Cirque de la Data

Balance is a term that describes many of the amazing performances delivered by Cirque du Soleil. For 30 years, its troupes have traveled the world, mesmerizing audiences with an entertaining mix of theater, circus arts, dance and theatrical drama. Behind the scenes, its balance transcends the performance space into the organization’s operations, as well. The company triggers customer experience vision and data-driven decision making to strike a successful business balance. The Montreal-based company operates both permanent and touring shows in more than 350 markets around the world, selling more than 10 million tickets annually. It is considered one of the leading innovative entertainment brands ever. But market pressures are always pushing you to get further in your discipline.

Cirque du Soleil

“Our competitors are growing and the financial crisis decreased consumers’ entertainment budgets,” said Axel Bedikyan, director of strategy and market intelligence. Cirque du Soleil competes not only with similar live events, but also with nearly any entertainment option. “Creativity is our number one asset, but we need to know more to become better decision makers and validate our intuition.” It decided a more data-driven approach to business and the customer experience was critical. Already existing since few years. The company’s customer experience efforts were focused primarily on the actual show experience. So the company began a full customer experience transformation that includes all areas that relate to the customer, not just the performance. It is a multi-year initiative with executive support. “We’re looking at the customer experience more holistically,” Bedikyan says, creating a roadmap of enhancements. In particular, the company completed a business intelligence project earlier this year to expand data access to all in the company.  “The primary goal of the project was to render every person who wants information autonomous, and allow access and analysis companywide,” he says.

Cirque du Soleil has two main business units—its resident division and touring show division. Information relating to each department was collected and housed separately, sometimes on individual computers. It was difficult to aggregate and consolidate the information from the two units to get a full understanding of the big picture. The team integrated siloed information and added more detail to its database. Now, anyone in the company can analyze information related to the pre- and post-show experience via dashboards, as well as overall customer and market information. The “customer experience” moves beyond just the show to advertising, website activity, purchase information, customer interactions between purchase and the show, the actual show experience, exit surveys, and post-show follow-up… This level of data access allows the company to be more efficient and mitigate risk.

For example, Cirque du Soleil now leverages data as it tracks the progress of a show. The marketing department, creative group, sales, finance, HR, and other departments all tap into data and analysis about which potential markets are most attractive to specific shows, which venues are the most appealing, what types of marketing strategies and pricing elements are needed, how sales figures compare to other shows and markets, and insights that come from free form customer comments. The tool gives access to information and insights and renders them autonomous in their use of the data. “We have access to maps and other tools to visualize data and allow business users to make data-driven decisions [with insight they didn’t have before],” he says. “Executives have the tools to make decisions about markets, consumer feedback, competition, and more.”

The customer feedback piece is especially important to keep the shows fresh and build a loyal fan base. “The essence of the show hasn’t disappeared,” Bedikyan says. “But we have data to make improvements and replicate positive aspects elsewhere,” without any specifics to share. Like one of Cirque’s performances, the beauty of the program is in its constant movement. The company hopes leaders will think of creative ways to leverage the insight to further enhance the customer experience and business operations. Success will be built on how the tools can enable the customer experience vision. One challenge that comes with data programs is interpretation. Every department looks at the data a little differently, and brings in their unique perspective (and sometimes bias). “You can show data to 10 different people, and they will interpret it 10 different ways,”. To combat inconsistency, he advises that all stakeholders in a data-driven program get involved from the beginning. “Give everyone a seat at the table,” he says. That way common goals and interpretation can be decided from the start.

And like any corporate initiative, change management is another roadblock to success. Now, the company is already implementing in refining the types of business intelligence analysis being done, and moving forward with new initiatives around the larger customer experience strategy. “We will continue to support decision making with information and insights,” he says, in tandem with Cirque’s creative endeavors and amazing feats of human performance.


