The National Ballet of Canada

Setting the Digital Stage for a Sold-Out Nutcracker Production

If ever there was a story that demonstrated the impact of digital marketing at scale, that of The National Ballet of Canada’s successful (and sold-out) 2016 Nutcracker production is it.

The National Ballet of Canada (NBC) used smart planning, and a bit of patience, to grow their digital practice to scale and achieve astounding results. And, a major event like their seasonal production of The Nutcracker is the perfect showcase for its impact.


If return and year-over-year growth like this sounds enticing, read on to learn the key ingredients to a successful digital strategy at scale:

  1. Allocate adequate resources to digital across your organization
  2. Build a permission marketing base you can tap across multiple digital channels
  3. Know where to allocate budget to maximize return, like tapping paid search when indications are right (yep, even if you have a Google Grant!)
  4. Customize your campaign targeting to reach specific prospects at critical moments in time

Setting the stage
When we first partnered with NBC in 2015, they stood out as a client that embraced the importance of a comprehensive digital strategy. They invested in a new website in 2015 that is tailored to user experiences and they dedicate financial and staff resources for the demands of content production and adapting tactics as analysis lends new insights.

For example, as partners we’ve conducted an in-depth analysis of NBC’s email performance and integrated learnings across that channel and others. Their content production resources and success on Facebook, coupled with their keen interest in exploring new digital avenues, led us to experiment successfully with Instagram and Snapchat campaigns to access audiences in new spaces.

NBC sees their patron base as a heterogenous set and tailors its dynamic ticketing and value propositions to resonate with the motivations of specific segments. As a result, we hit the ground running and had very strong results with their Nutcracker in 2015.

Building your base
In that first year we laid the groundwork for scaling their digital marketing to a new level by building a permission marketing base (those who have “opted in” to communications from NBC by virtue of visiting their website, providing an email address, or becoming a follower/fan on social media) that we could tap for future productions, including the 2016 Nutcracker. In particular, we built highly segmented patron pools based on interactions with NBC via their website.

Along with some time and patience, NBC’s thoughtful and inspired website ensured that we could identify robust, valuable segments of patrons based on behavior and user intent. For example, production landing pages, the calendar, and the purchase path were designed with the user path central to content and design.  

NBC provided another critical component for all sustainable, successful digital marketing efforts- stunning creative relevant to particular audience segments, that drives engagement and specific actions on social media platforms.


Getting to know your audience segments and what “sticks” with them is worth the time and energy. This year, being able to target those audiences who were already “tuned in” lent great efficiency to our campaigns:


With virtually the same digital media budget, we increased our impact by cutting CPAs across the board.

Make your dollars work for you
Not only did we get more bang for our media buck, we put a critical eye to the platforms on which we spent it. In 2015, we invested in a YouTube campaign for acquisition purposes. Given the brand lift impact of the platform, this helped us build our base for future targeting.

In 2016, in light of the strong permission marketing base we’d built, we reallocated that money to paid search. NBC is a beneficiary of a Google Grant; however, for the Nutcracker, we found that some of the parameters on the account limited performance during the fiercely competitive holiday season. In order to grow impression share (how often your ads show up when eligible, given that competition is driven by budget and ad rank), we needed to up our bids, and a paid search campaign let us do so.

A well-planned search account acts like a golden net, capturing prospects as they are poised to take the next step in their customer journey. By increasing impression share, and focusing search ads on pools such as past site visitors via retargeting, we ensured NBC’s ads reached priority eyes and made a jump back to the NBC website an easy one.

A well-tuned permission marketing base requires infusions of new prospects, and in 2016 we relied on the performance we’d seen in NBC’s Facebook and Instagram accounts to fulfill this role in a more efficient and effective way.

Time your targeting
The only way to time your targeting with confidence is to have clear knowledge of where particular audience segments are in their consideration process, and which channel at your disposal will be most effective in moving them to the next step.

A critical addition to the 2016 Nutcracker campaign was the ability to parse the NBC audience pool in ways that allowed for specific messaging to those who had entered the purchase path but abandoned their cart. This can occur for a multitude of reasons, but the critical task is to get patrons back into the purchasing mode within a short period of time. As you might guess, this precise targeting of bottom of funnel prospects (those who had abandoned carts) had the highest conversion rate and ROI of any group.

NBC’s social media engaged audiences with consistently strong content and brought them to an intuitive, effective website. We were then able to tap display and social media campaigns to keep users engaged with messaging based on their behavior. Finally, we provided an easy launch pad via a paid search campaign to return priority prospects to the NBC website throughout the run of our other digital efforts. With an eye towards 2017, we can’t wait to help NBC achieve another sold-out production with even more efficiency.

Photo courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada

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