I have a thing for heritage brands — brands that have been around for a long time, evoke a sense of meaningful nostalgia, and have deep importance to our culture. Case in point: Before heading up strategy at A Hundred Years, I had the good fortune of spending the majority of my career at world-renowned, historic institutions, including The Rockefeller Foundation, Carnegie Hall, Shedd Aquarium, and Steppenwolf Theatre.
This is why I jumped at the chance to lead a visioning workshop at the annual gathering of the International Council of Museums. While the theme of the conference posed the frequently asked question, “What will become of museums in the 21st century?” I wanted to think more boldly: “What’s possible for museums in the 21st century?”
Or more importantly, “What good can a museum do? What kind of social or environmental impact can a museum make? And how might that social impact align with the organization’s core goals and operations?”
While this workshop was focused on cultural institutions like museums, zoos, and aquariums — the same questions apply for brands in any sector.
One way to unearth your impact potential is to leverage the assets that make you truly unique. Assets might be tangible. For a museum, they might be a physical building, historical collection, or influential board of directors. They can also be intangible, like your reputation, expertise, or sense of nostalgia. Here are just a few thought-starters:
- Become a go-to expert for the media or government on an issue in the headlines (i.e. Zika virus, immigration, climate change)
- Reimagine your building as a symbol of environmental sustainability
- Leverage your local socio-economic importance (i.e. large number of people you employee in the city, tourism revenue contribution) to get a seat at the local policy table
- Activate your board of directors’ influence to create partnerships with designers or entrepreneurs to accelerate exhibit innovation or revenue models
- Participate in a global network to multiply your impact on a systemic issue (i.e. water, STEM)
To top it off, when you start thinking differently about the impact your organization might have, the measure of impact is no longer just about how many people walk through your doors to see an exhibit or how many dollars are raised. Instead it’s also a policy that’s changed, or a smaller carbon footprint, or a community more informed about global issues that hit home.
And the bonus — by increasing your impact, you’ll simultaneously increase your visibility, attendance, and ultimately your revenue.