When it comes to marketing I’m as cynical as you can get. The marketing has to be very clever (and the "product" superb, of course) before I’m sucked into brand love. Apple did it years ago. More recently it’s been Remo General Store. Remo sells cool stuff. Some of that cool stuff you can get elsewhere and for less (Whittaker’s chocolate at the supermarket, for example), but much of it is unique to Remo or difficult to find. It’s easy to spend a lot of money at Remo, but the value is good. More important, it’s fun to be a customer. Sorry, CustOMER. Ultimately, it’s the sense of community and my own participation in that community that keeps me coming back and keeps me recommending Remo to others (see icon over on the left to get your first T-shirt free).
Here it is in Remo’s own words:
The Community is the Brand
REMO is a brand that exists only to serve and delight its CustOMERs. That’s been our mission since Day One. Therefore, all of our energies are directed in this way, and everything we do is considered from the perspective of the CustOMER (represented by the head in our logo). Of course, here at HQ we’re CustOMERs as well, so it’s also in our interests to source special things, develop cool functional stuff…and deliver great service.
The other thing to know about our CustOMERs is that they’re smart. The really smart thing that we did back in 1988 was to base our entire business on the assumption that our CustOMERs were smart. In this way, the network has grown, and become greater and more intelligent than the sum of its individual parts. REMO is the collective radiant passion and intelligence of its growing and global network of CustOMERs. Moreover, due to the relative dominance of our CustOMER Sponsorship programme for getting new CustOMERs, the future makeup of the network is being driven by the network itself.
So, at REMO it’s not just about selling stuff. It’s also about being part of a community and gathering together to share intelligence, thinking and opinions. A shared appreciation for the values and attitudes manifest in REMO merchandise is the glue that sticks everyone together, and gives people a sense of belonging to something that is friendly and somewhat familiar.
Finally, our CustOMERs are very much involved in the development of our General Store and its range. Our online forums and development labs are very active. Most of all, we have a lot of fun together!
The way we intend to grow is by CustOMER word of mouth. We believe in focusing our energies on delighting and rewarding our existing CustOMERs, making the experience for them as great as it can be for them, rather than on wasteful and inefficient advertising or other marketplace prospecting. Existing CustOMERs are ideally placed to know of others who might naturally belong in our CustOMER Network; people who value: quality over disposability, the original over the copy, functionality over the fad, authenticity over artificiality, simple over decorative…and real salad dressing rather than that dreadful bottled stuff.
[REMO Tempus Fugit Week Planner 2009, pages 243, 246]
Reading this yesterday, I was struck by just how central such an approach could/should be to symphony orchestras, not to mention other performing arts presenters. I’ve thought this before, but this time I began substituting key words:
The XSO is a brand that exists only to serve and delight its concertgoers. …Of course here at HQ we’re concertgoers as well, so it’s also in our interests to present exciting musicians and stimulating programs in great performances.
The other thing to know about our concertgoers is that they’re smart. …The XSO is the collective radiant passion and intelligence of its growing…network of concertgoers. Moreover, due to the relative dominance of our Concertgoer Sponsorship programme for getting new concertgoers, the future make-up of the network is being driven by the network itself.
So, at the XSO it’s not just about selling tickets. It’s also about being part of a community and gathering together to share intelligence, thinking and opinions. A shared appreciation for the values and attitudes manifest in XSO concerts is the glue that sticks everyone together, and gives people a sense of belonging to something that is friendly and somewhat familiar.
Finally, our concertgoers are very much involved in the development of our concert activities. …Most of all, we have a lot of fun together!
The way we intend to grow is by concertgoer word of mouth. We believe in focusing our energies on delighting and rewarding our existing concertgoers, making the experience for them as great as it can be for them, rather than on wasteful and inefficient advertising or other marketplace prospecting. Existing concertgoers are ideally placed to know of others who might naturally belong in our Concertgoer Network; people who value great concerts…
Now, there’s a really big flaw (several flaws, actually, but one really big one) in this analogy/substitution which I’ll cover in a separate post. But meanwhile, I wonder, to what extent is this revised statement be true of orchestras right now?
Orchestras have traditionally rewarded concertgoers via the subscription model: better seats, discounted prices, no fear of missing out on any given concert, special privileges and varying degrees of preferential treatment. Renewable seating, with its social as well as aural rewards, is a highly valued part of the mix. Subscribers are the orchestral equivalent of REMO’s Very Special CustOMERs. Some orchestras ensure that their subscribers are the first to learn about each new season – before media et al. A small thing, but something that conveys a remarkable feeling of privilege and sense of being valued. Another small, but invaluable, thing is responding candidly and intelligently to the often very astute letters and calls that come in from concertgoers. And the orchestras I know generally get the idea of rewarding and valuing the subscriber, although mine has yet to embrace the subscriber preview.
But I wonder how many orchestras work really strategically at developing the power of word-of-mouth, or consistently and imaginatively reward existing concertgoers for introducing new concertgoers. What would happen if orchestras took the REMO approach and focused energy on delighting existing concertgoers and then making it really easy (and extra rewarding) to spread the word? An orchestra's situation is no different from REMO’s: existing concertgoers are best placed to know others who’ll enjoy our concerts and share our values.
What would happen if we were serious about that?
• Giving subscribers paper or electronic ticket vouchers that can be redeemed by (genuinely) new concertgoers;
• Rewarding subscribers in surprising and delightful ways for each new person they introduce and for new people who subsequently become subscribers;
• And, of course, consistently presenting concerts that our concertgoers feel compelled to drag their friends along to.
Free tickets on this scale would be a significant investment, but perhaps a smart one. It’s my belief that if you're introduced to concerts by someone who loves it and “gets” it you’re more likely to have a good time (and return), than if you’re sucked in through idle curiosity and a standard marketing offer and attend “alone”.
Then there’s the community thing. What if the intelligent, appreciative and provocative dialogue that the orchestra as an organisation has with individual concertgoers could be opened up into an intelligent and stimulating forum? Kind of like an enlarged version of the interval foyer discussion: impassioned, opinionated, wide-ranging, enthusiastic and fun!
Which brings me to the fact that concertgoers are smart. So it makes sense that every communication, every bit of marketing, every presentation, is as smart as they are. (An orchestra’s concertgoers often know more about music than some of the people working for the orchestra, that’s inevitable, but that’s not what I mean by “smart”.)
And finally, arriving at the beginning: “Of course, here at HQ we’re concertgoers as well…” This is something that smart orchestras take seriously when recruiting for their administrative staff. Naturally not all administrative positions require detailed and comprehensive musical knowledge, and some administrative positions require very special skills and experience that may have no direct connection to music. I’d be the last to say that everyone on an orchestra’s administration needs formal musical training (unless, perhaps the staff is very small – I’ve worked for an orchestra like that and we did all have music degrees and it helped no end). But I do think that everyone working behind the scenes needs to be a concertgoer, and to have a deep affection not only for the repertoire we play but for the experience (live concerts) that we present for our audiences.
Why does that make a difference? How can you delight a concertgoer if you don’t know what it is to be delighted in that way? How can you consider things from the perspective of a concertgoer if you aren’t really one yourself? How do you know just how smart your audience is if you don’t belong to it? How can you communicate enthusiasm, exchange ideas and nurture trust if you don’t belong to the community?