I found myself looking at a Digital Strategy role with the Australian ballet and I got itchy. It is the sort of role that gets me excited because the scope and level of experience that one can potentially provide is something that gets the innovative and artistic juices flowing in me… so much so I felt compelled to write this piece about it.
Needless to say I did enquire about the role, but unfortunately it was suggested that I didn’t quite have the chops to be pitched to them… that is unfortunate and something I mildly protested against but nevertheless I felt the need to write this down, if, for no other reason than to be able to look back in a few years and see how close I was to where they ended up.
Firstly I am a fan of the ballet, I know you may see me as a manly man but I would argue that a real man has an appreciation of the arts, all arts – there I said it! I have had season tickets to the Western Australian Ballet for some years, I love the cross-over between art, beautiful music, stunning and athletic individuals and who doesn’t love an excuse to take your favourite squeeze to a night that is special and has a bit of magic in the air!
The crossover between art and sport and ceremony and romance cannot be overstated…it is hard to find! It provides for what should be an easy sell for both participants and sponsors but I’d imagine can be equally as difficult to get the required level of funding to finance performers, coaches, directors and everyone else involved with getting a season together… I dare say it’s the equivalent of me standing en pointe.
The ballet is also an institution some may say is held back with its traditional culture and old ways of doing things. I have witnessed the WA Ballet try new performances with modern music with some success although the comments I overheard on opening night from the VIPs were not always overly complimentary… I still appreciated the idea of breaking out of the mould and think it’s a great evolution!
From a digital experience point of view the current situation is obviously lacking and while I can only speak from my experiences of purchasing tickets through WA Ballet I imagine the Australian Ballet experience isn’t far behind and so without further ado I give you my digital strategy for the Australian Ballet!
As a brief caveat I have no idea of current partnerships or strategies and I will probably reach into marketing and social media and maybe even dancing (for the record I can shake my hips with the best of them) … this is my get out of jail card for the following words!
The digital strategy for the Australian Ballet must extend beyond the simple e-commerce play and enticing people to buy tickets more easily… it must be all-encompassing, it must stretch to every aspect of the Australian Ballet experience and give their supporters and stakeholders a genuine experience.
There are obviously also a variety of Digital Strategy frameworks that could be used to help guide; SOSTAC for planning and SMART for reviewing are two of them that could also be incorporated into the thinking.
Situation – Where are we now?
Objectives – Where do we want to be?
Strategy – How do we get there?
Tactics – How exactly do we get there?
Action – What is our plan?
Control – Did we get there?
SMART – is it…
Frameworks are great but let’s use a little more imagination and put some further thought into it. The ballet provides a mouth-watering opportunity to cross sport-like excitement with art with prestige and sponsors that want to be involved because of all of those reasons. The technology must not only keep up but also exceed expectations… just like the ballet performance. The Australian Ballet should do something epic and lead.
The Australian Ballet should produce magazine-quality articles and a matching journal… they have access to beautiful people with amazing stories, excellent media partners that usually have stunning products and services that would only upsell their engagement with the ballet company. They should extend the articles to other beautiful things and highlight their other partnerships that they no doubt have with other sporting organisations (if they don’t have them they should get them. Who doesn’t want to see football players in tutu’s).
For comparison Redbull is not merely an energy drink company they are an adventure marketing juggernaut that gets funded by their Redbull drinks… the Australian Ballet is a provider of wonderful and magical experiences that extends beyond the total of 8 hours I may spend at the ballet each year. It’s an exclusive club providing a gateway to an even more exclusive world.
If I land on the new Australian Ballet website I want the first reaction to be ‘shutup and take my money!’ currently it screams we made this because we had to (no disrespect to the current team!). It needs to provide reasons for me to buy into the experience and lifestyle.
Everything is a brand, everything should be designed and framed around giving the customers reasons to care and want and need and buy. The aim should be for 100 customers to pay $100 not 10000 customers paying $10.
The Australian Ballet website and e-commerce experience should be driven with the same level of craftsmanship that Art Director David McAllister would expect of his dancers… it should be something exuding art, telling a story that leaves their audience breathless and wanting to come back for more.
There should be a careful focus on building long-term relationships with supporters. I’ve taken my nephews to the ballet. The company should understand this and should know that this should be a lifetime relationship that these kids can have with the ballet and should be nurtured and treated as such. These children should want to go with their school, their friends, then their girlfriend and wife and then ultimately their own kids. It’s an exclusive club that they’ll want to stick with.
