NEW ALBANY • McDonald’s has its arches, Target has its bullseye and Lacoste its alligator – broadly recognized logos that, along with branding, help these companies communicate their messages.
And now, Union County Heritage Museum has a fresh-off-the-press new brand of its own.
The creative process – under the leadership of Paul Mitchell with Likemind, a Tupelo-based branding company – has been ongoing since October.
Also involved in the collaborative effort were museum staff members and volunteers, a business class from Blue Mountain College and others.
Perhaps it seems a bit on the ironic side for a museum, a collector and curator of all things historic, to contract for contemporary branding.
“Branding is a watchword; it’s trendy,” said museum director Jill Smith. “But it’s also important to attract a new generation.”
Many supporters of the museum are older, retired members of the community. This strong support is valued and necessary.
“But we also want to reach out to other demographics,” Smith said.
The museum has not been lacking a logo. For the past two decades, the logo, shaped like a stamp to represent native son William Faulkner’s “postage stamp of native soil,” has touted a number of themes deeply related to the museum’s mission: the Tallahatchie river, the railroad, Native American culture, fossil deposits and Faulkner.
The consensus of the director and board members was that a little updating and modernization might help move the museum into a brighter future.
“We have come a long way since we developed that first logo. Who knew we would end up with a garden, a library, an art gallery, a railroad park and would now be working on STEM programming and exhibit?” said board member Betsey Hamilton, who is also a charter member of the Union County Historical Society Board and a longtime supporter and volunteer. “We need to have a fresh new look and to appeal to multi generations.”
In the beginning of the branding process, there were meetings with different people, some who are already involved with the museum and others who were not even aware of its existence.
“We had to dig down deep about who we are, what’s important, what folks would like to see happen here,” Smith said. “And it’s important to know more about outside perceptions.”
Funding for the development of the new brand was by a grant from the Mississippi Hill Heritage Area along with private matching donations.
“We couldn’t do the whole shebang, but this was a big step for us,” Smith said. “More will be done as funds are available.”
The new brand was unveiled June 27 at a Museum Moments program. The responses varied.
“People were surprised,” Smith said. “Some loved it; some didn’t like it.”
Those responses were not drastically different from those of Smith and board members when first seeing the branding.
“When we first saw it ... it’s not really in our comfort zone,” Smith said. “But it’s growing on us.”
Lynn Madden, board member and Museum Guild president agreed.
“We are excited about refreshing our look,” she said. “We are trying to appeal to people who we haven’t reached before and to expand our market, and we think this will help us do that.”
Most think of a museum as a place where old things are housed. But there are new things, as well.
“We have this nice facility for the public, with a lot of plans for new approaches to public programming and services,” Smith said. “We would like for the word to get out further than it has. And it’s so important to also attract a new generation.”
The history of branding is nothing new.
“It’s been with us a long time,” Smith said. “When you have commerce, you have branding. It becomes a subconscious thing – it becomes known from our being immersed in it.”
At some point, the colors, shapes and iconic symbols in a brand should immediately direct the mind to the business represented.
Hopes are high the museum’s new branding will, in time, do just that.
The first letters of Union County Heritage Museum play a significant part in the branding.
The U represents a tulip from the Faulkner Literary Garden; the C, a sound hole and strings of a guitar, represents the blues; the H signifies the railroad, secured by the efforts of New Albany citizens in the late 1800s; and the M is an open book.
And that’s just the beginning. The possibilities for using that quartet of letters to market the museum is limitless – T-shirts and other merchandise for the museum’s gift shop, desktop wallpaper, a phone app and so much more.
When Mitchell began meeting with Smith and museum board members in the early days of the process, he was impressed.
“I was dealing with an older demographic but, oh my goodness, they think young,” he said.
And he’s pleased that they’re pleased.
“One of our goals was to create a brand system to visually bring a presence that would be attractive outside the walls,” Mitchell said. “A brand system that could easily be for a museum in big cities like New York or Seattle or Portland. We want people to see this and go, ‘Wow, this is in New Albany, Mississippi? Really?’”
There’s an air of excitement at the museum as it moves forward with the new branding system that has successfully addressed its many facets.
“Now we have so much flexibility,” Smith said. “We have another way of getting ideas across without using words. I spent 20 years in the newspaper business telling stories. Now I get to tell them another way.”