Museum marketing: strategy and innovation to enhance culture

Museum marketing: what does this branch of web marketing represent and deal with?

The relationship between art and society is not accepted by everyone: mixing the sacred and the profane for most traditionalists has the taste of betrayal. But is it so for everyone? Just think of the Ferragnez effect at the Uffizi Gallery.

Promoters of new strategies to attract young people to museums naturally appreciate social media, fostering the emergence of a new marketing frontier consisting of influencers as new ambassadors of museum culture. Could this be the new face of museum marketing?

One of the great challenges for museums is to overcome the concept of a boring place, closed in its stereotypes and unable to open up to modernity. It seems, however, that this stumbling block has been overcome and for some time now museums have been adopting forms of digital communication through museum marketing campaigns on social media capable of approaching that previously elusive younger segment of the public.

Museums serve as a refuge for our cultural and artistic heritage, through which it is enhanced. Thanks to these institutions it is possible to pass on a cultural heritage to those who will come after us, where beauty, history, and knowledge is made accessible to all. And with museum marketing, this heritage will be precisely within everyone’s reach.

Usually, a museum in itself is already a magnet, strong in its charm, beauty, and historicity. But nowadays this is not enough: as useful as all this is, communication has had to adapt to change. There is an increasing need for communication that respects the interests of consumers (in this case of culture), arouses curiosity, and outperforms the competition.

I can anticipate that, as we shall see, museum marketing has a lot to do with territorial marketing, as well as with tourism web marketing, but it constitutes a segment of it.

Let’s proceed step by step and start analyzing which elements it consists of.

Museum marketing: what is a museum? A definition

Admit it, I scared you: you’re probably thinking I’m going to tell you the whole story of the museum starting with the etymology, which clearly refers to the Muses, who in Greek mythology were the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, goddess of Memory, and blah blah blah…

OK, I know you’re in a hurry, so I’ll spare you the excursus on the evolution of the museum concept, but I ask you: can you say what a museum is?

I am aware that you already know empirically what a museum is and that you have probably visited several, but could you give a definition?

Come on, don’t worry, ICOM – International Council Of Museums – (UNESCO) has already taken care of it, giving the official reference for the international community, the result of a constant and significant terminological and conceptual evolution, which started in 1948.

Article 2.1 of the Statute of the International Council of Museums states:

“The museum is a permanent, non-profit institution at the service of society and its development. It is open to the public and carries out research concerning the material and immaterial evidence of humanity and its environment; it acquires, conserves, communicates and, above all, exhibits them for the purposes of study, education, and enjoyment.”

A museum exhibition was created with a very specific function: to preserve and enhance the cultural, artistic, and historical heritage of a nation so that it can become the heritage of all. But in order to do so, it must be made accessible to all. As well as preserving, the museum communicates and enhances, but without visitors it dies. The survival of museum structures is linked to this.

Museum marketing is nothing more than a way of offering a service to a wide and varied audience in an effective way: museum communication strategies, therefore, aim to bring the offer closer to the cultural needs of visitors or potential visitors. Over the years, the number of people visiting museums has increased as has the awareness of and need for the museum experience.

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The 3 key functions of a museum

From this definition, which is so comprehensive and, in my opinion, enlightening, it can be deduced that the three main tasks of the museum today are:

  • Search
  • Conservation
  • Communication

And it is from this last aspect, i.e. communication, that the concept of museum marketing is born.

According to the old concept, the museum was centered on the objects, first and foremost on their conservation, understood as inventory, cataloging, maintenance, preservation, and safekeeping through appropriate placement. The new museum, on the other hand, as that “above all” emphasizes, is centered on the orientation of the visitor, while not neglecting the conservation and research aspects.

In recent years the role of the public has become central. This development depends on the one hand on the growing influx of visitors and their increasing awareness, information, and quality, and on the other hand on the museum offer becoming more engaging and interactive every day.

