The Henry Ford

Repointing a cultural institution for a new era of relevance

Established more than eight decades ago by Henry Ford and visited by some 2 million people annually, The Henry Ford possesses a strain of innovation and entrepreneurship unusual for a major cultural institution. So, at a time when digital content routinely upends the business models of established institutions and industries, we weren’t entirely surprised that ”America’s greatest history destination” would take a critical look at its business and brand to ask where opportunities for future growth might lie.

The need to appeal to new, online audiences. Over the previous decade, Applied Storytelling had helped the Henry Ford to communicate its story in a focused and compelling way. We supported the growth not only of its gated attractions but also of its retail, food, education, collecting and donor initiatives by a factor of many times over. At a time when cultural institutions had not yet embraced brand thinking as a category, The Henry Ford’s commitment to brand-building was unprecedented—and widely emulated.

To achieve truly nationwide recognition, however—and fulfill its vision as a force for change in education—the Detroit-based institution needed a story that would resonate with individuals who might never physically visit as well as tools for delivering content and engaging audiences in new ways.

Staking a claim on relevance. Never far from the heart of the challenge lived the question, “How can we help people see how History as a relevant subject for today?” Answering the question led to the development of a “past forward mindset”—a continuous questioning and challenging to demonstrate strong links between historically-based content and current lifestyles and issues.

It led, further, to a commitment to fostering a “can-do” attitude in visitors, showing them how to apply insights from the past to enjoy more satisfying and successful lives today.

This commitment, combined with the institution’s strong claim on authentic objects and stories, became cornerstone of an updated brand story and reimagined brand expression to enable The Henry Ford to live its new positioning as “the national connection for making history relevant”.

A weeklong series of training sessions helped staff at all levels to see how to adopt and apply the new brand mindset to their respective areas of responsibility.

Sharp focus, broad reach. Equipped with an updated brand platform that broadens its timeliness and reach while maintaining a strong focus, The Henry Ford can now make a more compelling case to donors, educators and policymakers while reaching out to new global enthusiast audiences via a family of online content channels.

For the first time ever, The Henry Ford possesses a fully integrated marketing and advertising platform to drive home its story. After updating The Henry Ford’s visual identity and web presence, we reworked virtually every touchpoint from digital to environmental. Managing the brand through an interactive, expandable online Applied Brand Hub, The Henry Ford’s dozens of internal and external communicators can now do their best work in a more convenient, confident and collaborative way. The new digital brand management tool grows only more valuable and useful over time—and remains up-to-date for long as the brand itself remains in effect.

“For The Henry Ford, the future resides in the fact that the organization is fundamentally in the content business. Its vast and remarkable collections hold incredible potential to enlighten and inspire in ways that were unimaginable even a few years ago.”