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understanding your customer

Searching for Status, Discovering Everything Has Changed

Everything has changed—on the surface. Underneath, the unconscious motivators that drive consumer behavior remain the same.

If we stand here now and look back into the mists of time to the very first days of human commerce we’ll discover that business owners have always wanted the answer to a single question: what makes consumers act the way they do?

One of the factors that drive consumer behavior, consciously or otherwise, is meeting individual needs. You’re familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the model that tells us that we are all in possession of certain innate needs that must be met in order for us to enjoy optimal physical and psychological health.

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Are You Ready For Some Football?

The 2012 Football Season has finally started, bringing joy to the hearts of fans everywhere—at least as long as their teams are doing well.  While there’s lots of action to watch on the gridiron, you’re going to want to pay special attention to social media this season.  The NFL, its teams, and even individual players are proving to be surprisingly adept at using Facebook and Twitter to strengthen the relationship they have with their fan base.

Social Media From The Sidelines

In Customers First we talk about one central concept: the better you understand your customer, the more completely you’ll be able to meet and surpass their expectations. This is the recipe for fanatical brand loyalty.

The NFL hasn’t always demonstrated a concrete understanding of what their fans want the most—witness the most recent frustrating lockouts—but they seem to have gotten a handle on things as far as social media is concerned.  They’re using their Facebook presence to give all of the Monday Morning quarterbacks a platform to share their opinions and be heard, posing to their fans the very same questions that are normally discussed by James Brown, Boomer Esiason, Dan Marino, and the rest of The NFL Today crew during halftime.  A post asking which of five rookie quarterbacks starting this Sunday would be the most successful drew over 2,700 responses. While there’s no doubt that the fans admire the athletes on the field, it seems that the behavior they most identify with and emulate with is that of the commentators.

Adweek has given the NY Giants a glowing review of their social media efforts, and we think you should pay particular attention to the bit at the end, which discusses how the sales of tickets and Giants memorabilia is being integrated successful into the social media content mix. Translating online activity into real world revenue works best when the conversions are not forced, but occur naturally and organically. The Giants present a wide range of content, including images of the locker room before the game, exclusive game photographs and post-game live chats with team personnel.

A comprehensive narrative is built, delivering a powerful emotional dividend of anticipation, excitement, and (in the case of the season opener against the Cowboys) heartbreak. It’s a complete experience. Sales solicitations to watch the game again or purchase tickets for the next game mesh seamlessly into the mix. Putting the customer first—providing the information and emotional experience they’re seeking—strengthens the relationship in such a way that they’re predisposed to do more business with the Giants.

An Effective Social Media Presence

When we talk about individual players having an effective social media presence, we’re really talking about the power of the intersection of two powerful unconscious forces: archetypal images and the cultural narrative.  Sports stars and celebrities attain a quasi-mythical status through media exposure. Some of the commentary surrounding Patriot’s quarterback Tom Brady would lead one to expect that the man could change water into wine in between throwing touchdown passes. This puts them in a unique position where they are both more and less than they actually are.  Some of their actual humanity becomes obscured by celebrity’s glare; at the same time, they become powerful symbols of skill and perseverance. The ups and downs of a professional football career track neatly against some powerful cultural narratives, such as the hero’s journey, in which a pure heart and determination can prevail over even the most unjust fate.

Put it all together, and you get Peyton Manning. After many, many years of loyal service to the Indianapolis Colts, Manning was laid low by a neck injury that sidelined him for a season. His team let him go, and today, the elder Manning is the quarterback for the Denver Broncos. Manning’s Facebook page addresses the situation with humor (there’s a great image of Steeler’s coach Mike Tomlin saying “What do you mean, his neck is fine?”) and language that frames this period in Manning’s career as a new chapter in an exciting narrative.  Fans aren’t just tuning in to see the game: they’re seeing Manning’s return and his triumph over circumstances. What happens when fate deals a good guy a bad hand? No one knows for sure, but they’re using social media to make predictions none the less.

Not everyone can throw a perfect spiral pass. Few people can take a hit from a linebacker and get up again. It’s pretty hard to kick a football forty yards through the uprights. But what we can do, as marketers, is take the lessons the NFL is teaching about the effective use of social media and apply them to our own online conversations. Be prepared for touchdowns!