Case Study: Brand Integration at the Asian Art Museum

In this guest post, we head south from Emily’s wine country experience down the California coast to San Francisco. James McNamara, president of New York-based Arts Branding, shares his notes on our brand management exchange along with a fascinating case study he has recently put together on comprehensive brand strategy at the Asian Art Museum.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of sitting in on Suzanne and Cecilia’s conversation about brand management in the museum field. In the course of that exchange, Cecilia asked if we knew of any best practices in the museum field for branding.

Brand Integration in Action with images from Asian Art Museum's rebranded materials

A snapshot from James's case study of the Asian's brand integration in action. Download the full report below.

I said, yes, in fact, I had just been doing some research on one just launched in October 2011: the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. As a brand strategist, I too am always looking for best practices, even if it takes me away from my own firm‘s clients.

The Asian’s brand strategy project, headed by Tim Hallman and his talented team at the museum, and with the help of Wolff Olins, a brand strategy consulting firm, provides a comprehensive example of not only a successful launch of a new visual identity, but a positioning and message platform that informs the identity.

I put together a case study from public documents in an effort to see if I could recreate the brand strategy from the components I found. That I was able to do so successfully is a testament to the Asian’s thorough launch.

The case study is a work in progress as questions remain: How much will the new brand strategy affect exhibitions and programming? How will the brand strategy affect the experience of visiting the museum? What will be the measures of success?

Click through to download a PDF of the Asian Art Museum case study (2.4 MB).

James McNamara, Arts Branding


This Thursday: Crisis Communications

The April conversation has arrived! This Thursday, April 26, we’ll address crisis communications on several levels, from standard, institutional crisis planning to a more social media-focused crisis management case study. We’ll test a new hangout time–5 pm EST–on Google hangout. To join the conversation, visit where you’ll find a hangout underway. Participate between now and then by posting questions and links here and/or on our Google + page. To get started, some resources (many from AAM’s excellent information center):

Recommended Reading: A Life in Museums

Today I had the great pleasure of seeing Wendy Luke. She came to the museum to speak with a group of my colleagues who she’ll coach over the coming months (a couple of us who worked with her previously joined the discussion). She brought along a gift for me–A Life in Museums: Managing Your Museum Careera book she edited with Greg Stevens, published by the American Association of Museums. From “powering up your personal brand” to “managing from the middle,” the volume is packed with practical wisdom for museum professionals at all career stages. Chapter titles like those, plus Wendy’s diverse background (with non-profits to multi-billion-dollar corporations), give me a strong feeling that the book can be an important professional development resource beyond the museum world. Suzanne and I were honored when Wendy invited me to write a sidebar on this experiment for her chapter on mentorship. You’ll find “Practically Speaking: Open-Sourcing Your Mentorship” on pages 184-185. If you’re traveling to AAM’s annual meeting in Minneapolis next week, be sure to attend the Meet and Greet and Book Signing with Wendy and Greg on Wed., May 2, 1-2 pm, in the AAM bookstore.

A Whiff of Brand in the Tasting Room

A friendly, welcoming approach to wine branding is explored in this guest post by Emily Valentine, a fellow communications professional benefiting from the mentorship of Suzanne. Emily is a senior account executive in Richmond, VA, at award-winning public relations and marketing firm CRT/tanaka. She originally published “3 Case Studies from California Wine Country: A Whiff of Brand in the Tasting Roomon the firm’s Buzz Bin blog on March 14, 2012.

I tend to view the world through brand-colored glasses, so, on a recent trip to California wine country, I wasn’t surprised to find my mind wander to the realm of customer experience.

A positive tasting room experience will clearly lead to repeat purchases, but beyond that, a purposeful on-site tasting is the ideal opportunity for a wine brand to make its mark in the minds of consumers.

To me, the emotional and sensory experience a winery manages to deliver to customers on site – and then re-create online or at the point of sale – lays the groundwork for effective wine branding.

