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Q&A – Jo Taylor from Rambert: How Audience Engagement Starts with Branding


I’m genuinely excited to kick off a new series of Q&As featuring inspiring people from the arts and culture sector. 

First up – I’m delighted to introduce Jo Taylor from Rambert

Jo Taylor - photo

Jo Taylor 

Jo and I got chatting a few months ago when I stumbled upon an article on Arts Professional about Rambert’s rebrand

During our conversation, Jo shared her refreshing views on rebranding, accessibility, inclusivity and diversity within the sector. 

But It was the topic of audience diversification and engagement that stuck with me, and how this relates to branding – so I wanted to touch a bit more on this subject. 

A bit about Jo

Role: Director of Audiences at Rambert

Interesting fact: Growing up my sister and I had our own spoken language

How you can connect: LinkedIn

In a nutshell, could you tell us about your career so far?

I’d worked in the cultural sector for just shy of 20 years for a range of venues, producing, touring companies and arts festivals. I then spent another 10 years in cultural consultancy at Morris Hargreaves McIntyre (as senior consultant and company director). Here I fed my fascination for audience research and delving deep into what makes audiences tick and how people build relationships with brands. I got to work with clients I myself had fan-girled – like Donmar Warehouse, Shakespeare’s Globe, The Old Vic, Tate and in the US, the Lincoln Center, The Public Theater, Kennedy Center and SFMOMA. It was the dream. One such client was Rambert, for whom I undertook a big audience study and helped them articulate their brand. And I fell in love. I’d found an organisation with a cause that matched my own (and oh my, these dancers!). The CEO Helen Shute is a really great leader and Benoit Swan Pouffer a visionary artistic director. I was desperate to see it succeed, so decided to put my money where my mouth was – and returned in-house.

And what would you consider to be your biggest achievement in that time? 

I don’t really like to claim the achievements of whole teams and organisations for my own. But I am really proud of the work I and the whole team at MHM did in combining qualitative and quantitative research to dig deep into psychographic cultural audience segmentation and how this could unlock a better way of thinking about audiences for clients across the globe. We use this model at Rambert and it works.

Thanks, on to Rambert, can you tell us what inspired the rebrand? 

We want to be a place where brilliant and daring people can show up, and be supported to push themselves, to move the world forward. This is our cause, and we think dance is a brilliant way to achieve it. It also challenges us to break out of category. The rebrand was necessary if we were to go beyond presenting as a top dance company – and get across to the public that we’re here to provoke and inspire change in the world – and invite them to join us.

And this was so much more than a visual identity exercise, right? 

100%. We didn’t start with brand-ing – we started with purpose and brand intent. The visual identity is in service of this. It is just one part of the toolkit we use to articulate our purpose and promise and reach out beyond the usual suspects. We learned from non-arts brands who put audiences, not just products, centre-story. And in fact, words play a big part in the brand.  We use provocations beginning “What if…”  to hint at a better future, and our ‘strapline’ (for want of a better term) is the ultimate invitation/call to action: IT’S YOUR MOVE.

So why did you shift your perspective from building a customer base to a fanbase? 

Simon Sinek says in Start With Why that “there are only two ways to influence human behaviour – you can manipulate it or you can inspire it” and (I will paraphrase) that while both might get you the sale, only one will win you a lifetime of loyalty. The problem with so much marketing is it is overtly transactional. It leaves you with no doubt that you’re seen as a potential customer. Whereas fandom culture is a participatory culture. This means connection and relatability, not just transactions. We want to invite those who share our cause to feel part of something. It is about moving the world forward, not selling you something.

And what does brand positioning have to do with audience diversification? 

We are clear and comfortable we’re not for everyone. I don’t really get why arts organisations think they can be. Not everyone wants to push themselves or move the world forward. Not everyone will love what we do. But attitude – not characteristics – should be the only thing that excludes you. For example, we’re not here for those who aren’t willing to embrace inclusivity, anti-racism and environmental responsibility. 

Brand is about authentic resonance with your target market (through your gestures as well as messages). So as well as brand clarity you need audience insight into how this will resonate. Our market segmentation model is not based on demographics – our target audience segment is a mindset group (we use MHM’s Culture Segments mentioned above). Our priority segment ‘Stimulation’, are ideas-people who are happy to experiment, up for an adventure, and want to show up and move the world forward. Other segments may also respond and that’s cool, but this is who our research shows we have the greatest growth opportunity with. We are determined to reach and include a younger, more diverse audience than those we’ve inherited. But crucially when you segment psychographically, all demographic groups are found in all segments, which is more inclusive. 

Contemporary dance might be considered (by many) to be one of the most serious, opaque and culturally exclusive art forms. Rambert however is radically inclusive, passionate, brave and culturally aware (fun even!). Our dancers are superhuman but also resolutely human. So the brand needs to translate this in a way that will resonate with this target audience. 

Things don’t look like they’re going to get any easier… how is Rambert looking to digital for support?

Never a truer word – we’re currently (like so many others) working out what we can do with a reduction in funding. Digital is a core part of our strategy and addresses some key business challenges for us. Like, how does a touring company actually build a fanbase when venues sell the tickets on our behalf, so hold the data, meaning we can’t actually speak directly with audiences? Or how might we serve those audiences for whom Rambert might be a great fit but are not yet ready, or able, to meet us in a traditional setting? Rambert Plus is our online home. Here’s where (for free) you can get to know our dancers, watch dance films, see behind the scenes, and listen to podcasts (our dancers in conversation with people from all sectors who inspire us). Or for a subscription, you can take on-demand classes with them (no matter your age, level or fitness). It was actually a plan before the Pandemic but we accelerated it so we could Livestream while theatres were closed. There are nearly 20,000 on here and growing. We do think of this as our fanbase – and are always looking for ways to treat this online audience with special extras (and of course if we’re in their neighbourhood we hope to invite them along).

If you could change one thing about the sector, for the better, what would it be and why?

We have a set of 8 House Rules that we try to live by and hold ourselves accountable to, and one of them is Always believe it can be better so this is a great question. I could join the glass-half-empty brigade and say we’re in a cost-of-living crisis, we’re using the planet’s resources quicker than they are regenerated, and it is really hard right now to keep our heads (metaphorically) above water. But I’m a relentless optimist and would like to say if we all remain steadfastly guided by our values (you do need to do the work to articulate them) and listen with more curiosity and intent to potential audiences, everything’s to play for. 

But I have to name the change. So that will be increased diversity and inclusion. Good work is being done. More diverse leadership is required. I’m not for one second suggesting that at Rambert we get this right all of the time (‘always believe it can be better’). But there is no doubt that the cultural sector will be an immeasurably better place, doing better work and having far greater impacts, with more proactive inclusion of diversity of voice, perspective and lived experience.

Hero image credit: Rambert’s Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby, photo by Johan Persson

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