Branded Creativity

Released in October 2017, “The Unknown Soldier” was not really planned to resonate beyond the Finnish borders. Considered as the most emblematic and influential feature film in the history of the country – the film tells the struggle of Finnish soldiers against the invasion of the Soviet Union during the Second World War. And it became the most expensive movie In the country so far, 7 million euros in total. To activate the fund raising, its director, Aku Louhimies, and Eka Ruola, creative director at Hasan & Partners and producer of the film had to think twice to make it happen. A full system was created behind the camera, a complete story of brand and production teams working together, innovative financing techniques but especially a multichannel tour de force.

Before, during and after the shooting, about fifteen Finnish brands such as Valio (dairy brand) or Jalostaja (consumer products) were invited to participate in its promotion, sometimes even in its development, via branded content in full integration of the film “We reversed the logic of product placement. ” says Eka Ruola, in charge of coordinating the feature film campaign and the brand actions. “Instead of using the film as a way to stage the brands, we asked them to promote the film to promote themselves.” Thanks to a tailor-made marketing strategy, the shooting which started in 2016, evolves in symbiosis with brand content created to announce its release. On December 6, 2017, on a special day marking the Finnish Declaration of Independence from Russia, a global system is set up and comes to make vibrate the patriotic fiber of the country. As a kick-off, Finnish singer and actress Paula Vesala revisits the Finnish national anthem and sings the so-called piece of music “Finlandia”. A month later, the national lottery company Veikkhaus is one of the first brands to get into the game. In January 2017, it launches a first TV campaign, plunging us behind the scenes of the film and calls on the customers of its database to make people participate into the adventure. The craze is such that the 2,000 extras required for the film turn into 14,000 volunteers. “We immediately saw the film’s potential and its coherence with the causes we are standing for,” says Olli Sarekoski, CEO of Veikkhaus. For many years, the company has chosen to commit to war veterans. Right away, the association makes sense.

Finnish film

Based on the packaging of its brand, Valio offers contents of the film in augmented reality while the group press Alma Media unveils a special issue dedicated to the feature film. “It’s a film that federates, attracts younger audiences and builds bridges between generations,” says director Aku Louhimies. “This is the film that nobody wanted to do and everyone wanted to dbe part of, you had to be daring to bet on this particular project.” The brands had carte blanche to the extent that they agreed to comply with the scenario guidelines, no product placement was actually necessary.

Coupled with the campaign, the film will have generated 1 million admissions and garnered 13.5 million euros at the box office. Unfortunately, no fallout was announced at the conference on the side of the brands but we can easily imagine the fruitfulness of this type of collaboration. And if there is one lesson to remember from this story – stop to get brands in an artistic project, involve them from the early beginning “

Tech Villains in Hollywood

A trend has been emerging for several years: from Superman to Kingsman to the recent Upgrade, the figure of the egotistical entrepreneur of Silicon Valley replaces the traditional villains in Hollywood big productions. In a few years, the computer expert has gone from the role of friendly sidekick to that of big bad guy. No more nasty Russians, forget about the wicked Chinese and other Arab-Iranian-Muslims, it is now the Elon Musk, Steve Jobs and other Jeff Bezos alike who seem to inspire Hollywood screenwriters when it comes to giving the hero a credible antipathy. A recent article in the Guardian summed up the trend in this formula: “The face of infamy has changed again.”

Tech Villain

And it’s true that since the beginning of the 2010s, many Hollywood blockbuster writers confront their characters with megalomaniac tech entrepreneurs. This is particularly the case for the movie Upgrade, released on June 1 in the United States after being the subject of a preview at the tech festival SXSW. In Upgrade, the hero is boosted by an implant that is installed by Eron Keen (Eron, Elon …just a coincidence), A tech industry mogul. This is just the latest twist in a long line of nasty corporate tech bosses.

To find an antagonist at the level of General Orlov Octopussy, we had to look elsewhere.

