Getting an audience is hard. Sustaining an audience is hard. It demands a consistency of thought, of purpose and of action over a long period of time.
It’s a Saturday night in late April, in a tightly packed Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and a 66-year-old Bruce Springsteen strides onto the center of a dimly lit stage, as his loyal E Street Band fans out behind him. The arena was dark, but Springsteen and company are now drenched in a purple hue, as the opening chords to Prince’s “Purple Rain” ring out through the arena, which has been crackling with anticipation for hours.
After a smoldering tribute to his departed contemporary, Springsteen tore through his 1980 double album, The River, before tacking on a dozen more of his greatest hits to close out the night. It’s vintage Springsteen; a musical smorgasbord of poignant covers and a blazing trail through an album nearly lost in the shuffle of his extensive catalog. Forgive the triteness, but there was something for everyone.
Springsteen was once quoted as saying, “Getting an audience is hard. Sustaining an audience is hard. It demands a consistency of thought, of purpose and of action over a long period of time.” Working in the field of customer experience, retention and success, this quote resonates with me. We design acquisition strategies based on outreach frequency and personalization. We look at the statistics of our retention efforts.
Each Springsteen album has its own identity. The rambling street poetry of Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ. The soaring, symphonic wall of sound from Born to Run. The gritty metallic noise of Darkness on the Edge of Town. The energetic social commentary of Wrecking Ball. Musically, there is a freedom in radical auditory reinvention. With each new melodic identity, Bruce can gather new fans who may have not known more than Dancing in the Dark.
However – and this is where your business could take heed – sweeping changes to what made you successful could alienate the original customer base. How far can you stray from your core competencies while still retaining those early diehards?
In Springsteen’s case, his musical experimentation across the past five decades are all beholden to the same core principles. He shares stories about the pivotal moments in life and paints them in a dizzying array of verse and rhyme. Never one to shy away from political or societal discussions, Springsteen’s work has always reflected the world he lives in. And when you strip all that away? The drums, guitars and sax will remain eternal.
When considering the importance of customer retention, the foundation of your business and product offering need to be clearly defined. Moving into new segments, verticals or territories may offer the promise of exciting opportunity, but the dilution of the existing product – or worse, having too much fear to try at all – can prove too harsh a storm to weather.
So what can your boss learn from The Boss? Much like his quote suggests, retaining your base is the most difficult task there is for an artist, business, politician, or virtually anyone in the business of influencing the hearts and minds – and wallets – of the public. Next time you’re driving down Thunder Road, keep these three directions in mind:
Stick to What You're Good at
Your customer base shapeshifts and matures as their relationship with your business persists. The needs change, the value they may need to prove to their management may change. However, the quality of your service cannot waver. Stick to your core values.
Unexpected challenges will always be present in the business of audience retention. Being able to effectively forecast these pitfalls is critical. Rely on NPS scores, customer surveys and discussions, and the strategic input of your client-facing teams. Today, there is no excuse to avoid being blindsided.
Learn to Innovate
Being able to innovate is just as important as establishing a strong foundation. Eventually, the needs of the customer will surpass the capabilities of the service offering. IBM doesn’t rely on mainframes anymore. Netflix switched to streaming services while their DVD mailing business was booming. Complacency has never been a part of Springsteen’s strategy, and it shouldn’t be a part of yours.
You may not be a Springsteen fan. That’s okay. As a matter of fact, that may be the most important lesson he can teach any business. Attempting to please everyone has never been a successful strategy. There is no one size fits all solution in music, and there certainly isn’t one in business. Having the insight to tailor solutions for your audience is what separates you from the rest of the pack. But there is one irrefutable fact when it comes to your audience. The job is never done.
You’ve gotta prove it all night.