by, Christa Carone, Chief Marketing Officer, Xerox
This post originally appeared on the Forbes CMO Network
With Cirque du Soleil’s performance during the Academy Awards, we saw two well-known entertainment brands trying to stay fresh. Compared to 84-year-old Oscar, “Cirque” is a young cat at 28. But it has many lessons to offer The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences–and marketers.
More than 20 years after The New York times called Cirque du Soleil the “circus of the future,” it has grown from 20 to 5,000 performers in 22 unique shows across more than 40 countries around the world – and that’s just this year. Audiences remain enthralled: Cirque du Soleil’s “Iris” set the record for ticket prices at LA’s Kodak Theatre last year with a $253 ticket. The company’s revenue will reportedly exceed $1 billion this year. Cirque du Soleil enters its third decade having become something all long-standing brands strive to be: consistently remarkable.
Many might attribute its success to the glitz of the show – the impeccable costumes, dizzying heights and fantastical imagery. But I’d argue the “secret sauce of Cirque” has to do with staying true to its purpose while remaining surprising. No sequins required, but lessons aplenty:
- Quality & Consistency: From audience experience to mailers and merchandise, the Cirque du Soleil’s brand of creativity and surprise is communicated across all touch points. Whether it’s a flier, radio spot or the food presentation in the VIP tent, most will instantly recognize Cirque du Soleil. Not only is it consistent – it’s consistently different. Even on the Vegas strip, surrounded by neon, the billboards for Cirque du Soleil stand apart. This is no easy feat for any company, let alone one that has a presence in more than 300 cities around the world. Connecting with the core of a brand and expressing that across every single execution in an authentic, real way is the goal.
- Creativity: Yes, creativity in the entertainment industry takes different forms than creativity in more traditional businesses. But Cirque du Soleil should remind us all that creativity counts. Whether you’re selling tickets or software, it’s important to remember that you’re selling to people. I think many marketers would do well to take a page out of the Cirque book and add more flair to our communications. The specialty glass and ceramics company Corning had a viral hit with their visionary “Day Made of Glass” video — a fascinating visual entertainment piece in an industry that otherwise plays it safe.
- A Global Perspective: Cirque du Soleil now performs on five continents and yet its content seems relevant to each. Rather than worrying about competitors, Cirque du Soleil is a model for blue ocean marketing. It has carved out a niche that remains unique, universal, and transcends cultures. Its music-based performances surmount language barriers. Not all businesses have this luxury. (I’m well aware of the importance of customizing direct mailers by location). But the higher philosophy is worth striving for in all industries: connect with customers through something fundamental to the human experience – emotion.
- Risk with Relevance: Cirque du Soleil innovates by taking risks. Sure, some shows have flopped. Michael Jackson’s “Immortal” and Beatles’ “LOVE” took some flack; “Banana Shpeel” shut down within 6 weeks of opening in NYC. But this brand deserves kudos for pushing boundaries. President and CEO Daniel Lamarre may have summarized its risk-taking philosophy when he said, “If you want to do a breakthrough, don’t look around – look ahead.” But this only works if a brand and its employees are so connected that deciding to take a risk is akin to a skier’s pre-black diamond gut-check: We don’t look around, we look ahead and within to decide whether this risk is worth taking. In Cirque du Soleil’s case, risk-taking is part of its DNA (a job description lists “a willingness to push limits” as a pre-requisite).
While we can’t all hold our feet behind our heads or scale a 50-foot wooden pole in five seconds (with no hands) we, as marketers, can embrace the business philosophies of Cirque du Soleil. Its mission statement is a great rallying call: “to invoke the imagination, provoke the senses and evoke the emotions of people around the world.” As we take yet another first step toward enduring success, I challenge us all to remember that at the end of every business exchange is a person – not unlike one in the front row of a Cirque du Soleil performance – and put a little magic in our real marketing.