Published: 16 November 2010

Positioning and differentiation

In response to public sector cuts some quangos are now transforming into independent charities, and sectors such as the arts will increasingly be looking to raise income from charitable giving.

The recent economic turmoil has resulted in some charities merging or even folding all together. And to make matters even more complicated the Government’s Big Society agenda encourages greater collaboration between charities to preserve budgets and deliver efficiencies, which could blur the boundaries between similar brands. As a result it has never been more important for a charity to have a clearly identifiable and well understood offer to safeguard its future.

Celebrating ten years of the Tate brand, Sarah Briggs, senior marketing manager, shares the challenges faced with creating a brand that engages diverse audiences in an increasingly competitive market.

Introducing the Tate family

Tate is a family of four museums that house the national collection of British Art from 1500 and International Modern and Contemporary Art. Its network includes Tate Britain (previously the Tate Gallery), Tate Liverpool, Tate St Ives and Tate Modern. It sees over 7 million visitors every year and while it receives some government funding, is heavily reliant upon the support of individuals, trusts, foundations and corporations to build and maintain its collection.

The opening of Tate Modern in 2000 signalled a need for a new approach to branding for the whole organisation. In the gallery’s first year it received over 5 million visitors, saw a 46% increase to Tate membership and created 467 new jobs at the gallery.

Be clear of your market and competitor base

A lot had changed since 1897 when Tate’s first gallery was founded. The whole concept of public art galleries being cool places to spend your leisure time is relatively new. With four galleries across the country, Tate had to link together its family of museums without appearing too corporate, and also ensure the two London galleries weren’t competing with each other. Tate Modern's drive for new visitors was initially at the detriment of Tate Britain which also displays modern art, unbeknown to many.

Not only did Tate need to spread visitors more evenly across their galleries, it acknowledged a wider competitor base than just other galleries and museums. Tate shifted its vision from being a leading London gallery to an international brand competing not only with other museums and galleries but with other leisure choices and attractions outside the sector such as major shopping attractions, music venues, theatres and so on. In a similar vein, charities should also think carefully about who their competitor base is, as it is likely to extend beyond other similar charities.

Stay relevant to your supporters

To ensure its brand is associated with providing relevant and engaging art experiences, Tate undertakes monthly visitor surveys and regular visitor audits to understand visitor motivations and satisfaction levels; this is something every organisation, not-for-profit or otherwise, should aim to do to ensure it continues to meet its supporters’ expectations.

Tate uses research to find out more about the motivations of children and young people. Children who have a positive experience with galleries were much more likely to be a frequent adult visitor, an insight that encouraged the organisation to make itself more relevant for a broader and younger market.

When insight informed that Tate should focus more of its marketing efforts on engaging young people it started introducing new marketing tools, such as mobile and social media campaigns. This proved very successful for opening up the brand to new audiences; however, retaining these audiences means that they are looking at a broad range of motivations to ensure young people always see Tate as relevant. Both Tate’s offer and its marketing therefore had to evolve to meet consumer demand.

Similarly, as a creative organisation, Tate recognised that the rigid brand guidelines that had been developed to maintain consistency across four sites could be loosened and made them more flexible whilst retaining integrity.

Don’t pigeon hole your supporters

Tate identified that it had, and wanted to keep, a broad audience including those who made intellectual visits and those who made social ones; two groups then divided into eight subgroups. However, they noted was that there was overlap between groups and, for example, a professional artist who came during the week for inspiration would also come with his family at the weekend for a different experience. Therefore it was important that the brand communicated its entire offer and new attributes of being: open, inviting, challenging and fresh.

Use internal supporters as advocates

There was, inevitably, some resistance to adapting the traditional brand values to enable Tate to become more inclusive. To move from ‘art for the few’ to ‘an experience for many to join in with’, Tate’s communications team identified internal and external supporters, including curators, and worked closely with them to encourage buy in across the organisation. 

Remember: competition, audiences, dialogue and experience

To summarise, Tate has developed and maintained its place as a leading brand by being aware of how it fits within its competitive set, not just the arts but leisure brands at large. It seeks to understand its audiences through dialogue with them and then adapts its offer and its marketing accordingly. Like many successful brands Tate provides its visitors a rich and relevant experience and that way it has been able to stay ahead of the competition for 10 years.


Dan Dufour, brand strategist, The Team

Dan is one of the sector’s leading brand strategists. He has worked on brand development across all sectors including Rightmove, London 2012 and Cancer Research UK. He's best known for his award-winning work across all corners of the charity sector, including Shelter (Design Week Award), Parkinson’s UK (Design Effectiveness Award), RSPB (Third Sector Excellence Award) and Scope. Dan established CharityComms Brand Breakfast, proudly supported by The Teamand is an author of our best practice guides to branding and integrated communications.