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Film: The Omnichannel Museum

Open Stage at MuseumNext is a series of quick fire presentations on the Future of Museums. In this presentation filmed at MuseumNext New York in November 2016, Laura Fox from BCG shares her thoughts on the Omnichannel Museum.

Laura Fox: My partner, Anthony, and I have worked for museums and creative agencies in the US, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, and we have backgrounds in art, design, strategy, and engineering. By day, as Jim mentioned, we work for the Boston Consulting Group and its digital ventures arm, and on weekends, we run our own creative projects through our own company called Frabjous Labs. While Anthony got pulled away, unfortunately, on client work to Berlin unexpectedly today, I’m here to talk about how omnichannel content thinking is the future of museums.

So let’s start with this guy. What’s he thinking about? Possibly that the wall text is too small or that he can’t understand what it’s saying. Or these kids; they just got shushed. A minute ago, they were laughing and making up stories of what was in that painting. And this girl; she’s looking, wondering why she can’t really see the screen and wondering why she can’t just look at this at home on her iPad. And what about these kids? They’ve been playing for 20 minutes in this piece of art; a custom experience that couldn’t be experienced anywhere else outside of a physical space, designed for that type of experience.

I want to spend the brief time I have today talking to you about how we can radically rethink how we show content, and think about the differences between physical channels and digital channels so that we can create better experiences for our visitors and think about what kind of channel suits them best.

So let’s start with what sucks about museum experiences today so we can get specific. You know, there’s a lot of different stakeholders within museums, and for each of them, there’s problems and pain points today. If you look at artists, even if you get collected by a museum, your work sits in storage for years and doesn’t get its way to visitors. For a visitor, imagine a young mum. It’s hard to get kids out the door, and once you get to the museum, there can be a lot of problems. You don’t understand the wall text, they’re misbehaving and you get yelled at, and it kind of stresses you out. Or for curators, especially if you’re a junior curator, you have really limited opportunities to show your ideas and the types of works and artists that you want to show in a physical space because space is limited. And for museums, the cost of maintaining assets is incredibly high. You know, 500,000 objects in a collection is massive, and your revenue can vary based on the popularity of the show that you have in the museum.

But museums aren’t alone in this. A number of industries have gone through change recently and, as a result, have evolved or been disrupted. Netflix, for example, is a classic disruptor. They looked at an experience that was full of pain points; people going to a physical space to get videos, and often experiencing stock-outs. Target, for example, is a great example of an evolver. They’ve merged their digital and physical channels so that now you can get a digital coupon while shopping in the aisle, or with e-commerce, you can decide to pick up that object in-store. 50% of new purchases today are maybe a smartphone or a tablet for Target, and it hasn’t hurt them. The revenue’s up 22%. And let’s take Disney; basically a master in omnichannel content thinking for generations now. They have their core asset, which is their set of characters and stories, and they put that on everything from coffee mugs to theme parks, embedded in the movies that we love and cherish, TV shows and everything.

These kinds of savvy companies have a lot to teach us. They’re merging physical and digital in ways that make sense and that really create new experiences for their visitors. They don’t see digital as competition for the physical.

So there’s lot of changes happening in parallel, and I have tonne of stats that I don’t have time to share exactly, so just to give you a brief overview, this is happening for both visitors as well as for more macro trends. For visitors, everyone expects said access and convenience. We’re in the on-demand moment and we’re looking for things that are fast. But at the same time, given those demands, we’re looking for moments of escape and wellness. And every article that I’ve read about millennials the past five years has talked about how they’re looking for moments of authenticity and engage experiences.

Meanwhile, in the macro trends, these are in our headlines every day: tech is getting cheaper, business is elevating the importance of creativity, and new business models are evolving for content, so you can monetise digital content in really interesting ways.

So what is being good at omnichannel really look like? It means using channels for what they’re best at. The physical is an incredible channel for certain types of things; really visceral, tactile experiences. But there are lots of other channels out there that deliver really great different types of experiences, be that virtual reality, augmented reality, social channels, on-demand content and audio, streaming video services and so many others.

