Every year, Steppenwolf Theatre Company selects a theme that unifies its season of plays. This year, the theme is "Believe." A recent experiment with flash mobs as a way to express the theme swept Chicago off its feet--literally. (Disclosure: Steppenwolf is a client)
Here's an example of how cultural brands that define their category--theatre in this case--because they also define "quality" for the category, have more elbow room to innovate. Our research shows that cultural brands that are not defining "quality" have less, not more license to innovate in the eyes of the cultural consumer.
In Steppenwolf's case, its experiment with flash mobs is highly efficient as an innovation tool because it serves many goals. It pushes the limits of their energetic performance aesthetic while allowing the company to tinker with outreach in a dynamic way: it's visual, newsworthy, demonstrates core brand attributes; it's participatory and viral--not to mention just plain fun!