Museums: Open for Business
In today’s competitive marketplace, retailers and manufacturers are increasingly looking at ways to differentiate their offer and to communicate good quality and authenticity, essentially so that consumers can trust their product. This is where heritage brand licenses can add value, lending their recognizable stamp of approval, knowledge and expertise to create product stories with real significance. Many cultural institutions already have a loyal following through their exhibits and education programs. Now they are reaching out to broader audiences through increasingly sophisticated merchandise and commercial activities.
The key differentiating factor between lifestyle and museum brands is the location, which offers a place to visit and engage where consumers can really experience the brand. From the very beginning, the V&A’s building was integral to its mission to delight and inspire, and today it is as much a part of the experience as the objects it houses. We are looking for ways we can extend this experience in other territories with new V&A sites in Dundee, Scotland, and Shenzhen, China, though we are yet to understand how visitors will respond to these new locations.
Bringing the Museum to the Consumer
These iconic locations also provide incredible backdrops to drive content creation, such as VR footage of the museum building that enables consumers to get up close to the original artifact that inspired a product, or they allow an international audience to experience the incomparable surroundings and astounding architecture of the museum’s galleries and spaces. From media visits to press launches and photoshoots, these locations provide huge value and prestige to the licensees and enhance the promotion of their ranges.
We are focusing on new channels to engage and reach consumers via pop-up stores and cafés, an opportunity that would resonate strongly with the V&A brand, as it was the first museum in the world to open refreshment rooms to the public back in the late 19th century.
Behind the Scenes
Museums can also be used to host events for key leaders, and we are in the position of being able to leverage this privileged access. Providing influencers with behind-the-scenes access offers unique opportunities for storytelling and engaging a potentially new audience. This access provides a different perspective to that of a typical visitor at the museum.
Creating content for social channels is a high priority for all brands, and museums have a constant source of inspiration-the archives. Each object has its own story, from the reason for its creation to the technique and materials used. It is important to add weight and authenticity to the licensed products. We also have a desire to share the stories of the many objects that are not on display. The expertise from the museum community is a rich resource, so it is important for us to initiate interviews with the people who work hard to make museums the wonderful places they are.
As a British institution responsible for the national collection, we have an obligation to ensure high quality and to drive innovative design while protecting the integrity of the original material. It’s a fine balance of creative expression and commercialization, and we aim always to be sensitive to the object and the artist’s principles. For that reason, it can be a challenge working with an agent as the creative and approval process still must be managed in-house. The V&A team are brand ambassadors with an innate understanding of the look and feel that is so unique to the museum. Unlike many character or entertainment licensing programs, we do not produce seasonal style guides. The licensing team instead assists licensees to navigate through the vast archive, providing a trend-led research and design resource and lending its expertise to the creative process. For many newcomers to the heritage space it is often a surprise that isn’t as simple as identifying objects on display in the galleries. There are a variety of intricacies at play, in particular third-party rights may need to be considered.
What we are sure of is that the consumer appreciates finding out about the history behind our products. They also identify strongly with the museum’s design credentials and want to align their taste with the strong reputation of the world’s leading museum of art, design and performance. The fact that their purchases also help to fund the charitable work of these institutions appeals to a consumer’s benevolent inclination, supporting the museum to look after the nation’s treasures for the benefit of future generations.
Lauren Sizeland has more than 25 years’ experience as a leader within the arts, heritage and museum sector. Following developmental roles in retail and licensing at the Royal Academy of Arts and Science Museum Group, she joined the V&A in 2005. Sizeland is responsible for the V&A’s multi-award winning licensing and publishing programs. Her strategic vision and ability to evaluate and translate ideas into bespoke marketable solutions has enabled the business to achieve sustainable growth in a broad range of product categories through working with licensees, retailers and