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Museum marketing: what is marketing? A definition

For the sake of parity, I now quote the definition of marketing offered by Philip Kotler, considered one of the foremost experts and pioneers of marketing management. In his renowned work Marketing Management, Philip Kotler gives us a simple and explanatory definition:

“Marketing is about identifying and satisfying human and social needs”.

He goes on to describe it as that:

“Social process through which individuals and groups obtain what they need through the creation, supply, and exchange of valuable products and services”.

Wanting then to bring the concept of marketing back to the specific field of museums, the most appropriate definition is, in my opinion, the one proposed by P. Lewis whose professional genesis, not by chance, derives from museum activity and not from commercial activity. In Museums and Marketing, he writes:

“Marketing is the management process that confirms the mission of a museum or gallery and is responsible for the efficient identification, anticipation and satisfaction of the needs of its users”. He also adds that “it would be desirable to speak of consumers rather than adventurers, better still of tourists rather than consumers, of visitors rather than tourists, and of users rather than visitors”.

Museum marketing is thus understood as a non-random process aimed at achieving the mission, which serves the museum and seeks to bring the offer closer to the desires of a potential public interested in art.

In practice, the museum should be able to conserve and enhance its heritage and, at the same time, effectively manage funding – both public and private – in order to meet the cultural needs of its target audience. This operation would also create a useful spin-off that would indirectly lead to economic benefits for the local community and operators in the area.

Museum marketing strategies

But how is it possible to manage the complex network of interests composed of consumers, stakeholders (i.e. those with an interest in a given economic project), public financiers, and local entrepreneurs without distorting the museum institution?

It must be considered that to date the ontological gap between the world of culture and the corporate-economic world has not been completely bridged; very often these two worlds speak different languages and feel threatened by each other’s presence.

However, it is clear that the management and enhancement of cultural heritage today cannot disregard precise marketing and communication strategies, which are essential in the promotion of a single artistic event as well as in the entire management of a museum or any other cultural institution.

Today, every museum has to deal with its own budget and available resources, so the valorization of its own heritage and events are crucial for the livelihood of the cultural institution itself.

The success of a cultural event depends to a large extent on its prior ability to be communicated effectively.

However, humanists from educational backgrounds with little knowledge of cultural marketing and communication are often called upon to manage a museum or organize cultural events.

However, like any other area, this one, as we have seen, needs effective marketing strategies for which the right professionals are needed.

A rather ineffective example of museum marketing brought about by improvisation or at least by a strategy not projected over the long term is that of event exhibitions. These kinds of initiatives may be interesting in their own right and able to attract large numbers of visitors, but they usually catalyze the attention of the public only for a limited period of time and then leave the structure that hosted the event to return to oblivion.

Moreover, this type of exhibition often horrifies art critics and cultural purists in general, because, in order to appeal to the “masses”, it does not really delve into the subject matter, remaining rather superficial and lacking philological rigor in its staging.

This criticism, which at first glance might appear to be nothing more than a snobbish consideration (and perhaps it is a little), nevertheless brings with it a profound understanding of the role of the museum institution also in terms of its interaction with the territory.

In fact, these events are usually detached from the context and turn out to be a kind of cathedral in the desert, unable to nourish the dense web of relations between the museum and the historical and ethno-anthropological elements of the territory.

How to define a museum marketing strategy

Of course, there are also valid and functional museum marketing strategies and these are those that start from an in-depth analysis of the institution to be promoted, understood as an organization that interacts culturally yes, but also economically, with the territory in which it is located.

The correct course of action in this respect is one that starts from a full awareness of the historical, cultural, and local roots of the museum and only then moves on to the formulation of the actual marketing strategy.

The strategic design of museum marketing must take place through an effective organization based on:

  • Effective information system;
  • Action planning system;
  • Results control system.

The internal resources of the cultural institution to be promoted are then analyzed and the targeted audience to be intercepted is defined.

