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AMA: Adapting your message …

Categories: Learning things, Useful/interesting

Arts Marketing Association 2015 conference banner

This year's Arts Marketing Association conference was held just down the road from Supercool HQ at The REP (plus a drinks reception with our friends at mac birmingham).

In the spirit of sharing and learning and stuff, here're some tidied-up notes on the first session I went to – I thought this'd be a useful one as we have several clients with a very similar core audience demographic to Northern Ballet.

[My thoughts/asides are in square brackets.]


Adapting your message to reach different target groups

Laraine Penson – Director of Communications, Northern Ballet

“Focus on the user and all else will follow” Google Truth

– Northern Ballet’s current core audience are middle class, middle aged, white, well-off Telegraph and Daily Mail readers who shop at M&S and Waitrose. 1.9m households in the UK fit this MOSAIC profile so it’s an important demographic. MOSAIC is a good segmentation tool to use as it’s used by corporates – so if you’re looking to partner with corporates, you're making it easy to compare audience/client profiles.

– Print and email are most liked by this demographic; though their presence is growing on social media. Northern Ballet would’ve liked to advertise in Waitrose magazine, for example, but the cost is prohibitive so instead they advertise in car parks near M&S and Waitrose stores. [Think laterally]

– Learning more about the audience included finding their primary reason for attending arts and cultural stuff:
    - Captivation
    - Emotional engagement
    - Appreciation of artistry
    - Shared experience
    - Visual spectacle
    - Anticipation
    - The ‘afterglow’

– Northern Ballet have been sending short emails a couple of days before people come to see a performance with info such as character profiles. This help build people’s anticipation, and helps them to feel better informed about what they’re about to see. A huge barrier with ballet [and also classical music] is “What if I don’t understand it?” / “Will I get it?” [I love the idea of giving people these added extra bits of information in advance, so the experience starts a bit earlier. Deeper knowledge = deeper engagement with the company/venue etc. Giving people a clear idea of what to expect also takes away some of the risk of committing – though in this case they’ve already bought a ticket.]

– 5 years ago Northern Ballet rebranded with the main changes being to imagery and tone of voice. They’ve invested a lot in very high quality photography – which Laraine says has really paid off – and they now make sure every show has a professional-looking, high quality set of ‘emotive’ imagery. [The core thought being “show, don’t tell”, which I wholeheartedly agree with.] They also have this sort of info. on their website. Another branding change was to overhaul their copy and tone of voice to be more ‘experiential’ [rather than explanatory and/or salesy].

– To expand audience, they experimented with reaching out to new ACE-defined audiences who should (according to Culture Segments segmentation) be receptive to them; Fun, Fashion and Friends, and Dinner & A Show (nearest crossover with core audience). They ran an ‘experience’ for glossy mag journalists, supported by a range of corporate partners: East Coast trains brought people to Leeds; they had a Great Gatsby-themed make-up demo by MAC cosmetics, lunch at Harvey Nichols, saw The Great Gatsby ballet, and stayed in a partner hotel for the night. It cost Northern Ballet nothing but the tickets, and the time it took to put the package together – everything else was covered by partnerships. They got coverage from every publication invited, including a follow-up piece on Vogue’s website with a competition (to win a ‘package experience’) which reached approx. 2m people.

– The secrets of effective messaging: keep it short (no more than 30 words), truthful, credible, relevant and clear. And repeat it. Repetition makes sure it’s heard, reinforces and reminds people of core message/s. [Repetition makes sure it’s heard, reinforces and reminds people of core message/s … wink]

– Consistent messaging across diverse channels = engagement.

photo of Laraine Penson's talk

[No need to squint – the text from the slide pictured is below]

–  Some internet-related stats:

  • The average Brit checks their phone 50 times a day
  • 46% of 18-24yr olds check their phone every 15 minutes
  • 77% of adults in the UK have broadband
  • 20% of viewers abandon video after 10 seconds (so put your most important message first)
  • YouTube is the second most popular search engine [Hmm. More accurately, it has the second most popular search function on the internet – I dispute it being a ‘search engine’. Though I can be a bit of a pedant …]

– Northern Ballet tried making some 'teaser' trailers, and they didn't perform anything like as well (in terms of views) as trailers or snippets of film of the actual productions. [Again; showing people exactly what to expect is popular]

– Direct mail is still a very effective form of communication – as long as it's well targeted and well designed; specifically for the people you're talking to.

