When we moved to our current neighborhood about three years ago, our daily walk route took us by a house on a corner that stood out. The very large house had a “For Sale” sign out front, but the yard also prominently featured a large cement lion statue. The first time we walked by, Shadow looked at it rather curiously. When it didn’t move or make a sound, he lost interest. I took a picture of it, and was always fascinated by the lion in front of the vacant house.
Fast forward to 2012. Just last month a “Sold” sign went up in front of the house. Shortly after that, the lion disappeared. I was shocked, because while it wasn’t in the best of condition, it added character to the place. I kept thinking that if I was the one who had bought the house, I would have not only kept the lion, but would have tried to clean it up a bit.
Interestingly enough, I wasn’t the only one who noticed the missing feline. A few days later, a sign appeared on the gate near where the lion had stood:
Big Lion R.I.P.
And in the days that followed, people began to place flowers, real and plastic, and other objects, to show that they missed the lion. The place where the lion once stood has become a shrine, similar to what you see family members and friends erect on a road side where someone has lost their life in an accident.
Yes, the shrine to the lion, complete with a “guardian angel” candle, is a bit silly. But obviously people have noticed, and some are upset by the change. They miss the lion, and they’ve spoken up.
Remember New Coke? Customers noticed, and they spoke up. Businesses have changed their logo, or updated/dropped a mascot, and people have noticed.
In a world dominated by smartphones and social media, people are noticing the things you do in real time, and they are reacting in real time. This doesn’t mean that you should operate in a culture of fear. But you do need to recognize that more than ever, your customers are an integral part of your brand. Many of them have a vested interest in what you do and how you do it. And whether this interest is real or perceived, you need to be ready.
Crowdsourcing can be a tricky thing, and it certainly is an imperfect part of the equation, but you do need to listen.
Now I’m not suggesting that the new owners of the house around the corner should have polled the neighbors to see how they felt about the lion. That would have been just as silly as the shrine that has appeared. But, they might never have had a clue that some folks felt rather attached to the thing. In the same way, new management of a business, particularly if they are brought in from outside, might act and make changes out of ignorance. It happens.
Keep your eyes and ears open. Social media is an incredible resource for taking the pulse of your customers, both actively and passively. And understand how connected some people are to your brand. After all, that’s what we’re after, right? We want customers who are so loyal that they feel a sense of ownership in what we do. These are the people who will talk about you and tell others how wonderful you are. I would bet that those people who placed signs, flowers, and candles along the fence where the lion once stood, also pointed the lion out to their friends when they drove by:
Look! There’s the lion! Did you see it??
It was something that “belonged” to them, and they were eager to share it with others.
Just understand that that same sense of connectedness and ownership means that they will also tell you what they think. When you make changes and surprise them, they will notice, and they will speak up. Having strong brand ambassadors is a double edged sword.
We need to be ready to not only equip and tap into the power of word of mouth with our customers, but to also to listen to them. They may not be financial shareholders in your business, but they are shareholders with perhaps a more important form of equity.
*Note: since writing this post I’ve learned that the previous owner of the house took the lion with him.
How are you communicating change with your customers? Is there a constant flow of dialogue that you can tap into?
- Improve Your Customer Experience: John DiJulius Interview, Part 3 (customersthatstick.com)
- Marketing in the Round: A New Way to Do Business (inklingmedia.net)
- If You’re Spending Money, You Better Be Tracking (thecontentcocktail.com)
- How does a small business move into social media marketing? (businessesgrow.com)
- Marketing Strategy: Channeling The Power Of Purpose (v3im.com)