• January 1, 2009
  • By Paul Greenberg, founder and managing principal, The 56 Group

Life in the Fast Lane of Context

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I recently went to see The Eagles in concert. I can't tell you why, but I wasn't expecting much more than the peaceful, easy feeling of an evening spent listening to some old classics. All for the not-so-desperado price of $88 per ticket.

Boy, was I wrong. Dead wrong, and not the grateful kind. I ended up involved in an experience—but not the rock-concert cliché. Instead, it was one of these nights: literally perfect, both in its mechanics and in its effects.

Four factors aided the mechanical perfection. First, the perfect harmonies of the voices, as strong as they were in 1975. Second, the people there to tune to perfection the band's guitars between more than three dozen songs. Third, a perfect mix of old hits (roughly 90 percent) and new songs (10 percent). Last, the perfect syncopation of musicians with a shared history.

But what made this experience exceptional—not just among musical experiences, but out of any experience I've had, period—is that The Eagles understood context. They not only grasped the audience's mindset, they deliberately designed the entire experience for that audience.

I know this is rock, man, and we should all just freak—but these guys didn't make zillions being freaks or pumping out music just to juice someone's hormones. They succeeded because they knew their audience—in context. Personally, I've always liked the The Eagles a lot, but now my professional side admires them even more. They did what any good business should: They created a paradigm experience for an audience whose context they understood, in part by taking a stance that said, "We're doing this for the audience—not because it's what we want, but because it's what the audience wants."

In The Experience Economy (1999), Joe Pine and James Gilmore said that each customer experience was (A) a distinct economic offering and (B) theatre. Orchestrated experiences designed for emotional impact could become something economically advantageous to a business.

We all want more out of our relationships, whether long-term (individuals/institutions) or short-term (events/activities), and experiences can enhance those relationships. A business should interact with its customers by creating an experience for them with which to provide itself economic value. The business can charge for the experience, or the experience can generate long-term economic value by supporting a customer's emotional commitment and helping differentiate the business from others.

The Eagles clearly grasped their audience and its context: "Just to remind you, this is ‘The Eagles Assisted Living Tour,'" the lead singer joked. In other words: "We get that you—and we—are about 60. But all of us are about to have a great time." The entire concert alluded to that context, and yet the message wasn't "Relive the era—feel 20 again, when you lived life in the fast lane." It was "Remember the era—we're 60, and we used to take it to the limit." It was an exercise not in adrenaline but in environment.

The band also knew that, as much as it wanted to sell its new album, the 60-year-olds were there for the classics. The band got the attendees' current context: relatively successful Baby Boomers who shouldn't (and knew they shouldn't) be wearing tie-dyed T-shirts long after the thrill is gone. They wanted to remember old songs but not relive the 1970s. They live in the now.

Technology and temperament helped The Eagles evoke comfortable, though high-energy, memories between two old friends: the band itself (and each of its individuals) and the crowd (and each of its individuals). And that's what the experience—totally manufactured and yet entirely perfect in execution—became: two old friends hooking up to listen to the music of their younger days.

There's a lesson here for your business: Know the customer you're providing the experience to, and understand that customer's context at the time you're providing it. An interaction between two old friends—in which a customer can view your firm as "a company like me"—is the Holy Grail of CRM 2.0: a priceless rapport with a customer that, in the long run, translates to dollars and advocacy.

Okay, I'm already gone. Take it easy. 

Paul Greenberg, an outlaw man who’s caused his share of heartache tonight, is president of The 56 Group (the56group.typepad.com), a strategic CRM consulting services firm, and a cofounder of CRM training company BPT Partners. The fourth edition of his best-selling book, CRM at the Speed of Light (McGraw-Hill) will be out later this year.

Every month, CRM magazine covers the customer relationship management industry and beyond. To subscribe, please visit http://www.destinationcrm.com/subscribe/.

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