Using past traditions in modern innovation can boost sales and re-engage audiences

Bayes study shows how employing robust or radical strategies can boost industries including opera, fashion, design, and the performing arts.

New academic research has shone a light on how traditional businesses and arts organisation who are steeped in tradition are using radical new strategies to reach different audiences.

The study, co-authored by Bayes Business School, New York University and the University of Venice, finds that incorporating the values of yesteryear with newer innovations can benefit industries including fashion, design, music, performing arts, and food.

In one of the most extensive analyses ever conducted on the operatic industry, the study includes observational analyses of the performance of almost 3,000 productions and interviews with dozens of acclaimed artistic directors.

Findings showed that, despite the risks involved with challenging long-standing traditions, there are different interpretation strategies through which companies navigate the tension between tradition and innovation. These include preserving the music and dramatic contents of a performance while altering its staging as opposed to changing core dramatic and/or musical characteristics of a traditional opera. For example, staging Verdi’s La Traviata or Rigoletto in the present and making the protagonists feel contemporary is an example of interpretations that bring the original work into a different time and place, without altering its fundamental characteristics. Instead, radical interpretations modify the very essence of traditional operas by manipulating the main dramatic characteristics of the operas, in addition to their peripheral ones.

Professor Simone Ferriani, co-author of the study, says implementing the right strategy can increase opera house ticket sales by as much as 20 per cent when tailored to the right audience. For example, season ticket holders or regular visitors are more conservative and therefore less inclined to reinterpretations that challenge traditions, while single-ticket holders or novices are more likely to have a less-complex and sophisticated understanding of operatic tradition and, as a result, are more open to radically new ideas (17.6 per cent boost in attendance).

While the study focuses on the operatic industry, Professor Ferriani says there is value to be found in reinterpreting tradition to innovate for a wide variety of companies.

For example, the reinterpretation of classic comic book characters can move them into new eras while speaking to their enduring characteristics. This is evident in Director Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of Batman, whose increasingly gothic aesthetic was combined with his grounding in a more realistic world. Additionally, theatrical directors have been increasingly uninhibited by Shakespearean plays with classic status, with a growing number of radical interpretations by inquisitive directors, and ballet performances are increasingly being reinterpreted to reflect heritage and express contemporary values through reimagined settings, content, and choreography.

Professor Ferriani, Professor of Entrepreneurship at Bayes, said: “My study demonstrates that tradition is not merely a constraint but a resource that can be managed skilfully to reinterpret the past to suit the needs of the present.

“Domains as diverse as fashion, design, music, performing arts, food, musical instruments, and many others must routinely confront the dilemma of reconciling the need for renewal with the heavy legacy of a celebrated past.

“Matching the right strategy with the right audience is a fundamental choice that can help savvy managers to address the need for renewal while remaining sensitive to the heterogeneity of their customers.”

‘Tradition as a resource: Robust and radical interpretations of operatic tradition in the Italian opera industry, 1989–2011’, by Professor Simone Ferriani, Professor of Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the University of Bologna and Honorary Professor at Bayes Business School, Giulia Cancellieri, Assistant Professor of Management at the University of Venice and Professor Gino Cattani, Professor of Management and Organizations at the Stern School of Business at New York University, is published in The Strategic Management Journal.


Featured Bayes Experts