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Published: March 15, 2001.


Building Museum Brands for the Next Generation: Web sites that reach and keep young people
Margot Wallace , Columbia College, USA

Session: Evaluation

Just marketing a museum isn't good enough any more. With increased competition among museums as culture destinations, each must distinguish itself from the others. That's branding, and all good marketers are doing it. Using the Web only for virtual visits and information is under-utilizing it. The Web is, in fact, a powerful branding tool. For young people especially, the spontaneity and flash of the Web not only sells museums in general, but brands individual museums specifically. Effective Web sites, like all marketing media, utilize consistent images and copy to communicate their brand. Logo, theme line, type face, layout format, design motifs, color, icons, and tone of voice are among the features that must be deployed throughout the Web site to make it coherent, easy to navigate, and fun for young people. The artwork featured on the opening pages helps portray the museum's brand image, and could determine how long, if at all, a young visitor stops at the site. Appropriateness of the museum store items offered online affects whether young people will literally buy the museum's image and add their names to its database. The brand image must continue through sticky features such as the calendar, promotions, and links so those youthful surfers make the connection between Web site and actual museum, and start the conversion to repeat visitor, advocate, and member.

This study, to be conducted in October-November, 2000, examines college students' reactions to a range of art museum Web sites and the brand images they reflect. A different random sample of ten art museum Web sites were given to each of fifty college students. Students were asked to navigate the ten sites and select two that communicate a meaningful brand identity based on a checklist of features such as Web site architecture, copy, design, typography, color, audio, logo, and other iconography. The students also participated in small focus groups to further probe the strength of the Web sites' and museums' brand images. It is anticipated that the study will produce examples of effectively branded museum Web sites and a list of Web site branding tools that any museum marketer can adapt.