As with any other good or service, museum marketing is about implementing a strategy that aims to increase the brand awareness and brand reputation of that particular museum – or network of museums – with the chosen target segments. To do this today one cannot ignore the use of the web and social networks, which is why one hears more and more about museum web marketing.

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Museum web marketing: how to promote culture online

Today, as is well known, in order to gain visibility, it is necessary not only to have an online presence but to be able to exploit all digital channels and tools in the most appropriate way.

Generally speaking, we can say that while Google is consulted more for specific information needs, social networks are mainly used for interacting, sharing, communicating, and re

promote online culture

Even museums, therefore, if they are willing to update and open themselves without cultural prejudices to innovation, today have many more tools to make themselves known and enhance their collections and exhibitions through digital tools that perfectly combine innovation and tradition.

Through the network, they can gather consensus, disseminate information, create communities, in short, do targeted and successful digital marketing.

Continuing budget cuts to culture certainly affect the spread of social media: directors are often forced to look for alternative sources of livelihood for their museums.

Instead, smaller museums could activate “networked” management of communication services, thus reducing the running costs for individual institutions.

First and foremost, the museum must be well publicized and easy to find on search engines: today’s users are increasingly demanding, not least because they are able to quickly and easily compare different proposals, quickly evaluating the one that is most interesting and convenient for them.

As for the whole field of tourism web marketing, then, the ability to be emotionally involved is of particular importance. This is achieved above all through the evocation of lifestyles and symbols: in short, by transforming a visit to a museum into a unique experience with a strong emotional impact.

Websites and, even more so, social pages are the main tool for this type of communication to develop:

  • using the narrative techniques of experiential storytelling, i.e. the ability to tell, e.g. through evocative images, meaningful stories capable of influencing consumer choices;
  • systematically produce programs, and share valuable content on the web that engages the user even before the visit.

For each social network – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat – ad-hoc promotional campaigns and initiatives have to be created for the different target groups and objectives to be achieved. For this reason, museums today – and unfortunately this is not yet the case – should not neglect to make targeted investments in communication professionals, including in the management of social profiles.

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Museum web marketing: what not to miss

To talk about museum web marketing, summarising a lot, these activities must not be missing:

  • informing, receiving, and responding to requests for further information and criticism in a timely manner;
  • provide and share interesting and evocative content;
  • avoid excessive communication if not relevant;
  • use a simple and immediate tone, typical of social media, without debasing the authority of the institution.

In conclusion, the spread of social media is contributing to the affirmation of a new vision of the museum, the so-called “participatory museum” or “relational museum”, i.e. a place where the dynamic and interactive aspect of the user with respect to the experience he or she is having is fundamental.

Digital strategies should be adopted consistently with the mission of the individual institute, integrating and making the different digital channels used to communicate with each other.

For Italian museums in particular, welcoming innovation would mean finally overcoming the ancestral mental reservations linked to a conservative view of culture and involving a wider public, yes, but not a less valuable one.

Museum Marketing: Examples

A very interesting example of recent museum marketing by the Mibact – Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism – is increasingly active on a social level to promote Italian museums.

Present on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, it is, in my opinion, on the latter platform that it is at its best. Under the nickname MuseItaliani, which is also a hashtag, the Ministry publishes daily photos of museums and cultural venues, but above all launches promotional campaigns, often integrated with other social media and TV advertising.

A particularly significant example is the communication campaign “Art looks like you”, which started as an institutional advertisement for television and was then promoted on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook through the hashtag #lartetisomiglia.

The TV spot, made in collaboration with the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia directed by Paolo Santamaria and launched at the end of 2016, paved the way for a wide-ranging campaign, which will continue throughout 2017.

The suggestive starting idea is a play on the similarities between certain works preserved in the museums to be visited and the faces of ordinary people that evoke them. All accompanied by a series of messages with which to capture the interest of visitors, perhaps awakening their sense of patriotism: “Art looks like you”, “It is part of you”, “It is your heritage”.

