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Film: Emotionalizing the Museum

The 21st Century Museum faces a daunting challenge. Today, people can access all the infomation that they need at the touch of a button, so said Christian Lachel from BRC at MuseumNext Geneva. His solution is for Museums to give visitors an emotional experience.

Christian Lachel: Thank you very much, everyone, especially the ones in the back for staying. I know it’s the end of the day, so I’m going to keep the pace up, so if you’re trying to write things down, it may go a little too fast – you may just want to take some photos.

I’m Christian Lachel; I’m the Vice President and Executive Creative Director for an experience design agency based in Los Angeles, also in Eindhoven and the UK, and Seoul, Korea.

We design brand destinations and cultural attractions all over the world that audiences love, and they really do love the stuff that we create. So, we’re going to share some things, and the idea here is going beyond just the emotionalising the museum, but really, the idea of an emotional engagement.

People love stories; people need stories. We know that. There’s enough science about that. We worked on a lot of museums around the world, but one that we worked on more recently here in Europe was the museum of Liverpool which you may recognise here [unintelligible], in the UK. I know people have brought it up across the conference over the last couple of days.

When we set out to do this museum, it was a city museum, and it has to be about … Cities are about people – it’s a social history story. People make cities. We’re really proud that it was the Council of Europe’s museum prize for 2013, for promoting human rights.

How did we get there? How did we start to think about how we emotionalise and build a platform for a future museum that needs to be there for the next hundred years?

Well, we started off by stating two things right away, when we met with the curatorial teams and the museum leadership. One, it had to be story driven, and two, we had this amazing collection, so it needed to be object-rich. We needed to figure out a way to unlock the stories, and we knew that we would have too many stories that we could tell on day one.

So, we started to comb through these warehouses in Liverpool. I mean, it’s a dock city – there’s these wonderful warehouses; they’re full of amazing objects. I came across this object when we were on one of our tours, and I asked one of the curators, said, ‘What is that? What are those? Why are you saving this? This just looks like a [heat] mess of really just broken wood, and a couple of old speakers’. He said, ‘Well, there’s an interesting story to that. On 6th July 1957, that young man right there, John Lennon, was playing a church fete in Woolton in Liverpool, and he met this guy.

That was the stage where Paul McCartney and John Lennon met. That moment changed history, changed musical history, social history, to the point where women, and men, and young people all over the world would go crazy with emotions from the music that these guys would write and would distribute. I was at the Rock Hall induction the other day and saw Ringo get in – fantastic, the emotions are still there, generations later.

That’s what we have to tap into, that emotional power of stories and objects. We thought of the museum as a storytelling platform that was inclusive, that would be able to change over time.

Here’s another story that was just told: 940 000 came through, saw the story. It’s a transgender story, born George Jamison, the story of April Ashley, a Vogue model, transgender story, inclusive, opening up new frontiers to people. This is what we do, and this is the power to change.

So, the real question is, so what’s your story? You have a museum, you have an experience; what do you want to tell? Every museum, we feel, has a story to tell, and the real question is, does it inspire, engage and connect with your guests? Does it transform your guests, and compel them to share with others? And, sharing is so important now. We know, it’s beyond just experiencing it – people need to share these stories; that’s the power that we’re after.

So, everyone [said] story, and I agree with them; we’ve heard story and content thrown around a lot over the last couple of days. Is this a story? Or, is this a story? Does it meet the power of the ten? They claim to be stories, but the reality is, they’re not stories, and I’m okay saying that. They’re not stories.

The science of storytelling tells us that stories that deeply resonate and emotionally connect matter, and that’s the thing that’s been missing. Stories like this one resonate with people, because they’re emotional. We find a way into the story; it connects across generations. Stories like this one may be old – some of you probably got a couple of smiles on your faces thinking about the memory of that film.

But, if story was easy, every film would be a hit, like Jackass III wasn’t. Every book would be a bestseller, and every museum would be a stunning success, and we know that that’s not true. We see museums struggle. But, we know it’s not easy, and that’s why we have to start with a blank piece of paper, and that’s where we always start, with any project we’re working on.

So, how do we create a story and experience that matters? The thinking here is that you must go beyond story, and create emotional engagement, and I think we’ll probably hear some more about engagement later.

That’s what the great filmmakers, writers, storytellers understand – it’s about creating an emotional experience. So, over the last 33 years, we’ve developed what we call some keys for emotional engagement, how do we create this, and today I’m going to share a couple with you. There’s a bunch of them that we use when we start design projects, but I’m only going to have time for about six of them, so we’ll go through them each, and this will be something that you could write down.

It reflects a lot on what Edwin said earlier – the first key is the key to the heart. It’s absolutely essential. Frank Capra, one of the greatest film directors of all time, It’s a Wonderful Life – there are no rules in storytelling, only sins, and the cardinal sin is dullness. How many of us have been dull? Museum feet. You can’t be dull.

