Brand building for orchestras. Fad or necessity?

Branding  as process. Some steps towards a strong orchestra brand.

For many consumer goods we take branding for granted. Yet despite substantial economic and demographic pressure, few orchestras have so far begun to contemplate the potentials of brand building. Their identity as a cultural institution brings certain caveats when pursuing this strategy, yet it also offers great advantages.

Even so, it is possible to generalize a number of steps towards brand development:

1. brand identity and the definition of core qualities,

2. positioning and the definition of unique selling propositions,

3. their realization and communication (e. g. through corporate design), and

4. brand controlling.

At the same time, not every orchestra will benefit from (or even be able to implement) a thorough branding strategy – to do so requires certain resources and is most suitable for those ensembles that experiences strong competition or aim to create an international profile.

The example of the “DüSys” (Düsseldorfer Symphoniker, Germany) shows how effective branding campaigns can be. Run in 2004 with huge photo adverts from orchestra musicians throughout the city telling the people “I am a DüSy” (a member of this orchestra), it has generated impressions still lasting today. The brand “DüSy” for the orchestra had been set within weeks in press, media and customers minds. Yet while successful, the current artistic director, Michael Becker, decided to shift the focus towards a stronger identification with the Symphoniker’s new concert venue. By deleting the successful DüSy campaign a lot of (public) money has been just burned.

Other high value, premium orchestra brands as the Berlin Philharmonic, the Gewandhaus Orchestra or the Staatskapelle Dresden have been much more carefully in developing their brands step by step, but always keeping the core brand itself.

Premium brand: Berlin Philharmonic

On top of talent and quality as the indispensable requirements, professional entertainment agencies emphasize the necessity to develop a “unique selling proposition” (USP) and an easily recognizable profile, right down to looks and personal appearance of the artists and esp. the orchestra members. Yet motivations to listen to classical music are strongly individualized. It is therefore crucial to develop detailed insight into one’s audiences – thus making audience research an integral element of branding, as it provides the information to position an ensemble in accordance with audience demands.

The German Konzerthaus Dortmund is a case study for a stringent brand strategy: built  around  a “three-step  concept” – 1. brilliant acoustics, 2. closeness to audiences, 3. sophisticated programming – the Konzerthaus has developed a coherent and recognized identity over the past ten years. Finally another example: for the Mahler Chamber Orchestra (MCO), as a freelance travelling ensemble, brand identity is absolutely crucial. The MCO has identified four core attributes: 1.quality, 2.internationality, 3. democratic structures and 4. personal relations.

To sum up: An excellent orchestra needs a strong brand.


10 thoughts on “Brand building for orchestras. Fad or necessity?

  1. I’m interested to know why the blogger of this blog doesn’t identify him/herself. I can’t find any ID on this page at all.

  2. I think branding is vitally important because it says what we believe in for now and for the future. Whilst it may cost a lot of money, the long term cost of not branding, and not identifying the special role in our communities, will likely be worse. Effective branding doesn’t need to be about more resources, but rather aligning existing resources to express how, why and who we serve. If one’s strategy is to repeat the past till the audience dies out, then that is at least predictable and should be reflected in the brand.

    One way of doing brand strategy requires you to analyse and predict what your market position could be in, say 10 or 20 years from now, and work backwards from that to define how you will be seen today. More than for any other service, orchestras need a stable brand image that will endure unpredictable changes over a long period of time. However, I do have to express my opinion that excellence should not be part of a professional orchestra’s brand, because it is a common foundation that does not really sell anything. I can point to a flood of meaninglessly perfect CDs that we can all live without, by way of illustration. It’s the experience of the listener or audience-participant that I think defines the brand.

    Being forced to build our brand around very complex circumstances, our orchestra did a mission and values workshop with the players in the very first summer course in 2009, and this has been an authentic way forward for the past four years.

    Because we’re working in a challenging environment, I took the data of the mission and values workshop and crunched it through Kim and Mauborgne’s Blue Ocean Strategy. This helped me try to see how, by adjusting the very limited resources I had to various aspects of the organisation’s output, I could differentiate us enough to create new space in the minds of the public. Red Ocean strategy, would, in contrast, be an attempt to compete in the “shark-infested” waters of similar brands, all trying to capture the same people with the same tricks. With an orchestra in a red ocean, one might easily add substitute services to one’s list of local competitors, such as cinema, restaurants, TV stations etc., whilst also trying to compete for the international orchestral work that fills the schedule. For my orchestra, attempting to present ourselves as similar to all the others would be inauthentic.

    Coming up to year 5 now, I’m ready to go back to the orchestra, some of whom have grown since the start, others who are new intake, and ask them what we should do for the next 5 years. I’m not ashamed to say we’ve taken many bold risks and experienced less than optimal results as an exercise in discovering what works and what needs refining. No pain, no gain. But all our actions fit our strategy, which in turn expresses our ideal values, behaviour standards, mission, and brand.