The commercial ends with a call to action inviting people to visit Italian museums.

Among the works chosen to represent the “fusion” between masterpieces and visitors are the “Bust of Caracalla”, early 3rd century A.D., preserved in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples, Annibale Carracci’s “Self-portrait with figures” (c. 1593) in the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan, and Giorgio De Chirico’s “Portrait of Isa in a black dress” (1935). The Villa of the Mysteries, a pictorial cycle of the Triclinium, from the Pompeii excavations, also appears in the spot.

Doing museum web marketing on social channels for the Mibact has become a healthy habit.

It is in this context that recent initiatives stand out, such as the one for Women’s Day, launched with the eloquent hashtag #8marzoalmuseo, inviting all women to visit state cultural sites free of charge, or the #creaturefantastiche initiative, which invites people to search Italian museums for monsters and fantastic figures and share them with the hashtag #marzoalmuseo.

Online museum communication strategies

An increasing number of museum professionals in the digital age are using this method to enhance their exhibits at a time when in-presence use is being undermined by the pandemic and where instead, in a perhaps not entirely new reality, the online museum is depopulating.

Not all Italian museums, however, have been displaced by this new situation. In fact, some museums had already at an early stage started their digitization process, through the creation of online museums and/or virtual tours.

One example is the MArTA, the National Archaeological Museum in Taranto. Founded in 1887, it is one of the most important archaeological museums, housing one of the largest collections from the Magna Grecia era, including the famous Ori of Taranto. Today we get to know the MArTA through the words of Dr. Eva Degl’Innocenti, director of the museum.

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When did the need for an online museum arise?

eva degl innocenti museum director

The need for an online museum was born in 2016 thanks to the MArTA Museum 3.0 project financed under the Culture and Development Pon, the ERDF funds we dedicated entirely to museum innovation and digitization, well before the Three-Year Plan for the Digitisation and Innovation of Museums created by the Directorate General for Museums, issued in 2019.

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What digital tools and strategies do you adopt?

eva degl innocenti museum director

We have a digital platform that is not just a website but also includes a section called Media Library, with digital content. In fact, we have created a project of 40,000 digitized museum artifacts, in open data and open source that we will make available to everyone, shared on this online platform, which is presented in 8 languages.

media library

Few museums in Europe have a website, which is actually a digital platform, and the MArTA is the first to host a digital catalog of works, consisting of 40,000 open-data exhibits, including over 5,000 stereoscopic images.

Our strategies for the online museum include the Fablab activity, i.e. a digital handicraft workshop within the museum in a structured way which is dedicated to reproductions with 3D printers and laser scanners of the museum’s archaeological collections. We are the first Italian national museum to have set up a Fablab.

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What opportunities have you seized with the online museum?

eva degl innocenti museum director

The opportunities offered by the online museum are numerous, we see this these days with the 3D virtual tour, created by us in a bilingual (Italian and English) format, covering all the museum collections on display today. We are talking about 6000 m² of the museum! This has led to great curiosity, but also to great success.

We expect to reach 100% of the takings in the same period of 2019 with the museum open by 31 December 2020. This is because the 3D virtual tour has been linked to a crowdfunding platform, where anyone who wants can make a donation to the museum.

These donations are aimed at investing in research, financing contracts for young scholars, or even enhancement activities in the area; therefore there is also the possibility for the public to contribute to the enhancement of the city of Taranto and the territory.

In return for these donations, donors receive the virtual tour as a gift and can also give it to friends or relatives. To this end, we created the MArTA Christmas card, a digital card that provides the virtual tour as a gift. This is a success we have certainly achieved thanks to the online museum.

In addition, the Fablab (a fully digital craft workshop) is enjoying considerable success through E-learning, the distance learning activity with which children and adults can sign up (free of charge), to learn how to reproduce a 3D work of art at a distance, or how to use the robotics platform Sketchfab, for example. Afterward, it is possible to pick up the object reproduced using this free software at the museum.

