How Cirque Du Soleil Contorts to Create Change

CMO Spotlight: Alma Derricks, Cirque du Soleil

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Hoop divers perform at the dress rehearsal for Cirque Du Soleil's 'Amaluna' at The Big Top, Intu Trafford Centre, on Sept. 6 in Manchester, England.
Hoop divers perform at the dress rehearsal for Cirque Du Soleil's 'Amaluna' at The Big Top, Intu Trafford Centre, on Sept. 6 in Manchester, England. Credit: Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage/Getty Images
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Something on everyone's mind these days: what's next? The end of a year heralds a period of reflection and anticipation, and this year is no different. For marketers, it's an opportunity to ruminate on what could be the "next big thing" in content or strategy.

To keep a brand fresh, one must inevitably change it, but Alma Derricks, VP of sales and marketing for the Resident Shows Division at Cirque du Soleil, knows that not every trend is suited to reach customers in every industry. In fact, Derricks' discerning tastes are part of why The CMO Club awarded her with a Customer Experience Award earlier this year.

Let's follow this marketing ringleader as she guides us through how Cirque Du Soleil twists and turns to keep delighting audiences in a highly unusual, highly competitive market.

Alma Derricks.
Alma Derricks. Credit: Cirque du Soleil

Step right up

Throughout her career, Derricks has gravitated towards moments of inflection, the latest of which found her with Cirque Du Soleil last July under a new ownership structure. It was her ideal scenario. "I love getting to ask questions, top to bottom, without any regard for how things have always been done. And that's what I walked into," she says.

She soon learned that Cirque, a 30-year-old institution, largely grew organically. As a consequence, it hadn't relied on marketing thinking to drive sales. Today, although ticket sales are still strong, the market has tightened in Las Vegas, thanks to competing residencies from artists like Britney Spears and Celine Dion. "In Las Vegas, we sell as many as 20,000 tickets a night," she says. "It's a lot of inventory in a very, very busy town. My job is all about keeping our shows top of mind."

To make Cirque the most prominent carnival barker in town, if you will, Derricks' team must continually reinvent their marketing. "We have to always make the loudest noise in that environment and make sure that visitors are still aware that we're around, that we're exciting and that we're vital," she says.

Backstage access

A big barrier for Derricks' team is helping consumers differentiate between Cirque's shows. "One of the real challenges we have is needing to flip the brand script in Vegas and emphasize the show ahead of the Cirque brand," she says. After all, no two productions are alike. "They all have very, very different personalities," she says. "The thing that I've been working on quite a bit is, How do you communicate that each show is the only show you have to see?"

One strategy involves pulling back the curtain -- something Cirque had previously been reluctant to do. "It's something that our founder was very, very cautious about in the early days of social media," she says. However, audience expectations have changed, and social media is one marketing tool not to ignore. "So we're trying to find ways to facilitate that via social media and social content and by creating events in Las Vegas that are complete behind-the-curtain experiences," she explains.

The show must go on -- again

Another strategy -- one that Derricks says she's most proud of -- WAS to refresh one of its most popular shows: "The Beatles LOVE." "I didn't completely understand until we were well into the process that Cirque has never rebranded an existing show," Derricks says. For "LOVE"'s tenth anniversary, Cirque refreshed the music, show and visual identity of the production, recognizing that advancements in tech over the last decade would enable an enhanced experience. Derricks and her team reimagined the marketing program in parallel.

"Cirque has always taken pride in its fusion of technology and artistry," she says, "so it seemed very natural as the tenth anniversary approached to rethink the staging, effects, and imagery. The original show was very nostalgic. Today, it's more colorful and, at the same time, showcases the fact that The Beatles are as relevant today as they were in the 60s." For fans, the revamp was a couldn't-miss.

Audience participation

Lastly, Derricks and her team seized the chance to use their expertise to generate an additional source of income. "We've actually created an entire line of business called SPARK that serves as a learning laboratory for corporate teams," she says, adding that this provides interactive business training and team building with a customized curriculum. Companies like Adobe and Google number among the participants. "It's both an amazing bucket list moment and a chance to really learn about trust, team building, operational excellence and customer service in a very tangible way," Derricks says. "It's taking off like a rocket, and has not only created a new way access the brand but also makes a strong statement about who we are." In other words, Derricks' team has Cirque Du Soleil primed and ready for 2017.

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