For some years, the bad guys were coming from the world of technology. If the films of the franchise do not put (still?) In scene of patrons of the tech, the two last episodes va Rodriguez in Spectrum. Incarnated by Javier Bardem, the ugly cyber terrorist goes so far as to provoke the resignation of M, the boss of James Bond. The Kingsman: Secret Service’s high-intelligence spying movie does not hesitate to stage a megalomaniac tech boss. Zionist Samuel Samuel Jackson, a billionaire from the small world of Silicon Valley, offers humanity free SIM cards with unlimited access to the Internet. Problem: these SIM cards have technology that causes people to kill those in their path. The motivation of megalomaniac billionaire is simple: only the elimination of a part of humanity will allow the human species to survive. Motivation found in many villains, such as businessman Adrian Veidt alias Ozymandias in the comic and film Watchmen, or at Thanos, in the latest installment of Marvel Studios. The ultimate figure of the nerd boss might be the Lex Luthor embodied by Jesse Eisenberg in the recent Batman vs. Superman.

Interesting enough when we know that it is the same actor who camped Mark Zuckerberg in the excellent The Social Network. From the good nerd to the ugly tech boss, the evolution of the figure of the talented geek to the cinema accompanies the place more and more important that the experts of the computer code took in our connected societies. From the sympathetic satellite expert Jeff Goldblum in Independence Day (1996), we move to entrepreneurial figures with a questionable moral sense. It must be said that the Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and others Mark Zuckerberg and their monopolistic virtues on more and more aspects of our lives constitute a particularly rich subject for writers lacking inspiration. Even when they are trying to side with the good guys, things can go wrong for tech bosses, this is what happened to Tony Stark aka Iron Man in the movie Avengers: The Ultron Era ( 2015). The antagonist of the superhero team is indeed an artificial intelligence developed by Tony Stark and evolving to the point of wishing to eradicate humanity. As a simple reflection of the fears that agitate our society, it seems hardly surprising that the cinema echoes a world in which a small number of technological companies hold immense power and where the conquest of space has passed from the public to the private sector. Still, the cinema can also play the role of decompression valve by gently making fun of Silicon Valley gurus and their children. Tech villains are in the place for a long time.

(Article in French language in Usbek & Rica)

Football Transforming

Manchester United’s entering a new era…slowly. Despite their lacklustre performance over the past two seasons, their brand hasn’t suffered, with Bloomberg highlighting that this year they were the first soccer club to reach a billion dollar valuation. The power of their brand is further accentuated when you consider that they didn’t qualify for the UEFA Champions League last year, an important competition for international fan engagement.

Digital Soccer

Manchester United – like all sporting organizations of its stature – is run like a business. And like a business, they understand the importance of capitalizing on new, emerging trends. Negotiations between the club and digital transformation partner HCL Technologies began at the turn of the year, and in September they were finalized. The deal is the biggest of its kind, with Manchester United hoping that the partnership will see them demonstrate best practices within the industry. 

Although the club has somewhere in the region of 600 million fans worldwide, decidedly few will ever attend a match. This means that their use of digital will have to exist outside of the stadium’s walls, otherwise only a tiny percentage of them will experience what the the HCL partnership has to offer. Anant Gupta – President & CEO, HCL Technologies – made it clear that Manchester United’s digital transformation would be far-reaching: ‘This partnership is unique and creates value not just for Manchester United and its fans, but also for all forward-looking organisations across the world’.

The finer details of the partnership weren’t discussed at length when the deal was unveiled, but there will be a ‘United Xperience Lab’, which will gives fans the opportunity to engage with the club in new ways. According to HCL the lab will offer ‘a multi-layered framework wherein human intelligence and psychometrics, interface with next-gen technology to create intuitive and smart Digital solutions.’

Manchester United aren’t, however, the only club in English football to recently announce a partnership with a digital transformation agency. Last year’s Premier League winners, Chelsea FC, announced that they would also be embarking on a similar project, just a day after Manchester United did that same. They too want to use the initiative to further expand their international presence, with the hope being that that Wipro will be able to push the club’s fortunes in their native India.

