Intersection of Message, Meaning and Function: Creating the MSS Website

By Angela Colasanti

It is dark…late really… and I am wrapping presents on Christmas Eve. As I make my way through the gifts I have collected throughout the year, I come across a Van Gogh children’s book and socks purchased at The Barnes Foundation for my nephew who loves to draw.  I find dichroic glass earrings from The Princeton University Art Museum Store selected for my daughter, enameled Frida Kahlo pins from The Grounds for Sculpture for my artsy niece, and lemon bath salts from Winterthur that I am certain my mother will love.  I take my time, wrapping each item, while admiring these special gifts, thoughtfully selected for each recipient.

Last year, I was invited to join the Advocacy Committee. It was a personally meaningful honor, and professionally I was excited to work with a global group of industry professionals dedicated to advocacy of museums and museum stores.  As soon as I learned more about our first initiative, Museum Store Sunday, I felt my contribution would be most meaningful on the Marketing and Communications Subcommittees.  Hoping I could harness tucked-away skills from jobs long ago in website project management and art direction, I volunteered to lead the website development initiative. After an unsuccessful attempt to secure an in-kind donation of the website from a professional firm, it quickly became apparent to our committee that, in this first year, we would need to create this important asset ourselves. Knowing the monumental task this would be, working with almost no budget, (and perhaps with some cloudy judgment on my part from the summer heat), I volunteered to lead the design and construction of the site.

With the extraordinary leadership of Susan Tudor, Stuart Hata and Paul Stewart-Stand, we worked diligently for three months, from July through the end of September, with an eye toward creating:

  1. A visually exciting site, showcasing beautiful images of stores and their curated products.
  2. A rich and diverse visual story of consumers and patrons engaged with museums and their respective stores.
  3. A unified medium that engaged all of our target audiences including: consumers, media professionals, museum professionals, non-profit retail professionals, current and potential MSA members, current and potential sponsors, and vendors.
  4. A centralized tool assisting museum store managers to sign up, find ideas for MSS, seamlessly download files, access the branding materials , find vendor specials, and manage their own store profile.
  5. Web and mobile friendly content that clearly articulated the messaging of Museum Store Sunday, while further clarifying the new brand identity and tag line, Be a Patron.
  6. A website that rivaled other, well-established, one-day international events, such as Shop Small Saturday and Record Store Day.

In less than three months, we created the visual aesthetic, integrated the new brand identity, built the site architecture, secured high-quality images, integrated a store locator, built a participant database, and developed the brand new content for Museum Store Sunday.  While I focused primarily on the content development, site architecture, and site aesthetic, we had volunteers all over the world assisting with the website development. We had committee members, MSA staff members, store managers, a team of dedicated volunteers, and our international partners creating content, gathering images, writing blogs, manually confirming participant contact information for the database, manually entering stores into the Locator, and editing the final content.

On September 26th, with the contribution of many hands and hearts, the site launched to the world. From the launch through Museum Store Sunday, we had over 36,000 page visits, from over 11,000 unique users, who executed over 11,000 searches on the Store Locator.  We saw web traffic coming in from all over the globe, with most users fitting our key demographic targets for age and location, as well as lifestyle profile. We watched a huge increase in traffic following the USA Today article, and saw almost 25% of all traffic coming in from referral sites such as press pieces, museum websites, and museum-specific social media efforts. The important work of the public relations firm and the marketing efforts of our participating institutions greatly contributed to the volume of the website traffic. To this day, we are still witnessing traffic to the website, with almost 850 additional unique visitors to the site following MSS.

I am incredibly proud of what we accomplished in such a short amount of time. For 2018, we plan to improve the Museum Store Portal, add more diverse and dynamic images, tidy up some technical issues, and further refine our messaging and content. We will read all of the comments received in the MSS Survey and thoughtfully listen to your suggestions. I encourage you to take a fresh look at the site with a critical eye. Read the content, look at the images, and let me know what you think. I openly welcome comments, suggestions, and ideas.  If you have an idea for a Blog, let us know. If you have a beautiful image from your store or your MSS event, send it along. If you are adept at database management or SEO and want to contribute, please reach out. This website is, and always will be, the work product of our whole community. It reflects all of us, and the important work we do for our industry.

As I finish tying bows and writing name tags, I am reminded of why we do our work, and why Museum Store Sunday matters. It is an ambitious and bold opportunity, each year, to highlight how museum stores support the institutions that preserve the literature, history, nature, science, art, and culture of our society.  All of us in this museum store community – stores, institutions, and vendors – work to briheadshot_angela-colasanti-webng well-curated products to our patrons. We believe in the missions and importance of cultural institutions, and we understand deeply that Museums Make Our Communities Better.  I look forward to when my nephew opens his present, just as others will be doing all over the globe. I know that I have given something meaningful to him; that I have given something of value to the museum; that I have given to the future patrons of the museum; and that I received something intangible for myself. And, as a bonus, I can’t wait to tell him all about the amazing day I spent at the museum.

Angela Colasanti is the President and Designer for VIELÄ Jewelry. Her business is located in bucolic Chester County, Pennsylvania, just a short drive from Philadelphia. Surrounded by the beautiful woods and trails of Pennsylvania, and in close proximity to the New Jersey and Delaware beaches, there are abundant sources of inspiration for her jewelry designs. VIELÄ Jewelry partners with museum stores and cultural institutions nationwide and is proud to produce her line in the United States. She is a member of the Advocacy Committee and the Marketing Committees of MSA, and is a Founding Sponsor of Museum Store Sunday. Please reach out to Angela directly at acolasanti@vielajewelry.com or contact the Advocacy Committee at info@museumstoresunday.org.

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