Please ignore your customers

ignore

This might be the strangest marketing article you read in awhile but I’d like you to question  conventional wisdom about listening to your customers.  Sometimes, it’s simply best to ignore them.

One of the hottest buzzwords is “socialistic marketing” implying that social media enables you to place the brand power in the hands of the people.  I don’t think the world is ready for that quite yet.  Here’s why:

Customers don’t know what they want.  One of the most disturbing lines of commentary I see these days is the reliance people are putting on social media tools for new product development.  SM is a revolutionary “listening” device, but if you rely on it for development ideas, you’ll have a steady flow of incremental improvements based on customer complaints but it’s unlikely you’ll find the next big blockbuster.  That’s because consumers typically don’t know what they want it until they see it.  As the chairman of Sony famously said, they never would have invented the Walkman if they had asked customers what they wanted.

Big mouths dominate.  One of the biggest challenges with focus groups is that the most dominant participant tends to drown out the majority.  Their opinion overwhelms the true sentiment of the sample because they command most of the air time. Social media is like a focus group on steroids. It’s all about finding a way to get attention.  Are the people shouting the loudest on social media really the ones who represent your target market?  When you tune in to the social media cacaphony, are you hearing the signal or the noise?

They’re learning to play the game.  If somebody discovers that complaining means they can get attention, or better yet, a free product, a trickle of product complaints can turn into a tsunami, whether there is a real problem or not.  One company president recently told me they simply don’t address most consumer complaints any more because the cost of customer service became so high — they couldn’t afford to determine what’s real and what’s a scam.  Is that smart business?  I guess if it’s the only way they can afford to keep operating, it is.

Obviously today’s headline is a bit sensational — of course you need to embrace and cherish your customers.  I just want you to think twice before embracing this notion of marketing socialism and putting TOO MUCH power in the hands of consumers.  Agree?  Disagree?

Illustration: www.zazzle.com

Yes, I am a guru.

guru

Is it my imagination or is nearly every blogger claiming they are NOT a social media guru, expert or rockstar this week?  Humility is suddenly in fashion.

I see this as a grand opportunity to leverage a market niche.  Since nobody is willing to fill the role of Social Media A-List Pubah – in fact they are dashing away from it –  somebody needs to step up and capture this market opportunity, right?  It might as well be me.

So, now I am the one handing out titles.  I call dibs on “maven.”  The alliteration suits me: Mark, The Social Media Marketing Maven. 

Since Beth Harte called me a link baiter* this week, I thought about claiming the title of Social Media “Master Baiter”  but declined since there are several more worthy bloggers that come to mind for that title.

Don’t worry, there are still plenty of sparkly titles available, including “kingpin,”  “commandant,” and “jedi master.” They will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.

So get in line to claim your booty … so to speak. No pushing.

* She apologized.  But it made for a good joke, and enabled me to be the first person in history to use the hat-trick of “turd,” “dipshit” and “master baiter” in the context of a legitimate blog.  So you see Beth, it all worked out.

The marketing genius of KISS. Seriously.

kiss-concert-023

My son is a professional musician and has wanted to be a performer since he was a little boy.  Once I determined that this was his true life goal, not a “phase,” I figured I had better support him and do everything I could to help him succeed.  I wanted him to think a lot about the business and marketing aspects of the music business and I decided the best classroom for that was a KISS concert.

For any serious marketer, a study of KISS should be a required curriculum.  I just read where the glam-band has a new album coming out and are preparing for a world tour.  So here is the question every savvy marketer should consider:   How can a quartet of 60-year-old men prance about in high heels, sell out a 25,000-seat arena anywhere in the world in 30 minutes, hawk millions in merchandise, and attract a passionate legion of fans known as their “army” nearly FORTY YEARS after they picked up their first guitar and discoverered they had no talent?

Polish your boots, tune your guitar and turn it up loud.  We’re all going to the classroom of KISS:

1) Give your customers EXACTLY what they want.  When you go to a KISS concert, you don’t get breath-taking improvisation and cerebral lyrics. You get pyrotechnics, explosions, costumes and decibles of sound that make your heart pound out of your chest.  You know every note and every word and can sing along in a fun and predictable manner.  This is what KISS fans want and this is what the band delivers — every time. At one point the band abandoned the makeup, tried more serious stuff and spectacularly tanked. That was their equvialent of New Coke. Put the make-up back on, and the fans returned.   Consistent brand image is essential.