The way that you make it something that’s emotional, is that you start here; you start in the heart of the audience. You identify who that audience is, and you work from that point outward. So, it’s very important to work from emotions, work from, what is that desire? Meet the audience where they’re at. What are their hopes? What are their dreams? What are they interested in? It’s going to vary depending on what project you’re working on. There’s no two that are ever the same.

So, we started to think about things this way, from the inside to the outside, versus from the outside to the inside. We start with the heart; some people start with exterior architecture and technology. Well, the way to do it, [heart] story, story to an emotional journey, then maybe the technology that serves the story, serves the journey, an experience design and emotional design that wraps that thing into something that’s meaningful, and that experience could be both virtual and physical, and they are, today.

Then, maybe we’ll think about the exterior architecture, but a lot of times, we’re also thinking about how we’re going to extend that story. Exterior architecture to experience, often leads to story, if any, and random results leading to lots of question marks when people aren’t showing up to your museum. [Unintelligible 00:38:07]. So, what is the story of your museum in the mind and hearts of your guests? That’s key. Put yourself in their shoes. Start there.

Second, know your destination. I love this quote. This is from Yogi Berra – I don’t know if you know him, New York Yankee. He said, ‘if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll likely end up someplace else’. It doesn’t make any sense to start a project without understanding your objectives. So, we think of it this way – if the people coming in – I’m not going to define who that audience is, that’s up to you – you have to define the difference you’re trying to create. That’s the story experience; that’s your museum, your exhibit, whatever it is that you’re creating, a digital experience, whatever it is, and people coming out the other end.

So, if A is the audience going into the story experience, thinking about that emotional piece, then the question is, what’s the A prime? A minus A prime equals the delta. What is the change in the audience that you’re trying to create? If you don’t know what that change is, get back to the paper, start again. Understand where you’re going, because if not, if A equals A prime, if there’s no change, if you don’t know what your objectives are, then don’t do it. Don’t waste the money.

But, if you do, if you understand your objectives and you create an emotional experience, you can move people from just being slightly interested in something, so absolutely mesmerised, emotionally engaged, sharing things. We see this all the time in the experiences that we create, that people share. They love to talk about these projects, these subjects, these stories that we put out there.

This definitely is on target with Edwin’s discussion – one strong, unifying theme. He called it the big idea, we call it the theme. All great stories and experiences have a central theme, every single one of them. Look at this one. Titanic – we all know what’s going to happen in this film. The ship’s going to sink. I’m sorry to give it away, but the ship is going to sink. Why in the world would this be one of the top grossing films of all time? It’s because the story is about following your heart. It’s about a young women who is in first class, who is in love, wants to follow her heart, you know, to sit on the sofa and do all that kind of stuff, and hang out in the front of the bow, because she’s in love. She’s following her heart. Who can’t get behind that? That’s a theme that resonates with people.

Another one – you may not like it – it’s Disney. I know, it’s … But, it’s hard to argue with it, because the storytelling is strong. And, what’s the theme there? It’s Let It Go – it’s right in the song. Every toddler, every kid, wants to be Elsa. They don’t want to be Anna. Some of them do, but most of them want to be Elsa because they’re letting go. I have a six year old daughter – she’s letting go of having to spend all the time with me; she’s starting to go to school – these are themes that resonate with us, and central to the key ideas. Here, we like this film clip. If you work in our studio, this … You’ll like this.

Male Voice: See, now that’s great. Your life makes sense to you. What’s so funny?

Male Voice: You city folks – you worry about a lot of [shit]. None of you get it. Do you know what the secret of life is?

Male Voice: No, what?

Male Voice: This.

Male Voice: Your finger?

Male Voice: One thing, just one thing, you stick to that, and everything else don’t mean shit.

Male Voice: That’s great, but what’s the one thing?

Male Voice: That’s what you’ve got to figure out.

Christian Lachel: And, that is what you need to figure out. So, that’s one thing. Create an emotional journey. We all know this. I mean, this is inherent in great narrative, you know, the fourth key. Jonathan Gottschall, I don’t know if you’ve read his book on The Storytelling Animal – it’s one of the best books that was written on the subject of storytelling, says ‘events and attractions can be designed the same way as novels; you walk into a distinct world, and the story is built up experience by experience, plot point by plot point, just like you’d have in a novel. The more you do that, the more you tap into this unique power of story to grab attention, rouse emotion, and persuade’.

So, what are stories? It’s about human connection. We build these places so people can come together. We create experiences that can be … They’re human. The stories are human. Just look at the April Ashely exhibit. Look at these stories. They’re personal. If you do it right, it can be a personal journey, but it’s also a shared journey. People come together. Families come together. These are shared journeys that we create.

These are the tools of great narrative. One thing that’s often forgotten about is ritual. How do you create ritual in the experience? What are the things that you can create time and time again with programming, to make people come back and remember that one moment, and sort of relive it again? If you do it right, there’s a great sense of discovery and emotional narrative, and you have to have a great, dramatic arc. This is power storytelling – it’s an arc; it ebbs and it flows. It’s not one thing, it’s choreographed across a variety of experiences, not one type, all the same, a variety of different things, engaging all the senses.