In a similar fashion the Australian Ballet should not be built with the same slapstick e-commerce mindset and strategy as so many other e-commerce plays… it deserves better. It should be built with genuine relationships in mind. Any PR company can drive traffic and with a reduced sale price tag can get numbers to the site and buying cheap trinkets. But these aren’t the customers the Australian Ballet needs.
The Australian Ballet needs to be that friend that you just love, they say the right things at the right time. They drop you that little note that gives you a smile because you know that there is some thought behind it, that there has been attention paid to its crafting and it’s not just a result of a CRM telling them that their birthday is coming up.
With that being said the catchphrase ‘big data’ needs to be mentioned in my synopsis. Leveraging off groups such as SAS the ballet should know the demographics of their customers, and understand the broader community demographics to know where and who they should be pitching and appealing to. The information is at hand and should be leveraged off.
Products and Services.
The suite of products as recommended by the Australian Ballet is lacking but the opportunity is huge. I would suggest that they partner (and they probably already are) with brands that can offer the Australian Ballet recommended products and services. For example may I present the exclusive Lululemon health and fitness clothing items as worn by the Australian Ballet. It’s not the entire all-encompassing Lululemon product suite, it’s a select few of the very favourite items that the Australian Ballet team love.
By excluding everything but the very best that only the Australian Ballet staff would pay for with their own cash means exclusivity and it speaks volume to customers. Anyone can get a commerce partner to provide goods particularly in this day and age where supply chains and manufactures are easy to come by.
As already mentioned the key to the platform as I see it is very high quality content, something you’d expect to find in a high quality magazine with that beautiful matte finish on thick GSM paper, not that $2 magazine that you find at the supermarket checkout!
Ultimately they need to communicate visually striking pieces, unmistakably cool products and a sense of luxury and finish that you just really want (need) to be a part of.
Amazing content is shared, it sells a dream, it tells them to mark it down on their to-buy list, it tells their husband that that’s what they want for their next birthday, next anniversary, next date night. The Australian Ballet must progressively earn respect and sell the brand and lifestyle… not the short-term e-commerce uptick that will come from cheap campaigns. There is too much other ‘stuff’ out there to distract the audience and allow them to unsubscribe due to a cheap product or story.
That’s not to say you can’t have fun with it, why the Australian Ballet haven’t done a cover (perhaps a Victorian Orchestra Cover) of the Taylor Swift Shake It Out is beyond me… it would create viral content and show that the ballet isn’t above having fun… after all that’s why I want to bring my kids to the ballet!
Ultimately the website needs to allow for both types of readers, the reader that wants to experience the Australian Ballet world and those that wish to make a transaction.
Spam, Spam, Spam
We have all experienced that e-commerce site you once visited and now receive emails weekly if not more frequently… the basic strategy being the more stuff we send the better the response.
The Australian Ballet should steer away from tacky emails offering amazing discounts. Mind share over wallet share may seem like an upside-down strategy initially but the win will be the long-term payback. Send a few emails a month, but only with content that will get opened… you should want your users to be overly excited to have received an email from the Australian Ballet with high quality and interesting content.
The structural strategy of an email should be well thought out, not just something from a Mailchimp template (although I still love Mailchimp). It should provide a strong introduction priming the reader for the content to follow. A collection of products and experiences that will fill out the story. Provide a subtle fear of missing out and provide excitement for other stories.
Might I add that spam extends to the products on offer… don’t offer the entire suite of Lululemon gear, rather just a select few proudly endorsed by the Australian Ballet as previously mentioned.
SEO and other associated terms are of course critical to the success of the platform in so many ways, but as Google moves more towards trying to reflect excellent content with search engine results I dare say SEO is becoming more of a standard bolt on. It’s no longer something that needs the sort of attention that it once did… this energy should be put into excellent content.
With the risk of getting abused by my SEO friends I should say I still think you do an important job with getting the message out there, but with each new release of Google’s algorithm it becomes obvious that cheap tricks do eventually get found out by the internet search engine gods. So high quality content in combo with a very well thought out SEO is paramount.
I obviously also subscribe to the other parts of a complete e-commerce and web platform; A/B testing, Science of colour picking, order fulfilment, order experiences (who doesn’t want a special note inside of their purchase…make it personal!), social network integration, organic growth, timeframe ratings, newsletter engagement, personal engagement, paid search, CTR, CPC, CR, CPA… but I’ll just cover it all by saying it’s all important, but not as important as the overarching thesis – that you need amazing story-telling!
The story is all that matters. As a general rule most online sites are terrible at this concept usually because numbers ultimately start to dictate the story telling… and not the other way around. People are dying for stories, to be a part of a story is to be a part of something.
