July 2007

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I wrote an article on the ethics of networking a while back for Artists House Music, basically it expands upon an idea presented by Merlin Mann on his blog 43 Folders in which Mr. Mann states:

… the heart of ethical and humane networking means not asking favors of others, but instead frequently doing unrequested propers for others. And expecting zilch in return.

I’d like to now augment this idea with some words from Guy Kawasaki’s book, The Art of the Start.

Kawasaki quotes from Darcy Rezac’s book The Frog and the Prince, and states:

Networking is discovering what you can do for someone else.

I love this definition, and feel it really sums up how to develop long-lasting business relationships (probably works for personal relationships too). It also obviates any ethical concerns with regards to networking when you are using someone as a means to an end, rather than viewing them—ethically—as an end of themselves.

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Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, is another text I’m using for a course on marketing and entrepreneurship. It’s a powerful book with quite a bit of useful advice.

One particular anecdote in the book really jumped out at me. While the authors were focused on making a point about the importance of clarity in marketing, they inadvertently drove a point home relating to the importance of deeply and profoundly knowing your customer.

The act of understanding your customer from a psychographic perspective that is centered around shared values is something I preach every opportunity I get. I can think of few people for whom this thinking is more relevant than artists.

Here’s how the Heaths made the point. General Mills was looking to revitalize their moribund Hamburger Helper brand. The product manager in charge was new to the company, and given reams of data on HH. After filtering through the information and still not understanding what action she could take to improve the HH brand, she decided to, as the Heaths say, “try something new.”

What they did was find about 30 mothers (the principal HH customers) who were willing to let these executives into their home, and then they studied their behavior.

What they found was that even though HH had elevent different pasta shapes, the customers didn’t care about this. They cared about…duh…flavor. Specifically, they cared about consistent flavor, and were confused by the more than 30 different flavors that HH had introduced over the years. The Moms saw these new flavors as “risky.” (Those of you with children know better then to mess with something…anything that your kids will eat.)

The end result was that the new executive and her team convinced the powers that be to simplify the HH product line, and – of course – sales have increased significantly.

While the simplification lesson is interesting, what really resonates with me is the less-obvious lesson that it takes getting very, very close to your customers to understand them. Too often, we make generalizations about our customers. More often, we don’t really consider what our customers are thinking about. These are crucial errors. Artists are uniquely positioned to get close to their customers. They should be talking to them at every show. They should, in fact, be playing house parties where they can literally see how their customers live. Smart artists soak this information up, and use it to refine their marketing strategies.

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