– Provide moments of magic to make your offer the easy choice for people.


Up next: Notes on Influencing Upwards: Asking the Right Questions by Mark Wright of People Create.

Making CBSO faster

Recently we launched a new website for the CBSO built on Craft CMS, it was a pretty exciting project for us all and was a lot of fun to work on. It was also the first time we got to use our new Box Office system that I’d spent the better part of 3 months building as it needed to display events and integrate with the Spektrix ticketing system to let users purchase tickets.

Whilst that went pretty much to plan one thing that didn’t go particularly well to begin with was the site speed. Initially our load time for the upcoming season was a whopping ~6.5s - which really wasn’t good enough - so shortly before launch I squeezed the most out of Craft that I could using it’s inbuilt caching.

Caching is where the system stores a copy of the page so that repeat requests for it can be fetched much quicker as it doesn’t need to be rebuilt. I also moved all of our static assets over to Amazons CloudFront CDN. Both of these worked great, and in combination with each other took page load down to a much more reasonable ~1.3s which we were pretty happy with.

As we moved through the initial few weeks of the site having gone live we started to notice that it was really obvious when a page had just been updated (either by an editor or our continual synchronising with Spektrix) and that these newly updated pages were back to the old 5 to 8 second load times. So I set about implementing two things; Varnish and a plugin to keep things permanently cached, yet up to date.

Adding Varnish shaved nearly another whole second off our upcoming season page, which is now a snappy ~800ms for the initial load and ~500ms for repeat views. Here’s our final numbers in real time:


We were still hitting an issue with updating pages though, this time because Varnish was still serving the old copy of the content. To get around this I wrote a plugin that integrates tightly with Craft to allow editors to just press save and not have to think about any of this nonsense. Behind the scenes my plugin waits for Craft to finish purging its own cached copy of the page, then purges the same content in Varnish and finally forces both systems to update their own caches. This now means that all website users should never see a long page load - they should all be under a second (provided their internet connection is good).

And finally, if you’re at all interested in the much geekier version of this post - then you can read the technical breakdown over here on our engineering blog.

Supercool Shares #3

Categories: Useful/interesting

Species in Pieces (needs to be viewed in Chrome for the full effect)
Some fancy-clever CSS animation magic created by designer Bryan James, Species in Pieces introduces 30 of our most endangered species, each illustrated by 30 'pieces' which animate between creatures. It's pretty, it's beautifully done, it's interesting. Great stuff.
via @neiltak

Species in Pieces


Waterstones have a blog post explaining the thinking/process behind Puffin Classics' new covers. Lovely use of a simple graphic device which immediately identifies the books as part of a set, without them losing their individual personalities.

Puffin Classics book covers


If The Simpsons were real people, their opening titles might look a little like this: Real Life Simpsons Intro


Tree Change Dolls
Keeping to the theme of re-imagining an already-existing thing, Tasmanian artist Sonia Singh has taken it upon herself to adapt discarded kids' dolls into something a little less 'grown-up' and a lot more realistic and playful. To say that they're a vast improvement would be an understatement.

Tree Change Dolls


For motorsport fans; there's a new F1 website. It's nice. Va-va-vroooom!
via @RyanDC

Formula 1


Monopoly escape kit
During WWII, escape equipment was smuggled to POWs in games of Monopoly. A feat of design cunning.

Front-end web developer Ramy Khuffash has put together a bunch of videos showing user flow patterns on various (mobile) websites. Very useful – thanks Ramy!


And finally; if I had to do something other than my usual job, I'd want to do what Annie Atkins does …

Annie Atkins' work on The Grand Budapest Hotel graphic design

Supercool Shares #2

Categories: Useful/interesting

That was the month that was inadvertently illustration-heavy …

Wall of Wally – different illustrators' takes on a photo of bow-tie fanatic and brand man; the late, great Wally Olins.

Wally Olins tribute 'Wall of Wally'

NSPCC's 'Be Share Aware' campaign video is mildly shocking, simple and effective.

NSPCC Be Share Aware still

Beautiful, stylish and clever depictions of BAFTA-nominated films by French illustrator Malika Favre.

Malika Favre BAFTA illustration of The Theory of Everything

Sadly Barbara Bernát's conceptual design for Hungarian paper currency is just an idea rather than reality. (The under-UV idea is very cute.)
via @shuckle

Hungarian currency concept

And finally, a non-illustrated share; graphic designers as depicted on-screen: "FYI I'm A Graphic Designer"