Balancing Valued Tradition With Innovation.

Gino Cattani Headshot

By Gino Cattani, Giulia Cancellieri, and Simone Ferriani

Sooner or later, most successful companies face the challenge of updating a cherished old product. Make no changes, and you risk becoming irrelevant to new customers. Change too much, and you may alienate your most loyal customers.

So how do you leverage a historically strong brand with sensitivity to heterogeneous customer preferences? To explore this question, we studied Italian opera companies, which face this dilemma every season. Many of the best-loved operas in the repertoire are more than 150 years old, and the most devoted operagoers have fairly traditional tastes. However, if opera companies hew to their preferences, they may limit their cultural relevance and fail to develop new audiences.

Our analysis of ticket sales for 2,627 Italian opera productions from 1989 to 2011, and interviews with 15 artistic directors of opera houses, yielded some insights into successfully managing the tension between tradition and innovation that can be applied by anyone with a beloved product they need to update.

Read the full MIT Sloan Management Review article.

Gino Cattani is Professor of Management and Organizations at NYU Stern.