2) Then give them MORE of what they want. The new KISS tour promises one of the largest, most extravagant stage productions in history.  Bigger, badder and louder for a band like KISS is their version of “now with lemon scent.”  That’s what keeps the fans interested and coming back year after year — a chance to see what new tricks are in store!  So innovate, but don’t ever abandon your core brand promise or your core customers.

3) Develop adjacencies. An adjacency is a new product related to your core offering that can provide new revenue streams. KISS has relentlessly spun off new ideas in merchandise, video games, toys, television programs and comic books that have attracted their own devotees.  Of course Gene Simmons has a reality show in the U.S. and Jeremy Bramwell told me he has a different hit show in the U.K., too.

4) Develop a brand and ferociously protect it.  One of the most fun KISS stories: When the band was just starting out and broke, they would surround their stage with mountains of empty speaker shells – none of them worked — to give the illusion that they were bigger and more important than they were (I guess that is like Twitter followers today?).  Was this tricking the customer?  No less than getting somebody to believe that Coca-Cola stands for something more than colored sugar water.  To be the biggest band in the world, they had to ACT like the biggest band in the world!

5) Put customers above everything.  I can’t imagine applying that kabuki make-up in a different city every night and playing the same songs over and over and over again … the same way … for decades. I’m sure they get sick of it.  But somehow (money) they find a way to approach their job, and their brand, with fresh passion every show because they HAVE to. They’re well-rewarded, but they also sacrifice a lot for their fans.  Say what you want about them.  KISS knows their customers and ALWAYS delivers.

What do you think?  What other business lessons can we learn from KISS or your favorite band?

Connection without cronyism

handshake

In response to my post on the social media country club (perhaps ”fortress” would have been more apt?) many people agreed with the observations I made but also challenged, “what next?”

“We” can do nothing to influence the behavior of others except “unsubscribe,” which probably would not even be noticed.  The only thing I/you can change about the situation is myself/yourself.

I need to hold a mirror up to my own community and figure out what I can change about my role and accountability to create an inclusive and safe environment that promotes connection without cronyism. I know you will come up with much better ideas, but here are my own thoughts on this tough question:

If I were an “A” List blogger, what behaviors would I adopt to try to facilitate dissent, inclusiveness, accessibility, and innovation?

Humility.  First, I would never characterize myself as an “A” list anything.  That’s the beginning of the trouble right there.  This is probably easier said than done when your name is in lights. Remaining humble has to be a mindset and a daily objective.  For me, it is an element of my spiritual journey. When you see yourself in the really big picture, you have to be humble.

Leadership. When I first became a “boss” many years ago, I remember participating in a brainstorming session and learning a week later that all of my raw ideas were in some phase of implementation.  Why?  Because I was in a position of authority and people thought they were carrying out my wishes.  This made me uneasy.  I longed to remain part of the team with my friends.   But that was impossible. The way you act as a leader and the way you act as a follower is different.  Leaders have to lead.

My impression is that some of the social media elite have not come to grips with this.  After all, it’s at odds with the “authenticity” mantra, right?  If you feel “snarky” why not BE “snarky?”  It doesn’t work like that on this elevated level.  You can get away with it when you have 65 followers but you can’t when you are a representative of the discipline and a role model for many … which is what you worked hard to achieve.

For me, I accept being the leader of a blog discussion and conducting the forum in a way that is respectful and inclusive.  I need to try to be mindful that friendship and support are gifts, but undue favoritism is corrosive and disrespectful to those still finding their voice.

Discernment – One high-profile blogger works for a company that retains Chris Brogan.  The person wrote a glowing review of “Trust Agents” on Amazon.  Is this good business, devoted friendship, or a conflict of interest?  You could successfully argue any of these positions, but the fact is that there could be at least an impression of impropriety.  So I think a lesson and best practice  is to avoid even an illusion of cronyism that could deteriorate trust and faith in me as a reliable and accessible leader.

A safety valve – I was really impacted by the fear people expressed in the comment section about disagreeing with the establishment. If I lose my way and start creating my own country club, how will I know?  Who will tell me?  As I become an authority figure to some, how do I help them still feel safe to dissent?  The idea I’m considering is a place on the blog for anonymous feedback that would only go to me. Perhaps that would be a way to establish a mechanism where anybody could say anything and beat me down a peg or two when I need it.  Need to think about that a little more.

OK, enough from the amateur.  What do you think?  What example should you and I set that would be a model for social web leadership?

P.S. I’m ready to lighten things up again. This stuff is too serious.  Tomorrow I’m going to write about KISS.  The band. Seriously.

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