Professional Development

Building an Authentic Brand

How a 100-year-old institution successfully rebranded while staying authentic to its roots

By Nate Garvis, Tom Wiese and Kolina Cicero
Thu, 2017-03-30 14:29

Have a brief conversation with Studio/E member Kristin Prestegaard and you would be quick to notice her vibrant personality and sincere joy in engaging with you. These attributes render her a perfect fit for her role at the Minneapolis Institute of Art: Chief Engagement Officer. As such, it is Kristin’s job to enroll — to encourage the community into visiting the museum. Everything she does revolves around the visitors, from how they are invited to the museum to how they are greeted to how they go home and reflect on their experience. Fueled with passion for the arts and an obvious love for the people of our community, Kristin’s efforts have influenced the museum’s attendance increase of 70 percent in a mere four years. Having celebrated its centennial in 2015 (though the original concept for the museum was incepted in 1883), the museum is rife with new ideas, high attendance and, in case you hadn’t yet noticed — a new brand. Formerly called the M-I-A, the museum now goes by Mia, meaning “mine.” This was part of the institution’s effort to reflect back to the community that the museum is theirs.

Kristin shed some light on what art means to a community, how Mia keeps its brand authentic and how partnerships have led to groundbreaking attendance.

Studio/E: What brought you into the arts?
Kristin: I grew up traveling and going to museums. My dad would take me to different museums, including Mia. He told me to pick something I love and do it, and the money and the job would work itself out. So after a few years in TV, I took an entry-level, part-time job at Mia. I loved the museum so much that I decided I wanted to work there. This was 14 years ago. Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to build a division underneath me. 

Studio/E: Mia’s visitors are diverse. How do you make the experience a welcome one for all? 
People receive information in different ways. One thing we did recently is rewrite all of the labels in the entire museum. We did this by testing them with visitors. They would read the panel aloud and if they got stuck on a word, we’d circle it and rewrite it. We didn’t dumb them down; we just took the information and put it into consumable, bite-sized pieces. Some people prefer labels while others prefer digital tools, so we worked with SapientNitro to create an app called Journeys, where people can plan their own journey through the museum. It’s kind of like a digital tool to create your own adventure. 

"In a complex world where we’re navigating uncertainty, knowing that art isn’t right or wrong is a good tool to help refine thinking."

Studio/E: How do you enroll folks whose first instincts wouldn’t be to visit a museum?
Kristin: We pride ourselves on accessibility — we’re free and we changed our hours so that we’re open more evenings. Nobody will ever judge what you like or don’t like, and there’s no right or wrong way to experience the museum. I wish that people who haven’t visited Mia would feel like they could come here and it would be safe for them. I understand it may be an intimidating place to those who haven’t been before and I would love to change that perception. 

Studio/E: What impact does a museum have on a community?
Kristin: I think art is essential. A museum is a place where people can have dialogues and be inspired or reflect. It’s a safe place for everyone in the community. Because of the 5,000 years of human history at Mia, we can tell stories of the past so that we don’t repeat them in the future. In a complex world where we’re navigating uncertainty, knowing that art isn’t right or wrong is a good tool to help refine thinking. You can find the meaning of life in art or you could simply think it’s pretty. Both are fine. 

Studio/E: What is the museum’s greatest enrollment challenge?
Kristin: We attract a diverse variety of people — young and old, educated and uneducated, wealthy and not wealthy. A challenge we have is creating an environment where all people can find enjoyment. We’ve begun to create experiences based on behaviors versus demographics. Instead of designing for Millennials or African Americans, we now design for motivations. A motivation could be to bring your friends and have a good time or to bring your kids to educate them. We’ve found that by looking for motivations instead of demographics, we’ve identified real needs and are meeting our customers where they want us. 

Studio/E: Was Mia’s brand overhaul stressful?
Kristin: Not at all, because it was so authentic to us. The rebrand started with a culture plan and a value proposition about what makes us the only of our kind. When we got to the point where we needed to change how we talked about ourselves, it was such a natural, authentic extension of what we were already doing that it felt right. And when we presented the change to the staff and board of trustees, it was universally accepted. 

Studio/E: Mia has seen much success because of your focus on authenticity. How do you build an authentic brand?
Kristin: 1. Put the customers first. Find out what is important to them and meet them there. 2. Create a culture plan. We wrote a culture plan that is not just words; it’s something we embody every day. We have five key attributes that we hire for, train for and celebrate success around. Everybody who works at Mia has a common language about what’s expected. 3. Know who you are. Clearly define and understand who you are, then create a value proposition that articulates it. Transforming a 100-year-old institution’s brand is not an easy undertaking. Kristin and her team got so clear on the museum’s persona and how they wanted to enroll its visitors that the brand revamping turned out to be a big success. And if the attendance rates are any indicator, this is a success that will keep on giving.



NAME: Kristin Prestegaard, chief engagement officer, Minneapolis Institute of Art
DESCRIPTION: A museum that enriches the community by collecting, preserving and making accessible outstanding works of art from the world’s diverse cultures.
KRISTIN'S DESIRE: To find and bring joy into every situation.
STUDIO/E COMPETENCY: Enrollment: Bringing people on board with your idea because they have identified their self-interest in it.


Nate Garvis (left) and Tom Wiese are founding partners of Studio/E. They are both Senior Fellows at the Lewis Institute’s Social Innovation Lab at Babson College, as well as co-owners of Earn Influence, a consulting firm that helps its cool clients profitably travel into the unknown with clarity and confidence.