Being mission-based and market driven

Today and Yesterday at the Tropenmuseum we had a big symposium about the role and importance of the Tropenmuseum as an ethnological museums in the 21st century. The discussions were academical and very interesting. The debate was mainly focused on what the exhibitions of the Tropenmuseum are all about, and what it should be about in the future. But in the core the discussion was about the mission of the Tropenmuseum. One thing was very striking to me: nobody dared to ask the question “Is the market waiting for all these exhibition?”, “does the market like the exhibitions as they are now?”.

As a marketeer I think that it was bad that these questions were not addressed (and there was no opportunity for me to ask them myself). But I am also fully aware of the balance a non-profit organization as the Tropenmuseum has to make between market and mission. But which one is right? The market or the mission? To answer that question I want to quote Peter Brinckerhoff, in his book ‘Mission-Based Marketing‘ he states that the answer to this question can be written down in three sentences:

1. The market is always right
2. The market is not always right for you
3. The mission should be your organizations ultimate guide

The consequences of these three sentences are:

1. Don’t get disappointed when nobody is visiting your museum after all the hard work. You probably don’t have a very attractive offering for the public.
2. You can not serve all markets as a museum. And if you want to serve them all you probably would have to compromise one your mission.
3. What you are as an organization is stated in you mission. And all the products and services that you offer should fit into that mission.

So the main conclusion is that the mission and the market are equally important but that your mission is your guiding principle in making product offerings for the market. I want to emphasis that the mission is not a static thing and should be discusses on a regular basis. A very famous example is the Mobile Phone company Nokia which started out as a wood-pulp mill and later on made other products like rubber boots. In the Sixties Nokia changed it’s mission and vision and focused on Telecommunications.

In the end I was happy with discussion that took place. It gave me new insight in the Intellectual discourse of the museum world and it provides valuable input in redefining our mission. It was a bad thing that nobody really mentioned the market in anyway.

PS: Nina Simon of museum 2.0 was also attending the symposium…she said to me several times “I am so involved with making things for the public, I am glad there are people who think about the theoretical site of things’. She inspired me with this remark for this post.