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HOW TO: Optimize the Individual Fan Experience

This post is by Brian Vinikoor, the Head of Marketing at Secret Road.

image from images.publicradio.org "We're having a great day here at Zappos" is the first of many enthusiastic lines you hear when calling customer support at Zappos.

If I've had a rough day, I half-jokingly consider calling Zappos where they even have a phone-line to host their "Joke of the Day." The company not only accentuates its customer service, they market themselves as a service company ("that just happens to sell…shoes, bags, clothing, and accessories").

Similarly, companies such as Amazon and Groupon have seen hellacious growth, largely due to their focus on customer service. The music industry has been grasping on to buzz terms like "direct-to-consumer" and "fan engagement," but we now need to focus on applying the business practices of companies like Zappos. While 2010 will be the year we realized the importance of feeding our fans a steady stream of exclusive content, live video chats, and free downloads, 2011 will be the year we treat music fans as individuals. Services like Topspin, Bandcamp, MXP4, and Damntheradio allow for artist-fan interaction, but they target the mass audience. It's now up to artists, labels, and management to go beyond mass appeal and provide fans with an individual experience.

Top 10

Ingrid Michaelson's "Top 10" was an experiment in optimizing the fan experience.

We looked at traditional tour bundles and found ways to put fans at the center of the package. Instead of opening it to anyone willing to pay, the bundle was only available to the first ten people in each city. Instead of the standard meet and greet where fans stand in line, snap a photo, and are sent on their way, Ingrid spent time with the group as a whole and with each individual. She ensured that each member of her "Top 10" would walk away feeling a personal connection or having a story to take home.

During the soundcheck, where the "Top 10" members witnessed a behind the scenes look at the work put into making each show possible, there was a table with snacks, cookies, and beverages. We weren't serving Perrier and gourmet cookies. We didn't need to. This was just another way to make everyone feel comfortable; to show them that we cared about their overall experience. While we included merchandise that you may see in any tour package, such as a tour poster and "Top 10" laminate, fans also walked away with an autographed set list from that night's show, a set list that unlike many tours, changed night-to-night.

Ancillary Detail

All of these things were vital to the success of Ingrid's "Top 10," but what truly made this campaign feel special was the level of customer service that we committed ourselves to. After each order was placed, we responded immediately with a note that Ingrid wrote personally to welcome them to her "Top 10."

If it was mentioned that the order was a birthday present or a first date, we made note of this. We knew when best friends or families were attending together. On occasion, participants even told us a story of how they first heard about Ingrid or when they had a chance to meet her. All of this was documented and before every soundcheck and meet and greet Ingrid looked over these notes. She wished Ashley a happy birthday, Al and his wife a happy anniversary, and made some awkward jokes to Brian and his date, who had just met one week prior.

This ancillary detail, combined with Ingrid being as personable as she is, created a relaxed, family atmosphere.

The following day everyone received a follow-up email thanking them for taking part in Ingrid's "Top 10" and offering them the chance to provide feedback. Upon receiving input from previous participants, we immediately integrated any suggestions into the next night's event. For example, while the "Top 10" originally took individual pictures with Ingrid, the fans felt such a connection with one another that we began taking group photos to email everyone the following day.

Like Zappos

The "Top 10" experience continued to get better each night. Not only were fans impressed with the actual meet and greet, but the attention to detail and the amount of time we allocated for customer service.

Ingrid's tour package sold out in almost every market and generated enough revenue to make Ingrid's Fall Tour a profitable trek. Feedback has been so positive from each participant that the next tour's promotion could theoretically be "Ingrid's Top 50." Yes, 50 packages sold in each city would be nice from a profit standpoint but it would be impossible to create the optimal experience from a fans perspective. When developing a veritable career for artists in today's industry, we can no longer think of promotions from a financial standpoint.

Instead, the music industry needs to look at the growth of companies like Zappos and Amazon and recognize that customer service is essential to organically build a fan base in 2011.

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Brian Vinikoor is the Head of Marketing & New Media at Secret Road, a music company focused on management, licensing, and music supervision.  

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