A further opportunity and success resulting from the digital museum have been digitization through the Li-fi project. We are the first Italian national museum to have created and, among other things, already completed the Li-fi project, which uses the Light fidelity technique, i.e. lights emitted by a LED using light waves (and not radio-like Wi-fi). A much more reliable system than Wi-fi.

Therefore, we created an app that provides not only textual information but also audio video for all visitors, including people with disabilities, because everything is translated into sign language. In addition, the content is created and provided according to the different target audiences, so children have ad hoc content and there is a system of games to make the visit more interactive.

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How did the public react to this innovation?

eva degl innocenti museum director

The public reacted very well, so much so that the 3D virtual tour achieved a success that we had not expected, and was able to compensate for the closure of the museum as a result of the various Dpcm, so much so that we were able to achieve income from the online museum as if the museum were regularly open.

This is a very interesting fact. We do not think that the online museum should replace the physical experience, but we believe that digitization, innovation, and technology are complementary to the in-person visit.

On the social media side, we have also seen considerable success; for example, during the first lockdown, we achieved a 300 percent increase in the audience on Facebook, and recorded more than 100,000 new unique users; but also on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube channel, where we create content and archives for our initiatives.

Added to this is the success of the “Wednesdays of the MArTA”, lectures given by internationally renowned scholars that are broadcast live on Facebook and YouTube, so that the public can watch the lecture being streamed live. So what has improved is the relationship with the audience, now more interactive, emotional, and empathetic. So, in fact, even in the months of lockdown, we have increased the loyalty of our audience, despite the drama of the situation.

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What future do you envision for the online virtual museum?

eva degl innocenti museum director

Traditional museums and online museums must cohabit and coexist, indeed we have verified the importance of digital content not only within the museum, in fact, Li-fi is actually an app that you download once inside the museum, given the need to have the works in front of you to use it.

In effect, content is sent to your smartphone or tablet the moment you are near the shop window, as, through this new type of connectivity, this system of lights, of LEDs, is able to perceive and detect the viewers and thus deliver the content.

We intend to continue creating free digital content. As in the previous example of donation, this will also succeed in changing the paradigm a little, especially for public museums. To make the public realize that culture has a cost, and just as it does for us, it should also have a cost for users.

Furthermore, it is important that some high-quality digital content is not provided for free, but, donations or even a purchase of services is necessary. There is a lot of talk about the culture platform, similar to Netflix, this could be a very interesting project.

platform of culture

So the two must co-exist, the digital museum cannot replace the real one, but a good balance must be created between the two, which is not always easy.

An example is what we have done with the Fablab, that is, working remotely even with hundreds of users that we do not know, but with whom we create a link because to retrieve that object reproduced with a 3D printer, they have to go to the museum and so we create the incoming about the museum, but also the real knowledge about the collections.

These are important processes that we like to call from bits to atoms, i.e. digital activity at a distance that, however, is transformed into an atom, because it is transformed into a real experience and, vice versa, the physical visitor who uses the digital platform, in which there is digital content, including free content, which is continuously updated.

So, to create a good relationship with the public it is important that there is a complete experience: before, during, and after the visit. We conceive of it as an additional retention of the audience; the bond must never be lost.

For example, if a visitor comes from the United States and has seen MArTA once, we must be able to reach them where they are, this connection must always be there, and the person must come in and feel part of a community.


The National Archaeological Museum in Taranto is a clear example of how even so-called traditional sectors, such as museums, are undergoing a profound process of digitization and innovation to meet present and future needs.

The MArTA in this respect, represents one of the most virtuous Italian and European museums. Without distorting the classic museum experience, it has added cutting-edge digital components that have made the online museum a very important factor in the museum’s offer, which at the same time performs a complementary function to the traditional museum.

Would you like to give the visitor a different experience from the traditional museum but don’t quite know where to start? Contact an expert and define with him the path to follow.


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