With two of English football’s most successful and wealthiest clubs looking at digital transformation, it’s clear that they feel that it will have an important strategic impact on their respective fan bases. Time will only tell if such partnerships are possible with less lucrative clubs, but like the adoption of analytics, it could eventually become a mainstay within all professional clubs. 

Now, we may have the questions how to apply it to the national teams. Because, we see a clear ahead…not only for big nations which are suffering in the beginning of the FIFA World Cup.

Nadal Tips and Tricks

Nadal just won Roland Garros again. As Rafa prepares to return serve, he’s so far back beyond the baseline that he’s almost out of the camera shot. At times, perhaps even into a different area code. But Nadal summons the strength to return hard and high, pushing his opponents back. By the time they connect with their second shot, Nadal has moved forward onto the baseline ready to attack. It’s a tactic Nadal has used more and more over the past year, mostly on clay and here at Roland Garros.


Call him a trendsetter. Look no further than Alexander Zverev, Gael Monfils, Stan Wawrinka, Juan Martin del Potro and Rafa’s opponent in the French Open final come Sunday, Dominic Thiem, as players who have followed this trend. But this isn’t about trends. It’s a winning strategy.

‘If Nadal stands up in the court, in the traditional position around the baseline, then he has to deal with the normal power of the serve, which can create errors,’ Craig O’Shannessy, a strategist for Wimbledon, the Australian Open and the ATP Tour. Being that far back, it’s nearly impossible for Nadal to consistently return the ball deep into his opponent’s court, but that hasn’t affected him the way traditional tennis suggests. Matter of fact, through March, Nadal hit more returns (31.8 percent) in the service box than anyone in the then-top 20. It doesn’t matter,” O’Shannessy said. “He has the ability to hit it deep, but he’s not. But what he does is, he gets so many in. He hardly ever misses.”

At this year’s French Open, Nadal has won 43 percent of the points on an opponent’s first serve, more than anyone else. On second serve, when he stands closer to the baseline, he’s won 57 percent, tied for 12th. Nadal is first in return games won, with 44 percent. The key is the rate at which Nadal makes his way back to the baseline and into an attacking position. ‘It really works for him,’ O’Shannessy said. ‘Nadal hits higher with spin, and he’s got depth because the guy is strong. For others, though, the strategy might not be so effective. Players such as Thiem (36 percent of first-serve return points won) and Monfils (40 percent) are fast enough to match Nadal’s speed toward the baseline, but the less mobile players would be better off standing closer to the baseline on returns. Del Potro, who generally stands deep, won just 29 percent of points on his opponent’s first serve this season, tied for 51st on tour. And you probably saw how that worked out for him Friday at the French Open. Del Potro failed to break Nadal, while Rafa broke him five times.

So far, no one seems to have figured out a way to combat Nadal’s return strategy. Yannick Noah, the last Frenchman to win a Grand Slam title, at Roland Garros in 1983, told CNN that perhaps a little trickery would teach these deep returners a lesson.‘I would serve underarm every time and hit only drop shots,’ Noah said. ‘And if he’s at the net, I’d hit it at him. You have to try something.’ While standing so deep effectively rules out the ace down the middle — the No. 1 spot for aces in the men’s game — because the receiver has so much time to make the ground across the court, it does open up the wide angles for the servers, or so you’d think.

‘If you are legitimate about winning the match against Rafa, you have to try something,’ O’Shannessy said. ‘I saw Novak [Djokovic] in Rome where he did a slow serve-and-volley out wide. It works great. With every single strategy in tennis, there are counterstrategies.’ Mats Wilander, a three-time champion at Roland Garros, said players would continue to copy Nadal until someone shows how to conquer it. ‘They’re doing it because no one is serve and volleying enough,” Wilander told ‘I would do the same if I knew no one is going to serve and volley. It’s not a bad idea, but I do think certain players shouldn’t do it.

Another point to underline here. Tennis players always say that repetition is key, to train you doing the perfect gesture all the time. Nadal says that this is important but, at the end of the day, the ball never comes in the same way…so you have to rely on your capacity to improvise.

