How museums can use emotional branding to grow support

Family on Mail Rail at the Postal Museum

Our new report explores how museums can harness emotion in their branding to increase public support.

The UK’s museums are already a huge success story. In 2019/20, around 50% of adults in England visited a museum – an impressive number.

But there’s still a big opportunity to do more – to get more museums and more people sharing in more great art and culture. Could we grow that 50% to 80% nationally? And see people not just visiting museums, but using them – tapping into their resources, volunteering, donating, advocating for them?

To explore this opportunity, Art Fund commissioned two pieces of research, in 2020 and 2022, and our new report presents their findings.

About the research

The first study was carried out by brand consultant Robert Jones for Art Fund in summer 2020. The project explored the idea of an umbrella brand for museums to help them all increase public support.

Robert Jones interviewed 19 of the UK’s most experienced voices on the cultural scene. He ran interviews and focus groups with 22 museum leaders, and a public survey through CitizenMe, checking against other surveys by YouGov and DJS. The findings were then refined through follow-up discussions with museum leaders and students.

The research showed huge enthusiasm for the idea of a brand for museums – but also a gap between museums and public, and the need for a change of mindset in the sector to close that gap.

The second study was run by MEL Research for the Association of Independent Museums (AIM) and Art Fund in summer 2022. This project aimed to help museums gain sustained support as they respond to the challenges of the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis. The study focused on seven museums, and involved interviews with museum leaders and community leaders, an online discussion with 24 members of the public, and a survey of AIM members and the wider sector.

The research showed that museums should appeal to three levels of emotion in audiences: pleasure, connection and (to gain the deepest kind of support) purpose.

Findings and recommendations

Though the two studies used different methods, at different times, with different people, they came to similar conclusions.

Combining them, we can draw out five main findings:

  1. Museums should make more use of emotion to grow support – to give people an emotional reason to visit, use, give to and speak up for them.

  2. The techniques of branding can help turn positive emotions into long-term commitment.

  3. There are three levels of emotion that museums should try to appeal to.

  4. There’s sometimes a gap between the emotions that motivate the public, and those that motivate people in the sector: this means that museums may need to think and act differently.

  5. For many members of the public, the barriers to making more use of museums are practical, rather than cultural – but museums do need to break down three big barriers.

The report suggests how museums can act on these findings – using emotion to build your brand to grow your support.

It outlines four recommendations:

  1. Burst the bubble

  2. Find your emotional big idea

  3. Communicate the emotional benefits

  4. Evolve what you offer, and how you work

= More people visiting, using and supporting.

You can download and read the report here.

To accompany the report, we have also created a toolkit to help museums implement the recommendations. You can download the toolkit here.

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