New, easy-to-execute brand identity system modernizes museum’s image

What was the situation?

Memphis Brooks Museum of Art is the oldest and largest museum in Tennessee, and in 2016, it launched a year-long campaign to celebrate its centennial anniversary. The campaign featured a new brand identity and included renovations, expanded gallery spaces, community events, special exhibitions, and other elements designed to generate interest and increase engagement with the museum.

While the campaign itself was a success, the rebrand encountered some challenges. Limited funding meant some touch points couldn’t be updated, and new graphic elements proved challenging for the museum’s small staff to execute. And in some instances, the new look couldn’t be applied due to strict artwork usage rights. This created inconsistency, diluting the impact of the new branding. In addition, the closing of neighboring Memphis College of Art and an announcement that the Brooks would be relocating to downtown Memphis created confusion in the community about the museum’s status.

Concerned that these factors had chipped away at its status as a respected arts institution, the Brooks engaged Oden to help strengthen its brand in the marketplace and remind the community of the treasure they have in their midst.

 

How did Oden help?

Our goal was to create a prescriptive framework that would ensure all brand executions, whether institutional or exhibition-specific, were at once recognizable as Brooks. Knowing that the museum staff wears many hats, we knew ease of execution would be key.

After analyzing the museum’s current presence to identify factors that contributed to the public’s disconnect with the brand, we benchmarked well-recognized museums to see how they apply their brand across different touch points. Our key takeaways from the benchmarking exercise were:

  • Museums create a strong brand impression by using at least one systematic approach through either color, typography, design framework, or logo placement.
  • The museum brand identity is at the forefront of all external communications, rather than exhibitions, programs, or events.
  • The lack of a systematic approach waters down the impact of the brand.
  • Over time, the consistent application of a system makes the brand so recognizable that its logo or initials can be used without the full name. These elements become the embodiment of the brand, distilling its core identity into its purest form.

 

We then developed a strategic design system that would elevate museum branding. Anchored by a clean and modern framework, the new system puts the museum at the forefront, creating an instantly recognizable look for the Brooks. Key aspects of the new system included:

  • Pairing of the Brooks logotype with artwork – Layering is flexible to accommodate artwork restrictions, when necessary.
  • Simplified color palette featuring a brighter red – The palette infuses energy and strengthens the overall brand impression. The color system accommodates a wide range of imagery, and the new red allows for layering of black text.
  • Strong grid system – The grid ensures uniform placement for all elements—exhibitions, titles, dates, artwork, logotype, museum name, credit lines, and sponsors.

 

What were the results?

Overall, the new approach set a tone and established a bold and memorable look that modernized the museum’s image. Exterior billboards and banners featuring the new identity effectively delivered a strong, consistent brand impression, communicating that the Brooks is a vibrant, active organization and a source for arts programs in the community.

The new system made creating materials easy for museum staff. Rather than reinventing the wheel for every communication, they can now spend more time working on the museum’s mission as well as marketing and fundraising.

Memphis Brooks Museum of Art continues to rely on us as a trusted partner for marketing support because, as they’ve expressed, we understand their brand, personality, and the limitations inherent to working with licensed artwork, as well as their budget and staffing restrictions.