Greg Sandow recently composed a list of the top ten changes in classical music in the past decade. It’s an interesting, albeit incomplete, list with plenty of agreeable and perhaps some disagreeable items. What stuck out for me was item number three: a new attitude toward classical music:
Mainstream classical music institutions have tried many innovations — new, informal ways of giving concerts, musicians talking to the audience, large videoscreens, and much, much more.
Some of these innovations have been smart, some have been silly, and many of them haven’t been well thought out. Rarely have mainstream classical institutions developed real strategic plans for change. More often (as I’ve observed firsthand), they’ve tried things out impulsively, only to discover, a year or two down the road, that their innovations don’t make much difference. In particular, they don’t attract a large new audience.
That’s because a single innovation isn’t enough. But all of them, taken as a whole, have changed the mood of classical music, bringing it closer to contemporary life.
A new attitude toward classical music is crucial. But I would like to frame it from a marketing and strategy perspective. The market has changed, now institutions and administrators must change. Let’s introduce two concepts: product-driven vs. market-driven organizations, and strategy in strong-culture organizations.
The latter concept comes from the book Strategy: Core Concepts, Analytical Tools, Readings by Thompson, Gamble and Strickland. A book I have used before. According to the authors, strong-culture organizations have well-defined corporate characters with deeply rooted values and behavioral norms. Clearly, orchestras fit this description.
But first, orchestras are by their very nature product-centered organizations, as opposed to market-centered organizations. The product (by that, I mean the production of art in any form) is the raison d’être, whereas for corporate institutions, the market (or maximized profit) is their reason for existence.
It is easy to be a product-centered organization when you hold a near monopoly and your product is in demand. But as we have seen before (PDF), the arts and culture have significantly proliferated in the last decades. According to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), in the last 20 years, the number of performing arts groups has risen to an all-time high. On the other hand, as the NEA recently reported, fewer people attend the arts. In other words, more choices, but a shrinking market.
The danger in product-centered organizations is the assumption that the superiority of the product is the key to the success in the market and the dismissal of external information and sources. We all recognize a certain elitism in classical music institutions: an attitude of play it and they will come.
For years, decades even, institutions have dismissed reports that spoke about the decline of classical music. Greg Sandow calls it “the myth that the audience would always renew itself.” Let me bluntly generalize and state that orchestras are run in this culture of superiority, elitism and dismissal. There appear to be some cracks in the foundation of this culture, but only just recently, the League of American Orchestras recognized the dire situation of declining audiences.
The authors of Strategy: Core Concepts explain how a mismatch culture and strategy occurs in strong-culture organizations, such as orchestras. They “tend to occur when a company’s business environment undergoes significant change, prompting a drastic strategy revision that clashes with the entrenched culture. A strategy-culture clash can also occur in a strong-culture company whose business has gradually eroded…” That is already sounding familiar.
The authors cite the example of electric utility companies that were “long used to operating as slow-moving regulated monopolies with captive customers.” I think we can all recognize orchestras in this example.
Electric utility companies are now “confronting the emergence of a vigorously competitive market […] and growing freedom on the part of […] customers to choose their own energy supplier.” I think the comparison is canny.
Well then, what’s the answer? The authors recommend shifting “away from cultures predicated on risk avoidance, centralized control of decision making, and the politics of regulatory relationships and toward cultures aimed at entrepreneurial risk taking, product innovation, competitive thinking, greater attention to customer service, cost reduction, and competitive pricing.”
Should orchestras then change from a product-driven strategy to a market-driven strategy? Hold your horses, not so fast. In market-centered organizations, the product is born from, and evolves, based on the needs of the market. If this were applied to orchestras, they would all turn into Andre Rieu’s blasphemous Strauss orgy.
Thus, for orchestras, a market-driven strategy does not mean performing Beethoven’s Fifth in every concert because that’s what the market wants. The product should unwaveringly focus on artistic integrity and innovation. In marketing terms, the product is not up for grabs in a market-driven strategy.
But that still leaves the other three P’s in the marketing mix: price, place, and promotion. How can orchestras be a more market-driven organization in those aspects?
Greg Sandow’s list offers some insights on the changes that have happened in the last decade: Peter Gelb taking over at the Met and infusing its strategy with bold, risk-taking innovation; improved customer service; and artistic improvising.
But the greatest opportunity for innovation lies in Sandow’s eighth place item: classical music goes online. Think about the opportunities in place (streaming, social media, new sale outlets, partnerships etc.), promotion (search engine marketing, social media, partnerships etc.), price (micro-payments, donations, subscriptions etc.), and yes, even product (adaptations, mash-ups, collaborations etc.).
That is exactly why we need to get rid of the product-driven culture of superiority, elitism and dismissal. The Internet culture, and particularly social media, is the antithesis of those forces. Shift away from risk avoidance and centralized decision making and move toward innovation, competitive thinking, customer service, and competitive pricing.
Number one on Greg Sandow’s list is a movement for classical music change. “I know they’re out there,” writes Sandow:
So the next step might be to draw this movement together. Maybe we do need an organization. I’m available to help to build it. Or maybe we just need some new but more informal ways to meet each other, and connect. I’m available to help make that happen, too.
But that might be our new year’s resolution. Let’s make our movement stronger. Let’s connect, and make some noise.