Friday, May 18, 2007

Letting Your Freak Flag Fly

Your Best, Longest Lasting Customers Relate to You Personally

If it’s true that our goal is about causing a memorable experience that’s worth telling your friends about and worth having over and over again (preferably for years on end) then we should be looking at who’s achieving that rare level of consumer attention and then holding on to it over the long haul.

I don’t believe that a better example can be found than the Days of Our Lives.

For over 38 years now ‘Days’ has maintained an iron grip on millions of viewer’s weekdays – five days a week. If they miss it, they record it and watch it the next day lest they miss a critical twist or turn. The converted presumably talk about it over dinner with their families and on the phone to far-away relatives.

Of course, with such a long run ‘Days’ must lose a significant number of viewers to defectors (to other daytime shows), people’s schedule changes, and of course death. They lose their actors, writers, and directors to the very same forces. So everything’s changing – the consumer, the product, the times. And of course ‘Days’ has had its ups and downs – from being the number one daytime show to near-cancellation several times. But we must agree that the level of devotion to that brand over such a long period is something to which we all aspire.

So what is it that keeps viewers so rapt over the course of decades, generation after generation? I submit that it’s simply that viewers quickly develop a personal connection with the characters. We identify with their trials and tribulations, with their loves and losses, with their smallness and transformations. There are characters we love and characters we hate – or rather love to hate – and we’re engaged by our own emotional journeys.

For decades, we’re aghast at the manipulative sisters-in-law and thrilled with daring of cheating husbands and business leaders. Depending on our estimation of our own moral history, we judge or excuse the character’s personal flaws and failings. We organize our own view of ourselves around their powerful, yet pedestrian stories. Our own story is experienced alongside and in relation to the one we see on T.V.

Get Naked

As marketers, how can we engage our customers like this? After all, we’re not T.V. writers, or actors! And we’re selling widgets that aren’t nearly as sexy as Hope or Shawn!

Blogging is clearly a beginning. We’re seeing a lengthening toe of personality beginning to come out from behind the corporate veil. But the vast majority of company blogs today are mainly just dozens of versions of the sales-pitch done in casual, everyman language. If we see anything personal, it’s a family vacation shot or a baby picture that feel like a premeditated shot at giving us warm-fuzzies. We may like our own kids, and thus have a flicker of identification with our hosts. But there are a lot of parents out there, and your kids aren’t going to hold my attention for long.

What attracts and holds attention are our authentic stories. It’s not the pretty parts, but the nasty parts that we appreciate. It’s the struggle, the embarrassment, the failure, and the drama that makes us squirm – and pay attention.

Why is Donald Trump famous? There are plenty of successful real estate investors out there, but Trump has bad hair, went broke, had a nasty divorce, got a trophy wife, and has a massive ego – all of which we love and hate and understand about him. The other real estate investors all did that stuff, too… but they hide it. Trump has made all those things his calling cards. They mystify us and keep us talking and watching.

We’re all striving to create richer relationships with our customers and clients. We want to engage them with our brands, and keep them coming back for more. But no matter what we sell, our customers ‘get it’ pretty quick. We run out of new stuff to say. Pretty soon, we begin to try to ‘connect’ with press releases and new ad campaigns.

But what’s interesting to people, in the long run, is people. It’s identifying with our dreams, successes, failures, and striving. Our stories. And, as entrepreneurs, we’re hardly lacking in this kind of material.

We just need to have the guts to show it.
Landon Ray is founder and CEO of MoonRay, which provides a CRM tool for small and medium business with a direct-marketing mindset.