Category Archives: competitive intelligence

Artistic Risk and Branding

Creating a strategic framework to achieve value innovation  means we need to ask basic questions as if they were brand new. For example, what does “taking artistic risks” mean from an audience perspective?

The answer is that “it depends”: Each audience member determines “risk” using a slew of criteria to figure out under what circumstances it might be worthwhile to not actually enjoy a performance that one paid for and made time to attend.

Personally, I attend several performing arts on subscription – the ultimate commitment much of the performing arts still relies on. I have different expectations from different art forms. In terms of classical music voluntary risk taking is limited to listenable music (I have little tolerance in the orchestral setting for dissonance). In contemporary dance, I look for the new and unexpected, as long as the dancers are top notch and indeed are dancing. In theatre, I like intellectual, thought-provoking work and I like a great deal of variety, too, including some great brassy entertainment that tells a great story. I also really like mash-ups that blur the boundaries of art forms by taking the best from each and creating something even greater. (Fela!, which I saw at Toronto’s Canon Theatre, is an extraordinary example of that.)

I have just established, in my singular experience at least, that it is possible within the same person to evaluate risks quite differently depending on the context.

The very idea of “artistic risk” is highly subjective. For instance, not all risky programming is innovative, and what’s perceived as a risk in one city may not be so risky in another. Risk is contextual not absolute.

Performing arts audiences are diverse in tastes, expectations, culture and background. Those who can afford tickets easily will evaluate risks differently from those who have to give up something else in their life in order to save up for tickets.

Effective branding is critical to success 

I propose that developing and living a strong, singular brand is the best way for creators and presenters of artistic experiences to help their audiences decide to give all manner of experiences a try and to invest their time and money.

The brand becomes the touch point, the guarantee of a thoughtful and respectful arts experience, whether or not it’s “entertaining”, “provoking”, “escape” or “stimulating”.

Robert LePage when receiving the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award recognizing his body of work was quoted about not wanting to be merely “international” but “universal.” (Watch the short NFB film here.)That is a quintessential brand statement, captured in a single word. It is awesome! It is a strong brand statement within which he can explore all manner of ideas in myriad ways; it’s not limiting but rather gives a meaningful contour to his work and aspiration.

He talked about his visual language of theatre evolving beyond the spoken word and to borrow from other forms of storytelling that are familiar for contemporary audiences – most important being film. From a brand point of view, that means he’s breaking free of the “traditional” bounds of one art form in order to bring his vision to life and to stay relevant. It’s an act of reinvention, which is requisite to maintaining brand relevance in the long-term.

Societies, communities, people, technology have been changing rapidly – socially, politically, environmentally, economically, (multi-)culturally. Every industry, every sector in society must change in relation to these external challenges. Those that will succeed are those that will bring audiences, customers, consumers along on the journey.

I propose that to define and embrace a comprehensive brand (not a logo, but a way of being), one relevant to audiences and stakeholders in your community, is the most efficient and effective way to connect the arts, artists and audiences to create success.

Imagine: creating a brand new genre of live music making today!

Yes, as if it was brand new. Where would you start? 

I would start with looking at my potential audiences and what they thrive on today. I would look at my community, its demographic make-up, its values, attitudes and beliefs and I would segment. I might identify those huge numbers of people who listen to music electronically, primarily using ear buds, irrespective of genre. I would examine deeply where they find their music, what they are listening to, how they listen to this music, when they listen to it, whether they share it with others and how, why they listen to their music, what music gives them, and what music gives them that nothing else in their lives does.

Then I would find out how they spend their days, how much time they spend being social and what they gain in their social interactions. I might see that there are grave pressures and stressors in people’s lives, and a wide range of worries and concerns that express themselves in various ways, including making people sick, feeling isolated and alone. I might think about how their current consumption of music via ear buds enhances these issues or alleviates them.

Then I might realize that the highest potential revenue is available in the 30 to 59 year age group – according to Statistics Canada data. I would use an existing geographic segmentation tool to understand demographics, values, attitudes and beliefs by postal codes, allowing me to see many dimensions of potential audiences.

I might determine that there are two different generations in this 30-year age span – Boomers and Gen Xers – who hold different generational values. I might decide that Gen Xers would be the sweet spot as they are less individualistic in orientation and I could foster and keep them as customers longer because they are younger. I would do this knowing that they tend to be more independent-minded even as they value communal spaces and social connections.

I would see that my target Gen Xers create, participate and engage in every dimension of life (socially, environmentally, politically, economically, artistically). I would see that they are sophisticated consumers who research, explore and sample online and by recommendation (both peer and paid recommenders). They are curious about new experiences and are excited to try out things they haven’t done before. I would see that they tend to look to be entertained in a friendly atmosphere rather than simply accepting others authority and doing as they are told without knowing why.

