Brand vs Vision: Embracing Your Brand

By Tricia Ekholm, Chief Marketing Officer, Atlanta Ballet

In August 2016, Gennadi Nedvigin joined the Atlanta Ballet as the third artistic director in its 89 year history. His arrival provided the marketing team with both a challenge and an opportunity. 

The challenge: shifting our brand to reflect a new artistic vision and aesthetic. 

The opportunity: put renewed energy behind our brand.

I attended the November 2016 National Arts Project (NAMP) Conference on a scholarship from the Audience Building Roundtable, an initiative of The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.  I arrived at the NAMP conference with lots of questions: What is vision versus brand?  How do they work together?  What is the difference?  Does my organization have a clearly defined brand?  Is my whole organization on board with the brand we are selling?

At the NAMP conference, I attended the sessions Living Your Brand; Ignite Your Team to Manifest Change; and What Are You Selling? The Patron Journey.  Below are my key takeaways from those sessions as well as conversations with colleagues during the conference.

Your BRAND is not your artistic vision.

Your brand represents the ideas, emotions and values that compel patron consumption.  “Brand” sets expectation and differentiates your product.  

Your vision is why your organization exists - the intentions that drive what you produce.  Your brand is what you sell and why audiences participate. 

BRAND is a WE statement. 

Brand should be considered in terms of “WE.”  Brand describes the moment where art and audience intersect.  Your brand should support your audience’s experience of the art you produce.  It takes both art and audience to make a brand.

Vision is an “I” statement.  I create art to….  Vision is driven by the organization and the reason it was founded.

BRAND does not need to be “cool.”

Your brand is where marketing starts. It is the base from which we build and add the “cool.”  As arts marketers, we often get caught up in the newest trend and wanting to be at the cutting edge of technology or experience. Use your brand as a guide.  Does the new technology or trend support and grow our brand?  Will it help us further promote our brand to our target audience? 

BRAND ambassadors go beyond marketing.

At some point, everyone in your organization touches your audience, which means all staff members, board members and artists are brand ambassadors for your organization.   It is not just the job of marketing or the box office to communicate the vision and brand of the organization.   

As arts marketers, we are responsible for driving engagement and revenue from our audience.  We must put the audience first and consider the experience our audience will have with our art.  The brand we promote must support and communicate that experience, not just the art.

At Atlanta Ballet, we are taking the opportunity that having a new artistic director has provided.  We are using this opportunity to reflect on our history, to understand Gennadi’s artistic vision for the future, and, most importantly, to dig into the data and research on our audience that we have gained this year, thanks to the support of The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation’s Audience Building Roundtable.  Our work is just starting as we begin to shift and energize our brand to showcase the emotions, ideas and values that result from the intersection of our artistic vision and our audience’s experience.

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