Tricks and Improvisation…


Bend it like Uncle Drew

At first glance, the movie looks like another fancy summer comedy. The cast is impressive and appealing. There’s a sense of escapism along with a healthy dose of slapstick. ‘Uncle Drew’ may be all of that. It is also the continuation of a corporate marketing campaign for a soda company, Pepsi Cola not to name it. An unusual integration of branded content and film, the movie is built around the N.B.A. star Kyrie Irving and is based entirely on a series of Pepsi commercials that went viral beginning in 2012. A heavily made-up Mr. Irving plays Uncle Drew, a septuagenarian driven to show up younger basketball players on the playground. He sets out to reunite with his teammates from decades ago for one more run at the Rucker Park tournament in Harlem. The audience might not realize or care that they are watching what is essentially a Pepsi commercial. Academics, meanwhile, believe “Uncle Drew” is the first feature film of its kind, taking product placement one step further in a new avenue for branding.

The release comes at a crucial time for Pepsi. Soda sales have declined steadily in the last years as consumers have become more health-conscious. PepsiCo results came flat in the final quarter of 2017, partly because of decline in North America and constant heavy competition from Coca-Cola. In short, Pepsi needs to tap new audiences for its product, and “Uncle Drew” is, as Rohit Deshpande, a marketing professor at Harvard Business School, put it, “another salvo in the cola wars.”

The “Uncle Drew” story begins in 2011, when Mr. Irving, then a 19-year-old newcomer to the N.B.A., agreed to appear in a Super Bowl promotion for Pepsi. Afterward, Pepsi’s agency partner, Davie Brown Entertainment, and Mr. Irving conceived the idea of a geriatric but skilled character. Pepsi executives obviously wanted to shift away from traditional advertising and build a strong storytelling. Product placement has also been an integral part of the film industry with many famous features films. With Mr. Irving’s character, Pepsi hopes to extend its brand while entertaining viewers at the same time. ‘Everyone has so many marketing methods coming at them so often that it’s tough to break through,’ said Lou Arbetter, the general manager of Pepsi Productions. ‘You want to create things that people actually want to see.’ This is in line with recent research showing that consumers have grown increasingly wary of traditional advertising. Beth Egan, an associate advertising professor at Syracuse University claims, “Millennials especially are really keen to have a relationship with brands, but that has to be a true, authentic and two-way relationship.”

Uncle Drew

In preliminary findings from a recent study led by Ms. Egan, when subjects were exposed to branded content, prominent mention of the brand increased viewers’ suspicion of the messaging. So how do you mostly remove the brand but keep the association?

Pepsi filmed several videos, written and directed by Mr. Irving, featuring cameos from other N.B.A. names, including Mr. Irving’s then-teammate, Kevin Love, and the retired Hall of Fame center Bill Russell. The Pepsi logo wasn’t conspicuous other than a “Pepsi Max presents” at the beginning and some shots of spectators drinking Pepsi. The commercials were a huge hit (more than 51 million views on Pepsi’s You Tube page for some of the videos). The campaign benefited both parties in an organic way. Fans often yell his character’s name at him during games, and the talented athlete’s popularity has translated into marketability. ‘There’s a strong association now between Irving, ‘Uncle Drew’ and the Pepsi brand’ Mr. Deshpande said. Fans of the shorts included the producers Marty Bowen and John Fischer from Temple Hill Entertainment, who approached Pepsi about spinning them into a film. Mr. Irving was on board. Executives at Pepsi agreed to pay for a screenplay by Jay Longino.This was just another chapter in how to bring the brand’s story to life,” Mr. Arbetter said. “Nobody has done it before, but I would venture to take a guess that this won’t be the last time.” Principals involved with the movie insist that while the film may have originated with a company best known for its soda, the integrity of “Uncle Drew” as a film is genuine.

