A Community’s Untapped Resource

Don't be afraid to give up the good to go for the great."

John D. Rockefeller

While nearly every community is seeking ways to ignite tourism and stimulate economic growth, there is oftentimes an untapped resource that goes unnoticed and in large part unclaimed.  That untapped and unclaimed community resource is that of local museums.

While it is rare that a single museum will by itself lift a community out of an economic decline, it isn’t so rare these oftentimes-unclaimed resources can provide a great stepping-stone or foundation upon which to build. To be fair, it is rarely a single entity, museums included, which will lift a community.  It is normally a community-wide long range and strategic marketing approach that involves multiple and varied methods that will win the day.  But make no mistake, when done correctly; museums can be a big part of that community-wide strategy.

A community must also understand the nature of most museums.  While there are a few museums that can stand on their own financially, communities must understand that museums are rarely able to accomplish that.  There is usually a financial cost with having local quality of life entities such as event centers, sport complexes and other infrastructure.  But when one factors even very modest figures; a case can be made for supporting these entities to a reasonable degree.  If only 2000 out of town tourists come to your community due to a museum attraction and only spend $250  (about 1/3 of what studies show can be expected), that is $500,000 new dollars circulating through your community.

I would suggest that with a concerted marketing and branding strategy, (yes, marketing is vastly different than branding) museums will not be a public drain, but a valued resource that helps propel a community forward.  Furthermore, communities that have the luxury of museums should create a specific museum strategy that is promoted, celebrated, branded and advertised far and wide. Smart communities figured this out long ago.

As communities develop their museum strategy, always keep in mind that the most important issue is that of the visitor experience. Ask yourself, if I had traveled one or two hours to visit this museum, would I be thrilled or disappointed. If the answer isn’t “thrilled,” you may not be considered a viable museum.  If you can’t find a reason to stay and take-in the various museums exhibit’s for more than an hour, you may want to revaluate your museum and create an entity that raises awareness, concerns, educates and thrills.  If you aren’t adding new displays and interactive components at least monthly, you are lacking.  If any of the above describes your museum, it doesn’t mean it won’t work, it only means your community must determine what needs to be done to change that.

Once you have created the museum experience that you as a community can find reasons to visit yourself multiple times and one that you can’t wait to take your visiting family to; you are ready to start your regional museum campaign. If you are a community with multiple museums, you are sitting on a goldmine of tourism. Piece together a marketing plan around the entire museum experience; give reason for tourists to select your community based on this grand experience.

Spread the message far and wide, you will be amazed at the results when done correctly. As the numbers securely support, the payback to your community can be huge, but only if you strategize the approach.  Communities must learn to market and brand themselves efficiently, that is a key component to not only a powerful museum strategy, but a powerful community-wide strategy as well.  Promoting your community is not a playground for those who can’t see the forest through the marketing trees.

It is time for communities to seize the moment. It is time for communities to get serious about marketing themselves or they will be left as road kill on the highway to prosperity.   

John A. Newby is the author of the "Building Main Street, Not Wall Street" weekly column dedicated to helping local communities keep their consumer dollars local. He can be reached by email at: john@UniquelyUSA.net