by Ruth Rentschler, Kerrie Bridson, and Jody Evans
The Ian Potter Centre, National Gallery of Victoria. Photo: Trevor Mein
The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Melbourne, Australia, is a “star” art museum whose mission is to illuminate life by collecting and presenting great art. “Star” museums are characterized as providing a total visitor experience as funded entities that make a difference by attracting tourists and local visitors to the city in which they are located. Unlike the great prominence of superstar museums  , which is achieved through tourism, the NGV’s prominence is among its local population: 70% of its visitors live in Victoria and 30% are from interstate or overseas (L. Sassella, personal communications, 25 March 2007), whereas for superstar museums such as the Louvre the visitor percentages are reversed.
The NGV offers a total experience to its visitors through commercial outlets such as cafés, restaurants and shops; offers exceptional architecture to its visitors; and relates its offerings to events in history, politics, film and contemporary life. The strategic orientation of the Gallery increasingly emphasizes visitor demands in organizational structure, collection hang and special exhibitions.
In 1999 the NGV welcomed a new director, Dr. Gerard Vaughan, straight from the British Museum, where he had earned a strong reputation as fundraiser extraordinaire. Under his leadership, the NGV has undergone a process of reconceptualization, culminating in its branding strategy.
Branding in a Competitive Landscape
The Gallery operates in a competitive landscape. It is required to fulfil a public mandate as well as being accountable to a range of stakeholders, such as governments, boards of trustees, curators (as “keepers” of the objects), benefactors and the public .
Due to these complexities, the NGV mixes a traditional functional role with a new purposive role . The functional role relates to activities performed in the museum and is object-based: to collect, preserve and display objects . The more recently assumed purposive role relates to the intent, vision or mission of the Gallery, where the focus is on leadership and visitor services: to serve society and its development by means of study, education and enjoyment .
This new role can be seen as a catalyst for organizational change, which incorporates the adoption of brand values and practices that focus on people .
The NGV has reached beyond the marketing concept and embraced a brand orientation.
Brand orientation places strategic importance on brand, beyond the immediate goal of satisfying customer needs and wants. It is a fusion of the historic brand concept and the business orientation literature: embedding branding within the organization to ensure its effectiveness .
Brands are integrated with the NGV’s other tangible and intangible resources , which form the base for the institution’s core processes. Branding, therefore, becomes an integrative device within the institution that aligns its capabilities and resources in order to meet external factors and demands   .
The development of a strong brand orientation requires a change in organizational culture, decision-making processes and resource allocation. Barriers may encompass both beliefs and actions that impede brand development. Such barriers include a lack of financial resources, time constraints, perceived lack of relevance and a short-term focus on sales activities.
The emergence of brand orientation as a business orientation in the Gallery may be driven in part by significant changes in the environment. The leisure sector faces strong competition from new venues, destinations and attractions. It is now accepted that museums have both traditional competitors in other cultural institutions and competitors within the larger leisure arena, including retail and experiential entertainment venues. Coupled with this is a sophisticated and demanding audience base  that has more information access than ever before.
Museums have a curatorial orientation, where the priority is excellence in scholarship through the collection, exhibition, preservation, research and study of objects  . While for decades collections were a key dimension predicting museum performance, the emphasis is now shifting to visitor needs and satisfaction . Museums’ second imperative is, therefore, a commercial orientation.
Glass ceiling by Leonard French, NGV International. Photo: National Gallery of Victoria.
The Gallery’s decision-making is not dominated by branding, as the NGV is first and foremost an art institution with a clear mission and vision as an institution. [But] the NGV views brand orientation holistically and focuses on brand values and practices across the institution as a means of engaging with its external market and audience. The visitor is placed at the centre of the institution’s strategic thinking and operations, encompassing its values, behaviours and practices; the brand is used as a compass for many organizational decisions.
A dominant theme that emerged is that, over the last decade, branding activities and the brand in general have become higher on the institution’s list of priorities. Strategies were being crafted around building the institution’s name as a brand, sophisticated brand architectures were being established, resources were being allocated to both internal and external brand building, and tracking brand health was emerging as an important performance metric. This all suggests a new focus on the brand as part of a cultural revolution within the institution. It is important to note that using the brand as a compass for decision-making does not equate with the marketing function of dictating collection and exhibition decisions.
The study showed drivers (bridge, leadership, external pressure, part of the consumer’s psyche) and impediments (funding, strong curatorial orientation, deeply entrenched attitudes) to brand orientation.
The first conclusion that can be drawn relates to the need for museums to reconcile an internal curatorial focus with the commercial imperatives of operating in a broad leisure market. A number of authors refer to the debate on whether a museum should be focused on spiritual enrichment/education or on fun/entertainment . Because of this debate, the relationship between museums and marketing can best be described as “complicated”, which may explain why museums are rarely referred to as brands.
The second conclusion extends the first. Museums operate as brands in a highly competitive leisure environment. In contrast to defining the NGV by its function, our view of the NGV builds upon purposive definitions regarding the Gallery’s intent, mission and vision .
The implications for museum managers are the ability to identify how brand orientation manifests itself within their institution. If museums seek to establish a strong brand orientation, they must devote resources to establishing the brand as a dominant organizational philosophy that guides all decision-making. In addition, brand-oriented museums must establish the brand as a distinctive asset that communicates relevance and accessibility and invests in value-adding initiatives that enable the institution to connect with visitors on a truly symbolic level.
The full article can be downloaded from the International Journal of Arts Management, Volume 13, Number 2 – Winter 2011.
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