    My players do not brand themselves as a war, or even a post-war orchestra, but rather a reconciling orchestra that presents the country’s diverse cultural offerings to local and international listeners, has a rich back story that does not act as an excuse, and brings them together to learn the skills to rebuild their musical culture as they see fit.

    Maybe all this analysing was a waste of time,and could have been done more simply, but I’m proud of them, our audiences are proud of them, and that’s part of the brand experience.

  3. Reblogged this on Mezzaphonically Speaking and commented:
    Orchestras all over the country are in upheaval between declining audiences, orchestra strikes, management resignations, and intense contract negotiations. Orchestramanagement blogger addresses the importance of orchestras distinguishing themselves strategically through brand building. In a time of such economic instability and endless options for entertainment, orchestras must strive to identify, clarify, and communicate how they are unique and unique serve the community.
    Why should we miss them if they were to disappear? I know I would, especially as an orchestra musician, music educator, and arts manager. Helping others to realize the true impact of symphony orchestras, however, is no longer a given and won’t happen by itself. Brand building will help orchestras reflect on, define, and convey the undeniable importance of their existence.

    • I agree with your opinion on the U.S. scene which is very different from Europe.

      Due to public funding the situation for orchestras in Europe seems to be a little bit more stabile. But if there is a competition on the same public money between different arts instituions (orchestras, theatres, museums etc.) professsional branding and of course professional leadership, marketing and communication becomes more and more important – even in a publicly funded system. Especially in Germany there are a couple of very successful orchestras who don’t have any problems with declining audiences. People from the generation 60+ are getting older, the have time and money and the attend concerts. Audience develoment, outreach and education has to build the next generation.
      Brand building can only be one tiny but important part of a major strategy for an orchestra to support this goal.

      • Thank you for your feedback, GMOrch. I appreciate your thoughts and agree with you completely! I failed to acknowledge the differences between US and European orchestras and how they are funded. When I emphasized the importance of brand building, I was implying a more systemic, organizational effort towards brand building rather than marketing alone. I believe it must be an overarching strategy implemented by the orchestra as a whole as you suggested. I hope this is something will become a greater focus for US orchestras and I also hope to help orchestras get there. Any ideas for encouraging and initiating such efforts? Thanks again!


      • Two ideas on your comment: 1. There was a new management strategy born a couple of years earlier which I really recommend. It’s called “audiencing” (founded by the Austrian Irene Knava – she’s written a thrilling book on it) which is a mixture between marketing and audience development. In brief: Put the audience perspective, the customer sight (what do people really want about classical music?) on top of your strategy and combine this with marketing tools. Involve the different audiences emotionally and build as many links as possible to artists and local orchestra members. Branding (corporate design, c. behaviour etc.) is a part of this process.

        2. If an orchestra gets in turmoil, which has happened rather often in Germany and other European countries in the last few years, too, sometimes it helps to have a round table between management and musicians. There is so much creativity within the orchestra, but very often board and management try to solve the problem by themselves. Result: pay cuts, staff lay offs etc. I remember the SPCO crisis in the early 2000nds. They did a rather good job in solving the problems by intense internal discussions. I know that the circumstances in the US orchetras are partly very sophisticated and that ROPA, ICSOM or AFM and the locals simply have to play their role in a labour dispute. But at the end of the day colaboration works better than confrontation. Best, Gerald

      • @Gerald and Catherine – this year’s League of American Orchestras conference in Dallas invited a Union and Board member from Ford Automobiles to discuss exactly how they reconciled their differences in the face of crisis. You can read the transcript here in the Fall 2012 Symphony Magazine, p 22-26:

        What Jessy Rosen was very pointedly trying to get orchestral managements to drop their adversarial default setting, which everyone instinctively goes into in a crisis. The result with Ford was a very productive relationship that looked at the hard facts and helped everyone dig themselves out of a $60 billion deficit and into profitability. Interestingly, both sides did the same style of negotiation training together.

        I understand the talk is on youtube, but the accents are very difficult for non-native speakers to understand, which is why I point you to the transcript.

        I hope this is helpful.

  4. Although it is probably true that “not every orchestra will benefit from (or even be able to implement) a thorough branding strategy,” surely every orchestra can and should implement a more modest branding strategy.

    I think that creating a recognizable and consistent brand is critical for any large organization.

  5. Truly good music will speak for itself, by way of word of mouth from those who actually know what good musc is. If you wish to (try to) appeal to the current generation who only hear synthesizers, good luck with your branding exercise.

    • Well, of course there must be good music. And much can be listened to at many places. For example: The Berlin Philharmonic is an oustanding band. Premium quality at every concert is a must. This is the core message of good branding: the quality of music. You can put the best brand into the trash boy if quality is poor…

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