Let your Customers Stir the Pot

I think every parent has faced the frustration of trying to cook a nice meal for their young kids, having said young kids not eat bite one, cleaning up the uneaten food/cooking mess, and then averring never to cook for them again.

Last night we had half that situation. Annabelle, age 6, who has shown an interest in cooking from an early age, helped me cook. Henry, age 4, who has shown an interest in knives from an early age, did not.

Annabelle ate a good deal of what was cooked. Henry did not.

I expressed my frustration about the half-eaten meal to Marci later in the evening. She wisely said, “You have to just keep cooking with them. Keep showing them that this is something important.”

She pointed out that Annabelle, who had been the fussiest of eaters as a toddler, actually did eat. She noted that the fact that Annabelle was engaged in the cooking process likely had something to do with her being willing to try food she ordinarily wouldn’t have.

She suggested I work harder to engage Henry in the process. I told her I was worried about being stabbed, but said I’d try.

My wife is smart.

I thought about this process later and it made me think of a phrase I’ve been overusing recently: “condition your customer.”

Right now in many businesses, but particularly in arts-related businesses, customers are confused. They’ve been spoon fed for so many years by content providers who have attempted to package the creations of artists into neat, easily-digestible servings of art.

As these content provider institutions are crumbling, and as content creators are increasingly bypassing these middlemen and going direct to their constituents, there is confusion.

The customers are not used to things like: pay-what-you-will, subscription, bundles, free-mium, or any of the other direct-to-fan presentations that artists are serving up. Of course, artists are also confused about how to approach customers.

It’s not that these customers are necessarily opposed to these types of offerings, it’s just that right now, like an unfamiliar food does to a child, they just taste sort of funny.

As customers become increasingly conditioned these offerings will soon go from exotic to de rigueur, and customers will (sorry) eat them up.

The best way to condition customers is to do just what we’ve tried to do with the kids: show them how the (veggie) sausage is made. In other words, bring them into the process.

This process is something that got severely distended in the post-industrial/assembly line era, where companies “packaged” and customers “consumed,” and the customer was intentionally kept none-the-wiser with respect to how the “thing” was made.

What was lost during this time, of course, is the fact that markets are conversations. MARKETS ARE CONVERSATIONS.

In order to condition (and I’m not really comfortable with the subtext of that word; it seems manipulative, but that’s not the intent) a customer, talk to them.

Explain to them, for instance why you are presenting your offering the way you are. Bring them into the kitchen. Let them stir the pot. Create an architecture of participation.

When you do this not only will your offerings become more familiar and less “strange” to your customers, but the customers will take pride in the fact that they were part of the process.

When that happens, they go from customers to evangelists. They have inside information, and will do what everyone with inside information does: share it with others.


  1. LMarkow’s avatar

    George…you know where I am on this one. I’ve been talking about educating rather than manipulating music fans for a long time. Their role is important to artists and they deserve to know more about where they really stand in the whole process. Not unlike EVERYWHERE else in the economy these days, the uncertainty is overwhelming and trust is scarce. Fans and musicians need to become partners rather than adversaries in creating better music AND a better music industry. Better ingredients, better meal. Everyone gets nourished.


    1. George Howard’s avatar

      Thought of you as I wrote it!



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