Sunday, June 24, 2018

Top Ten Nonprofit Arts Brands

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on......................."

For longer than a hundred years, in America and across the planet, companies, enterprises and organizations, both public and private, have been branding their goods and services to implant in the public mind their quality and value, including their accolades, and to entice that public to support them.  Recognition, familiarity, trust, and interest are the success benchmarks.

From Coca Cola to Kleenex to "Scotch" Tape, companies have sought to associate their name brand with the essence of the product.  And not just with their products, but with their companies themselves/  From General Motors to General Electric.  More recent additions to the brand success stories include the iPhone and Apple, Google, and Facebook.  Uber quickly became synonymous with private taxi service, while Airbnb meant an alternative to hotels - which hotels had spent considerable effort, time and money to brand themselves.  The New York Times has seemingly been around, and at the forefront of news gathering, forever.

Indeed, the goal is for the brand to first become widely known and recognized.  But equally important  - to be recognized for a superior product or service at a good value.  And now we have seen a ratcheting up of the importance of a company's image as a responsible corporate citizen as part of the brand.

Establishing a widely known and trusted brand usually takes time, effort and money.  While it use to take a considerable period of time to establish a brand, today the time factor seems to have been lessened - e.g., iPhones and Apple's meteoric rise in less than a decade.  Procter and Gamble took decades to really establish TIDE as the premier detergent. Google took far less time to be recognized as the search engine.  Advertising support geared to brand identity establishment still plays a significant role, but today word of mouth, social networking platforms and the internet in general can greatly speed up the process, and there is considerable effort to use those tools.  And nothing works like mass usage over time.

Still, establishing a brand it isn't easy.

Brand identity can be global as in the case of certain products or services, like smart phones, luxury cars, airlines, fashion and the like.  But it can also be localized and regional as in the case of certain supermarket chains, restaurant chains and more.

In the nonprofit arts, there are brands established at various level of recognition and in various territories as well.  Virtually every arts organization is committed to establishing and enhancing their brand.  Here then is a subjective list of the TOP TEN ARTS BRANDS -- the ones mostly widely known:

  • Museums:  The most recognized brands in the field are The Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.  Both have been around for a long time, enjoy substantial numbers of domestic and international visitors, receive ample press and media coverage and offer an impressive product based on massive collections.  They have successfully achieved destination status.
         There are a number of regional museums - from the Guggenheim to the Getty - that have solid brands as well, but arguably cannot compare with these two top entries.

  • Dance:  While the Joffrey and the American Ballet are fairly well known, it is the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater that seems to have the most widely recognized and powerful dance brand.  That achievement is, in part, because of the near canonization of its' principal - Alvin Ailey, and the media hype that has long surrounded the company
          Again, there are a number of local / regional companies that are widely recognized as well.

  • In music, the New York Philharmonic is probably the most widely known brand.   Having celebrity artist relationships, as in the case of Leonard Bernstein, helps establish a brand, as does length of time in existence.
          There are likely a dozen other widely known orchestras and symphonies around the county - in Los Angeles, Boston, Cleveland, San Francisco, Houston and elsewhere - that have enviable brands as well.

  • And, of course, in Opera, is is the New York Met that dominates as the brand most people recognize.  Their movie theater offerings have helped cement their brand position.
          Note: As New York has, for so long, dominated arts culture institutions, in part because of their longevity and their media exposure, large funding streams, their major cultural institution brands are more established that those of other areas.   

  • In Theater, the company brands are all more regional and diffuse.
  • And for Performing Arts Centers, while there are some spectacular ones around the country, it is the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, certainly due in part to its national Kennedy Center Honors television specials and its designation in Washington D.C. as the nation's center, that has the dominant brand.
  • We now have literally hundreds of major arts festivals in towns and cities, small and large.  But the most widely recognized festival  brand is likely the Sundance Film Festival.
  • In our own insular world, with brands limited to success within that field - that of arts managers and administrators - the two biggest brands are: 1.  the NEA - for us because of its grant program, research and leadership.  And to the public, unfortunately because of its political hot potato status as the whipping boy of the conservative right wing.  2.  Americans for the Arts - because of its umbrella housing of a number of segments of our field, and because of two of its principal activities:  advocacy in support of continually saving the NEA, and research on the economic benefits of the arts - is the most widely recognized and known arts service provider organization.  
          Again, there are a number of growing brands within our field, but none yet have the brand identity of AFTA.

  • And finally, also limited to our field, in the area of communications and publications, Arts Journal - the arts news aggregator with a substantial following - has established a solid brand.
All of these brands are impressive. All took time to build.  This list is purely subjective and not intended to diminish or exclude any of our excellent organizations.  People may disagree and support other brands as more important.  This is just meant to spur on some thinking about brand identity.

Hopefully, your organization is on its way to establishing your own solid, respected brand within your field and territory.  

Have a great week.

Don't Quit