Category Archives: marketing

Value Innovation: From participation to attendance in the live performing arts

Important to achieving value innovation is responding to and building on what captivates audiences and, sometimes more important, potential audiences.

Today I listened to a really interesting CBC radio call in show on “Why live theatre is dead to you.” It is well worth a listen to the wide range of views expressed by callers. Several pointed out that they simply don’t know what is available. And that they have had disappointing experiences. (Diagnostically: these are marketing and programming/production issues.) By the way, for most live theatre wasn’t actually dead, just not in reach for these and other reasons.

This week is rich with well considered coverage: like this article in the UK’s Guardian on What do audiences want I read yesterday. Not surprisingly, there are examples of arts organizations learning about being relevant in new ways.

At the National Arts Centre Orchestra, a new initiative called Casual Fridays, innovates on the classical concert experience expressly to reach and engage a new and younger audience. This includes a much more casual and friendly concert hall experience. NAC English Theatre (Youtube video) is using inventive marketing campaigns to generate buzz and bring the NAC to the streets of Ottawa to invite patrons to a night at the theatre.

Yet, by and large, the voices of those who continue to hold fast to conventions and traditions and a belief in the arts in and of themselves appear strong. And far removed from the younger generations interests, values and attitudes.

This is the “young audience” (Gen Xers are about 35 to 49 years old today) orchestras, for instance, need to attract in large numbers in order to replace not only aging highly committed patrons, but the revenue they represent. That means quite likely for many orchestras – and theatres and dance, too – not a 1 to 1 replacement strategy but a 3 or even 4 to 1 replacement imperative.

Research on participation and attendance
The Ontario Arts Council affirms in its Ontario Arts Engagement Study (lead by WolfBrown and released in October 2011), that not merely engagement but participation in the arts experience is where it is at from the audiences’ perspective.

Key findings from the study include: “Involvement in participatory activities is linked to attendance at audience-based activities – Overall, people who engage in participatory arts activities are more likely to attend audience or visitor-based activities – sometimes at a rate of two or three times higher than those who do not engage in participatory activities.”

And it leads the study’s authors to ask: “How can arts organizations build bridges between participatory forms of engagement and professional arts performances and exhibits?”

From an institutional perspective the goal has often been to “get bums in seats”, ie attendance. Personally, I detest this phrasing, because it reduces the audience in the most unhelpful ways.

Imagine yourself shift the institutional end-game to the audience perspective. In what ways, if any, would it change your understanding of how to connect meaningfully to audiences and potential audiences? How would this change what you do in your quest to foster specific attending behaviours in audiences, like subscription renewal perhaps or some other repeat purchase?

And, honestly, how effective is your organization at marketing its shows? In the simplest terms, marketing is the process by which services and products are brought to market. Marketing is about the relationships you build and about trust and mutual respect; in my view it is not about “bums in seats.”

Where’s the Blue Ocean for Live Performing Arts?

The past is not the best way to predict the future; especially when the context is highly dynamic, change is rapid, consumer behaviours, values and beliefs have shifted and commonly held internal beliefs (like the one about price elasticity) no longer apply (if they ever did: like the one about price elasticity).

I see the live performing arts in general at a crossroads in these changing circumstances: Which parts of the sector will adapt, which ones will become obsolete, which ones will grow, which ones shrink? What will success for the performing arts look like in the near- and mid-term? I hear about the dominant concerns being “audience development” and stability of direct government funding. As a strategist and marketer I think the dominant focus on these two concerns has not been producing the requisite breakthroughs in most cases.

In essence, I plan to think out loud about the value innovation that the performing arts sector in Canada could undertake to reap awesome rewards through creating uncontested – and valuable – market spaces. There are already examples of Blue Ocean creators in the performing arts: most notable may be billion dollar empires Cirque du Soleil and Apple. Yes, that Apple: Music has already been revolutionized by digital music distribution and most of that is revenue that goes to Apple. That may well speak to the power of owning the de facto ‘operating system.’

A Blue Ocean is a strategic construct reverse engineered by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. It’s a strategy frame to make your present-day competition irrelevant, often by redefining what business you are in and the attendant changes that follow that understanding. Those don’t have to be thought of as global – they can be local or apply to a sector for that matter.

To play with these ideas relating to the performing arts, I’ll draw on my experiences and perspectives from the arenas of research, strategy and marketing. This no doubt will be a non-linear exploration; it will simply evolve as it goes … I hope it will become a conversation.

(first posted November 2011)

Many of these thoughts originated here during 2010 and 2011. They are as interesting to me today as they were then.

Value of Performing Arts Presentation – So, what?

Since the release of the final report of 2 years worth of study, consultation and research to shed new light on the individual, community and societal values, benefits and impacts of performing arts in the lives of Canadians and Canada, I have had many opportunities to turn toward the So, what? and the Now, what?

The Value of Presenting is living research that I apply in my consulting practice every day, spanning from brand strategy and audience development with Magnetic North: Canada’s Theatre Festival to strategic planning with Alianait Arts Festival to ongoing consulting with the National Arts Centre.

A large part is giving public presentations and leading workshops. This winter is rich with travel to help presenters and the whole presenting ecosystem contemplate a few ideas – and share my perspectives based on this extensive research and my strategy and marketing practice:

  • Audience development: A roadmap to engaged audiences and vibrant communities
  • Performing arts for all: Utopia or Destiny?
  • The opportunities and challenges that the rapid evolution of communications technologies hold
  • How to lead audiences to new artistic experiences

Here is a list of 2014 workshops and conferences, that are being organized this winter. As event webpages appear I will add links to session and registration information:

In all of this work, I am discussion a vision of vibrant communities fueled by performing arts and its community-engaged partnerships.