Then I would find out where this generation spends time and what their days, evenings and nights look like. Are they indoors in front of large screens or having family and social time, are they on the run using mobile devices as a primary interface while working hard, are they hanging out in coffee houses, bars and restaurants to get face-time, as they also chat and engage in social media to share with their wider community, are they in Yoga studios and fitness studios, spas and aesthetics shops where pampering is the order of the day and image is honed? Or do they work and worry about having enough money and resources to make ends meet? Different segments, micro-segments, would dominate in various activities and I might decide that I want to provide my solution – live orchestral classical music (ha!) – to all of them or some of them.

Then I might ask myself: how can I connect my brand new idea, never been seen before type of music making requiring perfect harmony among 40 to 100+ (!) musicians to these Gen Xers? How is my idea, that thrives on delicate sound (both in the highs and lows – qualities that are harder to appreciate and hear in compressed digital files), complex structure and intricate music making with a bewildering array of instruments, going to make these sophisticated, busy Gen Xers’ lives better, richer, more complete? What is the value Gen Xers would gain from such a formidable live experience? How is that value greater in comparison to other activities in their lives? How do I connect this live experience through online/mobile channels and make it irresistible? How will I secure true participation in the live music making?

Then I would decide what the business model is going to be, after all, getting that many musicians to play together will take considerable resources especially in the mid- to long-term. In essence, I would think about whether there can be economies of scale in my business model and what they are. For instance, I might realize that the live performance doesn’t scale well and I might search for ways to extend the live aspects to further monetize them. I might borrow from the playbook of other live events, whether its sports or pop and rock music.

I would look to other music experiences for inspiration, from the house concert to the stadium rock concerts. I would also look to the video game industry because it is highly participatory, the high-end spa experience because it does so well at pampering and getting me beyond my daily concerns, and the travel industry, both packaged and independent travel. And I’d think about styles of performance a lot.

This would eventually get me into the weeds of decision making: Would I put the musicians in a closed music making space, a concert hall, or would I put them outside or in community contexts? Would I have musicians be perfect technicians playing all the notes just so, or would I think about all that’s needed for an awesome performance experience for the audience? Would I ban the enthusiasm of my audience to the ends of long pieces, or would I encourage spontaneous outbursts of joy, delight, feedback? Would I dress musicians in black tails or would I allow their personalities to shine through with more than their hair styles? I would deeply consider the trade offs in each decision, talk to musicians and audiences and figure out how they would shape my brand.

Building such a bold idea from scratch would be awesomely exciting.

Finally, I would figure out how to build-in “creative destruction” mechanisms, so that the audience experience stays fresh and vibrant, rather than becoming narrowly defined by my initial magic formula. Everything tells me that there will be significant disruptive factors of all kinds, most of them outside my control, so that I might as well build in change and evolutionary leaps into the DNA.

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.

Economics of fear reloaded

Back in early 2009 I was struck by the incessant credit crisis coverage that had been going on since Lehman’s Brothers collapse in 2007, and before then if you had been paying attention to the sub-prime mortgage asset-backed securities issue. I thought it had to have impact on how people would behave in terms of consumption choices.

Economics of Fear and Sustainable buying practices

Now it’s late 2011, and we have just come through 5+ years of unending credit crisis, recessions and now debt crisis news coverage.

The coverage of “the markets” – those mysterious beyond-human-beings-making-decisions markets – is like a game show or maybe an endless cricket game, just a lot faster:  like hockey where the spectator never quite “sees” the puck but can infer it from the players motions.

The headlines are unhelpful at best to illuminate the issues – headlines are there to “sell papers”, or in online vernacular “secure eyeballs.” (It’s good to remember the motivations each industry has in its activities.)

Yesterday’s news of German Bond Auction not selling out is a prime example of disinformation moving faster than light (Neutrino pun intended): How many in the public who consume headlines know what a bond auction is, how it works and who the usual buyers are? If you read beyond the headlines you might learn a few other facts:

They come from the bottom of a Wall Street Journal article headlined: “German Bond Sale Spurs Worries”

  • “Germany had never tried to sell a 10-year bond that paid only 2% interest, and the historically low yields appeared to depress appetite among the traditional circle of buyers.”
  • “Germany sold 3.644 billion Euros at 1.98% average interest.”
  • “Germany traditionally auctions bonds, rather than operating a syndicate of primary dealers to place them with investors. The Finanzagentur, the government’s issuing agent, then gradually feeds the bonds it doesn’t sell into the secondary market. This system means that there is no pressure on banks to bid for the bonds or risk their relationship with the sovereign. Moreover, banks across the Continent are trying to reduce their holdings of sovereign bonds, or at least not take on extra exposure, Mr. Krautzberger said.”
  • Take a moment to check out the interactive feature in the article that shows how German bond yields have declined recently …

No doubt it sounds like the Finanzagentur miscalculated and underestimated the political sentiments and headlines that could follow if they did not sell out and the concerns they might raise.

