Taking a brand to new heights: Cirque du Soleil

In his book, “The Brand Flip”, Marty Neumeier talks about differentiation being the answer to the question: what is your brand’s onlyness? To answer this question, I’m going to look at the Cirque du Soleil brand and answer Neumeier’s question to identify this brand’s differentiation: “Cirque du Soleil is the only circus with broadway sophistication”.

The above definition of Cirque du Soleil points to both their differentiation and their unique competitive advantage.

But how they work to position their brand in their target market – i.e. how they build or maintain a perception or reputation that consumers believe to be true of them – is where the hard work starts for any marketer. To start that work though, you need to ask the question why does it matter to consumers that Cirque du Soleil is the only circus with broadway sophistication? This is an important question to ask because ultimately brand positioning is very much based on the consumer’s belief of what your brand is, and not what a brand tells the consumer it is. When the two beliefs match, then a brand has worked to successfully position itself. So understanding Cirque du Soleil’s success, starts with understanding the consumer need that they’ve identified and successfully met – or as I like to refer to, Clayton Christensen’s “job to be done theory” – What job do customers hire Cirque du Soleil to do for them?

The job that customers hire Cirque du Soleil to do for them is to escape and to be entertained. This is a job that many other of Cirque du Soleil’s competitors could offer. So in order to compete, Cirque du Soleil offers the same product, but delivered with broadway sophistication. This is its unique differentiator. In doing so, Cirque du Soleil has risen as the top circus show in the world, ultimately building a brand so strong, that it now competes well outside of the circus category, and with other live entertainment shows or even other forms of entertainment that a consumer could choose to do the same “job”.

The key performance indicator with successful differentiation and positioning is that consumers choose you, every time, over and above a competitor – they become loyal to your brand because you’ve delivered on your promise to them and your ability to do that job for them. And then, the best part…they talk about you, in a positive light, to all of their friends and family. This is how Cirque du Soleil has managed to grow their brand to a global “must-see”. And this has happened because they’ve successfully managed to shape their customer’s perception of their brand through strong brand positioning, which we’ll now discuss.

Huge word-of-mouth on social for the brand

Brand positioning is very much an extension of the brand promise: the commitment or pledge that the brand makes to its consumers. If Cirque du Soleil promises broadway sophistication in circus acts, they deliver on this consistently through their shows. Cirque du Soleil is lucky in that their product itself is an experience, so “proving” their brand promise, and “proving” their differentiation isn’t difficult because it’s largely done through word-of-mouth. Their experience wows, delights and surprises at a level only associated with broadway sophistication as far as the bar for entertainment shows goes. Their brand stands to wow you – it’s exciting, it’s entertaining and it’s fascinating. The sensory experience of the show is rooted in a human experience and emotion that can and will be evoked in anyone, and an enjoyment of doing the seemingly impossible.

Cirque du Soleil knows that once they’ve wowed you once, you’ll be a repeat customer, so they produce various different shows to capitalise on repeat purchase and to cultivate strong word of mouth that lets them build on and maintain their positioning. It’s also a traveling show, which means it has managed to create a global footprint and community. In doing so, it keeps a global conversation going around its brand, consistently wowing audiences world-wide and reinforcing its positioning through consistently delivering on its promise. 

The tricky part for Cirque du Soleil’s positioning is what happens between the shows – how do they compete on ticket sales, how do they stay top of mind in between shows in a way that allows them to retain their perception of the brand, or for new consumers to build that perception of their brand? But even here Cirque du Soleil has succeeded with clever use of social media and viral video content: flash acts in the street recorded and shared as social video that then goes viral; sneak peak of shows videos; corporate team-building events to foster “trust” (who better to learn trust from than a circus team doing death defying acts together!), and behind the scenes stories and customer experiences.

Cirque du Soleil understands the need of its audience, which is why it stands out amongst other circus acts, or even other competitors like live shows.

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