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From November 2010

What is in a name when it comes to the Morris Museum and Bickford Theater may be at the very core of our work here.  While the Morris Museum and Bickford Theater are technically one entity (and “back in the day” – they were treated as such), over time, the Bickford has strived to create its own brand with its own sense of self.  Through this process, we have heard mixed reviews from both patrons and stakeholders alike as to wether or not this strategy has helped the overall establishment (as well as the individual pieces) or potentially hurt it by making the overall brand harder for people to understand and awareness of either individual part more diluted.  Over the past few weeks, answering the question – one name or two, one brand or two, has become at the forefront of our work (and perhaps a few animated discussions as well!)

To help contextualize the discussion, here are a few key points to keep in mind about what’s in a name as I dive into what the research told us (and how we went about that research):

1) Elicits an emotional response
2) Sets accurate and positive expectations
3) Is memorable and distinct from others in the market

Logos and names go hand in hand.  When done right – their staying power is unmovable.  Sure – they may go through tweaks and updates through the years, but that part of their name and logo that is core to who they are remains constant.  Think to Coca Cola or AT&T.  Both have incredible histories of a powerful name and brand – and when you really look at their evolutions, neither has changed that much.

Now – onto the Morris Museum and Bickford Theater.  We spoke to over 400 people over the course of 3 months (online, in person at the Morris Museum/Bickford Theater, and in the surrounding communities) – and what we heard across the board was that a two named / two brand approach was confusing and it diluted the power of either brand individually (and most significantly hurt the theater).

Gearing up for the work session where we would need to break that news to the stakeholders was no easy to task – we knew this finding was going to be difficult for folks to hear as so many hearts were invested in the dual-brand strategy.  But at the end of the day, customers know what they like and patrons/ supporters know what grabs their attention and in this case, the Bickford Theater simply didnt have the same pull when it came to the name.  That is not to say that patrons of the theater didnt value the performances – they did.  They just didnt seem to connect to the name very well and those in the community were often confusing it with other local theaters in the area.

So our approach was to lead with context and research, and then ask them some hard questions that might lead us to the names as a group (as opposed to us telling them).  Our questions were:

1) What is the brand equity of the Morris Museum and Bickford Theater in your eyes?
2) What does the name “Morris Museum” represent now?
3) What does the name “Bickford Theater” represent now?

Their answers, interestingly enough, pointed to our general recommendation of “The Morris Museum” as the right name for all branded assets and “The Theater at the Morris Museum” as the right name for when only the theater was to be referenced (e.g. performance schedule communication).  That said, when it came to accept this direction – all was not so tidey.  Concerns of dropping the name of a key supporter from the title of the theater were raised and when the relationship was better clarified (it was not necessary to keep the Bickford for that reason), misconceptions of wether or not the Museum and Theater were separate tax identities were discussed.  In the not-for-profit world, anything that could hurt funding has to be a huge consideration.  Luckily for us, all of these concerns ended up being moot points and the technical barriers for assuming a one-name identity were broken down.  That said, emotional barriers still had some work before they would completely came down.