Wolfbrown in Spain: A Success Story

February 23, 2018
Megan Friel
Guest Post by Raul Ramos, Director of Asimetrica

Around 3 years have passed since our company, Asimetrica, signed an authorized service provider agreement with WolfBrown to represent and apply Intrinsic Impact’s research methodologies in Spain and Latin America.

During these first years of partnership, some of Spain’s main cultural organizations, such as the Spanish National Orchestra, the National Contemporary Art Museum Reina Sofia, the National Zarzuela Theatre, and the Auditorium of Tenerife, have been able to implement WolfBrown’s audience research methodologies with great success.

The big difference: A research methodology that quickly puts data into action

What we found interesting about this research methodology is that it not only provides an accurate audience profile with information about what audience members experience, think, and feel at your organization, it puts that data into action, allowing for what other sectors would call “product development” or “experience development”. The whole methodology is designed to activate new ways of engaging with audience data. This is a completely different approach to audience research –and it is the main reason Asimetrica was interested.

Imagine focusing research, from the beginning, on questions like, “What are opportunities to improve and shape the overall experience offered by my cultural organization based on my audience’s feedback?” Instead of asking only, “What is my audience like?” This meant that a different approach was taken when designing the survey instrument. We were challenged to ask: What questions about people’s experience should I ask in order to give me insights I can actually use to improve the way people engage with us?

The case of the Spanish National Orchestra

With the beginning of the global crisis in 2012, classical music concerts worldwide suffered a decrease in audience as a result of economic downturn. This added to a larger issue of aging audiences that haven’t been replenished or diversified in creative ways for decades.

It was against this backdrop that in September of 2012 a young new Artistic and Technical Director, Felix Alcaraz, was appointed to the Spanish National Orchestra by the Ministry of Culture, Education and Sport. His vision for developing an orchestra, both artistically and in terms of audience access and participation, included designing new engagement opportunities that “turn concerts into experiences”.

He planned to do this without compromising artistic quality or integrity and to do that, research had to be done. In the context of a recession, there is very little margin for error, but at the same time, without exploring new and progressive opportunities nothing will change. Asimetrica was hired to apply WolfBrown’s research methodologies as part of a wider “product development” strategy. In order to develop audiences and create new formats, new ways to understand the impact of these developments and to react to people’s feedback were needed.

One of the first things we needed to do was to understand which barriers prevented people from coming, or from coming more often, to see traditional concerts. The objective was to creatively overcome those barriers with new format development strategies. Asimetrica did desk research and informal qualitative interviews with both arts managers and audience members to understand the basis of the problem that the National Orchestra was trying to solve.  The following barriers – not in a particular order- seemed to be recurrent:

  •  Price: Perception that the price was expensive. (although people under 27 could go for 1€ with last minute tickets and regular ticket prices start at 11€)
  •  Relevance/understanding/previous knowledge: Lack of relevance, understanding, and/or previous knowledge of the music. People felt that they were not missing anything important.
  • Lack of empathy with the orchestra: The conception of the musicians, soloists, and directors of an orchestra as “strangers,” “removed,” and “different-from-me”. There was also a lack of opportunities to see this differently.
  • Ritual: Too many rules in a conventional orchestra concert experience create an environment where people are unsure and feel out of place. For example, the dress code, no clapping between movements, no commenting, no coughing, no pictures, no drinks allowed inside the hall, etc.
  • Why come back? The ritual seemed to be exactly the same every single week, there was no novelty or challenge regarding the way concerts were enjoyed, beyond the selected pieces to be interpreted.
  • Location: The National Auditorium is in a neighborhood that is not lively before and after the concerts. There are no restaurants or nice places to meet afterwards.
  • Duration of the concert: Paired with the lack of understanding and the feeling of being “out of place”, a 90 to 120-minute concert seemed like too much of a risk.
  • Lack of social components: There were no exciting opportunities to meet and socialize with people before, during, or after the experience.

With all this knowledge, the Orchestra put new formats in place that addressed several of these barriers in order to see how people would react to new engagement opportunities.

The Discover Series…

Inspired by the New World Symphony’s Encounter concert format, (which was also studied by WolfBrown’s methodology), the National Orchestra of Spain created the Discover… concert series. The series consists of four concerts every year with a three-part experience. This experience includes that a 15-minutes audiovisual, musical or storytelling introduction of the work, followed by a 45-minute concert without interruption. After the concert, there is a 30 to 45-minute encounter with the musicians over a complementary glass of wine.

The Orchestra decided to go a step further by adding something to attract younger families, an audience segment it was missing, to the Discover… experience. A parallel workshop called Pintasonic was added during the concert for kids ages 3 to 9. This workshop allowed parents and grandparents to be in the main hall listening to the concert while their children were in the rehearsal room of the same building, getting immersed in a workshop led by musicians of the Orchestra and other plastic artists that would recreate with music and paintings, the same symphony that their parents were watching. At the end of the concert, parents and children come together and the children present their painted interpretation of the musical work to their parents while they mingle with the musicians over a drink in the lobby, asking questions and engaging in informal conversation.

First findings

The findings of the first studies comparing the Discover… series format with the traditional concert format have been revealing, and furthermore, have fostered tangible organizational changes, including a whole process to rethink the experience offered to different types of audiences and visitors.

The Orchestra is attracting a younger, more diverse, and engaged audience to these concerts. The proportion of people that are first time concert-goers is astonishing when compared to a traditional concert, where subscribers represent the majority of the audience members. Families with kids are packing every Pintasonic workshop and new “paths” have been designed, both in the experience and the communications given to different types of audiences. This has included revising how people are welcomed and engaged before, during, and after the artistic exchange (online and on site), due, in part, to the findings of our research.

Further, these organizations are now gathering knowledge about their audience in response to questions that were never asked before (focusing on intrinsic impact), but which have given them (and us, as consultants as well) a completely new approach to understanding their audiences and fine-tuning their offers. These findings have identified new and unexpected loyalty programs and lines of income, adding over 500 new subscriptions for a format that didn’t exist 3 years ago!!

How has this international adventure between WolfBrown and Asimetrica been so far?

All we can say is that working with WolfBrown has been – and is – not only inspirational, but an authentic pleasure in terms of their kindness, support, and professionality. We’ve learned about their methodologies, received unprecedented insight about Spanish audiences and visitors to cultural organizations, and also learned how to make an international partnership serious, relevant, and worthy for a whole new market.

In the near future, Asimetrica hopes to consolidate its partnership with WolfBrown in order to make these methodologies accessible not only to the main cultural institutions in the country or region, but to all cultural organizations despite their size or budget. Gaining insights from audience feedback should be a priority for any cultural organization and so we will work to make it accessible and exciting for them.