Canadian Opera Company hits high note with digital revamp

A fat woman wearing Viking horns, singing in a foreign language at ear-piecing frequency. It’s a common misconception of opera by an uninformed audience.

But in the case of the Canadian Opera Company (COC), it was the Opera that was uninformed about its audience. Director of Marketing Jeremy Elbourne suspected that opera-goers might be technological luddites – though he had no way of really knowing.

“The fear was that we’d have a bunch of people who’d be afraid to turn their computers on,” Elbourne says.

Judging from business on the opera’s old Web site, that’s not an unfair assumption. Only one in every five transactions were being completed online. But that was before Toronto-based Delvinia Interactive Inc. helped redesign the Web site based on data-driven insights into audience demographics.

This year’s opera season – September to November – saw more than 20,000 transactions completed online, making up just over half of all transactions.

“There was this assumption that everyone that goes to opera and not digitially inclined,” says Adam Froman, president and CEO at Delvinia. “We compared their online and offline customers and there’s no real difference between the groups. That was the evidence we needed to develop our strategy.”

COC sought a digital revamp shortly after a physical one. It had moved locations to Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre, a theatre built with acoustics in mind.

The new building gave the opera a boost and it was selling out shows, Elbourne says. Now it turned to Delvinia to get its Web site more honed – this time with quantitative data in mind.

“It was much harder to navigate the old site,” he says. “We’d grown considerably over time and there was never any real design to it.”

The old Web site was thrown together helter skelter, he adds. New sections were added as needed. COC also fell into the trap of using internal jargon to describe content, leaving the audience puzzled.

Delvinia helped COC understand the digital needs of its audience better with analytics software from SAS Institute Inc. The digital agency has built a demographics model of Canadians based on a regular survey panel it conducts. It has created 20 different profile segments based on technology use and divided postal codes across the country into those segments.

Delvinia pulled data from 60,000 surveys from its Asking Canadians panel and predictive modeling help from consumer intelligence firm Generation 5.

After analyzing COC data looking at customer postal codes recorded at time of transaction, Delvinia was able to compare online customers with offline customers. It found that 40 per cent of customers fit into two tech-savvy categories – the “loaded and overloaded” and the “city clickers.”

“It’s a typical executive living in a wealthy area of Toronto,” Froman said of the former category. “They have a BlackBerry and a PVR, they buy every technology device, but it’s about improving the efficiency of their lives.”

The “city clickers” are younger, affluent owners of technology that are more apt to spend time engaging socially and diving deep into content.

To cater to the needs of these segments, Delvinia designed a Web site that had a consistent navigation menu on every page. It also built up a wealth of original content from COC, including a blog by the general director, podcasts, videos and a glossary of opera terms.

“We created these journeys to really engage the audience,” Froman says. “We also had to make the experience the most efficient possible.”

The digital marketing approach turns out to be a good fit for opera, Elbourne says. Traditionally, it has been best advertised by word of mouth. Now there’s an opportunity to facilitate that in an online form.

“We want people to become missionaries for us, that’s the ultimate goal,” he says. “We want to see more of the subscribers transacting with us online, that’s still a work in progress.”

Much of it will be about breaking habits, the marketing director adds. Long time members who’ve always bought through the box office won’t likely change that routine.

With the help of hit show Madama Butterfly, COC has sold 99 per cent of its inventory since moving to its new location. So generating additional revenue is done by up-selling customers – turning ticket buyers into members, and members into contributing donors.

The Web site is part of that long-term objective. So is interaction with social media sites like Twitter.

“It’s allowing us to continue to do well and to engage people so they can become advocates,” Elbourne says.

At the very least, it shows that opera is more than a fat woman in horns.

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