slice her, she’s the same through and through. It always makes me think of Neapolitan ice cream. No matter where you slice it, it’s always strawberry, vanilla, chocolate

Beyond this basic premise of Be Who You Are it’s just a matter of polishing yourself up a bit for public consumption.

For this polishing job, I lean on a second mantra: Be Who You Wish You Were.

I wish I were kinder, more thoughtful of others, more generous, less critical, and just generally nicer.

So I act as if I were.

I hope I am as responsible, helpful, and dependable as I like to think I am.

So I act as if I were.

What does it mean if I tell an artist to dress like an artist?

Be who you are. And then some.

(By the way, Chris Brogan really does have this one nailed as far as what a personal brand is, and why you should care. Please do read.)

louis vuitton wants you to stop talking about them

Jeremiah Owyang woke me up this morning (on Twitter) to a fascinating, instructive tale of a major brand getting drawn in to a major international crisis, against their will and to their detriment, and responding to it in a predictable, though shortsighted way.  Somewhere, a PR department is having a very bad Sunday.

Yes, I check Twitter before I get out of bed.

So what happened?

An artist created a T-shirt to raise awareness of the genocide in Durfur, and to vent some frustration at a media culture that gives more face-time to Paris Hilton than the victims of conflicts such as this one.

The T-shirt shows a victim of Darfur holding a Louis Vuitton-style luxury handbag in one arm, and a Paris Hilton-style toy dog in the other.  Jeremiah has a great recap of the whole story here.

So what happened next?

On a smaller scale, I woke up thinking who the heck is LV? and now, an hour later, I know exactly who LV is, and I know they’re knee-deep in a mess that wrong-foots them on an international issue on which practically everyone agrees, one that sets them up as a litigious Goliath, one that makes them appear anti-artist and anti-free-speech.

The plus side?

I am thinking about Louis Vuitton, and so are lots of other people.  I am NEVER thinking about Louis Vuitton.

That’s why the company’s reaction is so wrong here: sending the artist a Cease-and-Desist letter, and trying to make the issue go away through brute force.

Instead, they should take advantage of this rare opportunity — hundreds and thousands of people who on a daily basis couldn’t give a fig about your brand suddenly — briefly — do.

They have a very small window of opportunity to use this momentum to their own benefit, to the benefit of the victims in Darfur, to the benefit of the artist that started it all, and to the benefit of the artists in general.

Louis Vuitton can set an example, can be a brand who gets it right, by realizing that the spotlight is on them right now, whether they like it or not, and that they have the power to turn this into a PR opportunity, not a PR nightmare.

As I said in response to Jeremiah’s post:

…it makes me crazy when brands do this sort of thing. Here they have an opportunity: suddenly this Sunday morning hundreds/thousands of people who hadn’t given their brand a second thought are talking and typing and wondering how to spell “Vuitton,” and all they can say is “Stop talking about us?”

This is exactly the moment when they need to use the momentum to advance their brand, not cause further damage.

They can’t cram the genie back into the bottle, but they might still get three wishes, if they try really hard.

Think this has nothing to do with nonprofits?

Don’t think that your nonprofit doesn’t have a brand, because it certainly does, and don’t fool yourself that a PR nightmare like this wouldn’t happen to that brand, because it certainly could.

Nonprofits need to think about brand management just like for-profit corporations do.  Perhaps even more so, because charities are often held to a higher standard, and ethical blemishes can be even harder for nonprofits to rinse out.

Do you still think Red Cross = Fiscal Mismanagement?

What about Smithsonian = Complete Chaos in Management?

Finally, remember that crises like the LV brandjacking above represents an opportunity for more than just the injured brand to do good — do you know a nonprofit organization that does work in Darfur?  Wouldn’t this be a good time to reach out to Louis Vuitton and see how you might be able to work together?

tava and pepsi miss the point

To build trust between a consumer and a brand, people need to feel they’re sharing it with other people instead of a corporation pushing it down on them… The goal is to have people experience the product on their own terms and turn them into brand ambassadors.” -Frank Cooper, vice president for flavored carbonated soft drinks at Pepsi-Cola North America

Pepsi is apparently releasing a new fruit-flavored sparkling drink, called Tava, through what the New York Times calls an unconventional approach — by placing banner ads on popular websites, through which they hope to draw visitors to their product website.


Interestingly, Pepsi is not trying to reach young people — the much sought-after “Digital Natives” — through their banner ads and website, but a group they refer to as “Digital Reborns.”

There used to be an assumption this target was not online… But there’s a group in that category that’s ‘reborn digital.’ They’ve lived through the change and learned to adapt to it.” -Frank Cooper

Targeted at 35-49-year-old women and men, the soft drink is promoted on its website through an odd combination of straightforward, though limited, actual product information (flavor selection, nutritional information, etc.), alongside information about music festivals and artists whose connection to the brand is largely left unexplained.

The company is also trying to reach influencers by providing free samples to employees of Google, Apple, and MTV, as well as at events like plays, concerts, and festivals (presumably the ones highlighted on the product website).

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of this — it all seems like a pretty standard new product roll-out, using internet ad buying and sampling events to promote positive word-of-mouth.

It just seems like there’s something missing, namely, a motivation and a method for the “targets” to start talking about the product, in a way that makes them feel like the company might be listening, and caring.

The problem is that after one or two points of contact with the product (ad, sample, word-of-mouth), the interested and engaged consumer gets turned unceremoniously over to a static website where they are only allowed to consume information, not provide feedback or contribute to the conversation in any other way.

I care about this because I care about the example that major brands are setting in online marketing. I think large nonprofits with an interest in and a budget for online marketing look to these major brands as models of Doing It Right, and I think that this major brand might be Missing The Point.

It isn’t enough any more to lead a horse to water. You have to be willing to splash around with us, too, and get a little wet yourself.

The experience of being led to the Tava website and then just left there made me feel like I had been gotten, like I’d been rickrolled. As a healthy member of Tava’s target demographic, I am used to being asked my opinion about things when I grace your website with my presence.

A poll? A comment section? A forum? An honest blog?

Without this implied question mark, this open ear, this blank space ready for me to fill in, I feel used, ignored, and undervalued.

Why would I recommend something like that to my friends?

You should date my ex-boyfriend. He won’t shut up about himself, he doesn’t ask your opinion, he doesn’t listen if you give it, but he’s pretty sure he knows what kind of music you’ll dig anyway.