The great thing about physical design is that we can; we can engage all the senses. So, you have to use sound. How many museums do you walk into and you can’t hear anything? Sound is such an emotional driver of storytelling and experience. Watch any of your favourite films without the music on, without the sound on – completely different experience. Why don’t we use this in dynamic ways to help people have audio cues? We do it all the time.

Taste – there’s no reason why you can’t have taste in experiences, if it makes sense for your story. Aroma – filling a room up with a great, sort of, fresh aroma that’s sort of evocative, the smells that release … We have sense memories, and we need to unlock those, because that’s the power of physical design that you can’t get in a digital space, and you can’t really get it in a film.

Visual storytelling is absolutely key. Don’t go light on it, punch it – hit it hard. A family being torn apart in a slave auction – this is not a light subject. Hit it hard; people weep when they see this.

And, touch – we talked a lot about tactile, a lot about making. Get people touching and doing things. It’s important. That’s what physical design allows us to do. Most important, make the audience feel the story, or feel the experience.

The sixth key is, quality and delivery matter. I could tell you time and time again, people go cheap on it and say, ‘Oh, well, I didn’t get the results’. You have to put the quality and the details into it. We live in an HD world. We live in a high def world. You can’t even look at a TV the same way anymore. You don’t think your audience doesn’t live in an HD world? They can see the details.

This is an experience that we redid in Amsterdam – move it from okay to exceptional. Exceptional details, stunning media, intuitive design, a sense of magic, artistic touches – those are all part of great storytelling and great experience making.

The seventh key is be alive. Experiences today are no longer static; they’re alive. It goes back to one of the people who really knows a lot about the story, which is Joseph [Campbell]. He said, ‘people say that we’re all seeking is the meaning of life’. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking; I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so we actually feel the rapture of life.

So, why? Our experiences need to encourage people to create, be alive, participate, capture moments in fun ways that are unexpected, not just selfies, but give people a reason to capture, to share, to celebrate. Why can’t a museum be a celebration at times? Of course it can.

Play, extend, get beyond the four walls. Go out and into the community; do fun things that promote emotion on key days. Why not? And, if you do it, people will return. They may not do the, I went when I was a kid, and then I went with my family, and I went when I was 80 years old. We’re seeing … I mean, I could tell you, we’re in a museum community in LA – we go to the museum all the time, because it’s an active, living place. It’s alive. So, make sure you return. That’s a flock of seagulls, by the way, at the Museum of Liverpool.

So, when used together, these seven keys create experiences that matter. How do we know if these keys work? Well, here’s an example: the audience tells you. They vote with their time; they vote by telling you what’s going on. They’ll tell you if it’s not doing well. Believe me – the Trip Advisor, and all the other signals will start to go down, and you’ll have low ratings. Highlight of my trip – this is [for the Ford Rouge], excellent view of the assembly plant. Heineken. I’m just going to flip through these. People will tell you.

That’s the power we have today. We’re in a connected world. You don’t have to wait for the surveys. If it’s a great experience, they’re sharing it right away. You’re looking at your Instagram; you’re looking at your Trip Advisor, you’re seeing real time how you’re doing. It’s a pulse on the lifeblood of whether it’s connecting emotionally with your audience. I’ll just flip through a couple more of these, because I want to get to the end here.

This is a letter we got for a project we did at the World of Coke. The Moments of Happiness movie was the greatest thing they viewed this year, it emotionally connects. People cry every time in this film. But, it’s more than just the guests’ feedback – when you start projects, you always get this feasibility, oh, what’s the projection in the attendance? How are you going to do? Here’s what you’re going to get on your retail, here’s what you’re going to do on your event spend. The attractions that we work on that emotionally connect, we’ve seen in other attractions that also, museums that also have emotional connection, we’ve seen these numbers much higher, on average beating the projects by 50%.

Lincoln Library is ten years old – we [unintelligible 00:49:24] by more than 50%. $840 million a year into the local community – it’s a lot of people and a lot of money, and the greatest thing about that is, it’s across the board, in retail, admission, event revenue, but also in terms of smiles and guest satisfaction. In some cases, the emotional difference drives it even higher.

For example, the Heineken Experience in Amsterdam went from 300,000 people to over 700,000, and we’re on our way to a million. That’s 140% growth in attendance. Why? Because people love it.

So, ultimately, like a great film, the audience will tell you, and that’s the emotional souvenir that you have to look for. If you only take away one thing, it’s the first key – that’s the key to the audience heart. Start there. If you do that, that’s going to give you a lot of clues on how to craft the right story, the right type of experiences, that are going to resonate and make people want to come back.

Maya Angelou – you’re the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been, told, forgot – it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that, I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.

Why do we create emotional experiences in museums? Because they’re transformative. They can make a difference in the world. They can move people. They can talk about really deep subjects in ways that other places can’t. And, if there’s anything that I’ve learned over the last two days here is, I’ve seen a lot of people striving to do that. So, I think if we use these tools, we can do great things in the world, and I hope you’ll use some of these keys in the projects that you’re working on.

Thank you.

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