Thursday, April 30, 2009

What's your brand?

I love it when Interactivity brings people from outside the children's museum field to give us a fresh perspective on our business practices. Wednesday's session with a company called “Brand Champs” was a great learning opportunity for any children’s museum that wants to have more clarity about who they are and how they communicate that to the world.

Fran and Bill Lytle, the married couple that is Brand Champs, started with the message that your children’s museum has an identity and you can analyze first what that identity is, and then understand whether you are sending the right message about it to the public.

What follows is the first part of their step-by-step process, which they peppered with examples both from the children’s museum field and national brands that we all know. If you work at a children's museum (or you are trying to start one), you should get a pen and paper and treat this like a quiz.

1. Determine your brand personality. Fran and Bill believe that all brands fall into one of these five categories. (The words in italics are just examples of that main quality – it’s not a complete definition, but it can help you figure out where you fit.)

a. Sincerity (down to earth, honest, wholesome, cheerful)
b. Excitement (daring, spirited, imaginative, up-to-date)
c. Competence (reliable, intelligent, successful)
d. Sophistication (upper class, cosmopolitan)
e. Ruggedness (outdoorsy, rough)

Of course, if you’re like me, you’ll be saying that you can’t fit in just one box – I’d say that Kidcity has a little bit A, B, and D, and none of C or E. But when really pressed, I come down to words like “authentic” and “quirky” which (I think) fall into the Sincerity category. I think of us as something like the World’s Largest Ball of Twine – you’d have to be crazy to collect that much string, but hey, you gotta hand it to them for commitment.

2. Next, identify what kind of Brand/Visitor relationship you have. Again, you can only pick one.

a. Passion (expectation, powerful, full of anticipation and satisfaction)
b. Intimacy (when a company says: We know something about you – if it is a good thing, you will be more of it if you use us, if it is a bad thing, we can help.)
c. Nostalgia (based on a longing for something that happened in the past. Mixed feelings of happiness and longing evoked by past experiences)
d. Partnership (if your museum can say to the visitor: I ‘m working with you toward one single goal.)

These were easier to understand when Fran gave us examples: Curves understands that women want to get in shape, but they don’t want to feel self-conscious while they are exercising – that relationship is Intimacy. Dove understands that we want to live in a world where women have a healthy body image, and their campaign about real beauty helps us do that – that’s Partnership. The Holocaust Museum covers a topic that people feel passionate about and you know you will see and feel something intense when you go there – that’s Passion.

In my case, Kidcity’s brand/visitor relationship is definitely Intimacy. I know that my customers -- in other words, parents -- have certain beliefs about parenting and childhood (and I happen to agree with them!) We give them a place where they can be closer to their ideal.

3. Identify your Brand Dimension. For someone who isn’t familiar with your museum, this is the shorthand that tells them what to expect. It manages their expectation. You'll be happy to know that you can pick more than one.

a. Continuity (they can expect to find the same type of thing each time)
b. Distinctive Recipe (really different from all of its peers)
c. Quality (I may not know how to choose gems, but when I see that little blue box, I know all I need to know – it’s from Tiffany’s)
d. Signaling (Bill gave examples of Harley Davidson and Apple, but I’m not sure I get this concept yet. Perhaps it’s when the brand signals a whole lifestyle, that you either belong to or you don’t)
e. Incumbency (when your brand is so dominant that it becomes synonymous with the product – Kleenex, google, xerox.)

Fran suggested that there probably aren’t any museums that could claim Incumbency, but I think the Exploratorium in San Francisco might come close, since they are virtually synonymous with a certain kind of hands-on science experience. As for Kidcity, our Brand Dimension would have to be our Distinctive Recipe of creating our own eccentric exhibits with local artists (which is a good thing, since we have five other children’s/science museums within 30 minutes drive.)

4. Define your True Product Explain the core of what your customers get from you in 20 words or less. They gave the pithy example of Ellis Island, which defines its true product as being “the symbol of American immigration and the immigrant experience.” I’d say they got that right.

So far, here’s what I’ve come up with for my museum: At Kidcity, families exercise their imagination, playing pretend together in inventive and whimsical theme rooms created by local artists. That’s only 19 words! It's not perfect, but I don’t think I could have gotten so much of our character into one sentence if I hadn’t done the other three steps first!


After taking us through these four steps, Fran and Bill finished the session by sharing a few ways that you can evaluate your logo and your website to see if they truly express your identity – but since I can’t do it justice, I’ll just direct you to their website: Brand Champs.

Hope you learned something new & useful!

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