The whole process has been overwhelmingly positive. Staff from across the organisation have actively engaged and found the work really useful, from overarching big ideas to simple changes we can make to ensure we are more ‘on brand’.

Charlotte Rachwal, Octagon Theatre

With major capital development planned and its 50th anniversary fast approaching, this has been a time of reflection for the Octagon Theatre in Bolton. The team, under a new Artistic Director, felt the upcoming milestones should act as a catalyst for developing audiences and deepening relationships. Above all, the theatre wanted to ensure its ethos and principles were harnessed, not diluted, by any changes and that audiences were at the heart of their planning.

They approached Morris Hargreaves McIntyre for guidance on the theatre’s brand strategy and with an interest in adopting Culture Segments to inform the new strategies.

Articulating the Octagon Theatre’s brand

First, we focused on the shared values and principles that inform everyday decisions at the Octagon. We worked with cross-disciplinary teams, using MHM’s brand triangle, to develop a clear, common internal articulation of the Octagon’s brand.

The brand triangle is a one-page, practical tool that supports everyone in upholding an organisation’s brand values, personality and promise– to guide them in being more true to themselves, more of the time. By involving people from all parts of the theatre – from front-of-house to marketing, from programming to operations – we built a three-dimensional picture of what the Octagon stands for.

To bring this to life, the team have created a gorgeous video encapsulating the Octagon’s DNA and representing each of the dimensions articulated in the brand triangle.

brand audit enabled staff in every part of the organisation to recognise the aspects of operations and communications that articulate and uphold the theatre’s promise, and those that required alteration or development to be closer to its ethos.

Deepening relationships and developing audiences

The Octagon had a clear understanding of its brand values. Now it needed insight to understand the motivations and values of its audiences. It chose MHM’s Culture Segments, the only psychographic segmentation system developed specifically for the cultural sector, to inform its audience development.

The Octagon integrated MHM’s ‘Golden Questions’ directly into its Spektrix box office software. It could pose the segmentation questions to ticket bookers, email recipients and whomever else it chose. The tool automatically tagged each respondent’s Spektrix record with their Culture Segment, giving the theatre an instant understanding of how best to engage with individual members of the audience and the kinds of experience that would resonate.

A special affinity with Expression

People in the Expression segment are typically confident, fun-loving and self-aware. They accommodate a wide range of interests from culture and learning to community and nature. They live life to the full. They respond best when the offer promotes creativity as a form of expression and taps into their desire to be part of something bigger.

Among the many impacts of the branding and segmentation work, it quickly emerged how closely aligned the Octagon Theatre’s brand is to the values shared by Expression. And, significantly, the booker records-tagging revealed this was the segment most frequently attracted to the theatre – almost three times their volume in the wider market.

The work on our brand gave us clarity of who we are and how best to articulate this internally and externally and we have completed the picture with Culture Segments where we can understand our audiences better.

Charlotte Rachwal, Octagon Theatre

Putting audience insight into action – the theatre café 

The brand audit had already identified the café bar as being off-brand, in that it didn’t manifest the magic that the venue sought to deliver elsewhere. Now it became clear it also did not foster the creative, joyful, inspiring spirit cherished by those in the Expression segment.  While the capital development was the appropriate time to invest in creating experiences and environments that were truly on-brand and segment-focused, the café was an immediate problem that could be addressed with a budget-viable interim solution.

By embracing the values and ethos of the theatre’s brand ambition – to attract, engage and deliver powerful impacts – and with no more budget than found in the petty cash tin, the creative team decided to dress the café bar. Keeping the Expression segment front and centre in their thoughts, the team transformed the café from a bland, corporate room that lacked personality into a creative and inspiring space.

At last, the café was connecting the magic taking place on the stage to the front-of-house spaces surrounding it – extending and enhancing the audiences’ experience.

Musical instruments now adorn the piano, fairy lights heighten the atmosphere. Sheet music decorates the walls. Signs direct people to places real and fantastical, firing the imagination. All of this will better cater to the creative inspiration sought by Expression as well as being an authentic manifestation of the Octagon’s brand DNA.

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