The Heart of the Mütter
Just as you might not expect a 19th-century medical museum devoted to anatomical anomalies such as conjoined skeletons to be a hot place for first dates and weddings (it ranks highly in both categories), you may also be surprised to learn that the Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia is an outstanding showcase of content marketing.
With “curating” content presently defined as an operative marketing concept, here’s a lively lesson from a museum described in the New York Times as “an open cemetery.”
Founded in 1787, the College of Physicians of Philadelphia is the oldest U.S. medical society still in existence. In 1856, retiring surgery professor Thomas Dent Mütter donated his personal collection of some 1,300 anatomical and pathological materials to the College, and in 1863, the museum bearing his name was opened. Today, the Mütter’s mind-blowing collection exceeds 25,000 objects, including skeletons, skulls, specimens, samples of Einstein’s brain and the plaster death cast of Siamese twins Chang and Eng.
For fans of history, art and science, medical researchers, the curious (and first-daters and marrying couples) the combined visual, physical, digital and virtual content at hand—which includes a library collection of some 340,000 volumes, dating back to 1244 A.D.—is a treasure trove beyond compare.
Yet, in 2006, financial woes had this vital institution close to flat-lining. The endowment was depleted, the roof was leaking, and triage was required—fast. After Dr. George Wohlreich came in as CEO and Director of the College and shrewdly got the Mütter back on solid financial footing, the museum began turning all that rich content to bold new marketing purpose.
The YouTube strategy alone is its own case study, with the Mütter fully producing a number of engaging high quality programs in-house. Original episodic web series such as No Bones About It! (hosted by the Mutter’s charismatic Director, Dr. Robert Hicks), The Curator’s Desk and Mütter Minute form the body of a winning social media plan (integrated with Facebook and Twitter) that has made the Mütter a marketing standout among its peers in museum-rich Philadelphia.
“Add up all our video views and we have three times the online subscribers of all the major local museums combined,” reports J Bazzel, communications director. “Ten percent of our visitors, including a growing number from abroad, learn about us via social media. These new guests typically come with friends, family or in groups, translating into significant economic impact.”
That’s especially significant considering that the Mütter’s entire operating budget is dwarfed by the marketing budgets alone at some of its bigger hometown counterparts. “Our visitorship has more than doubled to over 117,000 guests since 2004, and we are presently tracking 12 percent higher over 2011,” says Bazzel. “We also utilize QR-coded rack cards and virtual brochures, and have introduced technology upgrades that allow us to broadcast and share our content anywhere in the world.”
For example, working with a walking camera operator and wireless video feed, Dr. Hicks recently broadcast a “teleguided” tour of the Mütter to schoolchildren in Mexico.
The heart of the marketing lesson here? Whatever your business, there are no boundaries on combining your content—that which you curate—and technology to get the word out and drive awareness, customers, loyalty and revenue.
Jeff Heilman covers business, marketing, law and travel for a range of custom and trade publications. Also an award-winning photographer and copywriter, he ghostwrote Courageous Counsel, a book on the history of women general counsel in the Fortune 500, published September 2011.