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Look Behind the Brand: California Symphony

Posted by on April 18th, 2019
Posted in Nonprofit Web   

Abbey Meyers is a Brand strategist at Mission Minded and the project lead for the recent redesign of the California Symphony website. I asked her to give us an inside look at this innovative organization and how they fearlessly approached their website redesign. – Jennie Winton

California Symphony is a contemporary arts organization that changes what you think you know about orchestras.

They believe that the best symphony you’ve ever seen, is a symphony like you’ve never seen. Every day, they curate performances for their community that feel new and exciting, while fun and familiar all at once. Because when they do, more people have the opportunity to experience classical music in a very contemporary way.


They have a small staff and budget constraints. Why did California Symphony want to invest in a new website?

Like a lot of arts organizations, California Symphony’s audience is aging. Rather than wringing their hands, the Symphony made a big commitment to change. They wanted to attract new and younger patrons by making symphony accessible and exciting. And they did.

Under the energetic leadership of executive director Aubrey Bergauer, California Symphony created a unique and approachable symphony setting that makes it feel fun, inviting and definitely not exclusive, making it clear that you don’t have to be in the know to have fun at the symphony.

This approach to a better experience and smart marketing meant that they’d been defying the trends. To the envy of many other arts organizations they saw the average age of their ticket buyer decrease and the average donor amount increase.

But there was a limit to what they could achieve with their outdated website that made ticket-buying a really off-brand experience. They knew their website was holding them back from moving to the next level in attracting a more tech-savvy generation of concert goers ready to embrace a new art form. That’s where Mission Minded came in.


What was the main strategy behind their new site?

Well, first, the goals were to simplify the user experience and create a dynamic and welcoming website that matched the actual experience of being at the symphony itself.

With those goals in mind, we took insights gathered from focus group research and developed a positioning strategy to drive content, design and the user experience of their site: Put patrons at the center.

They were already putting patrons at the center of the symphony experience itself, as well as in their other marketing. So, we imagined how to do that for their website as well.

We wanted the art form to reach out and extend to the website. From content, to style and design, we put the patrons at the center and you can feel that in the immersive nature of the site.

Visitors see the faces of the people they’ll see on the stage. The content uses a casual, second person singular narrative, to speak directly to the visitor. They’ll read things like, “New here? You’re welcome if it’s your 1st or 100th symphony.” You’ll see colloquial language like “This is gonna’ be loud. “ in reference to Anton Bruckner’s Symphony #7. That’s not what visitors expect, but this voice is very on-brand for them.


What makes this website so special?

Their team was willing to take a leap. They knew that to attract a new generation they were going to have to fearlessly reinvent how to talk to symphony patrons. Now the website mirrors the times they are in, and patrons are seeing them in an entirely new way.


What can leaders of arts or other nonprofit organizations reading this learn from the California Symphony website redesign?

If you want a big, measurable change in your outcomes you’ll need a big, bold change in the way you present yourselves. And that takes courage. So many organizations want to create change in the world, or change in their fields, but they still shy away from going all in on powerful new communications. Don’t settle for something that’s only moderately better than what you have now. Be gutsy.


How has their new website helped California Symphony achieve their mission?

From an internal perspective, this website and the put-the-patron-at-the-center strategy has really kept them focused, beyond just the website design itself. They’ve opened the doors to symphony for a whole new generation of people for whom traditional messaging was stale and irrelevant.


What was your favorite moment working on this project?

I enjoyed so many little moments along the way as we developed the site. Then Mission Minded’s work was complete, and it always feels a little sad to say goodbye to a client.

But then I received the first newsletter California Symphony sent using the look we’d designed and I was so excited! Seeing them bring the strategy to life across all of their communications channels, really living and breathing it, was so rewarding. And now we’ve heard about all the positive feedback they’ve received on their site, and that makes us all here at Mission Minded happy.

Take a look at the strategy and design that went into the making of California Symphony’s website.


Jennie Winton is a Founding Partner of Mission Minded, a 25-year marketing veteran sought for her expertise in branding nonprofit organizations, and a one-on-one leadership coach.

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