WE CAN PICK OUR FRIENDS, BUT WE CAN’T PICK OUR FAMILY. IT TURNS OUT WE CAN’T CHOOSE OUR CUSTOMERS EITHER.
We all know the motto, “the customer is always right,” – but what if we’re just not that into them? Sure, patronage helps us pay the bills. But some of us are guilty of wishing our customers walked the red carpet, not cleaning up after those who do. And that type of thinking has no place in building a business. Even if you hate your customers, you can grow with them anyway. All you need to remember is customers come for your solutions. And if you want to keep them loyal, pay attention to their needs. Unfortunately, one popular publication learned that lesson too late.
WANTED: AFFLUENT CUSTOMER BASE
“You don’t seem to like your readers,” the newly installed editor-in-chief said to the CEO /publisher of the iconic publication. The magazine had been around for nearly 100 years. Still, the new CEO no longer saw value in the readers who helped the flagship magazine become a household name.
Leadership wanted an affluent clientele, readers that luxury-item advertisers coveted. The loyal but low-to-middle-income earning audience could never get the attention of those big-ticket item sellers. The EIC was correct; the publisher wanted a new audience. Eventually, the publication’s nearly 2 million in circulation dwindled to nothing.
The CEO-publisher blamed digital competition for their chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. Except the readers didn’t leave, the publication abandoned its readers. And with it, they threw away the most challenging part of growing any business, gaining customer trust and loyalty while maintaining excellent customer relationships.
Let me put this in a digital perspective. Imagine sending out this newsletter to nearly two million email addresses of people who voluntarily signed up for Brand News Quarterly. I look at the list and say, “Nah… these people aren’t valuable. I then proceed to not archive but DELETE two million email addresses. Now, I’ll have to start at zero and build my list of elusive customer prospects. Except Brand News Quarterly is an unlikely destination for this unknown reader. You’re correct if that doesn’t seem like a good business decision. It’s not.
Yet, that’s how the unnamed publication began to lose its readership. The publisher didn’t blow up their mailing list – they ignored their customer base.
The bankrupt publication sabotaged its brand loyalty gains in search of new customers. They also made three missteps during their restructuring.
- Rebranding during the print industry’s digital disruption phase,
- without creating a new destination for the prospective audience,
- While abandoning their loyal audience.
THE CUSTOMERS WE KEEP
The unnamed publication owned its customer base of nearly two million print subscribers. This large and receptive audience would receive the magazine before it hit the newsstands. Since these almost two million readers learned about the “next big thing” before anyone else, they promoted the stories to others before the magazine went public. Then about ten days later, an additional quarter-million magazines hit the newsstands and grocery stores. In the late 80s, the term for shared media was “pass-on readers.” This publication’s pass-on readership measured 5.2 per copy. So, 2 million subscribers generated nearly 7 million more monthly readers.
This publisher didn’t need a digital platform interface to reach their customers. The product went directly to the subscriber’s home. They didn’t need to go through social media, amazon, or even bookstores to reach their customers. But sadly, by the second decade of the 2000s, Bankruptcy liquidation forced the publisher to sell the magazine’s brand name, photo archives, and cosmetic line.
I’ll let you in on a secret – prominent business leaders aren’t the only group who throw away customers. Startups and soloists may ignore customers who’ve purchased their “solution” products. Some entrepreneurs fail to consider their goods and services as solution-based products that can set the foundation for a new business. Same for creatives, especially since their art attempts to answer a question or solve a riddle. The bottom line, if they focused on a solution, they’d soon meet their customer. The next step that follows: is keeping them. And if done right, those customers will keep them in business.
In Part 2 of “The Customers We Keep,”
We’ll show how noticing the problem helps build an entire business based on its solution. We’ll also provide an example of how most of the profit comes from your ownership of the customer relationship.