The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature looks for new opportunities for awareness, attendance and audience impact.
The museum officials sat behind a one-way glass window and listened in as people in focus groups gave honest feedback about their organization.
A researcher posed questions to people from Sarasota, Manatee and Tampa and people likely to visit museums. The results of the two focus group sessions bolstered the need for what the museum had already started pursuing — a new identity. “That’s when we learned we were invisible,” says Brynne Anne Besio, CEO of the Bradenton institution formerly known as the South Florida Museum, now The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature.
The roots of the museum’s rebrand, and search for a new identity, go back much further than the focus groups. The effort shows how patience, combined with a no-ego ethos and shrewd decisions, can propel an organization to new, unforeseen heights.
In 2006, the organization's board adopted a strategic plan that included developing a new name and brand for the museum. Then in 2011, phosphate producer Mosaic offered to help develop a children’s exhibit for the museum. The offer led to broader discussions about the museum’s future. Working with a museum planner, officials came up with plans for the entire campus. The process presented a good opportunity for the museum to pursue a new identity as well.
In 2015 and 2016, the museum actively began pursuing a rebrand. The process — including research and developing a new name and logo — took nearly two years. The private nonprofit, with a $2.5 million budget last year, primarily funds itself through admission fees and donors. Although Besio declines to disclose the exact amount spent on the rebrand, she says, “It’s a big investment but an all-important investment.” The new identity also represents a big opportunity for growth, Besio says, including wooing more people to visit the museum and more people to become members. “We want to provide that ‘wow,’” she says. “We wanted to retain the friendliness and the fact that people could come here and have aha moments.”
Do the homework
The staff and board of The Bishop didn’t do the rebrand on their own. The museum chose to bring in experts.
“A mistake I’ve seen people make over and over is, ‘Nobody knows us better than we do — we can do it ourselves,’” says Remi Gonzalez, director of communications and brand for the museum.
The Bishop avoided that mistake. Besio says that’s one of her biggest takeaways from the project: “I know now how important it is to invest in outside counsel,” she says. “It was invaluable to have outside help.”
The Bishop Board Chairman Brian Carter would offer the same advice to an organization about to embark on a rebrand. “Hire the right people to do the right job,” he says. “Don’t try to do it all yourself in-house. You only get one shot at a first impression. If you’re going to do a rebrand, you want it to be done right.”
The museum worked with DJ Stout, a partner of the worldwide design firm Pentagram, on the new identity. The board also hired a museum consultant. The process involved the outside experts talking with staff, board members and museum visitors about the museum and its identity.
Stout says they went through a series of exercises to help the museum define itself. The exercises included developing descriptors to build the brand around — words including engaging, inquisitive, discovery and thoughtful. It also meant defining the audience, which was narrowed down to four groups: intellectual seekers, interaction seekers, emotional seekers and recharge seekers.
Then the team narrowed down the museum’s differentiators as a brand, Stout says. The museum, they determined, is inquisitive, encouraging, trustworthy and fun. When it came up with the museum’s brand essence, it used famous statements from other brands, such as “Disney is magical” and “Nike is innovative,” as guides. The result? “The Bishop museum is eye-opening.”
Over a period of several months, there were additional exercises and meetings. “There was a lot of homework that was done before we started designing anything,” Stout says. “Once we defined what the brand was, then we started working on the new identity.”
What’s in a name
Museum officials knew the name South Florida Museum didn’t fit anymore. For one, many people now think of Miami and the surrounding area as “South Florida.” People also had trouble remembering the name and what the museum contained.
Carter says it came down to a simple fact: The name wasn’t serving its purpose. So the rebrand team started testing new name possibilities.
Although geographic-based names can perform better initially, the museum consultant told them, organization names that include a proper name (such as The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art or Marie Selby Botanical Gardens) are stronger and perform better in the long run.
The museum was looking for a name to represent its various elements, including the planetarium, manatee habitat and natural history exhibits. “We wanted an umbrella,” Besio says. “When people think about The Bishop, we want them to think about all of it, not just the individual components.”
