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Case Study

EXPERIENCE

HBR.ORG
Thomas J. DeLong is the Philip J. Stomberg Professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School. Vineeta Vijayaraghavan is a senior research fellow at Innosight Institute.

A dance troupe debates who should determine its creative choices. by Thomas J. DeLong and Vineeta Vijayaraghavan

The Experts

Should You Listen to the Customer?
atalia Georgio knocked on the door of her new marketing director’s ofce. Elizabeth Gardos hadn’t done much with the space yet. Aside from two chairs, a desk, a computer, and a picture of her daughters, the o ce was empty. “You need to get some art in here,” Natalia observed. “I know,” Elizabeth said. “It’s been a busy two weeks. I want to put up some photos of the dancers.” The two women worked for Delacroix, an avant-garde dance troupe based in New York that had ve companies touring the U.S. and Canada. Natalia, a former dancer, was the organization’s executive director. She’d hired Elizabeth, another former dancer, for her decades of marketing experience, most recently at Violet, a fast-growing woman’s athletic clothing company. Despite the stagnant economy, Delacroix was growing at a healthy pace, in part because of its policy of keeping ticket prices reasonably low. Still, Natalia thought

Mario D’Amico, senior vice president of marketing, Cirque du Soleil

N

Jens Martin Skibsted, cofounder of KiBiSi

HBR’s fictionalized case studies present dilemmas faced by leaders in real companies and offer solutions from experts. This one is based on the HBS Case Study “Cirque du Soleil” (product no. 403006-PDF-ENG), by Thomas J. DeLong and Vineeta Vijayaraghavan, which is available at hbr.org.

the company needed better marketing to support its expansion strategy. Elizabeth, who’d been keen for a new challenge and to return to the dance scene, had jumped at the opportunity. “So why did you want to meet?” Natalia asked. “I have some ideas I want to run by you—some things I’ve noticed in these rst couple of weeks.” “Great, let’s hear them.” “I’m really surprised that Delacroix has never surveyed or gathered information of any kind from customers before,” Elizabeth said. “Yeah, that’s not really our thing. We take our lead from the dancers, not the audience.” “Then what you do here isn’t really marketing,” Elizabeth said cautiously. “It seems like marketing’s only responsibility is to decide how long shows should run, how to advertise them, and what to charge for tickets. You promote the shows and September 2012 Harvard Business Review 129

ILLUSTRATION: KYLE HILTON

EXPERIENCE

forced a smile and turned to Elizabeth. people attend, but you don’t really know who your customers are or why they come.” “When people come to our shows, they expect to have an unbelievable, unique “You mean, we promote the shows,” Naexperience—one that they’ll never forget. talia said, smiling. “You keep saying ‘you,’ How can people tell you what they want if but you’re part of this company now.” they haven’t ever seen it before? If we ask “We. Sorry.” them what they want, we’ll end up doing “You’re right; marketing’s role has been Swan Lake every year!” limited up to now. But part of the reason Natalia shifted in her seat uneasily. we brought you in is to give us some new She knew that many of the board memideas.” bers—not to mention the dancers—felt as Natalia had a mandate from Delacroix’s strongly as Henry did about maintaining board members to take the company in artistic control. If Delacroix were to adopt new directions: to explore international a customer-centric approach, it could lose engagements and television and film opportunities. But she was nervous about for- some of its best people. Elizabeth cleared her throat and passed mulating her strategy without any research Henry a brief report. “Here are some upon which to build a case for risks worth examples of how my previous firm, Violet, taking. She’d explained that to Elizabeth used social media to...
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