Strategic move lies at heart of value innovation

In Blue Ocean Strategy W. ChanKim and Renee Mauborgne posit that, “the strategic move, and not the company or the industry, is the right unit of analysis for explaining the creation of blue oceans and sustained high performance.” They then define a strategic move as “a set of managerial actions and decisions involved in making a major market-creating business offering.”

I have started an exploration in the performing arts on this blog this month. I have begun to contemplate the landscape, or as they say the “strategy canvas”,  to learn about the skills, expertise, assets of the performing arts that can be leveraged to create new wide-open spaces for high performance. And to explore what elements might need to be added or increased in order to create a new kind of success.

A bold, new arts brand: Ottawa Storytellers

We recently did some research and strategy work with Ottawa Storytellers (OST). Their goal was to further build on their existing audience with a focus on cultivating a younger, more culturally diverse audience.

With storytelling the challenge is two-fold: 1) many people do not think of storytelling as a professional, adult performing art; and 2) event promotion has not built broad-based trust and credibility in organizations producing or presenting storytelling events.

The challenge we faced was that OST needed to build much greater recognition for itself as a credible and trustworthy source of quality performing arts/ storytelling events and for storytelling as a bona fide professional art form with every communication touch point. At the same time, it needed to “sell” storytelling series or individual performances, without being encumbered by organization-level messaging.

Often in event-based marketing – and when marketing budgets are relatively small – there is little leverage or recognition accruing back to the arts presenter, except among the most committed audiences. That in turn creates long-term liabilities like needing to continually invest in one-off marketing of events, rather than being able to benefit over time from a mother brand approach where recognition, trust and credibility reside with the presenter, not only a specific artist/event. Such an approach creates all kinds of benefits such as more easily presenting new artists through reducing box office risk and more effective marketing. It was also important to understand that when growing an audience is the central goal then the strategy cannot rely on largely list-based marketing efforts alone.

Central Strategy: Mother Brand

That is why a central part of our strategy called for a new branding approach that would be cohesive, bold, contemporary, intelligent, easily structured and flexible in application, welcoming and inviting to audiences, and give weight to OST (this is where the relationship with the audience gets built) while also giving strong presence to show-specific information (which is where OST fulfills its artistic mission).

In short, OST needed to take its place at the heart of its marketing. It would be the mother brand from which all series and events would flow.

In our analysis, we had found the OST logo and tagline were already strong and we recommended keeping both. We found that many of their marketing and communications tactics including much of their online efforts were well conceived and executed. The visual branding, on the other hand, was less effective, too complex and hard to adapt. Similarly, there was, at times, no clear hierarchy of messages evident in marketing materials and the oft-observed “too much text, which ends up saying very little to anyone” was also sometimes an issue.

Creative Brief: Define Audience Using Psychographics

By defining the audience, we were able to create a target that felt real. We used a psychographic composite (values, beliefs, generation-based experiences), rather than just relying on demographic elements (age, income, etc) which are less meaningful, and certainly much less so in terms of creative direction.

OST has just launched its new web site which features its new branding approach. I think they did an excellent job translating the strategic direction into an effective brand architecture.

What do you think?

Thank you to OST for agreeing to share the back story on its new strategy initiatives.

What are they thinking at BlackBerry?

Just last week I used the Canadian edition of the BlackBerry website. It gave me all the information I needed quickly and efficiently in a pleasing, professional interface and I was happy.

This evening I went to the site and saw this as the homepage: a rather static screen trying hard – and failing  in my books – at a lifestyle branding for BlackBerry.

Today BlackBerry is the leader in the smartphone market, but it’s obvious that the Android platform and iPhone are growing faster than BlackBerry. To protect their position and keep growing they have to do something.

But static and boring web interface? All I get to do is go left to right or right to left and click on user types like “The Shy Girl” or “The Power Couple” to see what BlackBerry device they should be using.

Apparently if you are The Shy Girl you use the BlackBerry Pearl. I wonder how all the BlackBerry Pearl users out there feel about that. “Hey, you have a BB Pearl, you must be the shy girl who texts a lot.” I mean how does that help someone gain status in their social circle? I was looking at getting the BlackBerry Torch, except now I am told that I am apparently broadcasting that I am part of The Power Couple! The truly powerful usually have little need to broadcast such things, they simply are and they act, so where does that leave me?

What are they thinking at BlackBerry? What’s the insight at work here?
Have they heard of video and all the really cool things they could do by integrating video into their site – or better yet, why not just keep it clean and professional until you have a great lifestyle brand idea that you can make work online? So many ways to advance a lifestyle brand, so much to learn!

NB: We just saw anther number 1, Nokia, do something about the threats to their leadership position: announcing a strategic partnership with Microsoft, for better or worse. Hope they will open up that platform widely so they can garner the creativity and imaginations of apps developers everywhere.

Logo evolutions

I enjoyed this brief, visual survey of global brand logos. It’s fun to see both what has changed radically and what has merely evolved, sometimes subtly, over the decades. The biggest changes in logo design in these examples are driven by shifts in the business or in its context. In that sense branding cuts both ways: brand designs do lead and they do follow trends.

Corporate brands are much more than the corporate name, even as wordmarks remain crucial for many brands and are likely more important the more local a business is. In any case, you will see several logos in that list that have become powerful enough to omit their company names entirely. Few do so because the image is the name, as is the case for Apple or Shell. With others you might wonder about the thinking or the research that led that decision.