The museum decided to elevate the Bishop name from the museum’s planetarium to serve as the overall name. It was a way to honor the Bishop family and its continued support, plus the name already has recognition from locals. The team also felt it was important to add the phrase “science and nature” to the name to provide a clear description of its contents.
Since unveiling the new name, Besio says she has received good feedback. She says, “I had one donor say, ‘I don’t have to explain anymore about where I’m going.’”
Carter agrees. “Now The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature tells you exactly what we are.”
To “B” or Not to “B”
When it was time to focus on a new logo, Stout presented the museum with 10 to 12 iterations.
Although a logo is important to a visual identity, it’s not the only thing that matters, Stout says. “We’re not just creating a logo; we’re creating an identity system,” he says. “And the system is the important part.”
The chosen logo incorporates a letter B inspired by the artwork of M.C. Escher, known for his pieces that depict stairways going up and down. “When you look at it, what’s fascinating about it as a drawing is the perspective doesn’t make any sense,” Stout says. “In our original branding exercises, we heard several times that with this museum, they wanted to invite visitors to look at the world and the cosmos from a different perspective.” The style of the B underscores just that.
The Escher-inspired B resonates well with all audiences, Besio says, and the new colors used in the logo are uplifting. “I believe it’s made a difference already,” she says.
The colors — a turquoise and a darker blue — were chosen because of the museum’s proximity to the water and its connection to the water and the cosmos in its exhibits, from manatee rehabilitation to artifacts in its collections to the planetarium.
'We wanted to retain the friendliness and the fact that people could come here and have aha moments.' Brynne Anne Besio, CEO, The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature
An outline version of the B logo allows the museum to incorporate imagery inside the letter so it acts like a frame. Stout says photos of stars, fossils or a manatee could be added to it, depending on the intended use. “That way it made it much more flexible,” he says.
Before the new identity was unveiled, museum staff engaged people ahead of time so they weren’t caught off guard. The museum first shared the new identity with people they had collaborated with, including business partners and people involved in the process. At a preview event in April before a press conference the following day, officials unveiled the new name and logo. During the event, the facilities team took down the old signage inside the museum and put up new signs. When people walked out of the event, they were met with the new look.
“The Bradenton community is tight knit,” Besio says. “It was important for them to understand what we did and why we were doing it.”
If you build it
The new identity is not the only change at The Bishop. For one, there’s an Oct. 1 ribbon-cutting planned for the new Mosaic Backyard Universe, a backyard-themed expansion geared toward young learners and their parents.
Because there are other big changes happening at the museum, officials say it might be challenging to separate contributing factors when measuring the impact of the rebrand.
“I think for the months ahead, it’s imperative to build on and continue the work that we’ve done and not stop,” Carter says. “If you think about national corporations, whether a Nike or Microsoft or Amazon, they don’t stop advertising just because they reach a certain level. They don’t stop promoting their stuff. That’s the same with us. Now that we’ve rebranded, we can’t walk away.”
A year out from the name change, the museum will be able to start measuring the impact. That amount of time will allow them to compile good quantitative data on admission, awareness and more. On an anecdotal basis, Gonzalez says they’re finding that by and large, people know the new name. “It’s an encouraging preliminary sign,” she says.
Besio says The Bishop’s visitor count has been experiencing a steady upward trend over five years with about 70,000 people visiting the museum each year. She expects that number to grow.
In addition to the rebrand, there are other factors that affect attendance figures, from construction in the area to weather and red tide. A nearby parking garage will help tp offer a convenient parking option for visitors, officials say.
In the months ahead, The Bishop will continue to build awareness of its new brand — and protect it. The new logo and wordmark are trademarked, a process it worked with a lawyer to complete. “You want to protect your brand,” Besio says. “You want to make sure as you’re doing this, it’s something you can keep and maintain. It’s a long-term investment in time and effort, but it’s worth it.”