In 2007 I was honored to be one of over 100 authors that contributed to the first Age of Conversation edition. The project was conceived and executed by Gavin Heaton and Drew McLellan. Gavin and Drew brought together over 100 of the smartest marketing minds to give their thoughts on what The Age of Conversation meant to them. What’s fascinating about the book is it’s a snapshot of an online world in 2006-2007 where social media was still very new for many companies. We were writing with eyes wide open about the possibilities of a hyper-connected world where customers were more empowered than ever.
The proceeds from this edition benefited Variety, The Children’s Charity, which is a big reason why I was so excited to be involved. The book itself was written by over 100 of the smartest online marketers on the planet (Gavin and Drew, Ann Handley, David Armano, CK, Scott Monty, etc etc etc) and Amazon still has a few copies of the original edition left.
For the first time ever, here is my chapter from The Age of Conversation, I hope you enjoy it:
Breaking Marketing Barriers From the Top of a Harley
How Companies Can Better Understand Their Customers, By Joining Them
Willie Davidson, the Chief Styling Officer at Harley-Davidson, was once asked if the company makes any special efforts to better understand its customers. Davidson replied that the motorcycle maker was in constant contact with its customers, because they rode with them all the time.
What may at first seem like a flippant response, actually makes perfect business sense. What better way to understand your customers, than by using your product with them in their space? When Davidson rides his Harley with fellow Harley owners, he is able to not only experience the motorcycle as other owners do, but to also share that experience with them. The company/customer barrier is removed, and Willie instead becomes a member of the community of Harley riders.
Why is this so important? Because people don’t trust advertising, they trust each other. And companies can’t market their products effectively if they don’t understand their customers’ wants and needs. When a company begins to interact with its customers in their space, they begin to communicate with them. This communication leads to understanding. And when a company better understands the wants and needs of its customers, it can more effectively market its products to them. And more efficient marketing is cheaper marketing.
Willie knows that he could spend thousands of dollars on marketing research and surveys that would be designed to tell him more about Harley-Davidson’s customers. Or he could simply hit the open highway with fellow Harley owners, and become a part of their community. He could hear firsthand what fellow Harley owners liked and disliked about their motorcycle. He could better explain Harley Davidson’s products and marketing. By communicating, both parties have a better understanding of each other.
The problem is that in many cases there are two communities; the company, and its customers. Each community has its own wants and needs, and its own way of talking to each other. As a result, neither group really understands or trusts the other.
But when a company makes an effort to join its customers in its space, that barrier begins to fall. The ideas and language of the company begins to seep into the customers’ space. Likewise, the thoughts and opinions of the customers start to become understood by the company, and shape its marketing messages. Slowly, the line that divides a company from its customers begins to disappear.
Eventually, conducting market research can become as simple as riding a Harley with your friends. Wouldn’t that be nice?