Hypothetical homework

(Reading time: 3m, 17s)

Yesterday, I wrote about God, Satan, the vital role I played on the basketball court during middle school, and MoMA’s website.

Today, let’s look at MoMA’s site one more time, and I’ll spare you the personal history. I can't say if God or Satan may appear again.

In previous letters (one, two, and three ), I’ve wondered why more museums don’t include a value proposition on their website. A value proposition describes what makes the museum different from others of its kind and expresses a point of view.

Notice how there’s no value prop on MoMA’s homepage? I think that’s okay — or at least, it’s more ok than it would be for most other museums.

MoMA’s isn’t under a lot of pressure to include a value prop because it has a well-established brand.

You won’t find a value prop on Apple’s website either because Apple doesn’t need to tell you why it’s different than other computer companies. If you are old enough to hold an iPhone, you already have an opinion about Apple. No, MoMA doesn’t have the same reach as Apple. The point is that as recognition increases, the pressure to overtly differentiate the organization decreases.

If you’re coming to NYC from anywhere else in the world and you want to look at art, MoMA will be one of the handful of destinations at the top of your list. People need to know how to buy tickets; Fewer people need to know why they should buy tickets.

But now go over to MoMA’s online store.

Scroll down past the featured products, and what do you see?

MoMA Design Store value prop CTA

There’s a prominent call to “discover what sets MoMA Design Store apart”, along with a few questions (emphasis added):

“Do you know how we choose products? Or what informs our unique point of view? Discover what sets MoMA Design Store apart in our What Makes Us Different story."

I can’t think of many online stores that share information about how they choose their products or talk about a unique point of view.

Then, you click through to an About page with the headline “What Makes Us Different”. They’ve written some bits about their point of view, pricing, where the money goes, and — maybe my favorite — their selection process:

First, we assess a potential new product against our design filters, a set of 8 criteria that we use to ensure every item is a good fit with our vision of good design …

Click to read more, and you get a pop-up window that describes their eight criteria for selecting products for the store — Things like In or Related to MoMA's Collection, Innovative Materials, Educational Design for Children.

Why does the online store describe all these differentiators so prominently, but the museum does not?

The museum’s store is selling everything from stationary to furniture online. They’re competing with every other online store in the world. Why am I going to buy silicone scrubbies from a museum’s store when I could get a similar thingie delivered for free in two days along with the other 22 thingies I’m ordering three days a week from Amazon?

Many museums' websites are like MoMA’s online store but without MoMA store's About page. They face a lot of competition, but they haven't stopped to communicate a unique difference. Why is grandpa going to take his grandson to that children’s museum when he could go to the beach or the playground or the library or just stay home and burn ants in the backyard with a magnifying glass?

The museum’s website isn’t telling me why I shouldn’t choose any of those other options. It’s not telling me what makes it unique. It’s basically showing me different views of a calendar on the homepage. Why I would choose any of those activities is left to my imagination.

I think what I like about the description of how MoMA selects pieces for the online store is the transparency they’re showing. Every store, from Staples to Design Within Reach, has some criteria for selecting what they’re going to sell. Most don’t dress up that process with icons and compelling language and put it online.

Hypothesis: As competition increases, so does the need (or potential to benefit from) transparency.

Homework: If you work at a museum that isn’t as famous as MoMA, take some time today to think about how you could communicate unique value to website visitors. What aspects of your work that you (or your marketing folks) are taking for granted? Could those processes be used to demonstrate unique value? Are you putting together a new strategic plan? Are you planning a new exhibition? Considering offering underwater basketweaving for camp next summer? Are you doing that planning behind closed doors? Why? What if you treated that as material to communicate unique value?

Then, hit reply to this email, and let me know what you come up with.

Thanks for reading,