Since its founding in 1986, LA Opera has become one of Los Angeles’s most influential arts organizations. In 2011 LA Opera’s communications team conducted extensive research in order to better identify the company’s brand and connect with its ever-expanding audience in a new era.
“In order for branding to be effective, it has to be organic,” says Diane Rhodes Bergman, vice president of marketing and communications, who oversaw the research efforts five years ago and continues to spearhead the company’s communications strategy. “It has to start with the people who are most involved with the brand: the board, our staff, and the public we serve. We conducted research with these three groups to identify what LA Opera is at its core, what role the company plays in the Los Angeles community, and what part it will play in the community’s future.”
Through this research and subsequent testing of various brand concepts, LA Opera’s branding began to take form. There were several things that all the groups surveyed connected to LA Opera: the company’s influential presence in the Los Angeles community, the inextricable link to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion’s decades-long history, innovative productions, and a certain method of storytelling reflective of the city’s edgy (but still beautiful) spirit.
Two examples of how LA Opera took this research and adapted it into the new branding are the tagline, “Greater Than the Sum of Its Arts,” and the evolution of the company logo.
LA Opera wanted to find a tagline to succinctly explain the complexities and richness of opera (a medium that is a marriage of many different art forms from design to voice to drama). The company hired a copywriter, who provided four potential taglines. Then, LA Opera tested these taglines internally and in focus determine which tagline best showcased the company’s message and was also well-received.
From there, “Greater Than the Sum of Its Arts” was selected. This tagline not only showcases how opera is a marriage of many art forms (from dance to singing to production design). However, it also illustrates that the company exists for the greater good of sharing opera with the Los Angeles community – a core tenant revealed during the branding research process.
The strongest example of the brand’s evolution is the LA Opera logo. Prior to Rhodes Bergman’s arrival, the team had worked with an outside agency to determine a logo mark that fit the pre-2011 company. Since one key to successful branding is consistency, she did not want to replace the logo with an entirely new one, but instead infuse the current logo with the brand essence revealed through the research.
“In the research, yellow emerged as a color that people associated with the characteristics they saw in the LA Opera brand,” recalls Bergman. The characteristics included its status as a major arts organization in Southern California and a beacon for the arts in Los Angeles (ie. embodying the city’s spirit).
The diamond shape also emerged from research. They are not only representative of the sun, but also taken from the architectural design of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, harkening to the company’s history in this building.
LA Opera launched the updated brand identity with the announcement of its 2012/13 season in January 2012 and the season’s brochure was redesigned was tailored to reflect what the research showed would resonate with Angelenos.
“LA Opera’s brand is unique, because the personality of the organization is reflective of the community in which we perform. Opera is relatively new in this community and our audience is younger and more responsive to fresher and innovative productions,” discusses Bergman. “Our edgy is like LA’s edgy; it’s an edge with beauty, because LA absolutely rolls its proverbial eyes at being edgy simply for the sake of doing so.”
Keith Rainville, the company’s long-time brand manager, agrees and expands further into the realm of marketing LA Opera’s productions.
“In our constant effort to demystify opera and make it more accessible to audiences, we actively try to place opera in a context that is familiar to people in Los Angeles.” In Hollywood, that means movies. The company has always had a close relationship with Hollywood and film. Rainville continues, “If our look resembles the film and television marketing and advertisements people are used to seeing in LA, then it is much less of a leap to buy that first opera ticket. This is one of the reasons why we do so well attracting newcomers to the opera, which is critical in LA, because you’re inundated with choices of what to do here.”
If LA Opera reflects Los Angeles, does that mean that the brand will evolve in the future as the city does?
Bergman says yes, but how it will do so has yet to reveal itself.
“In order for us to be relevant, we have to evolve with the society and with the community in which we live and perform. Therefore, we really can’t say what that’s going to look like in ‘x’ number of years,” she says.
However, one thing is certain.
“What we do know is that we are able—and will always be able to—provide people with a way to connect emotionally with others through the beauty of live performance,” says Bergman. “Opera, specifically, is powerful, because it is able to reach people at a deeper level and connect them through a shared transformative experience. That connectivity is universal, will always remain relevant, and has the power to change society.”
Community. Connectivity. Change. That’s at the heart of LA Opera’s brand—now and in the years to come.
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