Tate is one of the major success stories of the U.K. museum and gallery sector. What was originally the National Gallery of British Art was founded in 1897, evemtually becoming the Tate Gallery in 1932, when it took on the U.K.’s collection of modern art. It opened satellite galleries in Liverpool, in 1988, and St. Ives, in 1993. The most stunning change, however, came in 2000, when a former power station in London was transformed into Tate Modern.
The new museum was the most visited in the world in its first year, and, in 2014, it attracted a record 5.8 million visitors. The Switch House extension, which opened in June 2016, once again boosted visitor numbers.
Rob Baker is Tate's chief marketing officer. His principal responsibilities are overseeing marketing and campaign strategy, with a particular focus on the long-term brand strategy for Tate, and on longer term audience development. He also looks after Tate’s membership programme, with just over 120,000 members. CMO.com spoke to him recently and began by asking what challenges they are facing as an organisation and what marketing challenges arise from those.
Baker: The biggest ongoing challenge for us is how we reach new audiences—audiences, who, potentially, have never been to Tate before or have never been to an art gallery. Also, within our current audience base, how we can encourage audiences to do more, to try new things, to explore new sites, artists, or particular types of exhibition that they, perhaps, wouldn’t normally go to.
In terms of our marketing strategy, the big focus for us is how we build longer-term sustained relationships with audiences. There’s a history within museums and galleries that people come in, they buy their ticket to go and see an exhibition, or they walk around a free collection, and the museum or gallery in question has no idea who they are, they haven’t collected any data. Being able to build any kind of sustained relationship with audiences is really challenging. So making a commitment to building longer-term relationships with audiences, investing in proper data capture, building our membership and CRM programmes is a real priority for us.
The second priority is building partnerships. Working with different kinds of partners can help us connect with new audiences. Last year, for example, we launched a Late programme at Tate Modern specifically to encourage younger people to come into the galleries. The programme is supported by Uniqlo, and music is programmed through a partnership with NTS Radio.
And then there’s an ongoing commitment to investing in our social channels and content to encourage audiences to see things that they wouldn’t normally see or to visit, something they wouldn’t normally consider a priority. Good content and effective use of social platforms also allow us to better communicate the broad vision of Tate and the range of things that we do.
CMO.com: How is marketing structured?
Baker: We have a campaign function responsible for delivering all the campaigns that support our programmes, principally across the two London sites. The two regional sites have separate marketing teams who we collaborate with and who take a lead from us in terms of brand, digital, and audience strategy.
Then we have a membership and audience engagement team. We are investing in expertise to enable us to build long-term relationships with our audiences. This starts at your first point of contact with Tate, whether that’s coming into the building and using our WiFi, or buying a ticket, or making a purchase in the shop, right through to a commitment to membership, if that’s the appropriate route.
That’s a relatively new team. We’ve had a membership product for many years, but a particular focus for us now is joining it up in terms of a more sophisticated use of data for more personalised relationships.
We also have a social team who look after all of our social media platforms. We also publish Tate Etc. magazine, which is the biggest circulation art magazine in the world. We publish that three times a year, and it goes to our membership but has global news stand distribution too.
Then the final area is the design studio. We occasionally work with agencies on specific projects, but the majority of our digital and print design is done in-house so we can closely manage how Tate’s visual identity is applied.
We also have a separate digital team who are principally responsible for our website development. They work on a number of digital innovation projects, and they also produce a lot of the content for our channels, so we work closely with them to commission content to support our audience priorities.
CMO.com: Why is building long-term relationships so important compared to one-off visits from tourists?
Baker: From a marketing perspective, if we can build a more sustained relationship with an audience rather than having lots of people coming once, that is a more efficient marketing model for us. We accept that a gallery like Tate Modern—which has a huge international profile—is very much a tourist destination, and we welcome and celebrate that. But in terms of making sure that our galleries attract a regular local audience or an audience within the U.K, building those relationships is really important.
CMO.com: How’s your thinking about marketing changing as audience needs are changing?
Baker: Ten or 15 years ago, there was probably a set way in which a marketer thought about audiences and how they connected to them and the number of channels that were available. That’s completely changed now. We’re shifting our emphasis on our content strategy and investing in that, investing in CRM in a serious way, and thinking about more traditional media and about how and whether that continues to play a role in what we do. There will be areas where we need to do better, and there will be areas where we lead, but it’s a constant challenge.
CMO.com: One of the topics that comes up a lot is the idea of customer experience becoming more central to brand perception. Is that a way that you think about things?
Baker: Customer experience is really important because it’s one of the primary interactions many audiences have with the brand. If they have an interaction with one of our visitor services team, that can make their entire experience and define their perception of the Tate brand. We work closely with our visitor services team to make sure the experience an audience member has coming into the galleries feels consistent with the overall experience of the Tate brand. We talk a lot about activation and bringing artworks to life, and we try to do that through our content, through our digital platforms, and through our marketing more broadly. But there’s nothing better than someone coming to the gallery, meeting a visitor host, and talking to them about an artwork, or getting their personal suggestion about what to do during a visit.
We’re increasingly thinking about how we manage the visitor journey, and those visitor journeys break through any individual departmental structures that exist within Tate or, indeed, any organisation. So it encourages you to think more in an audience-centric way. What does the audience need in any particular moment?
CMO.com: How has that changed relationships with the rest of the organisation?
Baker: To give you a specific example, I oversee the audience strategy for Tate. We commission audience insight, and, from that, we build priorities for our audience strategy, which will necessarily impact on communications, visitor services, and our programme. And then it’s about how we interact with different parts of the organisation to make sure we are delivering against those audience priorities. I wouldn’t say it puts marketing into a position of control, but it’s about how marketing can facilitate a conversation within the organisation to make sure that we’re always thinking about the audience. In some ways, you think less about marketing directly and more about how you deliver the best possible audience experience.
CMO.com: Where do you see things going over the few years?
Baker: Tate St. Ives is expanding, which is our next major project, and that will open this Autumn. Also we have a really compelling exhibition programme coming up over the next 12 to 18 months, so they are all a huge focus for the organisation to make sure they are strong and successful, and get the kind of visitor numbers we want to attract.
In terms of my priorities, they are making sure we innovate in the campaigns that we do, to continue to build our CRM and membership programmes, and think about how we create and use content that resonates for our audiences.