I’ve witnessed several good examples of this principle at work in my home state of Virginia (see 5 Reasons to Try #VaWine), but here are a few highlights from the golden state:

  • Scribe is an artisanal Sonoma winery that won my heart on this trip. The love affair began when I stumbled on a handsome bottle of Scribe cabernet sauvignon before heading to Sonoma. Its thick glass body and wax-dipped neck spoke of candlelit dinners and intimate conversation, creating an allure that only grew stronger when I arrived on site at the winery. Perhaps I was seduced by the fresh-cut wildflowers adorning the outdoor table where I sat, the buttery shortbread baked with rosemary from their garden, and the relaxed attitude of the woman who led our tasting. It was as if she – and every employee – had been hand-picked as an embodiment of the Scribe brand … effortlessly cool and open-minded. I left feeling like I’d just visited a new friend at home for the first time, suddenly comprehending all the intangible factors that make her who she is. Needless to say, I’ll buy Scribe wine again whenever I’m able (the limited availability only adds to its intrigue). In the meantime, I’ll keep up with the winery via its websiteblog and Facebook page, and spread the word to friends through my own social networks.
  • Flora Springs Winery prides itself on being family owned and operated. It’s one of the first things I learned when I arrived at the estate, and the idea of family pervaded my experience with the Flora Springs brand. A twinkle-eyed man full of mischievous jokes led our tasting, putting everyone at ease in what could have been a stuffy setting. He invited us to experience the brand’s “legacy” with wines that reflect the spirit of its matriarch. Scanning a QR code on the wine club brochure took me to a webpage celebrating Flora’s 100th birthday with eight webisodes on the family-based history of the winery. Flora Springs seems like a brand that’s never met a stranger … tweet @florasprings and expect to get an enthusiastic response.
  • Kuleto Estate Vineyards boasts an idyllic mountaintop setting shaded by Spanish oak trees and luminous views (see above). For the scenery, I’d go back in a heartbeat … to make a purchase, I’m not so sure. The wines might have been good, but the brand experience was so watered down that it diluted their taste. Why didn’t Kuleto’s personality shine through? Maybe it needs further aging to reach its full potential … or maybe it was just muffled by the 80s rock blaring in the tasting room. What I’d love to have gotten from this brand is a better feel for the face behind the name and how his creative viewpoint is expressed through his wines. Videos, photos, even one great story would have gone a long way in making the wines less forgettable.

So, here’s my “glass half empty” marketing insight: Wine brands hoping to succeed in today’s marketing environment can’t afford to neglect their customer experience offering – in the tasting room, online or elsewhere. There are too many other options for consumers to choose from, and too many ways for consumers to broadcast less-than-positive brand reviews.

And, for the more drinkable “glass half full” version: The emotional and sensory nature of the tasting room experience poses tremendous opportunity for wine brands, big and small. Boutique wineries with limited marketing budgets should orchestrate cost-effective experiences to differentiate themselves and galvanize brand advocates.

Emily Valentine, CRT/tanaka

Your Brand in a Friendly Face

Lucky break – a few weeks back, James McNamara, president of Arts Branding, joined our Google+ breakfast hangout on brand management. A couple of years ago in his former capacity at LaPlaca Cohen, James worked with Suzanne on rebranding the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in anticipation of its transformative expansion. Through interviews with leadership and staff and extensive audience research, both qualitative and quantitative, they embraced three pillars for VMFA’s brand: friendly, accessible, and excellence-driven.

In the Hangout, James was eager for a progress report – Do Suzanne and her team still turn to the resources he helped to craft? Are her colleagues on board with brand strategy? Has her director turned out to be a champion of VMFA’s image of accessibility? On all fronts, yes.

In our exchange, it came through how meaningful an accessible brand can be. It forges a lifeline straight to the visitor. James argues that the first message organizations should get out to their audiences is that they’re welcome. During the conversation, Suzanne realized that a synopsis of the brand should be a part of all new staff orientations.

