November 12, 2020

How (and Why) to Steal From a Museum

by Josh Goldblum, Founder & CEO

How (and Why) to Steal From a Museum

Museums are among the most-trusted and most-revered brands in the world. People travel across continents just to spend a few hours inside the MoMA or the Louvre. That devotion is not accidental, it is worked at and earned.

Having spent the last two decades working with museums, and more recently with brands like Comcast, Google and Bloomberg, it’s clear that there’s a lot of businesses can learn from the cultural space to build understanding, engagement, and lasting customer loyalty. You just have to steal a few of their moves.

Arms of Independence interactive for MoAR

The Museum of the American Revolution puts precious objects at visitors’ fingertips thanks to a curator-guided interactive 360-video. 

Dig Into the Authentic

Museums are built on objects and ideas—the Mona Lisa, Dorothy’s red slippers, electricity. They take those objects and ideas, whether obviously extraordinary or seemingly ordinary, and find the unique and authentic story of each one.

The Museum of the American Revolution has a collection of weapons and armaments, including several powder horns. Installed behind glass, they appear as straightforward utilitarian objects. However, the digital interactive nearby reveals a different story. Pinch, zoom, and scroll through custom 360-video to see unique and intricate carvings on the powder horns and learn what they mean. Working with the museum’s curators, we created an experience that is typically unaccessible to visitors. Imagine how a museum curator might talk about your products. What is something, big or small, that they would pick up on? What story would a curator highlight that is absolutely fascinating about your brand?

The dairy brand Tillamook sells products like butter, cream cheese, and sour cream. How do you differentiate butter? Tillamook (thanks to brand partner Turner Duckworth) amplifies small but authentic details, like the slogan, “Farmer-owned since forever” and a page about their commitment to environmental and economic stewardship (yes, there’s a section called “Poop Power”). What is unique and authentic about Tillamook? It’s not the quality of their butter, it’s the connection between their farmers, their cows, and their customers. I want to visit a Tillamook farm. If Tillamook can make me feel that way about butter… any brand can do it.

Continuum Wall at the ISM

Rolling, drumming, blowing, and spinning are all needed for this interactive science lesson at the Independence Seaport Museum. 

Tell Multidimensional Stories

World-class museums are multidimensional. Their stories engage with a range of senses, emotions, and learning modalities. At the Independence Seaport Museum kids impact the health of a watershed by rolling, drumming, blowing, and spinning sensors. In this game-like exhibit they’re rewarded with music and visuals. It’s all a science lesson, but not the way they’re used to. They learn by doing, playing, and moving around.

Gore spiral experience
Through motion and RFID sensors we brought an immersive object theater to life, using unassuming products like a stent. 

We applied the same mindset when designing the W. L. Gore & Associates experience center. Through motion and RFID sensors we brought an immersive object theater to life, using unassuming products like a stent to tell a story of groundbreaking innovation through video, sound, and light. A nearly floor to ceiling video screen presents first-person stories from Gore’s partners in a life-like capacity. And an object wall lets visitors see and touch the breadth of products the company has created over its 50-year history.

Cultivate Trust

The same authenticity that helps to tell a good story can cultivate trust, which is critical for museums to fulfill their missions. Consider how museums describe themselves: Chicago’s Field Museum “fuels a journey of discovery across time,” the National Museum of American History aims “to promote understanding of the natural world and our place in it,” and the Victoria & Albert exists to “enrich people’s lives by promoting research, knowledge and enjoyment of the designed world.” Three very different museums, all on a quest to show their visitors what’s real.

When was the last time that you watched The History Channel to learn something? Probably not since Ancient Aliens premiered. That show got ratings, but it broke people’s trust. If the American Museum of Natural History installed an exhibition on UFOs at Roswell in their famed Rose Center for Earth and Space, there might be a short-term spike in attendance, but authenticity would be gone, trust would be gone, and it would destroy the entire museum’s brand.

Don’t be The History Channel. Be the American Museum of Natural History: Authentic, trustworthy, engaging, and enduring.

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