Use high quality photos, videos and graphics in a full screen layout or header images immersing the viewer in an experience and whetting the appetite. It should combine thoughtful partner products that support the story.
Ballet has amazing stories, so many wonderful beautiful stories just waiting to be opened and explained to fans together with products and partners that share the romance and lifestyle.
Let’s not pretend. Going to the ballet is an enchanting experience sometimes I even find it daunting… Do I wear a bowtie? When else am I going to wear a bowtie? I should definitely wear a bowtie right? Look that guy is wearing a bowtie… phew…I’m ok!
What I’m trying to say is that there are huge advantages of having a real-world experience. The customers of the Australian Ballet get together and do their own ‘market research’ gauging each other and determining if they can pull it off as an Australian Ballet customer as well. The customers are establishing a peer group and providing lots of data points for purchasing decisions.
This peer group can and should extend beyond the initial website or ballet show. Tumblr, Instagram, Medium, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest (plus others) provide even more tools to give the audience a further voice… but one shouldn’t be wasteful, rather take the same considered approach to these mediums where quality is preached above everything else. Indeed it could even be considered that some platforms are duly ignored as to retain that exclusivity.
Give the customers an introduction through a visual narrative, connect the customer with a story of the brand and why they should care and then tie it together with the platform to make the purchase.
Using iBeacons and other types of tech can provide an immersive experience to the customer. When I get to the ballet I should get a notification or link on my iPhone to the Australian Ballet App, which then displays the program for the evening, outlines the story and provides dossiers of the performers, it allows me to get directions to the bar, allows me to purchase items using Apple Pay quickly and easily.
Using other tracking technology I can create a heat map of the foyer and understand where my customers are walking and where the purchases are being made. I can then place my commercial partners and ushers and other services in the right places at the right times. Obvious caveat being that some venues are more restricted than others.
If Apple Watch and Apple Pay aren’t being discussed already it should be, this will further change the ballet going experience. A small buzz on the wrist when it is time to go. Being able to purchase an item before I get to the counter. A partnership with Apple (or similar providers) who reflects greatly the Australian Ballet and story telling and quality experiences would lead to even more opportunities.
It’s true that maybe this is edge case stuff and not critical to the immediate goals but it should be mentioned somewhere.
Obviously digital strategy is not just for the consumer, but it should go just as deep in-house, with ballet dancers being treated like the athletes they are. Potentially with wearable tech, perhaps it would provide a further insight for customers and fans?
Not only receiving but also being able to interpret analytics is something that every business should have high on its priority list. It can aid in decision-making at all levels and while it can certainly be over-used and over-thought it has a place in every organisation, ballet included.
The potential for open-data and opening up the platform to startups and third parties should also be considered, the great thing about data is that everyone has a different idea as to how it should be used and interpreted. Getting others involved creates and promotes further involvement and insights.
The decision to put my own money down each year to attend the ballet is a big one. It’s a lot of money. It’s an emotional one and like all good consumers I’m not a perfectly predictable consumer.
Ultimately the Australian Ballet needs to communicate a story and a reason to be involved… I’ve referred many a man to purchase season tickets to the ballet for his special lady (or fella). It’s an experience above all else that I’m recommending… an experience that needs to backed up by the online experience.
The Ballet like most artistic pursuits can risk being overly exclusive or only appropriate for a select few. It’s a fine line between maintaining the exclusivity to the exclusion of everyone else and taking away the esteem and undercutting the experience… the ballet needs to have it’s own personality and have it reflected in the digital strategy.
Australian Ballet is the friend you’ve always wanted, she has the nice friends, wears nice clothes, has the beautiful holiday home, drives the flash looking car and always seems to be well prepared, but can also have a conversation and a laugh with you and the have the occasional dance to Shake It Out!… I want to be friends with her and so will you.
Ballet Digital Strategy
Everything a ballet company does is for the performance; the way they communicate to sponsors, supporters, staff, stakeholders, kids. The community activities they undertake be it a partnership with a NFP, another sporting organisation, the door-knock appeal, all of the training, marketing… it all leads to that one moment on a Saturday evening. This obviously also includes the digital strategy. The ultimate digital strategy should be very simple but every aspect should be carefully considered and executed… just like the ballet performance! Like a good mission statement it should be clear and with simple determinants of success.
A single-minded focus on building towards that one ballet experience; the one that sears into the mind of the child, the grandfather, the first-date, the friend… the memory that was created from the magic of being a part of the Australian Ballet experience, and that’s really the only way it can be measured.