retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

There are times when the shortest distance to success is a straight line in a completely unexpected direction.

There were two recent instances of institutions tying new moves to make themselves both current and relevant, especially with the younger generations, and both examples give other businesses plenty to consider.

Let’s start in Dallas, where 3,000 tickets sold quickly for a concert, where each concert goer spent at least $10 on souvenirs, where many wore costumes and despite what you might initially guess, Taylor Swift wasn’t the draw.

It was actually for a classical orchestra.

Here’s the twist: instead of a program of Beethoven, Bach or the like, the concert featured the music of the video game, "The Legend of Zelda," in a four-part symphony.

The notion of concerts featuring video game music has been around for about 10 years and is growing in popularity, a rare bit of good news for the classical industry. Over the past 20 years, according to CBS News, classical ticket sales are down nearly 30 percent and numerous orchestras have gone out of business.

“Symphony orchestras have to take a look at what are the audience demands because if they are not serving the audiences then frankly they are not relevant,“ Catherine Cahill, CEO of the Mann Center in Philadelphia, told CBS. She said Zelda and Pokémon concerts have drawn crowds of up to 6,000 fans—nearly double the typical classical performance.

Cahill has a point. To be relevant you have to appeal to the audience and if you do it right, you might build new fans. Future concerts might mix Super Mario and Mozart, which might get a new audience listening and loving some classic masters. To paraphrase Mary Poppins, a spoonful of video might help the masters go down.

Just like that, a new generation might discover and fall in love with some old music. As the tone-deaf father of a classical musician, I can attest to that possibility. At first, I attended concerts just to hear my son perform. Now, with some education, I’ve learned to better appreciate and enjoy the entire performance and I’ve learned that classical music is fabulous. (Especially when my son is in the trombone section.)

The second example of unconventional thinking came in this past Sunday’s New York Times. My paper came with a strange little cardboard box that gave me a chance to absorb the news like never before.

Paired with an app on my smartphone, the little box (some small assembly was needed) allowed me to have a virtual reality experience tied to a Times story on children displaced by war in their homelands. From my family room in Maryland, I was transported to a cucumber field in Lebanon to watch a young Syrian refugee; to a swamp in Africa with a victim of on-going conflict in South Sudan; and to ride a bicycle alongside a boy in the Ukraine who took me on a tour of his bombed out school. It was simply amazing…until it crashed 10 minutes in. (Okay, nothing is perfect.)

Here’s the thing: young people aren’t reading newspapers. Yet the Times virtual reality presentation will wow older readers (like me) and get us to show our kids the device. Just as with the video game music, it may help the Times—and newspapers in general—find a new way to be relevant to an audience currently tuning them out.

Both cases strike me as stunning lessons for businesses, especially food stores that are also struggling with new forms of competition and lack of connection to younger consumers.

Using popular culture, current fashion and emerging technologies, perhaps they too can find a way of building new relevance, making cooking and shopping both cool and exciting. We know people want to eat healthier, desire new tastes and understand the economics of cooking at home. Maybe there is a way to make it all happen for a new generation.

New solutions for a new day and just like I saw on virtual reality: it’s all around.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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