Virtual reality, for example, is really great at delivering and stimulating empathy and creating transportative experiences. Too often, have we all seen museums trying to jam different types of experiences that might be best suited for other channels into the physical space. So what might it look like if a museum rethought how they thought about their content and created the right type of experience and the right type of channel?     Imagine stepping into van Gogh’s mind through virtual reality. It’s not like looking at a high res image, and it’s not like looking at wall text or being in a place where he once lived. You’re actually in his perspective, seeing through his eyes, looking through his perspective at the way that he looked at the world.

And what about this augmented reality? As we know, augmented reality is great for delivering context in an additional information layer. What if, rather than telling visitors that dinosaurs once roamed Manhattan, you could actually show them one sitting under the Brooklyn Bridge? And I know the dinosaur thing is fun but think about it more expansively. A museum could add a layer to a city so that you’re providing context and exciting information that’s embedded in people’s daily lives.

A number of museums in New York also have the full digital archives of Andy Warhol’s collection. Unfortunately, to view them, you have to go to the physical spaces and look at them on 16mm film. What if, instead, there was a streaming service, an OTT platform where you could watch them, and this could be set up as an exclusive, time-bound event. Imagine it like Disney releasing something from the vault. It would be something to get excited about and have hype around.

Or let’s think about social media. Social media is great for real-time mass participation, much like a big event that we had in the United States last week. Imagine if a museum had allowed anyone through a Tweet or an email or other mechanism to fire a paintball of their political leaning within the gallery on any part of the map that they wanted to. Visitors to the museum could see that but also so could someone watching the Facebook live stream or even if the national news site picked it up.

These are just a few ideas of the ways that we can reimagine how we deliver content to our visitors. I ask you to think about which are the ones that will work best for your museum and to get creative, yourself.

And in the short time I have left, I think some of the outcomes of this are fairly obvious. In the short-term, you can really increase your reach, the type of audience you’re reaching, where they are, take them from passively engaging to much more active participation, and better utilise the assets that you have, which are important artefacts and art. But it also allows us to future proof our museums, both to create new revenue streams from these digital channels, whether it’s subscription, pay per view, or other models; to increase relevance and allow us to fit into people’s day-to-day lives; and also to take on this phrase, disrupt the disrupters, which, at the end of the day means owning the things that we’re best at, and using the content that we have and owning our right to win.

And I think it allows us to take on a number of existential questions too because it allows us to think very carefully about the ways that we’re delivering information to people and to think about what museums full potential purpose in society is. Are we a place of learning, a place of healing, a place of worship, or a place of escape? I know that I’ve gone to museums this past week looking for a lot of those things.

But this fundamentally means that new skills to really do this right, both within museums and outside of museums. Within museums, it’s really thinking cross content, so no longer having divides between who’s creating the content with the museum space and who’s creating it for the digital channels. And outside of museums, this is really a place to get creative and the types of partnerships you seek out. Whether that’s with a device manufacturer, an OTT platform, different types of content creators, the list could be endless. But it also means a fundamental change in mindset, and I think that there’s three keys here. First is giving visitors what they want, when and where they want it; second is to stop seeing innovation as a threat to the physical spaces; and third, to show content in the most optimal manner possible, based on the type of experience we’re trying to create.

And as we all know from the past day and a half, our own favourite museums and others, this is really already happening. Here’s just four examples of things that I think are impressive and are great but I’m sure that many of you have ideas of your own. And there’s great experimentation happening but we need to start forming these into cohesive, coherent strategies that can pull through the entire museum. Because I think that there’s actually not a better time to be a museum. It’s almost as if there’s a number of trends conspiring right now to make it a perfect moment. And we have to take advantage of it. There’s social trends like this on-demand moment, and where people are seeking moments of escape and wellness. Cultural shifts where people are looking for creativity but don’t know where to start. Technology that’s getting cheaper and more accessible, and DIY, and business model adaptation that’s allowing us to monetise content across a number of different channels. So now is your moment. How are you going to take advantage of it? Thank you.

Laura Fox talked about the Omnichannel Museum at MuseumNext New York. 

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