Coming up on the blog–we’ll share stories about the value of friendly, welcoming, accessible brands. Do you have a story to share? Let us know via the comments, and we’ll invite you to be a guest contributor.

A photo of a worse-for-the-wear but nonetheless sincere welcome mat

Like the welcome mat at my house, a brand is worth more than a shiny image. First and foremost, it's the case you make to your visitors that you're there for them.

This Event is Worth Your Weekend

photo of Habitat for Artists' work for the 5x5 public art project--a 6'x6' artist-in-residence space bearing the phrase "What is this?"--at THEARC

Habitat for Artists' 5x5 public art project--a 6'x6' artist-in-residence space at THEARC, host of the recent TEDxWDC conference.

A big part of mentorship happens in casual conversation, offhand remarks, about what your mentor is up to or interested in. The mentee must fine-tune her listening skills to benefit. She must be curious and open to checking out something new without immediate pay-off. The seasoned mentor knows to push as many potential experiences to her mentee as possible, without making all opportunities compulsory or expecting them to stick. When Suzanne got an e-blast from AAM about a storytelling workshop, she forwarded it to me. She didn’t “assign” it, or even suggest that I attend. She just asked if I had heard about it and said she was looking forward.

I recently had the great fortune of coaching sessions with Wendy Luke, an expert on mentorship (among other professional/organizational relationships and issues). Reaching out to a mentor outside of my organization was Wendy’s idea–hence this blog. She also talked with me about ArtTable and suggested pointedly that I get involved. So when the Phillips’s Center for the Study of Modern Art hosted an ArtTable-organized panel on the 5×5 public art project, I made sure to be there.

I would not normally have attended–the thrust of the discussion was curatorial and, while I’m fascinated personally, the immediate, communications-driven, tactical necessity to carve out the time was not there. I’m glad that I did anyway. Hearing about projects like Natalie Jeremijenko’s Butterfly Bridge and Wilmer Wilson IV’s  Henry “Box” Brown: FOREVER was inspiring and made me a more engaged participant in the DC arts community. I had a chance to ask questions about the logistical challenges of placing public art in DC, which is directly applicable to a strategic wayfinding project in my professional pipeline. I also got to say hi to Wendy, and ask her about her upcoming weekend plans, which happened to include TEDxWDC.

Notices for the upcoming TEDx talks had blipped on my radar, but I’d been ambivalent about committing a Saturday. It wasn’t until a day or two after my run-in with Wendy that I felt compelled to register. Again, I’m glad I did. In addition to hearing from 26 colleagues about DC’s creative economy, I made my first visit to THEARC, saw Habitat for Artists building their project for 5×5, and spent time in Anacostia for the second time in my life (an embarrassing admission for a nearly-DC-native).

Curiosity and open-minded participation has a ripple effect. Because of soft suggestions from mentors and colleagues, I hope to also attend:

What am I missing? I would love to hear what workshops, conferences, and events you’re excited about, and–if reasonably accessible from DC by car or train–I’ll attend.

Breakfast Hangout: Talking Brands

As always, muppets are an inspiration in innovative branding. They hosted a Google hangout last month! Topic? "Are you a Man or a Muppet?"

Next Wednesday morning, Suzanne and I will pour coffees, sit down at our respective breakfast tables in Richmond, VA, and Takoma Park, MD, open laptops, and talk about brand management. We hope you’ll join us!

Wednesday, March 28 – 8 am
Google Hangout:

Some tech tips to prepare: you’ll need a Google+ account and Google hangout capabilities active. Luckily, Google makes it easy. Check out everything you need to know before you hangoutgetting started, and settings and requirements. You’ll need to make sure your webcam is up and running, and you’ll be required to download one new plugin.

At 8 am on Wednesday, visit where you’ll see a Hangout about brand management underway. Jump right in! You can also participate between now and then by posting questions and links here and/or on our Google + page.