The Demise of Ringling Bros. Circus Was Not a Surprise Among Some

For all one could tell, the performances of late could have resembled shows dating to their inception one hundred and fifty years ago. Meanwhile, one of their competitors, Cirque Du Soleil, is now the largest theatrical producer in the world. They found success tapping into a new market—one of their own creation. Ringling Bros. ended in May 2017 due to dwindling audiences, the company said in a statement. Owner Ken Feld blamed the closing on the decision to remove elephants from the big tent. A ringleader interviewed on 60-Minutes, offered that he believed today’s youth prefers apps and online games to live entertainment. However, that version does not square with the success by Cirque Du Soleil, which got its start building on concepts and ideas from the Moscow Circus. I remember attending that Circus as a teen, thinking it was unlike any other. Performers would flub and fumble along a cleverly choreographed performance of Russian myths and lore—leading audiences to anticipate a spectacular failure as each trick became increasingly difficult. But of course, at the end the trick came off beautifully, leaving audiences wanting more. Cirque crafted its performances similarly, with the intent to defy audience expectations. “If you have watched any of its performances you will notice a new definition of a circus,” Kelly Luo wrote in an article on her LinkedIn profile. “It was familiar yet strangely new.” Catering to the audience has been the company’s mantra since its beginning and is carefully implemented. Audiences are polled on their experiences: from when they first considered attending, to buying a ticket, their journeys to the performance and back, and to learning about their lasting impressions. Meantime, audience reactions are gauged during performances to assess how performers interact with audiences and any resulting emotions. “The company also solicits ideas from within. Once a year, Cirque assembles its roughly five thousand employees to learn about the shows and ways to improve. These assemblies turn into brainstorming sessions for ways to meet audience needs for the future. The process follows along this path: creative teams accumulate audience and staff input; they sort the feedback and select those ideas that lend themselves to new themes and storylines for upcoming shows. From there, the characters, scenery, and music are crafted to fit. The performers for new shows depicting characters are only partly based on their skills, talents, and tricks. They are also chosen by audience reactions to them with any emotions they evoke. To that end, Cirque catalogues its performers’ traits, stored into a database that is accessible to show directors. Ultimately, every aspect of every performance is singularly intended to create an unforgettable experience—one that leaves audiences satisfied and hopefully eager to buy tickets for another show. Shows, such as “O,” have been selling out at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, NV, for more than fifteen years, where a theater was built just for that performance. Against this backdrop, one wonders whether Ringling Bros. could have survived. For the entire 20th century the traveling circus was a popular form of family entertainment. It appealed to audiences of all ages for its G-rated content, which at the time were unimaginable feats, including acrobatics and animal tricks; and of course, there were the clowns. In fact, the entire experience was cloaked in a large wink and a nod to its youthful attendees. They certainly knew their audience. However, one could argue, as did the ringleader, that today’s youth have much more stimuli—the breadth, intimacy and affordability of the internet, and the immediacy of communications. Its impact to Ringling cannot be overstated. Their ideal audience was no longer satisfied by a Ringling Bros. experience. And if the youth were no longer tugging on their parents to take them to the circus, well then, the audience was no longer satisfied going to the circus, year after year. Ringling was forced to close not because elephants were no longer a part—but because the Ringling Bros. circus was no longer filling a need, unable to satisfy an audience in sufficient numbers. The experience was no longer relevant. Circuses are in our past; they have just merely shifted in a new direction. Through listening to its target audience market, infused with innovation, lively colors, action and contemporary music, Cirque du Soleil thrives. The company earns more than $200 billion a year by selling tickets and merchandise, according to estimates by Dun & Bradstreet. Its shows have been seen by more than 100 million spectators in nearly 300 cities on five continents. It has achieved its success mostly by satisfying an adult target market whose needs for entertainment include seeing a magnificent show. This type of extravaganza is appealing to those with disposable income, provided they can be convinced of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. A service designer would instantly recognize all the techniques used by of Cirque De Soleil’s for a quality service.

Spirit Airlines-Hated and Profitable!

Passengers on Spirit Airlines file more complaints with the U.S. government than any other airline. Yet by all financial measures, Spirit is the winner in a competitive industry using personas to target ideal customers.

Personas are used for understanding its ideal market , including its unique needs. The ideal Spirit passenger goes something like this: head of a household who works all year for a family vacation, and when that time comes, travel is only a necessary inconvenience to get to and from a resort destination. Everyone else whose expectations of the regular services offered on other airlines, will have a unpleasant experience.

Jennifer Lawson, a fourteen-year-old, returning from camp in Houston, Texas, was traveling Spirit to the East Coast about two thousand miles or halfway across the country. Prior to boarding, Jennifer laid out the rest of her cash at the ticket counter to cover the costs of a bag fee, plus ten dollars to print the boarding pass.

During the flight, she became extremely thirsty and asked an attendant for water. The stewardess put out her hand for seven dollars, and Jennifer told the attendant she had spent the rest her money at the counter to get on the plane. To which the attendant said, “There are no exceptions,” and walked away.

Jennifer got out of her seat and followed the attendant down the aisle protesting. She did not need a whole bottle, she told the attendant, just a few sips. So, the attendant held open the bathroom door and offered her the bathroom sink, which was labeled “non-potable.”
Spirit is loosely modeled on Ryan Air’s no-frills shuttle that transports passengers between European cities for roughly forty dollars a trip. Ryan Air, whose concept is nothing more than a flying bus, solves the needs of several personas, including business travelers and young tourists. Spirit operates across vast distances between cities in the United States. Its market has to accept enduring whatever it takes to reach the other end, and still feel enormously satisfied by having saved a few bucks.

Organizations that use personas to understand their markets – and ultimately satisfy their needs – will find similar success

FEMA Prototypes Design For Rapid Response

When Hurricane Andrew devastated Homestead, Florida in 1992, FEMA was excoriated by media and lawmakers for its slow, uncoordinated response. The Federal Emergency Management Agency was originally authorized to assist local response efforts, when asked, and for the most part, stayed out of view of the camera.

Nonetheless, after Hurricane Andrew, lawmakers took to grilling FEMA’s director James Lee Witt demanding the agency improve. Witt, a Bill Clinton appointee and one of the more respected FEMA directors, decided that the agency’s communications need to improve.

FEMA is always operating somewhere in the nation, providing federal assistance, even sometimes for years afterward.  To satisfy Witt, a team of communications managers and professionals gathered atop Mt. Weather, a government outpost located near Winchester, Va., roughly 50 miles from the nation’s capital. The team looked to ways of responding in a variety of emergency situations. They developed a blueprint for how FEMA could deploy communications in 48 hours. They then ran successive drills to prototype ways of responding.

A few weeks later, a tornado ripped through much of Arkansas, leveling towns to the point in which residents could not navigate to find where their houses once stood. The disaster provided a trial run for FEMA’s new communications plans, including tents with stations to advise residents where to find shelter and food, and how to file insurance claims. Besides helping repair FEMA’s reputation, residents were able to more quickly restore normalcy.