Tag Archives: Blue Ocean Strategy

Cirque Du Soleil: When the Innovator Needs to (Re-)Innovate

Cirque Du Soleil is in trouble.

One major impact on the challenges was out of its control. When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down live shows, Cirque Du Soleil ceased operations around the world, from its traveling shows to the fixed performances in Las Vegas.

Another major impact on Cirque Du Soleil’s current struggles is maintaining relevance to younger generations. As is pointed out in this New York Times piece detailing the issue, “nostalgia” comes up often in conversations about reinventing Cirque. If you understand the history of Cirque Du Soleil, there’s something ironic and staggering about that.

Cirque Du Soleil’s “Luzia” show (Photo credit: Christian Bertrand/Shutterstock)

The innovator is trying to figure out how to innovate.

Cirque Du Soleil is a literal poster child of Blue Ocean Strategy, which focuses on building advantages over the competition by competing in uncontested space. The wide-open category (“Blue Ocean”) is often preferable to the shark-infested waters of brands competing for the same market share (“Red Ocean”).

Cirque mastered Blue Ocean Strategy by redefining what a circus was. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey were old, outdated, silly, sad animals, discounted. Cirque Du Soleil was new, fresh, unique, massively skilled acrobats instead of animals, premium.

It worked for a very long time.

The pandemic inspired Cirque to hire Cultique, a “cultural analysts” firm that’s in the business of helping businesses stay ahead of the curve. Cirque Du Soleil is now chasing (re)-relevance by brand extension. You can now buy the Cirque du Soleil Tycoon Roblox video game. It’s working on a documentary, a convention, and lots of new merch. By finding new sources of revenue in new markets, Cirque hopes it can reinvent itself and not rely almost exclusively on live show revenue.

The founders of Cultique say they don’t rely much on data, because they believe once they show up in surveys, it’s too late. And when you’re in the business of capitalizing on the hot trend of the moment, there’s certainly truth to that.

What data can tell you…and should tell you…is how relevant your brand is and what images it still owns. Far too often, brands fail to deploy strategic research to keep tabs on consumers’ perceptions and stay on the same path while they fall out of favor. Utilize research and data to stay on the pulse of your consumer so your brand is in a constant state of evolution and innovation, rather than being forced to dig out of a hole that one day may be too deep to ascend from.

Applying Blue Ocean Strategy to Christian Radio

I was certain the first time I met Mike Couchman was a few months ago, at the premier conference for contemporary Christian Radio, Christian Music Broadcasters’ Momentum conference in Orlando. But after listening to my recent appearance on the Sound Off Podcast and hearing about some of my radio stops, Mike recalled that I interviewed him and gave him a tour at WLLC (Alice 106.7) in Detroit. And although I didn’t think he fit the station, I referred him to Tim Richards at WKQI, who hired him.

Small world, radio.

Today, Couchman is program director of the hugely successful Christian AC KLJY (Joy FM) in St. Louis, as well as KXBS (BOOST), a Christian Rhythmic CHR that is unlike most Contemporary Christian stations in 2022. Through a partnership with EMF, BOOST is now heard on signals in five markets in addition to St. Louis: Chicago, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Portland, OR, and Fayetteville, NC.

BOOST and Joy FM Program Director Mike Couchman

This is the story of BOOST.

Blue Ocean Strategy is a tactic brands take to create uncontested market space, capture new demand, and make competition irrelevant. In radio, where you often see multiple CHR, AC, Country, or Urban stations in a market, finding a Blue Ocean lane can be challenging. For Christian stations like Joy FM, there is a template most follow, and many do it very well. For Boost, Couchman is more like a mad scientist bringing pieces together to create a new formula, and one could certainly argue it’s a formula rooted in Blue Ocean Strategy. There just aren’t many Christian Rhythmic CHRs.


Mike Couchman says his mom is super religious. “She would ground me for listening to N.W.A. and Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch.” (Side note: N.W.A. I understand, but I think Marky Mark made it pretty clear he was drug free and put the crack up.) Couchman was up for listening to Christian radio, but felt there was nothing for him and he felt left out.

When Joy FM’s parent company decided they wanted to launch a different format from their flagship AC, they had a few things in mind. Primarily, it should be young and multicultural. Couchman took that a step further. “BOOST should a) be Christian radio for Christians who don’t vibe with traditional Christian radio. B) It should be a station for people who may not have much faith but feel Mainstream Hip Hop has gone too far for their tastes.”

The process of picking a name for BOOST turned out to be deliberately Blue Ocean Strategy. Couchman says in a brainstorming call with a friend, voiceover talent Joe Szymanski, he laid out what he didn’t want. A) A cliché radio name; and B) Something that told non-Christians they weren’t welcome. If it reflected energy and positivity, even better.

BOOST Radio logo


It made the trades recently that BOOST debuted a new jingle package. Couchman nodded voraciously when I offered my opinion on jingles. “Perhaps the most underappreciated thing on the planet.” (Read John Boyne’s “The Case for Jingles” if you want more jingle love.)

And the process of finding the right jingle package? Blue Ocean. He told Dave Bethell at TM Studios what he wanted, but also what he didn’t want. That included “Faith-based, but not religious.” Here’s the end result.


Blue Ocean Strategy isn’t right for every station, and it involves an inherent level of risk. Launching a Christian format that brings in younger listeners with less disposable income and a more challenging path to ratings and revenue is not easy.

