Let's Get Real

Can we reinvent our online cultural offer?

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Frances Croxford on cultural retail and building your brand digitally



Frances Croxford knows a thing or two about online cultural retail and branding. Having spent ten years as Product Developer at Tate Enterprises, she helped translate one of the world’s most recognisable art gallery brands into something that had both financial and emotional benefit for the gallery.

Now she’s looking forward to sharing her expertise in a keynote speech at Culture24’s Let’s Get Real 2016 conference, which will argue it is time to ‘Reclaim the Souvenir’.   She believes we need to think more carefully about the emotional impact of online cultural retail and the cultural value it can bring.

“If it’s relevant and connected to what you do, online retail will build your relationship with your audiences in an engaging and valuable way,” says the cultural brand expert whose company, Seeking State, has helped clients – from the V&A to the Whitworth Art Gallery, understand and redefine the way people engage with culture.

“In the current climate it has to be about sustainability and resilience,” she adds, “but retail has to be both a financial and emotional building of your brand.”

Engagement and relationships are key factors in any brand’s success, but as with any business proposition there also needs to be a nurturing of entrepreneurial culture – and risk taking, both of which don’t always come naturally to many cultural organisations – especially in the museum and gallery sector.

“Cultural organisations are becoming more and more cautious,” says Frances. “They are getting entrenched, scared and defensive because they are on the back foot, but retail has to take risks to be successful.

“Retail can drive that sense of entrepreneurialism, drive that sense of being nimble and can be at the forefront of driving change internally.”

Frances believes a fundamental barrier to internal change is “silo culture”.

“‘I have my digital department, I have my retail department’ – but they are different departments,” she explains. “It’s a huge challenge to get those departments talking to each other.”

But there are more fundamental difficulties facing many smaller organisations, many of whom don’t know where to begin tackling basic issues around knowledge, skills and capacity.

“Many organisations don’t have an online shop or the capacity to even package a postcard and send it out to people,” says Frances. “There’s also a real scatter gun approach, where people feel they have to be online on every platform without understanding that you have to have the right thing on the right platform at the right time.”

“It’s about a shift in the mindset,” she explains, “I’m really into the idea of reclaiming the notion of the souvenir. The actual meaning of the word souvenir is it’s a memento; it’s something from deep within the memory. I think we need to shift from the idea that the souvenir is something low quality and low budget to something beautiful and designed. And not badged.

“You have your mug and you have your logo so you badge it. And that’s not done in an intellectually and emotionally sophisticated way. You have to think intelligently about applying the ideas behind objects.”

Frances believes souvenirs are powerful and dynamic devices that have the potential to make deeper connections than collections themselves. The museum or gallery shop can have conversations with audiences that are just as powerful and meaningful as their experience of a collection, an exhibition or a work of art.

“There is just as much curatorial decision making in putting a piece in your shop as there is in putting it on display in your collection,” she says.

“It’s not just about developing stuff. It’s not even just about solving problems, it’s about finding problems that you can find solutions to which will allow you to create something that has meaning and purpose.”

For Frances one of the barriers to success in online retail for cultural organisations is the way, even in the digital space, there has been a traditional separation, in which the shop is the platform and product development is seen as a separate place where you create the stuff you put on your platform.  And as anyone who has shopped online knows, it’s not just about the physical store anymore.

“I think a more helpful way of thinking about it is, instead of saying you have product development and an online shop, you have an idea which is basically your brand and you’re expressing it through an experience, through an object and through memories.”

“It’s about authenticity,” adds Frances, “in a micro and macro-level it’s what it can say about identity – it’s about communication, cultural value and, importantly it’s about what you do.”

Learn more from Frances at the Let’s Get Real 2016 conference. Book your ticket now!

Posted May 19, 2016 in: Uncategorized by Jane Finnis

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