Bringing it home I have two questions for you: How much are the headlines affecting news-spectators decision making about their own debt, credit, income, savings and spending? And what is your organization’s strategy to adapt as consumer behaviours keep shifting ever more online/mobile which has shifted traditional power away from brands and toward consumers and the platforms they use?

Competitive factors: Live Performing Arts

The approach to competition and how we understand competitive factors is key to creating uncontested new market spaces. Conventionally, competition is understood to be within a sector: an airline competes against other airlines, a circus competes against other circuses, a hotel chain against other hotels. Each organization tries to differentiate itself in its market space, to build a recognized brand, to establish a value position that avoids lowest price competition. Competitive benchmarking is done against similar organizations, from tracking market share to share of wallet to brand mapping and intent-to-purchase studies.

Importantly, blue oceans – uncontested market spaces – are not found by benchmarking inside that competitive set.

Rather, they are about a leap in value for the customer and the organization. Value innovation. It’s not merely about creating value, often incremental, or about pioneering innovation, often on the bleeding edge where others may well reap the greatest rewards. It is a differently grounded strategic mindset that aligns innovation and value.

Competitive factors for the performing arts

Imagine: You are a not-for-profit venue with a 250-seat theatre in Toronto that presents new work and existing work in new ways. How about if you are a commercial 1,200-seat theatre with long runs of well-known shows? Does one compete against the other in a meaningful way?

Imagine: You rent a community hall in rural Saskatchewan and present music acts a few times a year. Or you are an independent (no label behind you) musician with your tracks for sale online, an active YouTube and/or Vimeo channel and you are working the house concert and club circuit to build your fan base? Where does your competition come from?

I’ve heard references to there being a  “market glut” in the performing arts in Canada. No doubt, there are a lot more theatres, companies and artists making a living – or some of their living – by creating, producing and presenting performing arts. Yet, as long as attendance at performing arts events remains the top indicator for future attendance, I propose that this sector is not a zero sum industry where the ticket purchase is simply shifted from one theatre or one performer to another.

Rather, I propose that many significant competitive factors come from outside the performing arts sector where people can reap similar benefits through a wide variety of activities. Here is a thought piece that considers some of these competitors:

Outside COMPETITORS
Benefits for customer
Performing arts corresponding offer to customers
Movie theatres
Great stories, star-powered, escape to the movies, big sound, big screen, pop culture, celebrity culture
Great stories, live action, connections with live stars, star power, be an insider, behind the scenes, participate in creating the experience
Home entertainment
High quality in comfort of your own home and sound system. Anytime entertainment and discovery.
Live action, social connection, common experience, participation, discover new worlds and ideas
Museums
Hands-on discovery and exploration. We bring the world to you. Learn about who you are and where you come from.
“Times and Life”: Discover your world anew through music; soundscapes of our history, tell stories about who we are and what makes us so
Professional sports
Action, tribal connection, heroes, victory, competition
Get the inside track on peak performance. Access to artists. Backstage tours. Process of creating winning performances. Community connection.
Spas
Pamper yourself. Wellness, stress reduction, spiritual connection, body connection
Come home to the Symphony.
Escape to the Symphony. Refresh your mind, body and spirit at your Symphony.
Cosmetic treatment
Improve self-image, de-stress, personal fulfillment, anti-aging
Come as you are – and be changed forever by the music, the show, the experience.
Restaurants
Friends. Food. Social. In crowd.
Socialize. Social capital. See and be seen. Entertain your friends at the symphony. Community making. Mix food, drink and entertainment
Video games, Xbox, PS, Wii
Participate. Action. Play. Social. Relax.
Feel it live. Real-world magic. Participatory arts experiences. Community building.

By no means is this table complete or even “correct”. It simply hopes to spark different ways to consider competition.

Today, we also have to content with the fact that a common answer to “if you had a free evening tonight what would you do” has become “sleep.”

Website code and Competitive intelligence

I recently came across a piece of code on a web site I was checking out in preparation for my SEO seminar.

Programmers used green comment text as a way to distinguish notes to the programmer or reminders, from code that makes the site work. These notes do not show up as content in the graphic interface of the web site. If you want to see what sort of “conversations” and notes programmers leave behind when building a site, simply look at the source code and scroll for the green bits.

Now, imagine a company in a highly competitive field having this sort of programmer’s annotation about a future product in the code. This could well be a major issue if a competitor receives advance notice of future actions, just because a programmer wanted to identify a placeholder for a future product on the web page.

While I find this interesting from a competitive intelligence perspective, it raises another question: when you approve your web site, do you ever actually look at the code? Have you considered the liabilities that inadvertent disclosure can bring to your company? Do you have any sort of quality assurance and brand protection process in place re: coding? And, in earlier posts I talked about the importance of meta tags and title tags – so: what is your quality assurance process to make sure these search engine optimization aids are in place and make sense from a brand and messaging architecture point of view?