Thursday, August 8, 2013

One Direction's Five Lessons for Building Customer Loyalty

(This post was originally published on on 8/8/13.)

On a sticky July evening, the multimillion-selling vocal group One Direction (aka 1D) made a stop at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, NJ on their international “Take Me Home” tour.  The capacity crowd of 19,000+ fans , composed primarily of frenzied Jersey girls between the ages of 9 and 16, welcomed the young U.K. stars with open arms and screaming mouths.

For those unfamiliar with the worldwide pop cultural impact of 1D, here’s a quick summary:
  • The group’s 5 members were originally contestants on the British version of “The X Factor” in 2010.  They were signed to Simon Cowell’s Syco Records (marketed and distributed worldwide by Columbia Records).
  • Their first album “Up All Night” was released in 2012, and their second album “Take Me Home” came out in 2013.  The group has sold a total of 19 million singles and 10 million albums around the world.
  • Tickets for their tours have sold out within minutes.

(Full disclosure:  my 11 year-old daughter is a rabid “Directioner”, and I accompanied her to 1D’s Izod Center show.)

The passionate emotional enthusiasm (and sizable financial expenditures) that 1D inspires among its massive global fan base is not a fluke:  it’s the result of a meticulously nurtured loyalty-building strategy that was on full display at the Izod Center.  Companies that wish to develop positive connections with their own customers would be wise to learn from 1D’s examples, which were carefully planned by their managers and flawlessly choreographed by the producers of their “Take Me Home” tour:

1. Deliver outstanding quality.
I expected 1D to put on an adequate show that pleased their young fans.  But what I saw at the Izod Center was a powerful spectacle that truly wowed the Directioners.

Laser light effects.  Explosions.  Smoke.  Confetti and streamers.  Dazzling graphics and colorful, fast-paced videos on a wide, two-story screen behind 1D and their band.  All were coordinated and displayed tastefully and impressively.

THE TAKEAWAY:  Every element of 1D’s concert was calculated to dazzle their young fans/customers, and they all worked.  Companies should aim to achieve such excellence in every aspect of their customer interactions, including:

  • creating and delivering a first-rate product/service
  • providing courteous customer care
  • nurturing valuable dialogues and helpful social media interactions
  • crafting user-friendly multimedia sales and marketing collateral

2. Understand your customers’ NGDs.
The overriding NGD (need/goal/desire) for the majority of the Izod Center audience was to get closer than they had ever been before to their favorite 1D member (or, in the words of my daughter, to “breathe the same air as 1D”).

1D served up the goods.  Each member was featured, spotlighted, and called out throughout the show, giving their respective admirers plenty to shriek about.  In what I felt was a smart move, the guys were attired in hip yet informal outfits:  they didn’t wear the glittery suits or elaborate costumes that boy bands of yore (e.g., Backstreet Boys, N’ Sync, New Kids On The Block) sported when performing.  This choice made the group’s members more accessible (and attainable) to the shrieking tweens/teens.

THE TAKEAWAY:  One Direction’s management and concert producers didn’t create a concert experience that they thought would reflect their target consumers’ NGDs – they created a concert experience that they knew would reflect their target consumers’ NGDs.

Whether it was by research, observation, experience, or a combination of the three, the teams behind 1D’s show succeeded because they had an accurate appreciation of what Directioners wished to derive from the group’s live presentation.  Companies should take this same approach when researching their own customers’ specific NGDs.  Rather than assuming what they are or guessing what they might be, they should instead aim to learn exactly what they truly are and then reflect them in their product/service.

3. Create real connections with your customers.

One Direction bonded with their Izod Center fans in three noteworthy ways:

i. Midway through the concert, the guys took a break from the music and invited the audience to send them tweets with questions about their tour.  The fans’ queries (“What’s your favorite American food/t.v. show/etc.?”) were posted on two massive video screens on either side of the main stage at the front of the arena.

After answering each tweeted question, the group then gave a shout-out to – and had a spotlight shined on - the section of the arena from which the question originated, which sent the fans who were seated in that section into joyous hysterics.

ii. In sing-alongs and the call/response parts of songs that they performed throughout the night, 1D let the Jersey crowd know that they were the loudest and most enthusiastic audience on their tour.  This incredible news made the arena’s decibel level explode into the ear bleed zone.