‘I would say that we would be pretty foolish to view this as a two-hour-long commercial,’ Mr. Arbetter said. ‘I think that would not do the brand any good.’ Well, everybody believes that the story is strong enough to stand on its own. The feature film version is an extended, fleshed-out version of the original commercials. If the original shorts went out of their way not to blast the Pepsi brand, the movie takes a slightly different way. The opening credits say the film was made “in association with Pepsi.” The Rucker Park scenes show various iterations of the brand logo surrounding the court. Mr. Kroll’s character, the villainous coach of a rival team, gives a shout-out to Pepsi during an interview with ESPN.

For the film industry, will this unexpected partnership lead to more such deals? There is an emerging reality. In an era when Netflix and Amazon have become prominent players in content creation, ‘a good idea can come from anywhere.” There is, however, at least one potential downside for Pepsi when “Uncle Drew” is released. This movie is going to run in theaters where they serve Coke.

(Extract/Adaptation from the article from Sopan Deb for the NY Times)

Madrid Royal Purpose

Real Madrid just won their 13th Champions League, an absolute record in the competition period. Sure, people will keep on singing the same song, they will continue to say that Real Madrid have plenty of good players (I let you judging the role of their captain Sergio Ramos in the final) and a lot of money to get the best players. Yet according to Columbia Business School MBA professor Steven Mandis, the author of the book ‘The Real Madrid Way’ that explores the culture, business practices and personalities behind the club, these are small blips in a long-term strategy and deeply held philosophy that underpins the club’s current commanding position at the top of Spain’s La Liga and status as defending European champions. Mandis, a former Goldman Sachs top executive, spent two years investing the Madrid business and interviewing the club’s most senior executives to come up with an explanation for their success that goes beyond the cover pictures and the articles of transfer fees. Mandis interviewed over 20 Real Madrid players, coaches and directors during the course of his research and consulted the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, Moneyball guru Billy Beane and Roma president James Palotta. He argues that the Real Madrid model is not simply competing with rivals in the transfer market to sign a star-level “galáctico” every summer, but of what he calls an “economic sport model” that begins and ends with the Madridistas — the ordinary fans who literally own the club as community members or socios. “People don’t realize how the whole thing is intertwined,” Mandis talks about.

Real Madrid

“They’ve built a sustainable economic sport model and that’s really important because unlike Chelsea or Manchester City, there’s nobody to bail it out if it loses money () It’s more than a coincidence that society-owned teams Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Barcelona do as well as they do from a financial perspective. Club presidents have to run their teams based on what their fans and communities want in order to be reelected. ” When Real Madrid president Florentino Perez first stepped into the role in 2000, one of his first actions was to draft the club’s first ever mission statement to reflect the values of the socios who had elected him. And he is commonly characterized by an interesting history of record-breaking signings and managerial sackings. Yet Mandis, whose previous book ‘What Happened to Goldman Sachs’ argued the investment bank’s diversion from its founding values led it to scandal, argues that while such events may leave the impression of turmoil, Real Madrid have in fact rarely deviated from the company culture — one that includes both “the aspiration to have the best Spanish and foreign players within its ranks” and “complying with the very highest standards of good corporate governance” — outlined in the mission statement. That has helped the club continue to increase its revenues while developing a more sustainable and profitable business. “Look at Steve Ballmer from Microsoft” says Mandis. “This multi-billionaire from the corporate world, buys the Los Angeles Clippers and one of the first things he does is he writes up the Clipper Credo [the franchise’s mission statement]. And Florentino, a very successful businessman in construction, said the first thing we’ve got to do is introduce a culture. “Because they both realize that in a successful organization everybody knows what the mission is and what the rules of engagement are and it makes life a lot easier.

Florentino’s genius was to recognize that with a consumer-driven product you had to be as close to those values as possible for those fans to have the passion and loyalty to buy the jerseys, to show the sponsors that they were loyal. That’s really what drove the purchase of the star players. It was the identification of ‘let’s go to those people, find out what they’re most interested in, what they value and start there.” We assume that Zidane will keep on delivering the right thing after this amazing and historical record. But he may be the king right now but he will have to seduce and involve the supporters to last even longer.