Though BOOST launched on a translator in 2014, it made the move to the larger 95.5 signal last year, right in the middle of a pandemic. You don’t often hear a PD saying Nielsen accounts for only about 20% of how they measure success, but that’s because they feel the goal of reaching untapped audiences is most important. Streaming numbers went way up when the station made the signal switch. A steady stream of listeners reaches out to the station unsolicited, telling them about the difference they’re making. And Couchman says you can see the diverse audience at every station event.

The national study Meghan Campbell and I presented at Momentum, “How to Attract Millennials and Gen Z to Christian Radio,” indicated a notable desire for Christian Pop and Hip Hop among listeners under 40. Awareness and finding the right formula is the logical next step.

Paraphrasing his boss Sandi Brown, he says “Joy FM is a freeway. A paved road where everyone knows where they’re going. BOOST is being paved as we go and we’re not sure where we’ll end up.”

Blue Ocean Strategy for Podcasting

Coleman Insights founder Jon Coleman introduced Blue Ocean Strategy to Tuesdays With Coleman blog readers late last year in “Should Radio Go Back to Normal.” In short, brands that find themselves in heavily competitive crowded market segments are in metaphorical shark-infested, blood-laden waters. Hence, Red Ocean. On the other hand, some brands have established unique points of market differentiation in the minds of the consumer. This clear lane is the Blue Ocean. A few months ago, it struck me that podcasting resembles a Red Ocean in a number of ways. It is dotted with millions of shows whose names, logos, hosts, structure, and production sound similar. I wondered if there was an opportunity for podcasters to apply Blue Ocean techniques that brands in other market segments have successfully used to differentiate and make the competition irrelevant. That’s how the idea of my presentation, “Create A New Lane: Using Blue Ocean Strategy To Get Your Podcast Noticed,” which I shared at the Podcast Movement conference in Nashville last week, began.

As Jon pointed out in his December blog, Blue Ocean Strategy may have value for underperforming radio stations. Is it better to live in the shadow of a dominant competitor or blaze your own trail? When, for example, a station in your cluster is the third highest-rated CHR or second highest-rated Country station, is it more strategically advantageous to choose an untapped or underserved lane?

One way to look at available opportunity in podcasting is by reviewing the number of shows in each category in Apple Podcasts. For example, the general Science category has over 30,000 shows. Chemistry, a subcategory of Science, has only about 900. Should you publish a general Science podcast that may cover Biology in one episode, Physics the next, and Chemistry the next…or do you publish one that focuses specifically on Chemistry, hyper-targeted to those interested in the topic?

The Religion category is a massive Red Ocean, with over 150,000 shows. Christianity is a subcategory of Religion but is its own Red Ocean at over 90,000. Yet Hinduism, observed by 15% of the world’s population, represents less than two percent of the Religion category. Not to mention that India is the third largest podcast listening market. Whereas Religion and Christianity are Red Ocean, Hinduism is Blue Ocean. The most underserved categories? That belongs to swimming and volleyball, at only about 130 shows each. Total. As James Cridland of Podnews likes to say, “If you can’t rank in the Top 150 for swimming, you’re doing it wrong.”

This Red/Blue Ocean exercise can also apply to topics as opposed to categories. The Golden State Warriors are a hugely popular NBA franchise. If you search for “Golden State Warriors podcast,” Google’s algorithms will offer you many suggestions of shows that cover this topic. But do the same thing for “Stephen Curry podcast,” and you’ll find none. Zilch. Zero. But Google will recommend a golf podcast. Curry is one of the most popular athletes of all-time, yet there is seemingly no podcast focused on him. If you launched both today, which would have a better chance at acquiring new listeners? A general Warriors podcast amongst a sea of established Warriors podcasts or a Steph Curry one? The Golden State Warriors are Red Ocean. Stephen Curry is Blue Ocean.

Stephen Curry Podcast

A Google search for “Stephen Curry Podcast” shows a wide open Blue Ocean opportunity

Apply this exercise to your content, as a sales consultant that attended my session did. He explained to me that his podcast offers broad sales advice. The name of his show implies broad sales content. Now, he’s thinking about how to focus his show. He’s considering his target listener. Is it C-suite level? Sales managers? What market segment? A company that sells software for used car dealers has a podcast called – you guessed it – The Used Car Dealer Podcast. It’s a great brand building and lead generating show for them, though they wisely don’t use the show as a commercial. A podcast for car buyers (or even car dealers) is Red Ocean. A podcast for used car dealers is Blue Ocean.

When deciding to adopt Blue Ocean Strategy for your podcast, it’s important to remember you should not just pick a category or topic because it is underserved or narrowly focused. The content still has to be great. You must have a level of expertise, and put in the research and the work to make it so. But if you do, and the category or topic are Blue Ocean, you are increasing your chances of success.

Finally, it’s important to remember that Blue Ocean strategists don’t differentiate with just one thing. The greatest Blue Ocean brands differentiate in multiple ways. That means thinking about all the things podcast listeners see when they search for shows. The thumbnails look alike. The descriptions sound the same. The structure and production value is similar. Make a list and consider how you would Blue Ocean each item. The show name. The logo. The description. The sound. The host. The category. The topic. And so on.

Next stop: Blue Ocean!