(I told my daughter that 1D probably says the same thing to the audiences at each of their concerts, but she firmly insisted that 1D would never do that…)

iii. At numerous times throughout the evening, 1D thanked the Directioners for coming to their show, and let them know that the group would never have attained their current level of success – or had a chance to perform in New Jersey – if the fans hadn’t been so supportive of their music and careers.

THE TAKEAWAY:  In each of the above examples, One Direction leveraged their concert as a vehicle to establish powerful, memorable, and direct relationships with their fans/customers.  They also expressed tremendous gratitude to their fans for the group’s achievements.

Using their social media channels, customer service channels (phone, chat, email), and email marketing efforts, companies should seek to creatively connect and interact with their own customers, as well as devise sincere ways to express their thanks for their customers’ support (i.e., purchases).  Implemented correctly and genuinely, a company’s multi-dimensional relationship-building efforts can yield significant customer loyalty, improved marketplace image, and future sales.

4. Exceed your customers’ expectations - then exceed them again.
If One Direction had put on an energetic performance of their fans’ favorite songs, interacted with the audience, and enhanced the show with dynamic videos and explosive effects, the Directioners would have gone home very satisfied.

1D did that – and they did one better.

Just before the show’s halfway mark, the group ascended stairs that led to a high platform above the floor of their stage.  Each member attached a waist cable to his microphone stand.  The elevated platform, which was tethered to an elaborate track apparatus that was bolted into the ceiling, began to slowly move from the front of the arena to the back – where it lowered the guys onto a second stage.

As the platform journeyed across the length of the Izod Center, the screams from the rear of the arena increased in volume.  Fans in these faraway sections, who were only able to make out their favorite 1D members via binoculars or on the giant video screens, were now closer to them than they could ever have imagined – or their seat locations suggested - they’d be.

There’s no doubt that significant phone memory within the Izod Center was filled to capacity with photos and videos of this unexpected crowd-thrilling surprise.

THE TAKEAWAY:  To survive in the marketplace and keep up with your competitors, deliver what your customers expect.  To thrive in the marketplace and dominate your competitors, deliver more than what your customers expect.

5. Surprise and innovate.
Having heard 1D’s albums played in their entirety by my daughter hundreds of times over the past year, I knew all of the songs that the group sang at their Izod show.  One song, however, was unfamiliar.

Toward the end of the concert, One Direction performed a guitar-heavy, alternative rock-sounding song called “Teenage Dirtbag”.  I figured that I might have missed it when my daughter was listening to her albums, or maybe it was released as an overseas single and wasn’t included on 1D’s American releases.  I asked my daughter when 1D put the song out, and she didn’t know.  In fact, she had never 1D sing it before.

The fact that “Teenage Dirtbag” was new to my daughter - as well as to all of the Directioners at the Izod Center - didn’t seem to matter:  by the end of the second chorus, everyone was singing along. Elaborate graphics on the Izod Center video screens featuring the song’s lyrics and 1D as comic book action heroes pretty much made the song theirs.

It turns out that “Teenage Dirtbag” was an alt-rock hit in 2000 by the band Wheatus.  According to Billboard magazine, “Teenage Dirtbag” offered "keen melody, inventive production, and cool lyric about those who have felt like underlings during high school."  Billboard went on to say that it "stands strongly on its own as an emphatic anthem and a song many teens will be proud to push hard from their car speakers.”

THE TAKEAWAY:  1D’s decision to create a version of “Teenage Dirtbag” was risky, unexpected, and absolutely brilliant.  Whether it was a tease of their new album’s sound, or a messaging tie-in with their current anti-bullying partnership with Office Depot, or just something cool to perform live, “Teenage Dirtbag” was executed flawlessly – and the group’s fans/customers loved it.

Companies should strategically embrace similar boldness and innovation in order to surprise their customers and the marketplace.  It’s easy to coast when a successful formula is discovered.  It takes guts and a long-term perspective to intelligently expand on that formula in a way that will please current customers and attract new prospects.

1D’s success is no accident.  It’s the well-planned result of the band’s charisma and talent combined with excellent songwriting/production, spectacular marketing, and – perhaps most importantly - impeccable customer service.

There’s a business maxim (attributed to Thomas Paine) that says one must lead, follow, or get out of the way, and One Direction’s lucrative leadership position – which owes much to its winning customer loyalty-building approach - should be emulated by savvy companies in all industries.