When are education materials good marketing materials?

Two museums are planning a joint marketing campaign around the theme of “exploration.” Both museums promote exploration as part of their mission; one has an upcoming exhibit on the theme of space exploration. The campaign will include a brochure, joint ticketing, and a social media campaign.

Early on in this collaboration, the museums need to decide what the brochure looks like. As the museums’ staff sit together to discuss the brochure, two visions are put forth:

Option 1: The brochure includes a section for each museum, with selected programs that exemplify the idea of exploration. The brochure is focused specifically on museum visitation, and includes incentives such as gift shop coupons.

Option 2: The brochure includes a section for each museum, with selected programs that exemplify the idea of exploration. It also includes a panel on the broader topic of exploration, and suggestions for other sites to explore around the region. It is focused on the larger idea of exploration, and encouraging people to become explorers.

One museum argues for Option 1, putting forth a compelling, clear argument: The goal of the marketing campaign is to get visitors to the two collaborating museums, and so the brochure should focus on these museums and that goal. By “exploration” we mean exploration of the two museums, and there is plenty to explore inside both places.Including other sites around the region complicates the marketing message. In addition, the brochure costs money, and these marketing dollars should directly benefit the two museums putting forth the money.

Another museum argues for Option 2, suggesting a different rationale: If the museums are to promote exploration, than the brochure should offer a larger picture of exploration, what it is, and how readers can explore. In the bigger picture of this campaign, success will mean that visitors become explorers – meaning that they are interested in learning more about the world around them, including visiting new places and learning new things, and that they have ideas of how to transfer these behaviors beyond the two museums. This success is best achieved with materials that support the larger picture. Ultimately, visitors will embrace the museums because they feel that the museums stand for something larger than a museum visit. They will visit, and become members, and even support the museum in other ways if and only if they understand the museum as offering something of value to their lives beyond a fun place to go. The idea of exploration is a wonderful way to promote something of larger value.

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Over the past week, I have spoken to a number of people about this, and read articles on both marketing and museums and value. Although I began as a proponent of Option 2, I am finding that marketing professionals, as well as potential visitors, are clearly advocates for Option 1.

I am realizing that Option 2 is less of a marketing piece, and more of an educational piece. But this leaves me wondering – would the educational brochure ultimately be more effective than the marketing brochure? It is more mission focused and more useful, and equally branded. An education piece could be put out in all the same brochure racks as the marketing piece.

So, what is the line between education materials and marketing? When is the better option straightforward marketing, and when is it mission-focused education materials?

How do marketing materials convey value without being complicated? How do you ensure that an idea like “exploration” is a true value, and that the museums deliver on this value, rather than just using it as a marketing tool? What is the role of the marketing piece in the constellation of museum value?

I’m still trying to figure this one out, and hope readers will weigh in!



3 thoughts on “When are education materials good marketing materials?

  1. As a museum marketer (married to a museum educator), I gravitate toward Option 1, because it is asking something specific of the message recipient. Buy a ticket, register for a program, visit our partner institution, etc.

    Option 2 encourages people to “Be an Explorer.” How do we measure the effectiveness of this message?

    However, that doesn’t mean that a marketing message can’t function along the lines of Option 2, like a lifestyle brand. It requires a lot more out of the institution, an alignment of programming across the board to echo that message. “Calling all explorers, we are the place for people like you,” reinforced by everything that happens on site.

    But, we’re talking about a single print piece here, and one that spans two institutions at that!

  2. I always think about what the purpose is, really, and how it will be used. I am not a big fan of print materials as it is because I think most end up in the garbage. At most, people grab them to help them remember something- the dates of the exhibit, the price, the associated programs. Other, more interesting links and connections can live on the web or in the exhibit itself with an interactive “choose 2 places you will explore in the next year and email them to yourself” kiosk or something. You said it yourself- the visitors, who are the end user for the brochure- want information about the exhibits.

  3. Essentially, what the purpose of the leaflet? Why do you want people to participate? If you don’t know what the purpose of the leaflet is then you will end up with a confused piece of leaflet. The question is also to do is what people are you wanting to participate – Families? Adults? Students? Children? Retired people? Disabled adults and children? Immigrants?

    If the two museums just want to promote the subject in connection with the exploration events they are hosting then the information should be only be connected to those two museums with questions about including other events held by such museums, any fundraising/memberships appeals or any schools sessions organised by the museums.

    If the aim is, as you say, to promote the subject of exploration then it will be a pure exploration leaflet with perhaps questions about having events/activities sections for regions – one for London, one for Midlands, one for South-West with questions about inclusion of online addresses for those who cannot geographically visit but interested in what is happening (families who have connections living in different areas e.g. grandparents).

    If you can’t afford having two pieces of literature then the layout of the text and images are important so that people don’t get confused – use clear font and typeface, use clear words and actions. As there are so many different audience groups, it may be affordable to prioritise different communications over others for specific groups e.g. networks (face-to-face and online for disabled and immigrants rather than print).

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