Cirque du Soleil’s constant renovation

This week the Taylor family enjoyed a night out at The Royal Albert Hall, seeing the latest Cirque du Soleil show. Although we’d already seen three of their shows, tickets to Amaluna were top of my daughter Elodie’s Xmas present list. And we weren’t alone: c.70% of Cirque du Soleil customers are repeat visitors. 30 years after the business was created, it’s still going strong, with founder Guy Laliberté selling control for a whopping $1.5 billion to TPG Capital and Bosun International in 2014, as reported here.

How do they still manage to maintain the magic of the brand and yet make it fresh enough to keep people coming back, I asked myself?

1. Consistency = brand promise

I learnt about the power of the Cirque du Soleil brand when I was teaching at London Business School last year. I was lucky enough to sit in on a class by the former COO of Cirque du Soleil, Michael Bolingbroke. He asked who had seen one of the shows in the last couple of years, and most of us put our hands up. He then said, “Keep your hands up if you knew the story of the show. Or the songs. Or any of the actors.” Not a hand was left up. Contrast this with most musicals or plays in the same $100+ a ticket price bracket; most people wouldn’t pay that much money without knowing quite a bit about the show.

The Cirque du Soleil brand promises an amazing night out, even though you don’t know much about any given show in advance. There are always stunning stage sets and costumes, visually impactful enough to be enjoyed even from our the very back row. Then there are the amazing acrobats who take your breath away, and a bit of slapstick humour throw in to lighten things up now and then. The experience does live up to the organisation’s mission, which is “To invoke, provoke and evoke the imagination, the senses, and the emotions of people around the world”.

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2. Freshness = new stories and props

The first source of freshness is giving each new show its own storyline. Amauluna is set on “a mysterious island rules by goddesses” and tells “an epic love story between Queen Prospera’s daughter and a brave young suitor, washed up on the isle after a storm.” In addition, there are new props, in this case a waterbowl into which the heroine dives and swims. And perhaps most importantly, some new acrobatic performances to take you breath away. Amauluna features a “teeter board”, a sort of see saw, that performers jump on, launching their partners many metres into the air where they twist and somersault.

3. Focus the portfolio

The business hit problems around 2012, with declining revenues and profitability. The prompted Laliberté to re-take leadership of the the company after some time away. In a rush to develop new shows, quality had dropped and costs controls has slackened, hitting the bottom line. This led to more focus in the portfolio of shows, to select those that build both the brand, and the business. “To protect its core circus business, Mr. Laliberté expects the live entertainment company to choose its projects more carefully,” as reported here.

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4. Investing in constant renovation 

Cirque du Soleil invests heavily to constantly renovate and revitalise the core product. It’s global HQ is what must be an amazing 18 acre campus in Montreal. This is a place I would love to visit. There are 5,000 artists from all over the world training and working out on shows, both existing and new ones. And a team of 400 artisans working on the incredible costumes.

In conclusion, in the words of Elodie as she left the show, “WOW!” What amazing example of fresh consistency, fuelled by constant brand rejuvenation.