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Distant cousins: The similarities between content marketing and museum curation

“No one cares more about the specifics of their content than museum curators, and they hold their content developers and exhibit designers to exacting standards.”

– The Content Marketing Institute


You’d be surprised how many similarities there are between museum curation and an effective content marketing strategy. In both instances, content needs to be created, curated and managed in order to provide an audience with the very best value. In fact, there’s a thing or two content marketers and decision makers can learn from museums. Let’s take a look.

Content creation and content curation

That’s right, marketing content and curating exhibitions are a lot alike.

In marketing, the aim of the game is to produce high-quality, high-value work that will attract an audience. In a museum or gallery, the goal is to best display work created by others, in order to achieve the same goal. But there’s also a lot of crossover between the two disciplines.

For example, great content marketing often involves a social media strategy, which allows a business to ‘curate’ and share the best information from others in their industry to build a reputation as a thought leader. On the other hand, a huge amount of content creation goes into a show or exhibit at a museum – just think of how much the labels near each item add to the overall experience. For proof of this look no further than London’s Tate galleries, which outlined an extensive digital strategy in 2013 designed to take advantage of “audience demand for high quality online arts content” through a number of measures, including digitising the collections, and producing online editorial content.

So, with marketing and curating having so much in common, let’s look at what can we learn from some of the world’s most successful museums.

Great galleries know their audience, and so should you.

If there’s one skill that every museum curator has to have, it’s an in-depth knowledge of their audience. Repeat visitors to a gallery typically return because they have enjoyed previous experiences, and it’s the job of the curator to make sure each visit provides a similar adventure. To return to the example of the Tate, it’s worth thinking about the huge difference between what’s shown at its two marquee locations. What people want from the Tate Modern is incredibly different to what they expect from the Tate Britain, and it’s the job of those museums’ respective directors – Alex Farquharson and Frances Morris – to ensure each piece of content, whether curated or created, fits the right niche.

The exact same rule applies to content marketing. Regardless of the business you’re in, it’s vital to understand the wants and needs of your audience, and provide them with content that satisfies.

Museums add value by editorialising

Remember the exhibit labels that we mentioned earlier? They’re a great way for museums and galleries to editorialise, injecting their own opinions and personalities into the audience experience. Some curators take greater advantage of this power than others, but the best museums use them as opportunities to start conversations about content. Here’s an excerpt from the Australian Museum’s guide to writing labels:

“Labels should be designed to ask questions, encourage participation, attract attention, direct viewers and encourage comparisons.”

With content marketing, there are all sorts of ways that you can label your content. For a great example, check out our recent article about boosting comments on your posts, where we talked about how businesses can drive engagement by pairing social posts with an editorialised perspective asking for questions, input or discussion. Doing the same with content from other sources helps keep you at the forefront of your industry, as Medium explains:

“In a sense, editorialising creates a nice blend of creation and curation: as your curate content, you create “meta content,” in the form of commentary around that content.”

Consistency and quality make a brand

Our final lesson is all about consistency. One bad show can ruin a museum’s reputation, and while your business may not be subjected to the same sort of critical ridicule for letting your standards slip, there’s no doubt that it’s hard to win back credibility after it’s been lost. Or, as the Content Marketing Institute explains: “Once you earn it, take your role as trusted adviser seriously.”

“Remember that the content is what serves your customers and the marketing is what serves your organisation. While marketing is directly tied to sales and the bottom line, the more genuine your willingness to share information (like the museum curator) and the more generous you are with that information (like the museum itself), sharing for free or at least affordably, the closer you can come to the trusted advisor status that museums enjoy.”

It can be tempting to phone in your content marketing every now and then – especially if your organisation’s marketing team are trying to do all of the work internally. However, just one or two low-quality, incorrect or overly salesy blog posts or tweets can take you from industry leader to just another company trying to make money in the eyes of your audience. Focus on quality first, foremost and always, and the results will come.

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Ben Lange
Ben Lange About the author

A Castleford veteran now based out of England, Ben writes across a broad variety of industries, including construction, education, recruitment, banking and film and music. He’s a regular contributor to the Castleford blog and writes for clients such as Hilti Australia, TRC Group and Beyond Bank.

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