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.


Berlin Philharmonic start commercial culture magazine “128”

The Berlin Philharmonic start its own culture magazine on the newsstands. “128 – The magazine of the Berlin Philharmonic” – under this name, the orchestra will report four times a year through its concerts, tours and musicians, but also about other topics from the culture. This seems to be the ever first orchestra worldwide which goes to press with an own commercial  quarterly.
The magazine will be the new business card for the orchestra. The first issue will appear end of February with some 50 000 copies, two thirds of them in German, one third in English. Price per issue is 7 Euros. Other orchestras, public and media will observe the new initiative, for sure. Publicity is a key issue, a new income stream for the orchestra another one.

Berlin Philmarmonic start "128" magazine

The reader learns about the 128 musicians and its chief conductor Sir Simon Rattle, as well as guest artists. The project is the latest  initiative of the orchestra to promote the “brand” Berlin Philharmonic around  the world. Other successful projects are – in addition to several film projects – the internet platform “Digital Concert Hall”, where live concerts and the video archives of the Berlin Philharmonic are available through the internet in high quality, as well as the live broadcasts of concerts in theatres.
The  new “128” magazine will replace the previous program-magazine of the Philharmonic. The first issue will  include an interview with the singer Cecilia Bartoli. Also planned is an article on violins as an investment. As a columnist the scientist Dirk von Petersdorff will write for the new magazine.

International orchestra touring – a changing business

Orchestra touring started as a phenomenon in the late 19th century, touring blossomed with the development of modern transport. Often it underpinned quasi-diplomatic missions, with orchestras serving as ambassadors of goodwill and national culture. Today, touring is also an important marketing instrument, with certain markets – such as Asia – booming, while others, like the USA, are facing economic problems. Yet touring also has more individual aspects, impacting on the ensemble members as well as their group dynamic: jet lag, the conditions of travel and accommodation all influence mood and performance. It is a potentially stressful time, but also a period of intense personal interactions between musicians, management and accompanying sponsors and donors.

Over the past 30 years, touring has become both, more complex and more standardised. More ensembles than ever are touring, yet negotiations through unofficial channels are hardly possible anymore. It is a business strongly dependent on longstanding experience. Other aspects are the logistic challenges of touring orchestras – combining tight budgets with the availability of different forms of travel, time limits, the freight load of instruments, or customs and visa directives. Instrument logistics is perhaps one of the most crucial aspects of orchestra touring.

Jonathan Nott, chief conductor of the Bamberger Symphoniker – Bayerische Staatsphilharmonie, recently pointed out that touring has become crucial to ensure international rankings; yet at the same time, touring has become far more complicated than 20 years ago in terms of planning. And it is true: while often expensive and logistically complex, touring makes sense for the ensembles in order to establish and maintain a reputation. In addition, spill-over effects make touring interesting for political and business interests of an ensemble’s home region. However, the touring business will see much fiercer competition between a select group of top ensembles and top touring destinations in the future. The Japanese concert agency Kajimoto is one of the global players in the business. Its managing director recently highlighted, the Japanese market has undergone profound changes over the past fifty years. The demand for classical music is high, yet tastes have remained fairly conservative compared to Europe and the current economic crisis raises particular challenges.

Another topic problem for orchestras: orchestras might become too streamlined under the primacy of branding and corporate interests. Business tools do have their uses, but ultimately it is the nature of art to be critical and subversive.